Joseph Cheesman Thompson

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'Snake' Thompson, 1917

Joseph Cheesman Thompson (1874–1943) was a career medical officer in the United States Navy who attained the rank of commander before retirement in 1929. His foes called him 'Crazy Thompson', but to friends he was known as 'Snake', a nickname derived from his expertise in the field of herpetology.

Service during the Boxer Rebellion[edit]

An 1892 graduate of Columbia Medical School,[1][2] Thompson joined the US Navy in 1897. On May 18, 1900, he was detached from the USS Bennington, (a gunboat that saw service in Hawaii, the Philippines and along the Pacific coasts of North and South America), and he was ordered to Mare Island Hospital for some unspecified treatment.[3]

In a dispatch dated August 20, 1900, USMC Major William P. Biddle lists 'Asst. Surg. J. C. Thompson, U.S.N.', as part of the First Regiment United States Marines China Relief Expedition, which was sent to Peking to rescue foreigners and Chinese Christians who were under attack by the 'Boxers' or "Fists of Righteous Harmony".[4] Another dispatch of the same date commends J.C. Thompson, among others, as 'alert and zealous in caring for those overcome by the heat and the wounded.'[5]

On December 22, 1900, The New York Times reported, "Assistant surgeon J. C. Thompson is detached from Cavite Hospital and ordered to the Solace."[6] (The USS Solace was a hospital ship used at first during the Spanish–American War.)

By 1903 Thompson had passed his assistant status and was assigned to the Navy Yard at Puget Sound.[7]

American spies in Japan[edit]

Sociologist William Sims Bainbridge has recounted this version of Thompson's Navy espionage adventures:

"[Louis Livingston Seaman]'s brother-in-law Consuelo Andrew Seoane served as cartographer during the Philippine Insurrection and in 1909–1911 was a spy for the United States Army, traveling under a pseudonym throughout the Japanese Empire with Joseph "Snake" Thompson, pretending to be herpetologists studying coastal reptiles and amphibians, but actually charting invasion routes." [8]

Consuelo Seoane's widow Rhoda has written of Commander Thompson:

"One day they received a courtesy call from a visiting Japanese natural history professor. Thompson showed the professor's card to Consuelo with a grimace and said that our new caller has undoubtedly been sent by the police to inquire into our knowledge of natural history. "I will dispatch him, after giving him an inferiority complex regarding his particular profession." After this all such visits terminated." [9]

San Diego[edit]

Thompson helped found the Zoological Society of San Diego, and was its vice president previous to 1917, at which point he was called to serve again as a doctor in the US Navy.[10]

"Commander J. C. Thompson was a neurosurgeon assigned to Navy Hospital. Entomology was a hobby, and he also showed an interest in the herpetofauna of San Diego County. He offered to supervise the construction of a reptile house, announcing that he already had plans for one. He was elected vice-president of the Zoological Society, and was appointed with Dr. Harry Wegeforth and Frank Stephens to draw up the Articles of Incorporation and the By-Laws. Thompson is given credit for much of the planning of the Zoo's education program. In a news article he wrote in 1916, he described the arrangement of exhibits as they would appear in Balboa Park's Pepper Grove, an early choice for the Zoo's location. He also announced that there would be guidebooks, text books and free lectures. After having been presented with a Kodiak bear lent to the Zoo by Captain Prideaux of the U. S. collier Nanshan, Thompson announced that the first lecture would be about bears. It must have been an interesting lecture. "Caesar", the Kodiak, had been kept as a mascot and pet by the crew of the Nanshan until she got too large and unruly. According to Dr. Wegeforth, none of them knew anything about crating bears, and didn't know quite how to get her to the Zoo. With no truck, and no expertise in handling bears, it was decided to put a collar and chain around the bear's neck and let her ride to the Zoo with Thompson, seated beside him in the front of his car."[10]

Psychoanalytic career[edit]

In the early 1920s Thompson became interested in Freudian psychoanalysis and he underwent analysis with Dr. Henry Grovens in 1923. In 1924 Thompson became vice-president of the Washington Psychoanalytic Association, but by 1936, after criticizing the American psychoanalytic establishment for straying too far from Freud, he was no longer listed as a member of the association. It was Thompson's contention that lay analysts should be given as much importance in the psychoanalytic field as physicians. Sigmund Freud's collected correspondence in the US Library of Congress does contain a 1923 postcard to Joe Tom Sun, listed in the collection as an alias for Dr. Thompson of Baltimore, M.D.[11]

