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James Thomson (1786–1849) was an Irish mathematician, notable for his role in the formation of the thermodynamics school at Glasgow University. He was father of the engineer and physicist James Thomson and the physicist William Thomson, Lord Kelvin,


Born on 13 November 1786, he was fourth son of James Thomson, a small farmer at Annaghmore, near Ballynahinch, County Down (the house was later called Spamount), by his wife, Agnes Nesbit. His early education was from his father. At the age of eleven or twelve he had found out for himself the art of dialling. His father sent him to a school at Ballykine, near Ballynahinch, kept by Samuel Edgar, father of John Edgar. 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, and in 1814 he was appointed headmaster of the school of arithmetic, bookkeeping, and geography in the newly established Academical Institution, Belfast; and in 1815 he was professor of mathematics in its collegiate department. Here he proved himself as a teacher. 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 January 1849.

He was the author of the schoolbooks that passed through many editions:

‘Arithmetic,’ Belfast, 1819; 72nd edit. London, 1880.
‘Trigonometry, Plane and Spherical,’ Belfast, 1820; 4th edit. London, 1844.
‘Introduction to Modern Geography,’ Belfast, 1827.
‘The Phenomena of the Heavens,’ Belfast, 1827.
‘The Differential and Integral Calculus,’ 1831; 2nd edit. London, 1848.
‘Euclid,’ 1834.
‘Atlas of Modern Geography.’
‘Algebra,’ 1844.

A paper ‘Recollections of the Battle of Ballynahinch, by an Eye-witness,’ which appeared in the Belfast Magazine for February 1825, was from his pen.

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. James (1822–1892) and William, afterwards Lord Kelvin (1824–1908), were the two elder sons.

"Thomson, James (1786–1849)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

External links

James Thomson at University of Glasgow


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Thomson, James (1786–1849)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

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