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HIS LIFE AND LETTERS CHAPTER I
ANCESTRY, BIRTH, AND EARLY TRAINING
The family of Thompson of Morland, Westmorland, to which Silvanus Phillips Thompson belonged, trace their ancestry to one Thomas Thompson, a yeoman farmer of Strickland in Westmorland, whose grandson, John Thompson of Barton in the same county, came and settled at Morland in the later years of the seventeenth century.
Of him it is recorded on his tombstone that he was a highly educated gentleman, "a great admirer and well versed in the politer sort of literature," and that in 1699 he kept a Grammar School at Morland. The house which he built there bears, carved over the doorway, the initials of himself and his wife, and the date 1722, and still belongs to one of his descendants. He died in 1736, and the Parish Register states that he was "an eminent, worthy, and ingenious schoolmaster."
He left one son, Thomas, whose three sons, about the middle of the century, became members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, who were at that time a very numerous body in Westmorland. These young men all suffered the penalty of dismissal from their father's house, a fate not uncommon in those days of intolerance. However, at the father's death the eldest son, John, succeeded to the house and property at Morland, where he lived, and became a worthy minister of the Society of Friends.
The second son, Thomas, great-grandfather of Silvanus Phillips Thompson, settled at Appleby, where he started as a grocer and later became a highly respected banker in the town. Of him it was said that he was of a very pacific disposition, and if he heard quarrelling or profane language in the market-place, he would rush out and try to reconcile those who disagreed. He is remembered at Appleby as the rebuilder of a bridge, which, being swept away by a great flood in 1812, was reconstructed by him at his own expense. Carved on the bridge are his initials: T. T. 1813.
In the later years of his life he was almost ruined by a disastrous fire which burned down the bank. He behaved with the greatest generosity, especially to the poorer depositors.
The arms of the Thompsons, though not used by the early Quakers, were preserved in a sketch which came down to the grandson Silvanus Thompson of York. They were a stag's head cabossed, on a shield argent, wavy a crescent or. The crest was a dexter arm embowed with hand holding three ears of corn or. Motto: "Industrie Munus."
When Silvanus P. Thompson was writing notes for the Life of Lord Kelvin, he records that in 1899 he received the following letter from him regarding the Thompson arms:
"It is interesting to find thai you too have ears of corn, though with a different motto. No doubt your family with the ' p' and mine without are of common origin in the northwest of England and south-west of Scotland, I suppose. Our shield also has a stag's head on the lower part of it. It has three stars above the stag's head."
The family to which Sir William Thomson belonged had, as a matter of fact, dropped the "p" out of their name when they went to reside in Scotland, adopting the more common way of spelling the name in that country.
Thomas Thompson of Appleby left several sons and daughters. The youngest son, also Thomas, had begun his studies as a doctor, but had to abandon that career after the misfortune of the fire. He went to London, where he took up the study of pharmaceutical chemistry under William Allen, a Quaker, then head of the famous firm of Allen & Hanbury. As he showed himself a young man of great scientific ability, he soon became acquainted with some of the men of science of those days. Among them were the Quaker brothers—Richard Phillips, physicist and intimate friend of Michael Faraday, and William Phillips, geologist and Fellow of the Linnean Society, both also Fellows of the Royal Society. They were of a Welsh family which came originally from Swansea, and had numerous branches. Thomas Thompson married their sister, Frances Phillips, and started a business as pharmaceutical and manufacturing chemist at Liverpool. This business still exists, and is being carried on by his greatgrandson, Edwin Thompson.
A learned man, and much interested in antiquarian studies, Thomas Thompson, during his long life of eighty-six years (he died in 1861), made various collections, of coins, autographs, minerals, and old books, especially of those relating to the early history of chemistry. Some of these latter afterwards became part of the library of his grandson, Silvanus Phillips Thompson.
Frances Thompson shared the intellectual tastes and pursuits of her husband, and their home was occasionally visited by her brothers. She was very vivacious, bright, and clever, and was described once by the late John Bright as a "notable woman." They had a large family, many of whom inherited the Celtic quickness and strong sense of humour of their mother. The eldest son, George, succeeded to the family business; two others emigrated to Canada, where they founded families in the province of Ontario. The youngest son, Silvanus, chose the teaching profession as his vocation in life.
The antiquated regulations of the older Universities of Oxford and Cambridge made it impossible for a Quaker to benefit from them at that time, so Silvanus Thompson proceeded to London to finish his studies at University College, and worked at Mathematics under the father of William de Morgan.
He obtained a post as Master at the Friends' School for boys at York in 1841, and in 1848 married Bridget Tatham, daughter of John Tatham of Settle.
The Tathams of Settle belonged to a family which, in the person of Richard de Tatham of the Parish of Tatham in Lancashire, was ennobled by the King for his services as leader of the archers at the Battle of Flodden. Their arms were a shield argent and azure with three martens sable; and crest of a hand holding three arrows, with motto "Pro Deo, Pro Rege, Pro Patria."
At the time of the rise of the Quakers in the seventeenth century some of his descendants joined that body, and one, Marmaduke Tatham, the direct ancestor of the Tathams of Settle, was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle in 1660 during the persecutions which took place at the beginning of the reign of Charles II.
The first John Tatham who went to reside at Settle was the fourth in succession to Marmaduke, and was the grandfather of Bridget Thompson.
The second John Tatham conducted the old-established business of grocer, druggist, and draper in the Market Square of Settle, and built a house, known as Castle Hill House, under the shadow of the Castle Rock which dominates the little town. Here his family were born. His first wife was delicate, and only two of her children, Bridget and a sister, survived to maturity. He married a second time, and had other children; two sons grew up, but both died young. John Tatham was a very noted botanist in his day, and corresponded with botanists all over the kingdom. He discovered many rare plants and ferns, and was an ardent collector. His collections at a later date went to form part of the National Collection at Kew. His daughter Bridget shared his enthusiasm for botany, accompanied him on his rambles over the Pennines, and became a keen student and collector of plants. It was in connexion with this pursuit that she became acquainted with Silvanus Thompson. They were married at the old Friends' Meeting House at Settle, and went to live at York at a small house, 43, Union Terrace, adjoining the playing-fields of Bootham School to which they had access by a gate from their