John Thomson, self portrait with Honan Soldiers, 1871
The son of William Thomson, a tobacco spinner and retail trader, and his wife Isabella, Thomson was born the eighth of nine children in Edinburgh in the year of Queen Victoria's accession. After his schooling in the early 1850s, he was apprenticed to a local optical and scientific instrument manufacturer, thought to be James Mackay Bryson. During this time, Thomson learned the principles of photography and completed his apprenticeship around 1858.
During this time he also undertook two years of evening classes at the Watt Institution and School of Arts (formerly the Edinburgh School of Arts, later to become Heriot-Watt University). He received the "Attestation of Proficiency" in Natural Philosophy in 1857 and in Junior Mathematics and Chemistry in 1858. In 1861 he became a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, but by 1862 he had decided to travel to Singapore to join his older brother William, a watchmaker and photographer.
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