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John Tatham Thompson, M.B. (1858-1911) 25th President


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We have a short obituary and photograph of John Tatham Thompson (who seems to have used his second name in preference) in volume XLIV of the Transactions for 1911

John Tatham Thompson from volume XLIV of the Transactions for 1911

John Tatham Thompson from volume XLIV of the Transactions for 1911

John Tatham Thompson, M.B., C.M. BORN 1858. DIED 1911. Dr. Tatham Thompson was born at York. He was a member of a Quaker family, his maternal grandfather, John Tatham, of Settle, being a man well known in the botanical world. After school life, he acted for a time as demonstrator to his elder brother, Professor Silvanus P. Thompson, the well-known physicist, who was then Lecturer in Physics at Bristol. Eventually Dr. Thompson studied medicine at Edinburgh University, and graduated there in 1885.

He possessed considerable artistic ability, which he utilised in earlier life in preparing microscopical drawings for scientific works. He was employed for a time under the Scottish Fishery Board in deep sea investigations in Loch Tarbert. Taking up the surgery of the eye as his life's work, for which an exceptionally slender and skilful hand suited him, he settled in Cardiff in 1887, when he became Ophthalmic Surgeon to the Cardiff Infirmary, an institution he remained connected with during the rest of his life.

Dr. Thompson was President of the Biological Section in 1889, and President of the Society in 1897-8.

He read papers before the Society The Early History and Evolution of Spectacles and Optical Illusions," and before the Biological Section, Recollections of the Loch Tarbert Zoological Station."

As with many of our presidents at this time his activities were widely reported in the local newspapers and they give a much broader picture of him as a whole. It starts with a controversy over the way he was appointed at the Hospital and resulted in a case being heard in court. As reported in these experts from the South Wales Echo 1st November 1888

THE CARDIFF INFIRMARY DISPUTE. THE APPOINTMENT OF OPHTHALMIC I SURGEON. HOWARD AND OTHERS V. HILL AND OTHERS. The hearing of the above action was commenced on Wednesday morning, before Mr Justice Kekewich, in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice... In his opening statement Mr Barber stated that the plaintiffs were ... suing... to get his lordship's declaration that at the election of an honorary ophthalmic surgeon in April, 1387, certain voting papers were improperly rejected, and that in consequence a gentleman named J. Tatham Thompson was improperly elected to the post... In April, 1887, a general meeting for the election of an ophthalmic surgeon was held, at which voting by proxy and in person took place, when Mr Thompson registered 272 votes, and Mr Ensor 371 votes. The chairman, however, disallowed 140 of the proxies tendered on behalf of Mr Ensor, and Mr Thompson was declared elected. ... his Lordship, without calling on the defendants, gave judgment in their favour. He held that the chairman of the meeting, in April, 1887, was perfectly right in rejecting, the 140 proxies tendered on behalf of Mr Ensor, as they were wrong in form. He decided that Mr Thompson had been properly elected, and dismissed the action with costs.

it is clear from many newspaper articles that from this inauspicious start he went from strength to strength in terms of reputation and achievements as noted in this incredible article: -

Remarkable Operation At Cardiff Infirmary The Western Mail 2nd November 1891

Remarkable Operation At Cardiff Infirmary The Western Mail 2nd November 1891

His family connection to Professor Silvanus Thompson, the well-known physicist as noted above was noted when the Professor came to Cardiff in 1898 to lecture to the Society. Other newspaper articles relate that the Society had to hire the largest venue available for this immensely popular talk

Prof. Silvanus Thompson At Cardiff South Wales Echo 17th March 1898

Prof. Silvanus Thompson At Cardiff South Wales Echo 17th March 1898

There are many more articles in the National Library of Wales archives that talk about his work at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary and his work campaigning for better ophthalmic health across Cardiff and the region and that he also served as the Surgeon-major of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion Welsh Regiment. He seems to have been a keen Bowls player from the records, but it is his work with the blind, and those suffering from loss of sight for any reason that he is most often referenced in the newspapers

Dr. J. Tatham Thompson On

Dr. J. Tatham Thompson On "School Hygiene And Eyesight" Barry Dock News 18th March 1904

Cardiff Blind Institute Evening Express 11th April 1907

Cardiff Blind Institute Evening Express 11th April 1907

Page Update 12-Aug-2018

At the event when we hosted the Insole Court Tree Walk on Saturday on the 9th of June 2018, I was approached by one of the Insole Court research group about a possible picture of one of our former presidents. On finding that book "Contemporary Portraits Men and Women of South Wales and Monmouthshire, Western Mail Limited 1896" I found that it contained a number of portraits of our former presidents.

John Tatham Thompson - from Contemporary Portraits Men and Women of South Wales and Monmouthshire, Western Mail Limited 1896

John Tatham Thompson - from Contemporary Portraits Men and Women of South Wales and Monmouthshire, Western Mail Limited 1896



Back to the 150th Anniversary index

Before this... Robert Drane (1833-1914) 24th President

Next up... Charles Tanfield Vachell (1848-1914) 13th, 19th and 26th President

See our Full list of Presidents

These pages are part of the Cardiff Naturalists' Society 150th Anniversary celebrations and are about our history and are celebrating the people who developed our Society and helped build the city and the cultural heritage of Cardiff. You can read more about that using the links above

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