William Thompson (naturalist)
William Thompson (2 December 1805 – 17 February 1852) was an Irish naturalist celebrated for his founding studies of the natural history of Ireland, especially in ornithology and marine biology. Thompson published numerous notes on the distribution, breeding, eggs, habitat, song, plumage, behaviour, nesting and food of birds. These formed the basis of his four-volume The Natural History of Ireland, and were much used by contemporary and later authors such as Francis Orpen Morris.
Thompson was born in the booming maritime city of Belfast, Ireland, the eldest son of a linen merchant, whose wealth would later permit Thompson to fund his own research without an academic affiliation. Thompson attended the newly formed Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he got a degree in Biological Science. Founded by, amongst others, John Templeton, the school had a strong natural history section that produced a cohort of prominent naturalists. In 1826 he went on a Grand Tour accompanied by cousin George Langtry, a Fortwilliam, Belfast shipowner. They starting in the Netherlands then travelled through Belgium down the Rhine to Switzerland and on to Rome and Naples. They returned via Florence, Geneva and Paris. Thompson's first scientific paper, The Birds of the Copeland Islands, was published in 1827 shortly after he joined the Belfast Natural History Society. In these years he became a member of the Belfast Literary Society.
Thompson contributed up-to-date information on the birds of Ireland to Selby's The Magazine of Zoology and Botany, The Annals of Natural History, The Magazine of Natural History, and the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, and prepared the first comprehensive list of Ireland's birds for the 1840 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Glasgow. Other work, primarily about birds, was published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London and the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. These papers formed the basis of his seminal work—The Natural History of Ireland—published in three volumes between 1849 and 1851.
He documented many rare species, that he learned about through being shot by his network of correspondents. These included the first Irish occurrences of Bonaparte's Gull and American Bittern. <The Natural History of Ireland>He never observed a Red Kite and noted 'The name of "Kite" appears commonly in the catalogues of birds given in the Statistical Surveys of the Irish counties, and elsewhere; but, as the larger species of the falconidae are in some places called Kite and Glead, as well as Goshawk or Goose-hawk, there can be no doubt that the buzzard, or some common species, was meant'. <the Natural History of Ireland</ref>
In 1834 Thompson began studying the distribution of marine animals in space (depth range) and time (seasonality). His first research was with Edward Forbes conducting dredging in the Irish Sea. Other participants were Robert MacAndrew, George Barlee, John Gwyn Jeffreys and his fellow Irishmen Robert Ball, Edmund Getty and George Crawford Hyndman. In 1835 he travelled in France, Switzerland and Germany with Forbes. Then in 1841 he joined Forbes and Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt on the Beacon commanded by Thomas Graves and working in the Mediterranean and Aegean. The expedition lasted eighteen months and conducted more than one hundred dredging operations at depths varying from 1 to 130 fathoms, as well as shore-based studies. Thompson focused on the depth range of algae, his main collection of which is in the Ulster Museum herbarium and consists of five large albums containing specimens collected by Thompson himself, William Henry Harvey, Moon, D. Landsborough, Robert Ball, Thomas Coulter, George Crawford Hyndman, William McCalla and many others. His records are also reported by others such as Gifford (1853):- Griffithsia simplicifilum from "...Isle of Wight, in August, 1841, by Messers. R.Ball. and W. Thompson."
Thompson corresponded extensively on all aspects of natural history with naturalists in both Britain and Ireland, including with zoologist Thomas Bell who was at the heart of the English scientific establishment and two of the "Grandees" of the Zoological Society, Nicholas Aylward Vigors, William Ogilby.
As Thompson's reputation spread, information was passed to him by interested observers all over Ireland. However his health became poor around 1847 or 1848, when he was 42, and he suffered from heart trouble from 1847. In 1852 Thompson died of a heart attack in London where he had been tended by his friends William Yarrell, author of British Birds, Edward Forbes, Edwin Lankester, of the Ray Society and George Busk. He died unmarried.
Excerpts from Thompson's letters and his notes were edited and published as the fourth volume of The Natural History of Ireland, which focused on invertebrates and non-avian vertebrates, by George Dickie, James Ramsey Garrett and Robert Patterson in 1856, four years after his death.
The Sea louse Lepeophtheirus thompsoni Baird, 1850 honours his name.
Partial list from over eighty. A complete list is found in The Natural History of Ireland (see External Links).
- "Abstract of paper on Irish Algae, read before the Natural History Society of Belfast on January 20. 1836". The Magazine of Natural History. 9: 147–151. 1836.
- 1833 on an immature specimen of the Long-tailed Manis (Manis tetradactyla, Linn.) from Sierra Leone. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London II 28.
- 1834 Observations of some of native Mammalia, birds and fishes, including additions to the British fauna. List of land and freshwater Mollusca new to Ireland. Phil. Mag. Lond. & Edin. 5: 298.
- 1835 Pollan of Lough Neagh. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1835, 77.
