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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thompson, Edward Henry (1851–1928)

by Peter B. McQuillan and Trevor D. Semmens

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Edward Henry Thompson (1851-1928), entomologist and Anglican clergyman, was born on 16 May 1851 at Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England, son of Edward Pett Thompson, merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Man. Privately educated, he arrived in Australia in 1870 and for five years served as a stipendiary licensed reader in the Anglican dioceses of Melbourne and Ballarat. Having been invited to Tasmania in 1875 by Bishop Charles Bromby, Thompson was made deacon and sent to Fiji as locum tenens for the mission at Levuka. When he returned to Tasmania in 1876, he was appointed to Port Cygnet as curate of D'Entrecasteaux. Ordained a priest in 1878, he became rector of the Huon district and made his base at Franklin, a place famous for its orchards. That year, on 27 November, he married Lucy Harrietta Grove at Long Bay.

His fascination with biology rested in the tradition of the nineteenth-century clergyman-naturalist and was fostered by his father, a respected natural historian. The Franklin region gave Thompson ample opportunity to indulge his interests in horticulture and entomology; he soon became a valued source of practical information for local orchardists. As British and mainland markets developed in the late 1880s, the increase in Tasmania's apple production was threatened by the incidence of insects (notably codlin moth) and fungus diseases, and further exacerbated by the depression of the early 1890s. To counter the crisis, Thompson was entomologist and scientific adviser to the Council (later Department) of Agriculture in 1891-96 and was credited with restoring prosperity to the orchard industry during those years. A member of the American Association of Economic Entomologists, he incorporated the latest ideas into his experiments with insecticides (oils and arsenicals) and fungicides (mainly metallic salts), and into methods for their application. Anti-pest spraying was rapidly adopted by growers which, together with improved cultural and hygienic practices, led to reliable control.

Thompson discovered many new agricultural pests and made original observations on their biology. He recruited farmers to assist him. His extensive activities included lecturing throughout Tasmania to agriculturalists and writing various information bulletins. He also published two books: A Handbook to the Insect Pests of Farm and Orchard (1892) and Insect and Fungus Pests of the Field, Farm and Garden (1895). In addition, he served on various agricultural bodies such as the rust in wheat commission and the fruit nomenclature committee.

Although he left government employment in 1896, Thompson gave freely of his advice until a new entomologist, Arthur Lea, was appointed in 1899. In 1908 Thompson moved to Hobart as rector of St John the Baptist Church where he remained active in diocesan affairs until his retirement in 1924 when he shifted to Moonah. In poor health, Thompson left Tasmania in December 1927. Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, he died in Sydney on 6 January 1928.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal of the Council of Agriculture, 1892-96
  • Tasmanian Mail, 23 Apr 1904
  • Mercury (Hobart), 7 Jan 1928.

Citation details

Peter B. McQuillan and Trevor D. Semmens, 'Thompson, Edward Henry (1851–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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