Biography of Allen Thomson
Allen Thomson was the son of the surgeon and physician John Thomson (1765-1846). He studied in Edinburgh and Paris, receiving his doctorate at Edinburgh in 1830. In 1831 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. With his friend William Sharpey (1802-1880) he gave courses in anatomy and physiology during the years 1831-1836, until Sharpey in 1836 was called to University College, London, as professor of physiology. Thomson subsequently went on a scientific journey to the Continent, and upon his return in 1839 became professor of anatomy at the Marishal College and the University of Aberdeen. In 1841 he accepted an invitation to become teacher of anatomy at the Extra-mural School in his native city, and in 1842 succeeded Allison as professor of physiology at the University of Edinburgh, and 1848 succeeded James Jeffray (1759-1848) in the chair of anatomy at the University of Glasgow. He held this chair until his retirement in 1877.
In 1838 he became Fellow of the Royal Society in Edinburgh, in 1848 of the same body in London. From 1859 to 1877 he was a member of the General Medical Council for the united universities of Glasgow and St. Andrews, 1871 president of the section for biology at the convent of the British Medical Association in Edinburgh, and in 1876 held the same honorary position. In 1877 he moved to London, where he died in 1884. His main literary contributions were in the field of embryology.
Thomson was a collaborator in Robert Bentley Todd (1809-1860) and Sir William Bowman’s (1816-1892), Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology (5 volumes, London 1836-1842) for which he prepared the articles Circulation, Generation, and Ovum. He was also a collaborator of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. With Sharpey and John Cleland (1835-1925) he was co-publisher of the later editions (from the seventh) of John Quain’s (1795-1865) Elements of Descriptive and Practical Anatomy for the Use of Students (First edition, London, W. Simpkin & R. Marshall, 1828, eleventh edition 1908-1929).
In 1877, on the assembly of the British Medical Association in Plymouth, he gave the lecture The development of the forms of natural life – in a strictly Darwinian mind, being an enthusiastic Darwinian. The first knowledge of Ernst Heinrich Weber’s (1795-1878) doctrine of tectile sensibility was made known in England by him.