William Thomson, Lord Kelvin: Family Letters

Scope and Content

68 letters, mostly from Kelvin to his sister Elizabeth; a few to David King; some from Margaret Thomson, Kelvin's first wife, and Frances Thomson, his second wife; 3 from Charles and Margaret Watson at the time of Margaret Thomson's death; and 4 from Frances Thomson to Elizabeth, daughter of David and Elizabeth King. The letters cover family news; occasional references to Kelvin's scientific work; the long illness of Margaret Thomson, and of David King; the laying of Atlantic telegraph cables, 1865-1866, and other underwater cables; and the death at sea of David King junior, 1874.

The collection also contains photographs, including one of a drawing of Lord Kelvin, his brother James Thomson and Elizabeth King, by Agnes Gardner King, and two photographs of Dr David King.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), scientist and inventor, studied at Glasgow University from 1834, before entering Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1841, where he was a Fellow, 1846-1856 and 1872-1907. He was Professor of Natural Philosophy in Glasgow, 1846-1899; president of the mathematical and physical section of the British Association at Glasgow, 1876; and Chancellor of Glasgow University, 1904. He helped to found the firm Kelvin&White, Ltd, Glasgow, which he used to manufacture his inventions. Thomson was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1851, and served as its President from 1890 to 1894. He was knighted in 1866, and created a baron in 1892. Between 1851 and 1854 he formulated the two great laws of thermodynamics, equivalence and transformation. In 1853 he developed the theory of electric oscillations, which was to form the basis of wireless telegraphy, and in 1866 he superintended the laying of a cable across the Atlantic.

Lord Kelvin's sister, Elizabeth (1819-1896), married the Revd Dr David King (1806-1883).

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by Anthony Hilbery, 1990.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to the entry on Lord Kelvin in the Sidney Lee, ed., Dictionary of national biography, 1901-1911, Vol. III (Oxford University Press, 1927), pp. 508-517.

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Summary Catalogue. A catalogue of the collection is also available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Related Material

Cambridge University Library also holds correspondence, papers and notebooks of Lord Kelvin, MS.Add.7342, including letters from Elizabeth King.