Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Thomson Family, Ireland and Glasgow

James Thomson, born 13th November 1786 in County Down, Northern Ireland.
He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1810 and graduated in 1812, M.A.
After his graduation, he continued to attend classes in Medicine and Divinity
with the intention of becoming a minister.

In 1814, he was appointed to the Belfast Academical Institution where he taught arithmetic, geography and book-keeping for a year before moving to the college department becoming professor of mathematics.

In Belfast, he met Margaret Gardner, the daughter of a Glasgow Merchant, who he married in 1817. The couple lived in Belfast and went on to have seven children there.

Margaret died in 1830 and James arrived in Glasgow in 1832 after being offered the Chair of Mathematics at Glasgow University bringing with him his young family.

Sixteen years later, James was struck by a second Cholera epidemic to hit Glasgow and died on 12th January 1849.

Glasgow Herald, January 15th 1849

James Thomson Senior

James Thomson and Margaret Gardner’s children:
Elizabeth, born 1818, died 1896 (married Rev. David King)
Anna, born 1820, died 1857 (married William Bottomley)
James, born 1822, died 8th May 1892
William, born 1824, died 17th December 1907
John, born 1826, died 7th February 1847
Margaret, born 1827, died 1831
Robert, born 1829, died 9th September 1905 (Australia)

James Thomson Junior,
eldest son of James Thomson and Margaret Gardner
matriculated at Glasgow University in 1834
studying Engineering and Natural Philosophy.
He graduated B.A. in 1839 and M.A. (Hons.) in 1840.
Became a consulting civil engineer in Belfast 1851 to 1857 during which time
He was appointed Professor of Civil Engineering at Queen’s College.
He married Elizabeth Hancock c.1853 in Ireland
Returned to Glasgow on appointment to the Regius Chair
at Glasgow University in 1873.
In June 1877 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Served as President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland
from 1884 - 1886

The Regius Chair of Civil Engineering had been founded by Queen Victoria in 1840 - it
had originally been entitled the Regius Chair of Civil Engineering and Mechanics.

James Thomson Junior and younger brother William are found on the 1851 Census as follows:

Living at College Buildings, High Street, Glasgow
William Thomson, Head, age 26
Master of Arts, Professor of Nat. Phil., University of Glasgow, born Belfast
James Thomson, Brother, age 29
Master of Arts, Civil Engineer, born Belfast
Agnes Gall, Aunt, age 53, born Glasgow

William Thomson,
second son of James Thomson and Margaret Gardner
matriculated with his elder bother James at Glasgow University in 1834
also studying Engineering and Natural Philosophy.
He did not graduate at Glasgow but went on to study at Peterhouse, Cambridge.
He became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University aged 22,
holding the post for 53 years (1846 – 1899)
Married Margaret Crum, daughter of Walter Crum and Jessie Graham
14th September 1852 at Glasgow
In 1866, he became the first scientist to be elevated to the peerage when knight by
Queen Victoria becoming Lord Kelvin of Largs.
He was Chancellor of Glasgow University from 1904 until his death in 1907.

In 1861, the brothers  are recorded as Living at Nelson Street, Largs, Ayrshire
William Thomson, Head, age 35
LL.D., University of Glasgow Philosophy, born Ireland
Margaret Thomson, Wife, age 34, born Eastwood, Renfrewshire
James Thomson, Brother, age 39
Master of Arts, Professor of Civil Engineering, born Ireland.

Elizabeth eldest daughter, born 1818, died 1896
Anna, second daughter born 1820, died 1857, married William Bottomley
On 8th March 1844 at Glasgow.
John Thomson, fourth son born 1826, died 7th February 1847

Margaret, third daughter, born 1827, died 1831

Youngest and seventh child, Robert Thomson, born in 1829,
Emigrated firstly to New Zealand around 1853 then to Sydney, Australia.
He died in Australia 9th September 1905.

Margaret Thomson nee Crum, Lady Thomson, wife of Sir William Thomson
died on the 17th June 1870.

A Death Notices appears Glasgow Herald and reads as follows:
“At Brooksby, Largs, on the 17th instant, Margaret Crum,
wife of Sir William Thomson, Professor of Natural Philosophy
in the University of Glasgow.”

Death Notice from The Argus, Melbourne (Australia), Issue: Wednesday 31st August 1870

William re-married 4 years later, on 17th June 1874.
His second wife was Frances (Fanny) Anna Blundy,
Daughter of Mr. Charles Blundy of Madeira

Neither James nor William can be found on the 1871 Census.

James Thomson Jnr.

In 1881, James is found with his family
Living at Oakfield House, Hillhead, Glasgow
James Thomson, Head, age 59,
Professor of Civil Engineering, born Ireland
Elizabeth Thomson, Wife, age 62, born Ireland
Mary Hancock Thomson, Daughter, age 26, born Ireland
James Thomson Jnr., Son, age 23, Master of Arts, Glasgow University,
Born Ireland

Also enumerated with James and his family is:
William J. Hancock, Nephew, Student in Arts, Engineering, age 17,
Born Ireland.

