Williamson was both a naturalist and a medical practitioner. He was a former curator of Scarborough Museum and in 1835 was appointed curator to the Manchester Natural History Society. In 1838 he attended Manchester Royal School of Medicine and received the MRCS in 1840. He was appointed a surgeon at Chorlton-on-Medlock Dispensary and helped establish Manchester Ear Hospital. In 1851, he was appointed professor of natural history at the newly-formed Owens College, and his brief included botany, zoology, geology and anatomy and physiology. In 1854 he was made FRS. Williamson's main interest from the mid-1850s was in paleobotany on which he published numerous papers.
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