Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, William (1802-1852)

THOMSON, WILLIAM (1802–1852), physician, second son of John Thomson (1765–1846) [q. v.], by his first wife, and half-brother of Allen Thomson [q. v.], was born on 3 July 1802. He received his early education at the Edinburgh High School, and began his medical studies in 1818 at the university and in the extramural school at Edinburgh. He became a member of the Royal Medical Society in April 1819, and, after passing a winter session at the university of Glasgow in 1821–2, he accompanied (Sir) Robert Carswell to Paris and Lyons to assist in observing and dissecting those cases of disease with which Carswell illustrated the lectures of Thomson's father. He again went abroad in 1825, and afterwards settled in Edinburgh to teach and to practise. He became a fellow of the College of Surgeons in 1825, and was shortly afterwards elected a surgeon to the New Town dispensary. He gave a course of lectures upon the institutes of medicine or physiology in 1826–1827, and repeated it in the two following years. He was then associated with his father as lecturer on the practice of physic, and in 1830 he assumed the whole duties of the course. When his father's health failed, he delivered several entire courses of lectures on general pathology, and, after applying unsuccessfully for the chair on his father's retirement, he was appointed in 1841 professor of the practice of physic in the university of Glasgow. He was admitted a doctor of medicine from the Marischal College by the university of Aberdeen in 1831; in 1833 he joined the College of Physicians of Edinburgh as a fellow, and in 1840 he was appointed, and acted for a year as, one of the physicians to the Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh.

During the eleven years he spent in Glasgow, Thomson devoted himself to the extension and improvement of his lectures on the practice of physic. He also gave much time to the management of the internal affairs of the college or teaching body of the university. He acted for six or seven years as clerk of the faculty or secretary to the college. In virtue of his office of professor of medicine to the university, he was a permanent director of the Royal Infirmary, and also of the large asylum for lunatics at Gartnavel, near Glasgow, and during the winter of 1848–9, when the office of physician-superintendent to the asylum suddenly became vacant, Thomson undertook to fill the appointment, though Asiatic cholera was raging among its inmates. The onerous duties of the post proved to be too much for his strength, and symptoms of illness slowly showed themselves, but he remained at his post in spite of increasing illness until shortly before his death. He died at Edinburgh, whither he had gone a few days previously to consult his medical friends, on 12 May 1852.

He married, in December 1827, Eliza, the second daughter of Ninian Hill, writer to the signet, and by her had six children.

His published works consist chiefly of original articles and carefully prepared digests for encyclopædias and various standard medical works. His essay ‘On the Black Deposit in the Lungs of Miners,’ published in the ‘Transactions’ of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, vols. xx. and xxi., and on ‘Sloughing of some Portions of the Intestinal Tube’ in the ‘Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal,’ 1835, xliv. 296, are deserving of special attention. His only separate work was ‘A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Liver and Biliary Passage,’ 8vo, Edinburgh, 1841.

[Allen Thomson's biographical notice of his half-brother, prefixed to Cullen's ‘Life,’ Edinburgh, 1850; Gordon Laing's Life of Sir James Y. Simpson; additional facts kindly given to the writer by Professor John Millar Thomson, Dr. William Thomson's nephew, and by Alex. Duncan, esq.]

D’A. P.