John Thomson was born and educated in Edinburgh. He worked as a commercial photographer and travelled extensively. Thomson visited South East Asia in 1861, Singapore and Penang in 1862-65, and Siam, Laos and Cambodia in 1865-66. Between 1867 and 1872 he set up a studio in Hong Kong and made an extensive photographic documentation of China. In 1877, in collaboration with Adolphe Smith, he made a photographic study of the London poor. However, the series, which was called 'Street life in London', ceased publication the following January. In 1878, after the Treaty of Berlin, Thomson travelled to Cyprus to record scenes and impressions by camera and pen. He established a London studio in 1881 and was appointed tutor in photography to explorers by the Royal Geographical Society in 1886. Thomson is chiefly noted for his photographs of China.
Thomson's publications include:
Thomson, John (1867), The antiquities of Cambodia: a series of photographs taken on the spot, with letterpress description. Edinburgh.
Thomson, John (1873-1874), Illustrations of China and its people, London: S Low, Marston, Low and Searle.
Thomson, John (1875), The straits of Malacca, Indo-China and China, or, Ten years' travels, adventures and residence abroad, London : S. Low, Marston, Low, and Searle.
Thomson, John and Smith, Adolphe (1877-78), Street life in London, London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington.
Thomson, John (1879), Through Cyprus with the camera : in the autumn of 1878, London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington.
The two published volumes contain autotype and Woodbury type reproductions of Thomson's originals with descriptions on the facing pages. These descriptions have been utilised for describing the photographs.
In 1985 the entire collection was reproduced from the volume in the Royal Commonwealth Society and published with Thomson's text and new editorial material, including a note on Thomson by Ialeen Gibson Cowan, by Trigraph, see: Thomson, John (1985), Through Cyprus with the camera in the autumn of 1878, London : Trigraph.
These volumes are available on microfiche: Middle East, fiche numbers 6-7; and on microfilm, Mellon CM05343.