Sir Charles Wyville Thomson

1830 - 1882

Sir Charles Wyville Thomson
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Sir Charles Wyville Thomson

Oceanographer and marine biologist. Born at Bonsyde House, just to the north of Linlithgow, Thomson the son of a surgeon in the service of the East India Company. He educated at Merchiston Castle School and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He gained a lectureship in botany at the University of Aberdeen, but soon was appointed to professorships at Belfast (1854-68) and Cork (1868-70) before returning to Edinburgh to take the Regius Chair of Natural History in 1870. He studied marine invertebrates and, during deep-sea dredging expeditions to the north of Scotland (1868-69), identified several species which were thought to be extinct. He also took temperature readings at depth and these gave evidence for deep currents which circulated oceanic water. He famously led a 68,890-nautical mile (127,584-km) scientific expedition in HMS Challenger (1872-6) which circumnavigated the globe and trawled the depths of the oceans for new forms of life.

This was considered a remarkable contribution to science and he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1877. Although he published a two-volume account of the trip as The Voyage of the Challenger in the Atlantic the same year, the work involved in the preparation of the full report of the detailed scientific findings was too much for him. Thomson took to his bed and died the following year. The work was completed by his friend and assistant Sir John Murray (1841 - 1914) and was eventually published in more than fifty volumes, completed in 1896.

Thomson died at Bonsyde House and is buried in the kirkyard of St. Michael's Parish Church, Linlithgow. He is remembered by a memorial window in that church, together with the Wyville-Thomson Ridge in the North Atlantic, between Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

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