natstand logo

Thompson, Silvanus (1818 - 1881)

Biographical notes

Silvanus Thompson was born in Liverpool in 1818, the youngest child of Thomas Thompson, a druggist who had moved to the town from Appleby, Westmoreland. John Tatham the noted botanist of Settle was an apprentice of his father and Silvanus was later to marry John's daughter Bridget. By 1841 he had moved to York, where he was to reside for most of his life, and taken a position as schoolmaster at the Quaker, Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting Boys' (aka Bootham) School there. A useful and concise biography is provided by William Whitwell: -

Silvanus Thompson, youngest son of Mr. Thomas Thompson, married Mr. Tatham's second daughter. He was for many years a master in the large Friends' School at Bootham, York, and there did much to foster a love of natural science among the boys. Two of his pupils afterwards became distinguished botanists : Mr. J. Gilbert Baker, F.R.S., of Kew, and the late Mr. James Backhouse, of York (British Hieracia). He, as well as his father-in-law, contributed records to Baines's Flora, the Phytologist, etc. One of his sons is the well-known Principal of the Technical College, Finsbury Dr. Silvanus Phillips Thompson, F.R.S. - noted for his contributions to electrical and magnetic science, and recently the discoverer of a second habitat for our Yorkshire Arenaria gothica Fries.

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson each had plant collections representing their earlier botanical work, and on their marriage these were combined to form one herbarium. When in 1864 Mr. J. G. Baker's house at Thirsk was burnt down, his collections were destroyed, together with the greater part of the sheets of his just-printed North Yorkshire. The joint Thompson herbarium was therefore given to Mr. Baker, but on his removal to Kew a private collection became unnecessary to him. At that time a request came from Sir James Hector for the supply of a typical series of British plants for the Wellington Museum, N.Z., and the Thompson-Baker collection was forwarded in response to the application, a selection from it having first been made for the British Herbarium at South Kensington.

Whitwell, W. 1893. West Yorkshire records and notes. From the herbarium, catalogues, etc., of the late Mr. John Tatham of Settle. Naturalist 25 - 40.
1818 March 20 : Birth Liverpool, son of druggist Thomas Thompson and Frances Phillips.
1844 : Teesdale Silvanus was a member of at expedition to Upper Teesdale in late June of 1844 in the compant of James Backhouse jun and senior, John Tatham and George Stacey Gibson. On the 29th they discovered Minuartia stricta on Widdy Bank fell.
Horsman, F. 1990. Some Backhouse discoveries in Upper Teesdale. Naturalist 155 no 944: 89-96.
1848 June 30 : Marriage 1Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - 1848 July 5
MARRIAGES. On the 30th ult., at the Friends' Meeting-house, Settle, Yorkshire, Silvanus Thompson, of York, to Bridget, daughter of John Tatham of Settle.
John Tatham was a Druggist and botanist - herbatium at Kew.
1870 : Bootham School From the remeniscences of George Rowntree (1855 - 1940)
The dear elderly man was a relic of the past. Each day biscuits were given out for lunch; numbers were wasted, or rather would have been, had not "Sack" , gone round with his bag and picked up the leavings. Of course, we declared this was the food his family were reared on; when we heard afterwards of the care that he and his wife took to pass on the food to hungry children, we thought better of it. His teaching of Euclid was amusing. He took the whole class and pounced on a boy by surprise, asked him to repeat the fifth proposition or some other portion; when the boy was in the middle of a sentence, Silvanus called out, "next," and the "next " had to follow on, word for word. Committing to memory seemed to be the acme of accomplishment. accessed 2016.1.29
1881 February 3 : Death 1Leeds Mercury - 1881 February 5
DEATHS. THOMPSON. - Feb. 3rd, at his residence, Castle Hill, Settle, aged 63, Silvanus Thompson, late of St Mary's, York.

1 Transcription reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive

Managed by Richard Middleton; last updated 2016 February 18


1818 Liverpool, Lancashire
1841 Lawrence Street, York (census)
1851 Union Terrace, York (census)
1861 Union Terrace, York (census)
1871 Union Terrace, York (census)
1880 St Mary's, York
1881 Castle Hill, Settle, Yorks.


Additional links

Annotated family tree of the Thompsons of Liverpool and York. link
List of specimens documented by the Herberia at home project. link
Creative Commons Licence

natstand is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.