James Thomson Manuscript Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Collection of scientific papers and notebooks, memoranda, lectures, correspondence etc of James Thomson (1822-1892), Professor of Engineering at Queen's College, Belfast, 1857-1873. Various topics are highlighted in the collection reflecting Professor Thomson's wide range of research interests. These include such areas as fluid motion, the formation of river bars, ventilation, atmospheric circulation, the atmosphere of Jupiter and the freezing and melting of solid, liquid and gaseous states of matter, which he investigated with his Belfast colleague, Thomas Andrews (1813-85). The collection also includes many manuscript drafts of lectures and scientific papers, printed offprints of papers by Thomson and other contemporaries, newspapers and journals, pamphlets and patent specifications. There are also a large quantity of letters to and from Thomson with about 50 correspondents. These include his brother, the eminent physicist, Lord Kelvin, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, P.G. Tait, J.J. Murphy, Thomas Andrews, Galbraith, G.G. Stokes, Sir R. Ball, W.J.M. Rankine and others. Most of this material is of a technical nature. The collection also contains some manuscripts belonging to Thomson's father, James Thomson, senior (1786-1849).

Administrative / Biographical History

Professor James Thomson (1822-92) Engineer. b. Belfast, 16 Feb 1822. Taught at home by his father, James Thomson Sr (1786-1849), with his brother, William (later Lord Kelvin); both were considered child prodigies. 1832 attended Glasgow University at just 10 years old, graduating with an M.A. with Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in 1839. 1853, Resident engineer to the Belfast Water Commissioners. 1857-73, Crown Professor of Civil Engineering at Queen's College Belfast. 1873-89, Regius Chair of Civil Engineering, University of Glasgow. An authority on hydraulics, he invented a turbine, discovered the effect of pressure upon freezing point, and wrote papers on elastic fatigue, under-currents and trade winds. Also renowned for his work on water wheels, patenting in 1850 the Vortex water wheel, which came into extensive use. Received honorary degrees from Glasgow University (1870), Queen's University in Ireland (1875) and the University of Dublin (1878). Elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1877. d. Glasgow, 8 May 1892.[Sources: Dictionary of National Biography (1895); Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1990); Walker & McCreary, Degrees of Excellence (1994); James Thomson (1822-1892) by John Rapley, in "Panel for Historical Engineering Works" (PHEW) Newsletter, No 78, June 1998 (Institute of Civil Engineering).]James Thomson (1786-1849) Mathematician and teacher. Father of Professor James Thomson (1822-92) and William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907). b. Annaghmore, Co. Down, 17 Nov 1786. Educated at home by his father with subsequent instruction at Ballykine School near Ballynahinch, and, from 1810-12, at Glasgow University. 1814 appointed headmaster of the school of arithmetic, bookkeeping and geography at Belfast Academical Institute, and, in 1815, professor of mathematics in its collegiate department. 1832 appointed Professor of Mathematics at Glasgow University. d. Glasgow, 12 Jan 1849.[Source: Dictionary of National Biography (1895)]

Conditions Governing Access

Open to consultation


Description compiled by Clare McVeigh (RASCAL Project), entered by Deirdre Wildy, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Card Catalogue and separate inventory available in Special Collections office.

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to condition and copyright restrictions

Appraisal Information

The Thomson Manuscript Collection is significant for reflecting the research interests, processes and products of an important 19th century Engineer and Scientist. A particular strength lies in the original correspondence that is to found. An extensive series, it contains letters with Thomson's peers and contemporaries discussing technical and theoritical aspects of their respective research interests and work.

Custodial History

The papers were amassed during the lifetimes of the principal creators i.e. James Thomson Senior (1786-1849), and his son, Professor James Thomson (1832-92). They were subsequently inherited by the son of Professor Thomson Mr James Thomson, on his death in 1892. The collection was then presented to Queen's University Belfast in 1927 by A.S. Opp of London, brother-in-law of the late Mr James Thomson.