S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Thomson, Professor John Arthur (advancement of science, biology)

Born: 8 July 1861, East Lothian, Scotland.
Died: 12 February 1933, Limpsfield, Surrey, England.

J. Arthur Thomson, Scottish biologist, studied at the universities of Edinburgh, Jena, and Berlin, obtaining the degree Master of Arts (MA). He lectured in zoology and biology at the School of Medicine, Edinburgh, until his appointment as Regius professor of natural history at Aberdeen University in 1899, a post he held until his retirement in 1930. In 1894 he was elected president of the Scottish Microscopical Society. During his career he published many zoological papers, some of the early ones dealing with "Synthetic summary of the influence of the environment upon the organism" (Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, 1888), "A theory of the parasitic habit of the cuckoo" (Ibid, 1891), "Experimental embryology" (Transactions of the Scottish Microscopical Society, 1895), and "The Protozoa: A study in origins" (Ibid, 1895). In a number of later papers he described the Alcyonaria (an order of polyps) collected by various expeditions. He also wrote numerous semi-popular books, many of which were published in multiple editions. These included Outlines of zoology (1892), The study of animal life (1892), Progress of science in the 19th century (1904), Heredity (1907), Introduction to science (1911), The biology of the seasons (1911), The outline of science (1922), The biology of birds (1923), Science and religion (1925), The new natural history (1926, 3 vols), Outline of biology (1930), and Biology for everyman (1934). Through his publications he attempted to reconcile science and religion. He was knighted in 1930 and was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by the University of Edinburgh, McGill University, the University of California, and the University of Aberdeen.

In August to September 1909 Thomson came to South Africa at the invitation of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science to deliver the series of "South African lectures" for the year. He chose as his subject "Darwinism and human life". His series of six lectures were delivered in 15 of the larger cities and towns all over the country and the association's council described the venture in its Report for 1909 as a "phenomenal success". The lectures were published as Darwinism and human life: The South African lectures for 1909 (London, 1909, 245p).

List of sources:
De Bus, A.G. (ed.) World who's who in science. Chicago: Marquis, 1968.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1909.

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

Who was who, Vol. 3, 2nd ed. London: Adam & Black, 1967.

Compiled by: C. Plug