In 1881, Frances is alone, living at ‘College No. 11’, Kelvin district of Glasgow
Frances A. Thomson, Wife of Bachelor of Arts & Professor, age 43,
born Madeira (British Subject)

In 1891, William is found with his wife Frances
Living at 11 University (?), Kelvin district of Glasgow
William Thomson, Head, age 66
Professor of Natural Philosophy, born Ireland
Frances A. Thomson, Wife, age 53, born Madeira (British Subject)

In 1891, James is found with his family
Living at 2 Florentine Bank  House, Partick district of Glasgow
James Thomson, Head, age 69
Emeritus Professor of Engineering, born Ireland
Elizabeth Thomson, Wife, age 72, born Ireland
Mary Hancock Thomson, Daughter, age 36, born Ireland
Bessie Thomson, Daughter, age 34, Artist (Painting), born Ireland.

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)

In 1892 William Thomson was made Baron Kelvin of Largs, but it was also the year
in which his brother Professor James Thomson, niece Bessie and
sister-in-law Elizabeth Hancock all died within a week of each other at
2 Florentine Gardens, the family home.

Florentine Gardens

Their causes of death were as follows:
James, Lobar Pneumonia in both lungs (6 days)
Bessie (Elizabeth), Progressive Muscular Atrophy (22 years) and Pleuro Pneumonia
Elizabeth, Acute Pneumonia (about 10 days)

‘Death of Professor James Thomson’
Glasgow Herald, 9th May 1892

We deeply regret to have to record the death of Dr. James Thomson, lately Professor of Civil
Engineering and Mechanics in the University of Glasgow, which took place yesterday morning
at his residence, 2 Florentine Gardens.

Professor Thomson had not been in robust health for some time, but his death, after an illness
of three or four days, which was the result of a chill, will come as an unexpected sorrow
to many friends.

Professor Thomson was born in Belfast in 1822. His father, also James Thomson, was for
many years lecturer on, and afterwards professor of, mathematics in the Royal Belfast
Academical Institution, but subsequently became professor of mathematicsin Glasgow University.
He was a highly successful teacher and original investigator in mathematics, and was the author
of many important school books. There are not a few persons living who remember well the
spirited mathematical classes of those days, and also in particular the brilliant progress of the
professor’s two sons, James Thomson and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), who passed through
every class with credit and through many with unrivalled distinctness. The two young men early
showed that high inventive genius which had distinguished them through life, and James Thomson
chose for his career that of a civil engineer, serving his apprenticeship (after he had taken the
degree of M.A.) in the works of the late Sir William Fairbairn.

Mr Thomson, after the term of his apprenticeship was concluded, commenced business in
Belfast as a civil and mechanical and hydraulic engineer. His inventions of a vortex water wheel
and a centrifugal pump became widely known, and he was entrusted with work of much
importance both at home and abroad; and, in particular, designed and constructed great
pumps for the drainage of sugar plantations in Demerara. He was also engineer to the
Belfast Water Commissioners, and to the Lagan Navigation Works.

In 1857 he became Professor of Civil Engineering in Queen’s College, Belfast, an office which
he held till the death of the late Professor Macquorne Rankine in 1872. He was then elected to
fill the Glasgow chair, and he continued to fulfilhis duties of that office till 1889, when he was
obliged, owing to failure of his eyesight, to seek retirement. In spite of the sad blow which had
thus fallen upon him, Professor Thomson maintained undiminished all his zeal for scientific
pursuits and investigations; and, in March of this year, he completed a substantial paper on
‘The Grand Currents of Atmospheric Circulation’ which was rewarded by the Royal Society
as the Bakerian Lecture for the year.

Professor Thomson was the author of very numerous original papers on various subjects
connected with physics. In 1847 he communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh a
most important paper on the ‘Lowering by pressure of the freezing point of water.’ He led the
way to the development of thermo-dynamics which in the hands of Clausius, Rankine,
and others have done so much for the great modern improvements of the steam engine.

A man of singular purity of mind and simplicity of character, Professor Thomson was greatly
beloved by all with whom he came in contact. His gentle kindness and his unfailing courtesy
endeared him greatly to his pupils, and many will mourn the loss of so good and true a teacher.
He was conscientious to a degree, and clear-sighted in all that pertained to moral right and
wrong. Thus, never a public man, he held the strongest views on many burning political questions
– for example, the late American War, and still more recent Irish questions; and he was at all
times ready to uphold his convictions with keen logic and with the firmest decision.

Professor Thomson was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1877; he received the
honorary degree of D.Sc. from the Queen’s University in Ireland and of LL.D. from his own
University of Glasgow and from the University of Dublin.

In 1853 he married the only daughter of the late Mr. William John Hancock, J.P.,
of Lurgan, Co. Amagh, who survives him. He leaves also one son, Mr. James Thomson,
civil engineer, and two daughters.

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin’s statue, Belfast Botanical Gardens


William Thomson was President of the Royal Society from 1890 to 1895.
He died on 17th December 1907 at his home 'Netherhall' near Largs in Ayrshire
and was buried in Westminster Abbey,
London on 23rd December.  His grave lies in the nave beside that of Sir Isaac Newton
and a stained glass window designed by J. Ninian Cooper was erected within the Abbey
in 1913. More information can be found here:

The Thomson Family’s Lairs are located in Section Beta of the Glasgow Necropolis, on the
first level above the Egyptian Vaults at the main entrance from Glasgow Cathedral Precinct
across Wishart Street.

The smaller stone topped by a cross is to Annie Elizabeth Bottomley, a relative
of the Thomson Family.

Strangely, none of the Thomson Family appear to be listed amongst the
‘Who’s Who’ on the Necropolis Heritage Trail.

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