THOMSON, George Malcolm, F.L.S.
Member of Legislative Council of New Zealand, scientist, and social worker.
A new biography of Thomson, George Malcolm appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
G. M. Thomson, a son of William Thomson, was born in Calcutta on 2 October 1848. He was educated in Scotland at the Edinburgh High School and Edinburgh University and came to New Zealand at the age of 20. He farmed for a short time at Mabel Bush, Southland, and spent the rest of his life at Dunedin. From 1872 to 1903 he taught science at the Otago Boys' High School and then, until 1911, he became Analytical Chemist at Dunedin. On 26 December 1876 he married Emma, daughter of James Allan, Hopehill, Otago, who bore him two sons, one of whom, James Allan Thomson, became a distinguished geologist. Emma died in 1893 and, much later, in 1909, he married Alice, daughter of William Craig, Melbourne, who died in the following year.
Thomson held a seat in the House of Representatives from 1908 to 1914 as Reform member for Dunedin North, and in 1918 was appointed a member of the Legislative Council, on which he sat until 1932. He died on 15 August 1933.
Thomson contributed much to education and to the social welfare of this country and of Dunedin in particular. He always had a strong amateur interest in natural science, being particularly fascinated by the warfare between introduced plants and animals and those native to New Zealand. Later he wrote papers on the Crustacea and, finally, on fishes and fisheries. Most of the work, though lacking in intuition, embodies painstaking observation. Unlike many scientists, Thomson spread his interest both vertically and horizontally, establishing posts for scientists and trying to ensure that the results of their work became incorporated in general education. He was active in scientific organisations such as the New Zealand Institute, and in 1904, after much effort, he founded the Portobello Marine Station, Dunedin. He hoped that this station would study fish and the sea in order to provide information about the fishing grounds of New Zealand. It was with grief that he was forced later to accept a much reduced annual grant for the station. Thomson strove to widen as well as to advance knowledge: in 1889 he founded the technical school in Dunedin, where night classes were provided for young folk too poor to pay for their education. At the same time he went beyond science to serve in the Y.M.C.A. of which he was president for 20 years, from 1890 to 1910; he also helped to found the City Mission, and was senior elder at Knox Church for many years.
There is no doubt that Thomson must have been an exceedingly earnest man, eager and able to help other people. He may have lacked any touch of genius, but he used his gifts to their utmost. The modern, on looking back at a late Victorian of such breadth of service, is left asking, “But where did he find the time?”
by John Bruce Waterhouse, M.SC.(N.Z.), PH.D. (CANTAB.), New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.
- Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Vol. 64 (1935), (Obit).