- 1835 on the Teredo navalis and Limnoria terebrans, as at present existing in certain localities on the coasts of the British Islands. Edinb. New Phil. J. 18: 121–130.
- 1835 on some additions to the British fauna. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 3: 77–84.
- 1840 Note on the occurrence at various times of the bottle-nosed whale (Hyperoodon butzkoph, Lancep.) on the coast of Ireland; and its nearly simultaneous appearance on different parts of the British coast in the autumn of 1839. Magazine of Natural History 4, 375–381.
- 1840 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Magazine of Natural History 5, 6–14.
- 1840 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Magazine of Natural History 5: 245–257.
- with Goodsir, J. 1840 Description of Limneus involutus Harvey MS. with an account of the anatomy of the animal. Magazine of Natural History 5: 22–25.
- 1840 Contributions towards a knowledge of the Mollusca Nudibranchia and Mollusca Tunicata of Ireland, with descriptions of apparently some new species of invertebrata. Magazine of Natural History 5: 84–102 Plate 2.Download at
- 1841 Catalogue of the land and freshwater Mollusca of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 6: 16–34 digitised here
- 1841 Catalogue of the land and freshwater Mollusca of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 6: 109–126
- 1841 Catalogue of the land andfreshwater Mollusca of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 6: 194–208
- 1841 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 7: 477–481
- 1842 Results of deep dredging off the Mull of Galloway, by Capt. Beechey, R.N.. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 10: 21–24.
- 1842 Cycostoma elegans Lam. an Irish shell. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 8: 228.
- 1843 Report on the fauna of Ireland: div. Invertebrata. Drawn up, at the request of the British Association. Rep. Meet. Br. Assoc. Advancem. Science London, 13: 245–291.online
- 1844 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 13: 430–440.
- 1845 Additions to the fauna of Ireland, including descriptions of some apparently new species of Invertebrata. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 15: 308–322.
- 1846 Notice of a bottle-nosed whale Hyperoodon butzkoph, Lancep. obtained in Belfast Bay in October 1845. Annals and Magazine of Natural History. 17, 150–153.
- 1846 Additions to the fauna of Ireland, including species new to that of Britain; with notes on rare species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History. 18, 310–315.
- 1846 Additions to the fauna of Ireland, including a few species unrecorded in that of Britain; with the description of an apparently new Glossiphonia. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 18: 383–397.
- 1847 Note on the Teredo norvegica (T. navalis, Turton, not Linn), Xylophaga dorsalis, Limnoria terebrans and Chelura terebrans, combined in destroying the submerged wood-work at the harbour of Ardrossan on the coast of Ayrshire. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 20: 157–164.
- 1847 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 20: 169–176.
- 1848 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 1: 62–65.
- 1849 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 3: 351–357.
- 1851 Additions to the fauna of Ireland. Annals & Magazine of Natural History 7: 501–502.
- 1853 Supplementary report on the fauna of Ireland. Report for the British Association for the Advancement of Science : 286–290.
- The Natural History of Ireland. Reeve, Benham and Reeve. 1849–1851. Also published by Boehn, London.
Note. The pages Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, The Magazine of Natural History and Annals & Magazine of Natural History all link to digitised versions of these works provided by Biodiversity Heritage Library.
- Algae collection. Ulster Museum (BEL) catalogue numbers: F7953 — F8151, F8182 — F8393, F8394 — F8595, F8580 — F8847 and F8848 — F8937.
- Andrew O'Brien, Linde Lunney (2009). Thompson, William. In James McGuire, James Quinn (ed.), Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. (http://dib.cambridge.org/viewReadPage.do?articleId=a8529)
- Gifford, I. 1853. The Marine Botanist; an Introduction to the Study of the British Sea-weeds;... Third edition. Brighton, London.
- Fairley, J.S. 1975. An Irish Beast Book. A Natural History of Ireland's Furred Wildlife. Blackstaff Press, Belfast
- Foster, J. W.; Chesney, H. C. G, eds. (1997). Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History. Lilliput Press. ISBN 0-7735-1817-7.
- Rea, M. W. (1934). "The Wm. Thompson collection of British marine algae". Irish Naturalists' Journal. 5 (4): 81–83.
- Morton, O. 1980. Three algal collections in the Ulster Museum Herbarium. Ir. Nat. J. 20: 33 – 37
- Jackson, P.N.W. 2010. William Thompson (1805–1852): zoologist and biogeographer. Ir. Nat. J.: 30 119 – 122.
- Ross, H.C.G. and Nash, R. 1985. The development of natural history in early nineteenth century Ireland. From Linnaeus to Darwin: commentaries on the history of biology and geology. Society for the history of Natural History, London.
- Robert Patterson, 1856 Memoir of the Late William Thompson, Esq. President of the Natural and Philosophical Society of Belfast in The Natural History of Ireland Volume 4: Mammalia, reptiles and fishes. Also, invertebrata online here at WikiSource s:Memoir of the Late William Thompson, Esq., President of the Natural and Philosophical Society of Belfast
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