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JAMES PARK THOMSON, ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY A’SIA (QLD)

Although these covers produced by the Geographical Society are philatelically contrived, they do contribute to our knowledge of Australian history and geography in addition to honouring Australian men; and, now that I come to think of this statement, I am not aware of any women who have also been honoured. This cover was produced to record the Diamond Jubilee of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland) from 10th July 1885 to 10th July 1945. The medal has the bust of James Park Thomson C.B.E., LLD., F.R.S.G.S., J.P., the founder of the Society and it records a sketch of his scientific career. The blue 3½d Duke and Duchess of Gloucester stamp is canceled BRISBANE/ 9A- 10 JY 45/ QLD and the cover is addressed to Whangaparaoa, (Maori for ‘Bay of Wales’) New Zealand. The reverse was not seen. This is not a First Day Cover for the three stamps, red 2½d, blue 3½d and dark blue 5½d stamps of identical design were issued on 19th February 1945 (Figure 1).

Figure 1

THOMSON, JAMES PARK, geographer and public servant, was born on 20 June 1854 and baptized on 23 July at Unst, Shetland Islands, Scotland, eldest son of Lawrence Thomson, farmer, and his wife Joan, née Park. He was educated at the local parish school, at the age of 18 he took up seafaring, visited the United States and South America between 1872 and 1874, and then learned the rudiments of marine engineering at Glasgow. In 1876 Thomson visited New Zealand and from 1877 spent two years working with surveyors in New South Wales. Securing an appointment in Fiji, he was registered as a land surveyor in March 1880; his work was comprehensive, thorough and accurate. In 1882 he also supervised observations of the transit of Venus; his fascination with astronomy was to continue into his retirement when he established a private observatory in Brisbane.
 

Leaving Fiji in 1884, Thomson travelled the South Pacific before joining the Queensland Department of Public Lands as a draftsman in 1885. From his base in Brisbane he computed the trigonometrical survey of the colony. In 1885 he founded the Queensland branch of the (Royal) Geographical Society of Australasia; he was its honorary secretary, president (1894-97) and edited its Journal. He was involved in discussions that led to the formation of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. Thomson wrote well over two hundred scientific papers and was instrumental in the adoption of the zonal system for reckoning time. In 1900 the Queensland branch of the R.G.S.A. named its foundation medal after him and he was its first recipient in 1901. Other honours included the Peek award from the R.G.S., London (1902), and an honorary LL.D. from Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada (1903).
 

In 1909 Thomson successfully identified and astronomically determined the position of Burke’s and Wills’ exploration in 1860-61 most northerly camp on the Bynoe River at the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland . By then he considered that most Queenslanders lacked a proper appreciation of their physical environment. He was further censorious about civil servants with British citizenship who earned Queensland salaries and then returned home. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1920, he retired from the public service in 1922, but continued to work tirelessly for the R.G.S.A.'s Queensland branch. Always a keen traveller with wide connexions, Thomson lectured at such Queensland towns as Charleville, Roma, Longreach, Blackall and on Thursday Island. He raised locals' awareness of their specific environments, while giving them a sense of union with a wider world.He married twice in Sydney with Anglican rites: on 20 December 1880 Grace Winter, and, a widower, on 29 June 1887 Ada Gannon. An accomplished horsewoman, Ada was also involved with the R.G.S.A. She and their three sons and daughter survived Thomson who died at Kilcoy, Queensland, on 10 May 1941 and was cremated. Distinguished men wrote laudatory and affectionate tributes, among them Sir Douglas Mawson, the Antarctic explorer who extolled Thomson’s ‘energy and enthusiasm’.

I am indebted to the Australian Dictionary of Biography for James Thomson’s information.

 
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