Thompson, William (1805-1852) (DNB00)

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THOMPSON, WILLIAM (1805–1852), naturalist, son of a linen merchant in Belfast, was born in that city on 2 Dec. 1805, and, after school education, was apprenticed to the linen business in 1820. For a time he carried on his father's business, but, meeting with little success, he abandoned it and devoted himself to science. From boyhood he was fond of observing birds and insects, and after his indentures terminated in 1826 he gave more and more time to natural history. In 1826 he went a tour of four months on the continent, and in the following year published on 13 Aug. his first paper, ‘On the Birds of the Copeland Isles.’ In 1833 he contributed ‘Notes on Sterna Arctica’ to the Zoological Society of London. When the British Association met at Glasgow in 1840 his ‘Report on the Fauna of Ireland—Division Vertebrata,’ attracted much attention. He went a voyage to the Levant in 1841 with Edward Forbes [q. v.], and made some observations on migratory birds, and from 1841 to 1843 he made numerous contributions to the ‘Annals and Magazine of Natural History.’ In 1843 he was elected president of the Natural History Society of Belfast, which he joined in 1826. He died unmarried on 17 Feb. 1852, while on a visit to London, and was buried at Belfast.

Forbes and other naturalists of the time esteemed him highly. His chief work was his ‘Natural History of Ireland,’ of which the first volume appeared in 1849, and the fourth posthumously in 1856, under the editorship of Robert Patterson [q. v.], George Dickie [q. v.], and Robert Ball [q. v.] It is still the standard book on its subject, and, besides its valuable scientific details, contains many passages of general interest. He was the first observer who described the wonderful breeding places of murrans, whirrans, albanachs, skearts, herring-gulls, gamehawks, and other rare species which are to be found on the coast of Clondehorky, co. Donegal. His portrait occurs in Ransome's ‘Scientific Portraits.’

[Memoir (with portrait) by Patterson in Natural History of Ireland; Literary Gazette, 1852, p. 182; Works.]

N. M.