Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, James (1786-1849)

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THOMSON, JAMES (1786–1849), mathematician, born on 13 Nov. 1786, was fourth son of James Thomson, a small farmer at Annaghmore, near Ballynahinch, co. Down (the house is now called Spamount), by his wife, Agnes Nesbit. His early teaching was received solely from his father. At the age of eleven or twelve he had found out for himself the art of dialling. Seeing his strong bent for scientific pursuits, his father sent him to a school at Ballykine, near Ballynahinch, kept by Samuel Edgar, father of John Edgar [q. v.] Here Thomson soon rose to be an assistant. Wishing to become a minister of the presbyterian church, he in 1810 entered Glasgow University, where he studied for several sessions, supporting himself by teaching in the Ballykine school during the summer. He graduated M.A. in 1812, in 1814 he was appointed headmaster of the school of ‘arithmetic, bookkeeping, and geography’ in the newly established Academical Institution, Belfast; and in 1815 professor of mathematics in its collegiate department. Here he proved himself a teacher of rare ability.dannce dance dance dance ass ass ass ass In 1829 the honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the university of Glasgow, where in 1832 he was appointed professor of mathematics. He held this post till his death on 12 Jan. 1849.

Thomson married, in 1817, Margaret, eldest daughter of William Gardiner of Glasgow (she died in 1830), by whom he had four sons and three daughters, whose education he conducted with the utmost care. James (1822–1892) [q. v.] and William, afterwards Lord Kelvin (1824–1908), were the two elder sons.

There is a good portrait of Thomson, by Grahame Gilbert, formerly belonging to Lord Kelvin. A copy of it hangs in the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.

He was the author of the following schoolbooks, which long enjoyed a high reputation and passed through many editions: 1. ‘Arithmetic,’ Belfast, 1819; 72nd edit. London, 1880. 2. ‘Trigonometry, Plane and Spherical,’ Belfast, 1820; 4th edit. London, 1844. 3. ‘Introduction to Modern Geography,’ Belfast, 1827. 4. ‘The Phenomena of the Heavens,’ Belfast, 1827. 5. ‘The Differential and Integral Calculus,’ 1831; 2nd edit. London, 1848. 6. ‘Euclid,’ 1834. 7. ‘Atlas of Modern Geography.’ 8. ‘Algebra,’ 1844. A very graphic paper, entitled ‘Recollections of the Battle of Ballynahinch, by an Eye-witness,’ which appeared in the ‘Belfast Magazine’ for February 1825, was from his pen.

[Sketch written in 1862 by his son, Professor James Thomson, in consultation with Professor William Thomson (subsequently Lord Kelvin), in Poggendorff's Biographisch-literarisches Handwörterbuch; Memoir of Professor James Thomson, jun., by J. T. Bottomley, F.R.S., in Proceedings of the Philosophical Society of Glasgow, 1892–3; information kindly supplied by Thomson's grandchildren, Mr. James Thomson and Miss Thomson, Newcastle-on-Tyne.]

T. H.