In Guam, Commander Thompson became involved in archaeological explorations, and the 1923 Journal of the Polynesian Society reported that due to his efforts "much information has been obtained about the culture of the vanished Chamorros, a flourishing race at the time of Magellan's visit in 1521." [12]

Also while in Guam, under the pseudonym 'Joe Tom Sun', Thompson published three articles in the Psychoanalytic Review:

  • 'Symbolism in the Chinese Written Language' (1923)[13]
  • 'Psychology in Primitive Buddhism' (1924)[14]
  • 'Symbolism in the Sumerian Written Language' (1924)[15]

His other published works on psychiatry:

  • 'Psychoanalytic Literature' (1923) (as J. C. Thompson)[16]
  • 'The Psychoanalyst and his Work' (1924) (as J. C. Thompson)[17]
  • 'Tro-pical Neurasthenia: A Deprivation Neurosis' (1924) (as J. C. C. Thompson) [18]
  • 'Desertion: Observations of a Psychoanalyst' (1924) (as J. C. C. Thompson) [19]

Encounter with L. Ron Hubbard[edit]

In 1923 Thompson accompanied then-12-year-old L. Ron Hubbard, the future founder of Scientology, on an ocean liner sailing from his father's posting in San Diego to a new one in Washington, D.C. According to a recording of Hubbard sharing anecdotes from his life, he considered Thompson to be a "very great man" who sparked Hubbard's interest in "the human mind". Hubbard said that Thompson told him, "If it's not true for you, it's not true."[20]

Clara Mabel Thompson[edit]

In 1924 the noted psychoanalyst Clara Thompson (no relation to Joseph), began psychoanalytic treatment with him as her analyst. She had been a psychiatric resident under psychobiologist Dr. Adolf Meyer at Phipps Clinic in Baltimore, and Meyer had seen fit to put her in charge of his private patients. Clara's classmates described her as frequently seen dining with her analyst, or with him 'walking arm-in-arm, talking animatedly.' By 1925 Dr. Meyer was objecting to Clara's analyst, and Meyer dismissed Clara from her position after she refused to discontinue her treatment with Thompson. In a later letter to Clara, Dr. Meyer makes a reference to a 'misleading influence' that may have been aimed at her analyst. The next year Dr. Meyer wrote to a Johns Hopkins doctor calling Joseph Thompson 'a clever, but unsavory psychoanalyst.' Clara, meanwhile, felt obliged to defend herself from rumor mongers who claimed that she had been asked to resign for being her analyst's mistress. She wrote to Meyer, "It happens that I have never been his mistress at any time."[21]

Developer of Burmese cats[edit]

Already an established breeder of Siamese cats, by 1926 Thompson had founded a cattery which he named 'Mau Tien', or cat heaven.[22]

"MAU TIEN CATTERY (Dr. Joseph C. Thompson, San Francisco, California), was established about 1926. The parent stock for this cattery came from their native land and Dr. Thompson made every effort to keep the original characteristics of the native breed. Dr. Thompson's Siamese were very large in size, due in large part to an outdoor mode of life and a diet of lean meat, liver, fish and grass. The imported sire, Tai Mau, weighed seven and one-half pounds while his son, Pak Kwai Mau, tipped the scales at ten and one-half pounds. But the real "jumbo" Siamese of the cattery was Kwai Tse Mau, son of Pak Kwai Mau and Tai Noo Mau, which weighed 15 pounds. In addition to promoting the Siamese, Dr. Thompson was instrumental in creating much interest in the Burmese cat in America. He introduced the Burmese cat to the West by the importation of a female, Wong Mau, from Burma in 1930. Dr. Thompson's established place in the history of the fancy is attributed to his untiring efforts over the years to obtain recognition of the Burmese, with the result that the Burmese cat was accepted and permitted to compete in the championship classes. Dr. Thompson was a former director of the Siamese Cat Society of America."

In order to develop the Burmese breed of cat,[23] "In 1930 Dr. Joseph C. Thompson took a brown cat named Wong Mau from Burma to America. She herself was a hybrid from Siamese and a dark-coated breed named Burmese. Mated to a Siamese, she produced hybrids and Siamese. When the Burmese/Siamese hybrids were mated together, the darker coated Burmese were produced. These bred true, and in 1936 the Burmese was officially recognized in the United States of America as a new show breed." In 1943 the Journal of Heredity published posthumously an article Thompson co-wrote, titled, "The Genetics of the Burmese Cat".[24] At one time Thompson had 45 cats.

