Thompson, Harry Stephen Meysey (DNB00)

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THOMPSON, Sir HARRY STEPHEN MEYSEY (1809–1874), agriculturist, born at Newby Park in Yorkshire on 11 Aug. 1809, was the eldest son of Richard John Thompson (1771–1853) of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire, captain in the 4th dragoons, by his wife Mary, daughter and coheiress of Richard Meysey of Shakenhurst, Worcestershire. After reading at home and under a private tutor near London, Harry entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a fellow commoner in 1829. For some time he studied entomology under Charles Darwin, and gra- duated in honours in the mathematical tripos of 1832. He then travelled in Scotland and on the continent, spending part of 1834 in the south of France, and even setting out on a journey to Constantinople. He stayed some time at Pesth, but was prevented by the sickness of a companion from reaching his destination. His letters home show with what keen interest he observed the agricultural methods and practices of foreign countries. On his return home he settled down at Kirby to the ordinary life of a country gentleman, though, but for his father's objections, his ambitions would have been rather directed to a parliamentary and diplomatic career.

Following the example of Arthur Young, Thompson, accompanied by John Evelyn Denison (afterwards Lord Ossington) [q. v.], by Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Lawes, and by others, made a number of practical agricultural tours in various parts of the country. Some of his impressions relative to the agricultural state of Ireland are to be found in ‘Tait's Magazine,’ April 1840.

In 1837 Thompson took an important part in founding the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, of which he was president in 1862, and of which he continued to be the leading spirit till 1870, when pressure of work compelled him to resign.

Thompson was also one of the founders and strongest supporters of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, established in 1838, and he contributed largely to its earlier publications. After the death of Philip Pusey [q. v.] in 1855 Thompson conducted the society's journal, first as editor, and then as chairman of the journal committee. After taking an active part in the affairs of the society for thirty-five years he was compelled to resign through ill health in 1873. He was member of council from 27 June 1838 till 3 March 1858, and trustee from 3 March 1858 till his death on 17 May 1874.

In connection with Joseph Spence [q. v.], a chemist of York, Thompson began, in the summer of 1845, some experiments as to the power of the soil in absorbing and assimilating ammonia. The series of experiments was never completed. About 1848 a brief outline of the results was communicated to Professor Way and Mr. Huxtable. Professor Way followed up the subject and produced some important results. In 1850 Thompson published an account of his unfinished studies in an open letter to Philip Pusey, which appeared in the ‘Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society’ (xi. 68). This slight experiment contains the germ of one of the most important, if not the most important, of all the scientific investigations connected with the practice of agriculture.

But one of Thompson's most valuable contributions to practical agriculture was the discovery of the great value of covered fold-yards for protecting cattle and for improving the quality of manure. At that time all fold-yards were open to the weather, and the attention of farmers had not been drawn to the damage done by rain and snow to the manure. The first covered yard (made for pigs) is still in existence on the Kirby Hall estate exactly as it was put up. The experiment was so successful that it was soon followed by a larger covered yard for cattle. The fame of these yards spread, they were visited by many agriculturists, and have now become common throughout the country.

Thompson's connection with railways began in 1849. Deeming George Hudson's management of the companies under his charge to be unsatisfactory, Thompson summoned in that year on his own responsibility a meeting of the York, Newcastle, and Berwick shareholders at York, and he secured the deposition of Hudson, and the election of a new board of directors. He refused a seat on the board at the time, but shortly afterwards became chairman of the North Midland Railway Company. When, in 1854, the two companies were amalgamated under the title of the North-Eastern Railway, he became chairman of the united companies. Neither of the two was paying a dividend at the period at which the amalgamation took place; in 1874, when Sir Harry Thompson resigned his seat as chairman, some months before his death, the North-Eastern was paying a dividend of nine and a quarter per cent.

In 1853 Thompson had succeeded, on his father's death, to the family estates; and in 1859 entered parliament as member for Whitby in the liberal interest. He took part especially in legislation bearing on agriculture, the management of railways, and church rating. He held his seat for nearly seven years, but was defeated in 1865. In 1868 he stood for the eastern division of the West Riding of Yorkshire, but was again defeated. He was a justice of the peace, deputy lieutenant, and high sheriff of Yorkshire in 1856.

On 26 March 1874 he was created a baronet. Two months later he died at his seat of Kirby Hall in Yorkshire on 17 May 1874. He was married, on 26 Aug. 1843, to Elizabeth Ann, second daughter of Sir John Croft, bart. By her he had five sons and five daughters. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, Sir Henry Meysey Meysey-Thompson. Thompson's papers in the ‘Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society,’ eighteen in number, deal with many agricultural topics, particularly with questions relating to implements.

There is a portrait of him at Kirby Hall, in the uniform of a captain in the Yorkshire hussar yeomanry, and an enlarged photograph of him in the rooms of the Royal Agricultural Society.

[Journal of the Royal Agricultural Soc. passim, especially xi. 68, 1850, and 2nd ser. x. 519, 1874 (Biography by Earl Cathcart); Ann. Register, 1874, p. 153; Agricultural Gazette, 1874, p. 658; see also pp. 273 and 1435 of same volume; Mark Lane Express, 25 May 1874; private information; Hansard passim.]

E. C.-e.