Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Thomson, Sir Charles Wyville

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THOMSON, Sir Charles Wyville (1830-1882), was born at Bonsyde, Linlithgowshire, became professor of natural history in Aberdeen, Cork, Belfast, and finally Edinburgh, and will be specially remembered as a student of the biological conditions of the depths of the sea. Being interested in crinoids, and stimulated by the results of the dredgings of Sars in the deep sea off the Norwegian coasts, which had conclusively disposed of the error of Edward Forbes, that animal life ceased at a depth of a few hundred fathoms, he succeeded, along with Dr W. B. Carpenter, in obtaining the loan of H.M.S. "Lightning" and "Porcupine," for successive deep-sea dredging expeditions in the summers of 1868 and 1869. It was thus shown that animal life existed in abundance down to depths of 650 fathoms, that all invertebrate groups were represented (largely by Tertiary forms hitherto believed to be extinct), and, moreover, that deep-sea temperatures are by no means so constant as was supposed, but vary considerably, and indicate an oceanic circulation. Further dredging expeditions at greater and greater depths followed. The remarkable results gained for hydrography as well as zoology, in association with the practical needs of ocean telegraphy, soon led to the granting of H.M.S. "Challenger" for a circumnavigating expedition, and Thomson sailed at the end of 1872 as director of the scientific staff, the cruise lasting three years and a half. On his return he received many academic honours, and was knighted. In 1877 he published two volumes of a preliminary account of the results of the voyage, meanwhile carrying on his administrative labours in connexion with the disposition of the special collections and publication of the monographs of these. His health, never robust, was meanwhile giving way; from 1879 he ceased to perform the duties of his chair, and he died in 1882.

See obituary notice in Proc. Roy. Soc. Edin., 1883, also Thomson's Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger, London, 1877, and Thomson and Murray, Reports of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger, Edinburgh, 1885.