Embryology History - Arthur Thomson

From Embryology


Prof. Arthur Thomson (1858 - 1935)

Professor of Human Anatomy, University of Oxford


Nature Obituary 1935 - Prof. Arthur Thomson (1858 - 1935)

"ON his retirement in 1933, Prof. Arthur Thomson, whose death on February 7 will be widely regretted, had completed a somewhat unusual record of academic service. He was born on March 21, 1858, and for forty-eight years he represented human anatomy at the University of Oxford, first as University lecturer in human anatomy and afterwards as Dr. Lee’s professor of anatomy. After serving an apprenticeship in the famous school of anatomy at Edinburgh under Sir William Turner, Thomson went to Oxford in 1885. Unlike many of his later contemporaries, he did not enjoy the advantage of stepping into a department already equipped for teaching and research. On the contrary, the task fell to him of building up a new department from its very foundations. It will readily be appreciated that Thomson’s energies were fully employed for a number of years in developing the teaching side of his department to a level appropriate to the medical faculty of the University of Oxford, a task which was rendered very laborious at first by the criticism and opposition of some members of the University who were less ready to appreciate the importance of catering for an extensive and detailed medical curriculum."

Nature 135, 295-295 (23 February 1935) | doi:10.1038/135295a0

Pitt Rivers Museum

Analysing the English Collections

Arthur Thomson was born in Edinburgh on 21 March 1858. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University and subsequently served as a demonstrator of anatomy there. In 1885 Thomson came to Oxford, appointed to the newly created post of Lecturer in Human Anatomy in the medical school which had recently been created. When Sir Henry Acland, the driving force behind the medical school, became ill, Thomson took over from him and it was through his efforts that the school continued to flourish, although at the cost to Thomson of a great deal of administrative work that prevented his ever fulfilling his promise as an anatomist. From 1893 Thomson bore the title of Extraordinary Professor of Human Anatomy and in 1919 he became the first incumbent of Dr Lee’s Chair in Human Anatomy and a Student (i.e., Fellow) of Christ Church. He resigned from the Chair in 1833 and died on 7 February 1935 at his home, 163 Woodstock Road, Oxford.

Thomson is an important figure in the history of Oxford anthropology. From 1885 anthropology had been available as a Supplementary Subject in the Natural Science Final Honour School. Tylor early on recruited Thomson to provide the lectures in physical anthropology. Then, in 1905, when the Committee for Anthropology came into existence, followed a couple of years later by the Diploma in Anthropology, Thomson became, with Henry Balfour and Ranulph Marett, part of a triumvirate that was to be ‘Oxford anthropology’ for the next three decades.

(text from Pitt Rivers Museum)


Thomson A. The sexual differences of the fetal pelvis. (1899) J Anat Physiol. 33(3): 359-380.

Thomson A. The maturation of the human ovum. (1919) J Anat. 53(2-3): 172-208. PMID 17103860

Thomson A. The ripe human Graafian follicle, together with some suggestions as to its mode of rupture. (1919) J Anat. 54(1): 1-40. PMID 17103878







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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2020, July 3) Embryology Embryology History - Arthur Thomson. Retrieved from https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Embryology_History_-_Arthur_Thomson

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