Hugh Hamshaw Thomas

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Hugh Hamshaw Thomas
Born (1885-05-29)29 May 1885
Died 30 June 1962(1962-06-30) (aged 77)
Fields Paleobotany
Notable awards Darwin-Wallace Medal (Silver, 1958)
Linnean Medal (1960)
Fellow of the Royal Society[1]

Hugh Hamshaw "Ham" Thomas, MBE, FRS,[1] FLS, (29 May 1885 in Wrexham, Wales – 30 June 1962 in Cambridge, England), was a British paleobotanist.


Thomas was born in Wrexham the son of J.T. Thomas and educated at Grove Park School, Wrexham and Downing College, Cambridge .He became a university lecturer in Botany and a Fellow of the college. He was also curator of the museum in the Botany Department. During World War I he served a Photographic Officer in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in Europe and the Middle East.[2]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society[1] in May, 1934. His candidature citation read: "His researches cover a wide field; to Palaeobotany he has made several original contributions of great value; notably on the leaves of Calamites (Phil Tran, 1911), on the structure of Cycadean fronds, on new genera, e.g., 'Williamsoniella' (Phil Trans, 1915); the Caytoniales, a paper of exceptional importance (Phil Trans, 1925); also several papers on Jurassic floras, etc. Dr Thomas is well known as an authority on aircraft photography and was one of the first to demonstrate its application to the survey of vegetation. His work is characterized by originality and by the skilful use of new methods of technique." [3]

He was president of the Linnean Society of London from 1955 to 1958 and was awarded their prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal in 1958 and their Linnean Medal in 1960.

During the Second World War, he was a photographic interpreter (PI) at RAF Medmenham with the rank of Wing Commander, where he worked on the interpretation of aerial reconnaissance photographs. Whilst being shown around the PI centre at Medmenham, after being at a meeting including Hamshaw Thomas, afterwards, out of earshot, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts turned to his companion and said; "Do you know, that fellow" - (referring to Hamshaw Thomas) - "is the world's leading palaeobotanist" - Smuts was a renowned botanist himself. As "Chief of Third Phase Interpretation", in 1943 it was Hamshaw Thomas who was responsible, along with his Army opposite number, Major Norman Falcon, for initiating the Allied investigation of the German research centre at Peenemünde[4]

He died in Cambridge in 1962.


  1. ^ a b c Harris, T. M. (1963). "Hugh Hamshaw Thomas. 1885-1962". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 9: 286–226. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1963.0015. 
  2. ^ Butler, F. H. C. (1963). "Hugh Hamshaw Thomas, M.B.E., SC.D., F.R.S., F.L.S., F.G.S. Born 29 May 1885. Died 30 June 1962". The British Journal for the History of Science. 1 (3): 280–283. doi:10.2307/4024925. 
  3. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 27 December 2010. 
  4. ^ V Weapons Hunt p. 30

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