Thompson, James (1863–1945), civil engineer, was born 22 August 1863 in Drogheda, Co. Louth, son of Thomas Thompson, supervisor, and his wife, Mary Henderson (née Logan). Moving to Cork in 1870, he was educated at Carmichael's School and at QCC, graduating in engineering in 1882, the year in which the QUI was replaced by the RUI. Thompson was immediately employed by the Dublin Port and Docks Board as apprentice to its legendary chief engineer, Bindon Blood Stoney (qv), becoming assistant to James Dillon in 1886 to prepare surveys, estimates, and parliamentary plans for railway lines between Fermoy and Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, and between Kilmainhamwood, Co. Meath, and Baillieborough, Co. Cavan. In 1883–4 he went to England as assistant engineer on the Southport and Cheshire lines extension railway, returning to Ireland in 1884–5 to survey and prepare designs for the Cavan, Leitrim & Roscommon light railway. He worked in 1885–9 as resident engineer on section 3 of the Cavan & Leitrim railway and on the Newry navigation improvement scheme, proving his versatility both on land and water.
In December 1888, while resident at Warrenpoint, Co. Down, Thompson married Sarah Highet of Cork, daughter of plumber John Highet, at Trinity presbyterian church, Cork. They emigrated to Australia in October 1889, settling initially in Melbourne with an address at 17 Council St. Thompson was employed as a surveyor on the Victoria state railway from January 1890, preparing documents for lines between Dunolly and Bradford, Clunes and Campbelltown, Wendouree and Miner's Rest, and Glen Thompson and Lintons. He also worked on railway water supplies.
Relocating in 1891 to Perth in Western Australia, Thompson worked till 1893 as assistant to engineer-in-chief C. Y. O'Connor (qv) at the public works department. There he prepared designs and contracts for railway lines, principally between Perth and Bunbury, Boyanup and Minninup, Boyanup and Busselton, and Northam and Southern Cross. In 1894 he was appointed resident engineer to the Northam – Southern Cross – Kalgoorlie railway. He had established himself fortuitously in Western Australia at a time when goldfield discoveries at Coolgardie intensified the necessity for public works development. In 1895–6 he was district engineer at head office in Perth, becoming engineer in charge of railway construction and of harbours and rivers in 1896, and chief engineer in 1904. In 1899, supported by O'Connor, by his former Irish employer Stoney, and by others of similar influence, Thompson was elected a member of the London-based Institution of Civil Engineers. In 1910 he was founder-president of the Western Australian Institution of Engineers. His wife had died in 1900 and he was left to raise their only son.
Throughout the remainder of his career, Thompson was fully engaged in the infrastructural development of Western Australia, chiefly in and around its concentration of south-western port cities. He was responsible for the entire railway system built in the state by 1911, linking most of the important centres including the hub of Kalgoorlie. He presided over extensive sewage schemes and waterworks, inland and on the coast, with major harbour developments at Fremantle, Bunbury, and Albany, and at Geraldton, north of Perth. He expanded the state's road, bridge, and crop-irrigation networks and sustained his dynamic enthusiasm throughout his later career. He travelled in Europe and Canada in 1913 to absorb the latest engineering innovations and to study the Canadian wheat industry as a model for Western Australia.
Thompson married secondly (1920) Constanza Georgina Hardwicke (née Staszewski), a divorced woman with a son. He retired in 1925 and lived for some time at 45 Ord St., West Perth. He died 2 January 1945 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.