Thomson, Henry William (Byerley) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 56
Thomson, Henry William (Byerley)

by Thomas Seccombe
1904 Errata appended.
Contains subarticle John Cockburn Thomson (1834–1860).

THOMSON, HENRY WILLIAM (BYERLEY) (1822–1867), jurist, the son of Anthony Todd Thomson [q. v.], by his second wife, Katharine Byerley [see Thomson, Katharine], of an old Durham family (whence he assumed in later life a prefix to his surname), was born in May 1822. He was educated at University College, London, and at Jesus College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. (as senior optime) in 1846, was called to the bar from the Inner Temple in May 1849, and practised on the northern circuit. He specialised in military and international law, and his useful little treatise on the ‘Laws of War affecting Commerce and Shipping’ went through two editions in 1854. It was followed in 1855 by ‘The Military Forces and Institutions of Great Britain and Ireland: their Constitution, Administration, and Government, Military and Civil,’ in which he endeavoured to galvanise a huge mass of unused material from parliamentary bluebooks and similar materials, and in 1857 by ‘The Choice of a Profession: a concise Account and comparative Review of the English Professions.’ Both works are well written, and should be of value to the sociologist. Thomson was living at this time at 8 Serjeant's Inn, Temple, but professional success seemed as distant as ever when, in May 1858, he was appointed by the colonial secretary, Lord Stanley [see Stanley, Edward Henry, fifteenth Earl of Derby], queen's advocate in Ceylon. Three years later he was promoted puisne judge of the supreme court of Colombo. He lost no time in setting to work upon a digest of the law as administered in Ceylon, and in 1866 he was in London superintending the publication of his most permanent memorial, ‘Institutes of the Laws of Ceylon’ (London, 1866, 2 vols. large 8vo), which ranks as an authority together with the judgments of Sir Charles Marshall, and which, as the chief justice of Ceylon (Sir Edward Creasy) said at Thomson's death, ‘will long be cited with admiration and gratitude.’ Thomson died at Colombo, as the result of an apoplectic seizure, on 6 Jan. 1867. He married, in 1858, Mlle. Beaumont, and left two sons: Henry Byerley, who took orders in 1888, and Arthur Byerley.

The jurist's younger brother, John Cockburn Thomson (1834–1860), was born in London in 1834, and after studying at Bonn matriculated from Trinity College, Oxford, on 7 June 1852, graduating B.A. from St. Mary Hall in 1857. While at Oxford he worked at Sanskrit (in continuation of studies commenced at Munich) under Horace Hayman Wilson [q. v.], and before he took his degree, being then only twenty-one, he published ‘The Bhagavad-Gita; or a Discourse between Krishna and Arjuna on Divine Matters: a Sanskrit Philosophical Poem; translated [into English Prose] with copious Notes, an Introduction on Sanskrit Philosophy, and other Matter,’ Hertford, 1855, 2 vols. 16mo. The performance was praised not only by Wilson but by Garcin de Tassy, by Schliessen of Prague, by Spiegel of Erlangen, and other foreign savants; and it was used as a class-book in the East Indian College at Haileybury. Two years later the author gained the Boden Sanskrit scholarship at Oxford, and was presented with a gold medal by Maximilian of Bavaria. Upon Wilson's death in 1860 Thomson became a candidate for the librarianship at the India office, but he was accidentally drowned at Tenby on 26 May 1860. He had recently been appointed a member of the Asiatic Society of Paris, and of the Antiquarian Society of Normandy. Apart from his work in Sanskrit he was, under the pseudonym of Philip Wharton, joint author with his mother of ‘Queens of Society’ (1860) and ‘Wits and Beaux of Society’ (1860), two anecdotal volumes which were well received by the public.

[Luard's Athenæ Cantabr.; Gent. Mag. 1867, i. 392; Colonial Office List, 1867, p. 252; Ceylon Bi-Monthly Examiner, 15 Jan. 1867; North American Rev. No. lxxxvi, p. 435; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.264
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
245 ii 13f.e. Thomson, Henry W.: for Ghita read Gita