Sir Charles Wyville Thomson

Challenger expedition leader, Professor of Natural History, alumnus.

Thomson plaque


The son of a surgeon working for the British East India Company, Charles Wyville Thomson was born at Bonsyde House, in West Lothian.

He attended Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh before going on to study Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Thomson became a lecturer in botany at the University of Aberdeen in 1851 but was appointed, shortly after, to the post of Professor of Natural History at Queen’s College in Cork. Later, he moved to Belfast, gaining professorships at Queen’s University of Belfast.

In 1870, he became the Regius Chair of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh


With a particular interest in the biology of the oceans, Thomson studied marine invertebrates and undertook deep-sea dredging expeditions to the north of Scotland.

In 1870, after the Royal Navy allowed him to use and modify HMS Challenger, Thomson led an expedition to investigate never-before explored elements of the marine environment.

In 1877, following the success of his expedition, he was knighted by Queen Victoria.

Although he published two-volumes of his account of the expedition, he took ill shortly after. His friend and assistant Sir John Murray completed his work, eventually publishing more than fifty volumes.

Thomson died at Bonsyde House and is remembered by the Wyville-Thomson Ridge in the North Atlantic.

The plaque

Thomson's plaque is located on the Ashworth Laboratories, King's Buildings.


In honour of Sir Charles Wyville


Founder of oceanography, Professor of Natural History (1870-1882), alumnus of the University

Image credit

The image on this page comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. 

Wellcome Images

Creative Commons 4.0 licence

Related links

Thomson's entry at the Gazetteer for Scotland