William Thomson was the son of the then Headmaster of R.B.A.I., who was appointed Professor of Mathematics at Glasgow University in 1832. William himself entered that university as a student at the early age of eleven and went on to Peterhouse College, Cambridge, returning to Glasgow as Professor of Natural History at the age of 22. He held this post until his retirement in 1899, a period of fifty-three years. He was knighted in 1866, and created Baron Kelvin of Largs in 1892.
His main scientific discoveries were in the field of mechanical energy and heat; the absolute scale of temperature, with its zero at minus 273 degrees Centigrade, is named after him. He also patented many practical inventions, including a compass that was adopted by the Royal Navy and a mirror galvanometer that was used in the first transatlantic cable, from Valentia Island to Newfoundland; Thomson himself was on board Brunel’s Great Eastern, which laid the cable. These patents made him a wealthy man. All in all, he published in his lifetime more than three hundred papers on various aspects of physical science.
Lord Kelvin died at his house near Largs, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Location of plaqueAt the site of his birth house at 21-25 College Square East. This also became the site of Belfast’s first cinema, named appropriately enough the Kelvin. His statue stands near the Stranmillis entrance of Botanic Gardens. His mother, who died in 1830, is buried in Clifton Street graveyard.
Date of Unveiling: 30 August 1996
For more information see: Lord Kelvin at the website of the School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland