Sir Charles Wyville Thomson - Encyclopedia




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SIR CHARLES WYVILLE THOMSON (1830--1882), Scottish naturalist, was born at Bonsyde, Linlithgowshire, on the 5th of March 1830, and was educated at Edinburgh University. In 1850 he was appointed lecturer in, and in 1851 professor of, botany at Aberdeen, and in 1853 he became professor of natural history in Queen's College, Cork. A year later he was nominated to the chair of mineralogy and geology at Queen's College, Belfast, and in 1860 was transferred to the chair of natural history in the same institution. In 1868 he assumed the duties of professor of botany at the Royal College of Science, Dublin, and finally in 1870 he received the natural history chair at Edinburgh. He 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 Michael Sars (1805-1869) in the deep sea off the Norwegian coasts, 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 exists in abundance down to depths of 650 fathoms, that all invertebrate groups are represented (largely by Tertiary forms previously 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. The results of these expeditions were described in The Depths of the Sea, which he published in 1873. 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 (see Challenger Expedition). On his return he received many academic honours, and was knighted. In 1877 he published two volumes (The Voyage of the Challenger in the Atlantic), 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 the publication of the monographs dealing with them. His health, never robust, was meanwhile giving way; from 1879 he ceased to perform the duties of his chair, and he died Bonsyde on the 10th of March 1882.

See obituary notice in Proc. Soc. Edin. (1883); also Thomson and Murray, Reports of the Voyage of H.M.S. "Challenger" (Edinburgh, 1885).

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