Thomson, James, Professor (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).]