On this day: 21st March 1858

21st March 1858: Professor Arthur Thomson, the first Professor of Anatomy at the University of Oxford, is born.

(University of Oxford Anthropology Diploma class of 1910–11. Thomson is front and centre)


Professor Arthur Thomson is best known for his formulation of the ‘Thomson’s nose rule’, which identified differences in the shape of peoples’ noses according to the climate in the part of the world they were from.

In 1885, Thomson accepted the post of Lecturer in Human Anatomy at the newly created Department of Anatomy at the University of Oxford. When Sir Henry Acland, the then Regius Professor of Medicine and driving force behind the development of medical science studies at Oxford, became ill, Thomson took over. However, while the school flourished, the amount of work it created left him unable to fulfil his potential as an anatomist.

Thomson was also an accomplished artist and exhibited some of his work at the Royal Academy, where he also held the position of Professor of Anatomy. In 1896 he combined his remarkable talents to create ‘A Handbook of Anatomy for Art Students’ – a book with detailed pictures of human anatomy. The book is still widely used today by medical students and artists.

Professor Thomson died on 7 February 1935 at his home on Woodstock Road, Oxford.