Photographs from the D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson collection

Scope and Content

The photographs reflect the contents of the whole collection and relate to marine ecology and fauna; natural history; anthropology and personal subjects.

  • Personal subjects, some 200 - 250 b/w and sepia images of Thompson and various family members ca. 1860-ca. 1950. These include:Personal subjects, some 200 - 250 b/w and sepia images of Thompson and various family members ca. 1860-ca. 1950. These include:Portrait images of Gamgee family members (Edinburgh Veterinary pioneers, ca. 1860-ca. 1875);Portrait images of Gamgee family members (Edinburgh Veterinary pioneers, ca. 1860-ca. 1875);Irish family members- Thompson being the son of Thompson the elder's first marriage, he subsequently re-married after moving to Galway and had a large family). This family took the surname Thompson (images date from ca. 1885-ca. 1935);Irish family members- Thompson being the son of Thompson the elder's first marriage, he subsequently re-married after moving to Galway and had a large family). This family took the surname Thompson (images date from ca. 1885-ca. 1935);Portrait photographs of Thompson (ca. 1885-ca. 1947);Portrait photographs of Thompson (ca. 1885-ca. 1947);Thompson, wife and children images (ca. 1905-ca. 1950);Thompson, wife and children images (ca. 1905-ca. 1950);Photographs of Thompson on various of his travels including the United States (1936) and Greece (1939).
  • International Fur Seal Commission: some 250 -300 b/w and sepia images up to 60x20cm of the Pribiloff Islands, Behring Sea, 1894 - 1897. The images include photographs taken during these expeditions by Alexander (Alec) Masterman Rodger, one of Thompson's assistants at UCD who later became Curator of Perth City Museum (Scotland). The stock of images also include a quantity of photographs dated 1894. The provenance of these holdings can be assumed but is not known.
  • Location shots: some 20 - 30 b/w images not including Thompson. Prominent amongst these is an image of Thompson's study at UCD (ca. 1900) and exterior and interior images of his homes of Gowrie Cottage, Broughty Ferry (Angus) where he lived from ca.1884-1917, and 44 South Street, St Andrews (1917-1948).
  • Lantern slides: some 250 slides, many of which have been digitised: fisheries research - Scotland-based (ca. 1900-ca.1935); Aran Islands (Ireland) life and views (ca. 1930-1935).
  • University of St Andrews Natural History teaching lantern slides: some 300 in total.
  • Scientific photographs showing structure in nature: Some 30-50 images relating to On Growth and Form, ca. 1915-ca. 1940. These were obtained by Thompson from various sources and include a noted early water splash image.

Administrative / Biographical History

D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948) was born in Edinburgh, the son of a Classical scholar, his father D'Arcy Thompson the Elder becoming professor of Greek at Queen's College, Galway from 1865. Educated by his father and at the Edinburgh Academy, Thompson studied at Edinburgh University from 1878-1880 before transferring to Cambridge, graduating in the Sciences in 1883. While at Cambridge, he translated Muller's On the fertilisation of flowers into English. The volume, which included a preface by Darwin, was published in 1883. In 1884 he was appointed Professor of Biology at University College, Dundee. He remained at Dundee until 1917 when he became Professor of Natural History at the University of St. Andrews, a post he held until his death in St Andrews in 1948.

In 1896-1897, D'Arcy Thompson acted as Scientific Advisor to the British Delegation of the Behring Sea Fur Seal Commission. In this period, he made 2 expeditions to the Behring Sea. Both expeditions visited the Pribiloff Islands. This Commission was set-up to investigate disputes between Great Britain and the United States over the fur seal industry. Thompson is credited with brokering the deal which brought the dispute to an end at the Washington Conference of late 1897. In 1898 he was awarded the CB for his part in the Commission.

From around 1900, Thompson was an important figure in European fisheries research, carrying out pioneering research in hydrography under the Fisheries Board for Scotland and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

In 1937, Thompson was knighted in the Coronation Honours list. He married in 1901 and fathered 3 daughters, one of whom, Ruth D'Arcy Thompson, would become his biographer.

Thompson has been styled the last of the great Victorian polymaths. In addition to his scientific acumen, he was also an eminent classicist, mathematician, bibliophile and a noted author on the history of science. He was also a highly sought-after public lecturer on a wide range of subjects, making lecture tours of Belgium in 1919, the North Eastern United States in 1936 and a Hellenic Travel Club cruise to Greece in 1939. He also made a number of early BBC educational radio broadcasts in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Thompson published broadly during his lengthy career. In addition his translation of Muller mentioned above and numerous articles and pamphlets his most important works include: On Growth and Form (1917; 2nd edition 1942), regarded by many as the foundation stone of modern biophysics, a benchmark translation of Aristotle's Historia Animalium (1910) and A Glossary of Greek Birds (1896) and A Glossary of Greek Fishes (1944); based on the classics, these were regarded as classics in their time.


The photographs are scattered throughout the collection.

Access Information

The photographic collections are currently the subject of a major digitisation project. It is the intention to have the entire archive captured in electronic form, and available (with sophisticated searching facilities) on line via the web. A full version of the software can be accessed in the Library and researchers are welcome to visit the library to use it but it is important that appointments are made in advance. Access to original photographic material may be restricted.


The photographs are to be found within ms9013-29950, ms40500-50167.

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist, based on notes provided by Meic Pierce Owen, HOST Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

The collection has been the subject of a Research Support Libraries Programme grant and formed part of the History of Science and Technology project. Parts of the collection are now listed and available on the departmental manuscripts database. A handlist to the correspondence (1987) is being superseded by the manuscripts database.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of images held in the photographic collection (with the exception of any photographs which are held either without copyright or under other restrictions imposed by the donor or photographer) can be ordered. Photographs thus provided for purely personal or research purposes are not subject to any fee beyond the photographic costs (for which a scale of charges is available). Prior written permission must be obtained before any further reproduction is undertaken of images supplied, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Reproduction fees may be charged.

True photographic reprints of most images can be provided, or computer-generated prints of an increasing proportion of the collection at low, medium or high resolution. Given the fragility of the original material our preference is to provide computer prints where possible. We can also provide transparencies and a range of electronic formats.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 227 procedures.

Custodial History

The bulk of the papers were bequeathed to the University of St Andrews by Thompson. Additional subsequent deposits have been and are being gifted to the University of St Andrews by his daughters.




DW Thompson, On Growth and Form (1917; 2nd edition Cambridge, 1942); Glossary of Greek Birds (London, 1896); Glossary of Greek Fishes (London, 1944); Aristotle's Historia Animalium (translated by Thompson, 1910) H. Muller, Befruchtung der Blumen durch Inseketen (The fertilisation of flowers) (translated and edited by D.W. Thompson ; with a preface by Charles Darwin) (London, 1883).

Additional Information

This material is original.