History

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

History

William (Thomson), 1st Baron Kelvin of Largs, physicist, mathematician, engineer and inventor, was born on 26 June 1824 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was one of seven children of James Thomson (1786-1849), professor of mathematics, and his wife Margaret (d.1830), daughter of William Gardner. The family moved to Glasgow where William was educated before he entered Cambridge University. His first wife was Margaret Crum and he married secondly Frances Blandy but had no children. In 1846 he was elected Professor of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow and held that post until 1899. He is best known for his work, in combination with James Joule, on the laws of thermodynamics, and for the invention of navigational and electrical measuring instruments. In 1892 he became the first scientist to be honoured with a peerage and took the title Baron Kelvin from Kelvin Grove in Glasgow, where his grandmother had lived, and the town of Largs near his country seat. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1902 and died of a severe chill on 17 December 1907.

Burial and memorial window

The Royal Society asked the Dean of Westminster if Kelvin could be buried in the Abbey and he agreed. The funeral was on 23 December and he lies to the south of Sir Isaac Newton's grave in the nave. On the previous night the coffin, covered by a purple pall, had rested in St Faith's chapel. The simple stone reads:

WILLIAM THOMSON LORD KELVIN 1824-1907.

In 1913 a stained glass window, designed by J.Ninian Comper, was erected near the grave. This contains large figures of King Henry V and Abbot William Colchester and below is an inscription "In memory of Baron Kelvin of Largs. Engineer, Natural Philosopher. B.1824.D.1907". His coat of arms and those of Glasgow University are shown. The window was the gift of engineers from Great Britain and America.

A photograph of the window and gravestone can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further Reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 for William, his father and brother James.

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Kelvin window inscription