|Description||Thomson was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, on 15 March 1765. He entered the University of Glasgow in the winter session of 1788-9, and in the following year moved to Edinburgh. He was appointed assistant apothecary at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, in September 1790. He became a member of the Medical Society at the beginning of the winter session in 1790-91, and in the following year he was elected one of its presidents. On 31 July 1792 Thomson resigned his appointment at the infirmary on account of ill health, and went to London, where he studied at John Hunter's school of medicine in Leicester Square.|
In London, Thomson made many valuable friendships, and on his return to Edinburgh early in 1793 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and attended the Royal Infirmary as a surgeon.
During this period Thomson was occupied with the study of chemistry and conducted a chemical class during the winter of 1799-1800. In 1800, nominated one of the six surgeons to the Royal Infirmary, he began teaching surgery. He also lectured on military surgery, and visited London in the autumn of 1803 to be appointed a hospital mate in the army in order to qualify himself, should it be found necessary to establish a military hospital in Edinburgh in the event of an invasion.
The College of Surgeons of Edinburgh established a professorship of surgery in 1804, and, in spite of objections from the university, Thomson was appointed to the post. In 1806 he was appointed regius professor of military surgery in the University of Edinburgh, but he continued to hold the college professorship until 1821.
On 11 January 1808 Thomson obtained the degree of MD from the University and King's College of Aberdeen. In 1810 he resigned his post at the Royal Infirmary following criticism of his surgery by the surgeon John Bell. He was admitted a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on 7 February 1815. In the following summer Thomson again returned to the continent to watch the treatment of the men wounded at Waterloo, and in September 1815 he was instrumental in founding the Edinburgh New Town Dispensary.
The smallpox epidemic of 1817-18 showed that vaccination conferred less protection than had been supposed, and Thomson published his views upon the subject in two pamphlets of 1820 and 1822. He delivered a course of lectures on diseases of the eye in the summer of 1819, paving the way for the establishment of the first eye infirmary in Edinburgh in 1824. During 1822-6 he was involved in the study of general pathology, and in 1821 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chair of the practice of physic in the university. In 1831 he addressed Lord Melbourne on the advantages likely to flow from the establishment of a separate chair of general pathology. He was appointed professor of general pathology in the university, commencing in 1832.
Repeated attacks of illness compelled Thomson to discontinue his visits to patients after the summer of 1835, but he continued to see those who came to his house. He resigned his professorship in 1841. The duties had long been performed by a deputy. He died at his home, Morland Cottage, near the foot of Blackford Hill, on the south side of Edinburgh, on 11 October 1846.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Lecture notes, c1807-c1811; prescription book, c1813