Biographical notesSilvanus 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.