James Thomson, Irish mathematician notable for his role in the formation of the thermodynamics school at the University of Glasgow, Is born on November 13, 1786, in Ballynahinch, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. He is the father of the engineer and physicist James Thomson and the physicist William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin.
Born into an Ulster Scots family, Thomson is the fourth son of Agnes Nesbit and James Thomson, a small farmer, at Annaghmore, near Ballynahinch, County Down, in Ulster. His early education is from his father. At the age of 11 or 12 he finds out for himself the art of dialling. His father sends him to a school at Ballykine, near Ballynahinch, kept by Samuel Edgar, father of John Edgar. Here he soon rises to be an assistant.
Wishing to become a minister of the Presbyterian church, Thomson enters the University of Glasgow in 1810, where he studies for several sessions, supporting himself by teaching in the Ballykine school during the summer. He graduates MA in 1812, and in 1814 he is appointed headmaster of the school of arithmetic, bookkeeping, and geography in the newly established Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In 1815 he is Professor of Mathematics in its collegiate department. Here he proves himself as a teacher. In 1829 the honorary degree of LL.D. is conferred upon him by the University of Glasgow, where in 1832 he is appointed Professor of Mathematics. He holds this post until his death on January 12, 1849.
Thomson is buried with his family on the northern slopes of the Glasgow Necropolis to the east of the main bridge entrance. The grave is notable due to the modern memorial to Lord Kelvin at its side.
Thomson is the author of schoolbooks that have passed through many editions including Arithmetic (1819), Trigonometry, Plane and Spherical (1820), Introduction to Modern Geography (1827), The Phenomena of the Heavens (1827), The Differential and Integral Calculus (1831), and Euclid (1834).
A paper, “Recollections of the Battle of Ballynahinch, by an Eye-witness,” which appears in the Belfast Magazine for February 1825, is from his pen.