Lives of the fellows

John Thomson

b.23 November 1856 d.2 July 1926
MB CM Edin(1881) MD Edin(1891) Hon LLD Edin(1922) FRCPE(1888) *FRCP(1926)

John Thomson, the son of Thomas Thomson, a Writer to the Signet, of Edinburgh, and Elizabeth Cleghorn, was an outstanding authority on the diseases of children, who remained self-effacing and totally unaffected by the lack of recognition until late in his life. He was educated at the Academy and University of Edinburgh, and found his particular bent while doing post-graduate work in Berlin and Vienna.

Following the post of resident medical officer at Great Ormond Street Hospital he was appointed physician to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Edinburgh, and later consulting physician to the Royal National Institute for Mentally Defective Children, where his acute out-patient and in-patient observation was accompanied by an understanding and sympathy in his advice to mothers that are reflected in his booklet, Opening doors (1923). It cannot, however, do justice to his personal approach to the mentally defective child, whose attention was focussed on his musical box and his gentle mongrel, ‘Skippy’, while Thomson made meticulous notes.

He took great joy in his attendances at the out-patient department of the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital, and in the work that resulted in the foundation of the Edinburgh Crippled Children’s Aid Society. His contributions to journals and textbooks on congenital stridor, hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, and infantilism are noteworthy for their acute clinical observations. His principal published work, Guide to the clinical examination (later Clinical study) and treatment of sick children, first appeared as a small textbook in 1898; by the time it reached a fourth edition (1925) it had become a comprehensive manual, and so appreciated that it was translated into Spanish and French.

Thomson was a good angler, and a student of old French poetry with a sensitive spirit of literary appreciation and criticism. A sincere searcher for truth, he was always accessible to colleagues who came to ask his advice and his help.

In 1887 he married Isabel MacPhail, daughter of the minister of the United Free Church, Benbecula; they had three sons, one of whom graduated in medicine, and two daughters.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Arch. Med. Enf, 1926, 29, 615; Brit.med.J., 1926, 2, 95-7 (p); Edinb, med. J., 1926, n.s., 33, 516-20 (p); 1930, n.s., 37, 119-27 (p); Lancet, 1926, 2, 99 (p); D.N.B. 1922-1930, 839; W. S. Craig. John Thomson: pioneer and father of Scottish paediatrics. Edinburgh, 1968 (p), bibl.]

(Volume V, page 410)

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