Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Thompson, William Marcus

THOMPSON, WILLIAM MARCUS (1857–1907), journalist, born at Londonderry, Ireland, on 24 April 1857, was second son in a family of four sons and four daughters of Moses Thompson, a customs official, by his wife Elizabeth Smith. His family was of intensely Orange and anti-nationalist sympathies. After education at a private school, Thompson was for a time clerk in the office of James Hayden, solicitor. At the age of sixteen he contributed verses to the 'Derry Journal' and developed an aptitude for journalism. He found employment on the 'Belfast Morning News,' and then in 1877, at the age of twenty, through the influence of Sir Charles Lewis, baronet, M.P. for Derry, he joined the staff of the conservative 'Standard' in London, writing chiefly on non-political themes. In 1884 he became parliamentary reporter to the paper, which he served till 1890. Meanwhile he had outgrown his inherited political principles, and developed a sturdy radicalism and an aggressive sympathy with the Irish nationalists.

Thompson had entered as a student at the Middle Temple on 6 April 1877, and was called to the bar on 26 Jan. 1880. He formed a practice as the leading professional advocate of trade societies and of persons of advanced opinions charged with political offences. As a member from 1886 of the democratic club in Chancery Lane he became intimate with leading democrats, including Mr. John Burns, Mr. Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, and Mr. Bennet Burleigh. On 3 March 1886 he successfully defended Mr. Burns at the Old Bailey on the charge of inciting the mob to violence at Trafalgar Square in February of that year. In Jan. 1888 he again defended Mr. Burns, for similar conduct in November 1887; the latter was then sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment. Thompson also appeared for the defence in the Walsall conspiracy case (March–April 1892). He represented many trade unions in the arbitration over the prolonged Grimsby fishing dispute (November 1901). During the same period he contributed to the ‘Radical’ newspaper (started in 1880), and on its death to ‘Reynolds's Newspaper,’ the weekly Sunday paper, for which he wrote most of the leading articles as well as general contributions under the pseudonym of ‘Dodo.’ He succeeded Edward Reynolds as editor of the paper in February 1894, and held the post until his death. The uncompromising warfare on privilege and rank, which had always characterised ‘Reynolds,’ lost nothing of its force at Thompson's hand.

Thompson, who was a powerful platform speaker, was elected to the London county council as radical member for West Newington in 1895, but was defeated in his attempt to enter parliament for the Limehouse division of Tower Hamlets in July of that year. To his initiative was due the establishment in 1900 of the National Democratic League, of which he was first president. He was original member and promoter of the National Liberal Club (1882).

Thompson died of bronchitis and pneumonia on 28 Dec. 1907 at his residence, 14 Tavistock Square, London, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. He married on 3 April 1888, Mary, only daughter of Thomas Crosbie, editor and afterwards proprietor of the ‘Cork Examiner.’ She survived him with one daughter. A portrait of Thompson, painted by J. B. Yeats (father of W. B. Yeats), belongs to the widow.

[The Times, 29 Dec. 1907; Reynolds's Newspaper, 30 Dec. 1907; Derry Journal, 30 Dec. 1907; Foster's Men at the Bar; Joseph Burgess, Life of John Burns, 1911; H. M. Hyndman, Record of an Adventurous Life, 1911; information from Mrs. Thompson and Mr. William Roddy, editor of the Derry Journal.]

W. B. O.