Wright, Thomas (1809-1884) (DNB00)

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WRIGHT, THOMAS (1809–1884), physician and geologist, was born on 9 Nov. 1809 at Paisley, Renfrewshire, and received his early education in the grammar school of that town, after which he was articled to his brother-in-law, a surgeon in practice there. On the removal of the latter to Ayrshire, Wright's medical studies were for a time interrupted, but their attraction was irresistible, so that he ultimately rejoined his relative and completed his time. Then he became a student at the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, working also at the Peter Street Anatomical and Surgical School. He rapidly acquired great skill as a dissector and an extensive knowledge of anatomy, so that he was offered a demonstratorship, which probably would have led to a higher position, but blood-poisoning from a wound received in dissecting a case of confluent small-pox produced such serious results that he was unable to accept the office. On recovering his health he passed the College of Surgeons in 1832, and shortly afterwards settled at Cheltenham. Here he acquired a large practice, became medical officer of health to the urban district, and was for many years surgeon to the general hospital. In 1846 he graduated M.D. at St. Andrews University.

Wright's enthusiasm for scientific studies never flagged. At first he was engrossed in delicate microscopic work, but when this proved too trying to his eyes, he devoted himself to palæontology and gradually formed a collection of Jurassic fossils which was rich in cephalopods, and perhaps unequalled for sea-urchins and starfish. Notwithstanding his many occupations he found time to be an active member of the Cotteswold Club, an enthusiastic advocate of science as a branch of education, and a frequent lecturer at all places within reach of Cheltenham. His power of exposition, ample stores of knowledge, and remarkably fine presence made him an educational force in the Severn valley.

Such vacations as Wright's profession permitted were devoted to travel in Britain and on the continent in order to enlarge his knowledge, especially of Jurassic rocks and fossils. He was the author of about thirty-two papers on geological subjects, seven of them published in the ‘Quarterly Journal’ of the Geological Society; but one of the most valuable, on the correlation of the Jurassics of the Côte d'Or with those in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, appeared in the ‘Proceedings’ of the Cotteswold Club. Yet more important were his contributions to the volumes of the Palæontographical Society. He was engaged from 1855 to 1882 in describing the sea-urchins and starfishes of the Jurassic and cretaceous formations, in which task at the outset he had counted on aid from Professor Edward Forbes [q. v.], but the early death of the latter left him to work single-handed. In 1878 he began the ‘Lias Ammonites,’ which was just completed at his death. This palæontological work was published by the Palæontological Society (London, 1878–84, 4to), and fills four large and well-illustrated volumes.

Wright was elected F.R.S.E. in 1855; F.G.S. in 1859, receiving the Wollaston medal in 1878; president of the geological section at the British Association meeting in 1875; F.R.S. in 1879. He also received honorary distinctions from various British and foreign societies.

Wright died on 17 Nov. 1884. His fine collection of fossils was purchased for an American museum. He was twice married: first, to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Captain Vincent May of Liverpool; and, secondly, in 1845, to Mary, youngest daughter of Sir Robert Tristram Ricketts, bart., of the Elms, Cheltenham. She died in 1878, leaving one son, Thomas Lawrence Wright, and two daughters, the elder married to Edward Bestbridge Wethered, a well-known geologist; and the younger to Canon Charles Byron Wilcox, vicar of Christ Church, Birmingham.

[Memoir (with portrait) in the Midland Medical Miscellany, 1 Nov. 1883; obituary notices, Quarterly Journal Geol. Soc. xli. (1885), Proc. p. 39; Geol. Mag. 1885, p. 93 (with list of papers); information from E. B. Wethered, esq.]

T. G. B.