Thomas Thomson

1817 - 1878

Naturalist, explorer and plant-hunter. Born in Glasgow, the son of chemist Thomas Thomson (1773 - 1852), Thomson studied medicine at the University of Glasgow, alongside Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817 - 1911). He graduated in 1839 having already gained a reputation for his novel work in geology and chemistry. He joined the East India Company as an assistant surgeon. In 1840, he was appointed Curator of the Museum of the Asiatic Society in Bengal. Two years later he was captured by the Afghans during the British invasion of that country and was almost sold into slavery before escaping.

Commissioned to survey the boundary between Kashmir and Tibet in 1847, Thomson was able to travel into little known areas of the Western Himalayas observing both the plants and geology. He accompanied his friend Hooker on his travels in Sikkim, the Eastern Himalayas and the Khasia Mountains (1849-50). He returned to Britain in poor-health and spent time at Kew, cataloguing and distributing the specimens he had collected. He wrote Travels in the Western Himalayas and Tibet (1852) and collaborated with Hooker on his Flora indica which was published in 1855. In 1854, Thomson returned to India to take charge of Calcutta Botanic Garden and also served as Professor of Botany at Calcutta Medical College.

He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society (1852) and a Fellow of the Royal Society (1855).

Thomson introduced a number of plants including new species of pine tree and primula. Rhododendron thomsonii was named in his honour by Hooker, and Acer thomsonii was also named after him. He is remembered in the Plant Hunter's Garden at Pitlochry.

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