San Francisco[edit]

After retiring from the Navy in 1929, Thompson moved to San Francisco, where he was one of very few psychoanalysts. On March 7, 1943, Thompson died of a heart attack in San Francisco, at the age of 68. His obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned his widow, Mrs. Hilda Thompson, and a very special Siamese cat, known as Pak Kwai Mau, or 'White Devil Cat'. He left $10,000 in the bank in Pak Kwai Mau's name.

Thompson's grave can be found in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, San Mateo County, California. [25]

In addition to contributing to the fields of cat fancy and psychoanalysis, Thompson wrote papers on fish,[26] reptiles and amphibians.[27][28][29][30][31]

Thompson is commemorated in the scientific name of a species of lizard, Takydromus kuehnei. "Victor Kühne" was an alias used by Thompson.[32]

Dates of rank[edit]

  • Assistant Surgeon (with rank of Ensign) - 19 July 1897
  • Passed Assistant Surgeon (with rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade) - 19 July 1901
  • Surgeon (with rank of Lieutenant Commander) - 3 March 1903
  • Medical Inspector (with rank of Commander) - 23 May 1917
  • Retired - 15 November 1929


  1. ^ Columbia University Annual Commencement, 1892, page 11
  2. ^ Uttermost East and the Longest War, Rhoda Seoane, 1968
  3. ^ New York Times
  4. ^ Boxer Rebellion (China Relief Expedition) Archived 2010-04-08 at the Wayback Machine US Navy document
  5. ^ 'The Siege of Peking: The March on Peking' Archived 2010-04-08 at the Wayback Machine US Navy document
  6. ^ New York Times
  7. ^ "The United Service", New York Times
  8. ^ Across the Secular Abyss: From Faith to Wisdom, p. 5, by William Sims Bainbridge
  9. ^ Uttermost East and the Longest War, Rhoda Seoane, p. 98
  10. ^ a b Marjorie Betts Shaw, "The San Diego Zoological Garden: A Foundation to Build On", The Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1978, Volume 24, Number 3, p305
  11. ^ "Sigmund Freud Papers: General Correspondence, 1871-1996; Sun, Joe Tom (pseudonym of a Dr. Thompson, Baltimore, Md.), 1923". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  12. ^ The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1923
  13. ^ 'Symbolism in the Chinese Written Language' Psychoanalytic Review, 1923
  14. ^ 'Psychology in Primitive Buddhism' Psychoanalytic Review, 1924
  15. ^ 'Symbolism in the Sumerian Written Language' Psychoanalytic Review, 1924
  16. ^ [1] (1923) US Naval Medical Bulletin Vol XIX
  17. ^ US Naval Medical Bulletin vol. XXI
  18. ^ The Military Surgeon vol. 54
  19. ^ The Military Surgeon vol. 53
  20. ^
  21. ^ Inter-personal Analysis: The Selected Papers of Clara M. Thompson by Maurice Green, Basic Books, New York 1964
  22. ^ CFA Siamese Yearbook 1960
  23. ^ World Encyclopedia of Cats by Angela Sayer, published by Octopus Books 1977.
  24. ^ "The Genetics of the Burmese Cat", Thompson et al., Journal of Heredity, 1943
  25. ^
  26. ^ Fish Fauna of the Tortugas Archipelago' (with David Starr Jordan) Bulletin of the US Bureau of Fisheries
  27. ^ 'Description of a new genus and species of salamander from Japan', (1912) California Academy of Sciences, 'The variation exhibited by mainland and island specimens of the Hibakari snake, natrix vibakari (Boie)' (1914) US National Museum, 'The variation exhibited by Thamnophis ordinoides, (Baird and Girard) a garter snake inhabiting the San Francisco peninsula' (1917)
  28. ^ 'Notes on Serpents in the Family Colubridae' (1913) Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
  29. ^ 'Contributions to the Synonymy of Serpents in the family Elapidae' (1913) Academy of Natural Sciences
  30. ^ 'Further contributions to the anatomy of the ophidia' (1914) Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London
  31. ^ 'Description of a new species of sea snake from the Philippine Islands with a note on the palatine teeth in the proteroglypha'.(1908) (with J. Van Den Burgh)
  32. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. "Kuehne", p. 147).

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