Thomson family papers

The medical papers, lecture notes, drawings and correspondence of Allen Thomson (1809-1884), including some papers of his father, John Thomson (1765-1846), and half-brother William Thomson (1802-1852).

John and William Thomson

Dr. John Thomson held various medical chairs at the University of Edinburgh, including that of Professor of Military Surgery; he was also the biographer of William Cullen (1710-1790). Both of his sons followed in his footsteps, enjoying distinguished medical careers. William, the elder son, delivered courses on pathology at the University of Edinburgh during his father's illness and was later Professor of Practice of Medicine at the University of Glasgow (1841-1852). A prolific author, his treatises on the diseases of the liver and on the black expectoration of coal miners are considered to be particularly valuable contributions to medical science.

Allen Thomson

Allen graduated as MD in Edinburgh in 1830. Following several years as an extra-academical lecturer on Anatomy and as a physician in Edinburgh (interspersed by several European tours), he became Professor of Anatomy at Aberdeen University in 1839. He resigned from this post in 1841 and resumed his teaching of Anatomy in the extra-mural school at Edinburgh. In 1842 he became Professor of the Institutes of Medicine at Edinburgh, and in 1848 was appointed as Chair of Anatomy at Glasgow.

He spent 29 years at Glasgow, distinguished both as a Professor and as a contributor to scientific literature, especially in the field of Embryology. Amongst his many achievements, he remodelled the Glasgow medical school (including banning smoking in the anatomy classroom) and - as chairman of the buildings committee - was a key player in ensuring the success of the University's relocation from the High Street to Gilmorehill in the 1870s.

Although primarily consisting of manuscript material, the Thomson family papers also contains a small collection of printed articles and pamphlets relating to the Thomsons and their work.

The collection was donated by John Millar Thomson (1849-1933) in 1920, and augmented by additional material from Thomson's estate in 1973. John Millar Thomson (Allen Thomson's son) was Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at King’s College, London; he also donated the related collection of Cullen Papers to the Library.

How to find material in the Thomson family papers

  • Browse through a list of items in the collection (MS Gen 1476); or use the manuscripts search to locate a specific item.
  • Bound volumes of lectures on physiology by Allen Thomson are shelved at MS Gen 170.
  • There is also some Thomson material in the Cullen collection: see MS Cullen.
  • Records for printed items may be searched for via the rare books search; material in Special Collections has been shelved at the call numbers RQ 1942 and RF 880. Material in the Library Research Annexe is shelved at Cc4.
  • A tale of three cities: the correspondence of William Sharpey and Allen Thomson edited by L.S. Jacyna (London, 1989) Level 5 Main Lib Medicine ZC5 1989-J