Lives of the fellows

St Clair (Sir) Thomson

b.28 July 1859 d.29 January 1943
MD Lond Lausanne Hon LLD Manitoba LSA FRCS(1893) FRCP(1903)

Although he was born in Londonderry, St Clair Thomson, son of J. Gibson Thomson, spent his early youth in his father’s native village of Ardrishaig in Argyllshire. He finished his schooling at King’s School, Peterborough, and was then apprenticed to a doctor in that town. His medical education proper took place at King’s College, London, and, after qualifying in 1881, he served in resident appointments in King’s College Hospital — among them that of Lister’s house surgeon — and in Queen Charlotte’s Lying-in Hospital. The next nine years were spent abroad — two in travel with a wealthy invalid and seven in seasonal practice at Florence and St Moritz. In 1893 he returned to London, having developed an interest in laryngology and otology as the result of studying in Vienna under Hajek and Pollitzer. In the same year he took the FRCS; he had qualified for the Lausanne medical degree in 1891. During the next few years he was attached to the Throat Hospital, Golden Square, at first as clinical assistant and then as physician, and to the Royal Ear Hospital as assistant surgeon and surgeon. His appointment as assistant physician for diseases of the throat at King’s College Hospital in 1901 established him in his speciality, and was followed by his promotion to full physician in 1905 and by his election to the chair of laryngology in 1908; he was made consulting physician to King’s in 1924. Thomson also preserved a long connection with the King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst, and was associated for shorter periods with the Seamen’s Hospital, Greenwich, and, as professor of laryngology, with the Royal Army Medical College.

Thomson’s fame was carried abroad by his textbook on Diseases of the Nose and Throat (1911), whose fourth edition, in which he was assisted by V E Negus, appeared in 1937. To him were due especially advances in the treatment of laryngeal cancer and laryngeal tuberculosis; he himself suffered from the latter shortly after his appointment to King’s staff and was perhaps the first patient in England to observe the regimen of six months’ complete silence. His professional achievements brought him many honours. He was president of the Medical Society of London in 1918 and president of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1925 to 1927. He delivered the Mitchell Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians in 1924 and received the Weber-Parkes Medal and Prize twelve years later. He was knighted in 1911, and among his foreign titles were those of Commander of the Order of Leopold and Officer of the Legion of Honour.

Thomson’s eminence as a medical man was supported by qualities that would have led to distinction in many walks of life. Literary skill, artistic sensibility, oratorical arts, the mastery of foreign languages, the social graces — these were his in no small measure. To the end of his days he lived a full life and a varied one — entertaining his friends of the stage and men of letters, adding to his collections of furniture and objets d’art, dancing, riding, rowing, cultivating the art of living. He died in Edinburgh as the result of an accident. He had married in 1900 Isabel, widow of Henry Vignoles, but had been left a widower five years later. He was a cousin of the brothers H C Thomson, FRCP, and F G Thomson, FRCP.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1943; B.M.J., 1943; Lyle, 140]

(Volume IV, page 455)

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