S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Thomson, Dr Robert Black (anatomy)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: 1938, South Africa.

Robert Black Thomson, British anatomist, was educated at Morton Public School and Wallace Hall Academy, continued his studies at the University of Edinburgh and qualified as Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Bachelor in Surgery (ChB) in 1905. As a student he won medals for his performance in zoology, practical physiology, and both junior and senior anatomy, and in 1906 won a scholarship for research in anatomy. From 1905 to 1911 he remained at the University of Edinburgh as researcher, demonstrator and lecturer in anatomy, including post-graduate courses. During this period he did valuable work in comparative anatomy and published at least two papers: 'Scottish National Antarctic Expedition: Osteology of Antarctic seals' (Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1909) and 'Complete unilateral interruption of the fissure of Rolando' (Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1911).

In 1911 Thomson was appointed as the first professor of anatomy at the South African College, Cape Town, arriving to take up his duties towards the end of May. His inaugural address was delivered on 11 August that year and he was registered as a medical practitioner in South Africa in September 1915. However, in 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918) he left on military service in the Army Medical Corps, with the rank of major. He was still with the military during 1917. Shortly after the South African College became the University of Cape Town in 1918 he resigned his position and was succeeded by his assistant, Matthew R. Drennan*.

After his arrival in South Africa Thomson soon started anthropological studies and published a 'Note on the vertebral column of the Bushman race of South Africa' (Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1913, Vol. 3, pp. 365-379). Later he contributed a note on fragments of limb bones found with parts of a human skull described by S.H. Haughton* (Ibid, 1917, Vol. 6, pp. 1-15). The remains had been found on the farm Kolonies Plaats at Boskop, in the Potchefstroom district of the Transvaal. He also contributed a 'Note on the retroperitoneal position of the vermiform process or appendix' to the South African Medical Record (1913).

Thomson was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and while in South Africa became a member of the Royal Society of South Africa. After his resignation he remained in South Africa and in 1926 was practicing medicine in Aliwal North, Eastern Cape.

List of sources:

Google Scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za

Medical, dental and pharmacy directory of South Africa, 1926/7. Johannesburg: Ewald Herbert, 1926.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Robert Black Thomson / R.B. Thomson.

Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, Vol. NMC 34: List of medical practitioners, dentists, and chemists and druggists registered in the Cape of Good Hope as on 31 December 1915.

Ritchie, W. The history of the South African College, 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller, 1918.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1913, Vol. 3 and 1917, Vol. 6: articles by R.B. Thomson and list of members.

Wells, L.H. One hundred years: Robert Broom 30 November 1866 to 6 April 1951. South African Journal of Science, 1967, Vol. 63, pp. 357-366.

Compiled by: C. Plug