Agnes Gardner King(1857-1929)

Figure 1 William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)© CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

In 1920, Agnes Gardner King offered a painting of her uncle, William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, to Glasgow Art Galleries. The painting was by J Graham Gilbert, a Glasgow artist.

Agnes Gardner King was born in Ilkley, York shire in 1857 to Elizabeth Thomson and the Reverend David King, LLD (1). She had a sister Elizabeth Thomson King. Her mother, Elizabeth Thomson, was the sister of William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, and James Thomson. William and Elizabeth were great friends and often went on walking tours together when they were in their twenties in Switzerland(2)(3). Elizabeth was an accomplished amateur artist and some of her paintings are in the National Portrait Gallery in London(4).

kelvin and siblings Agnes gardner King
Figure 2. William,James and Elizabeth Thomson by Agnes Thomson King National Portait Gallery, London, reproduced with permission

It is not known how Agnes was educated and what her training was but she became a gifted artist in watercolour. She painted pictures of children and also landscapes. She is featured in the Dictionary of British Artists. Her most interesting work ,which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, is a charcoal drawing of her uncles Baron Kelvin (William Thomson), and James Thomson with her mother Elizabeth King.

Her Canadian Paintings are in the Canadian Government Archives. One is entitled ”View of Sleeping Beauty from Windows of C P R Hotel, Vancouver”(5).

She published a number of books alone or with her sister. These include: My Sister by Agnes Gardner King; Daily Texts for the the Little Ones by Elizabeth Thomson King illustrated by Agnes Gardner King; Islands Far Away. Fijian Pictures with Pen and and Brush by Agnes Gardner King; Kelvin the Man, a Biographical Sketch by his Niece, Agnes Gardner King.

In 1912, after an undisclosed illness and needing recuperation, she fulfilled a long-standing wish to travel to Fiji(6). She travelled with a companion, Mrs Hopkirk, sailing on the Empress of Britain from Liverpool through storms and, in fact, a snowstorm and in sight of icebergs, to land in Québec. They crossed Canada by train to Victoria and then embarked on the Makura to the Sandwich Islands and then on to Fiji. She travelled around the islands writing about spending a week in a Fijian village, travelling up the Navua River on a boat poled by native boatmen and enjoying the hospitality of a number of Chiefs in many villages and towns. This book, which ran to 2 editions, was published in 1921 and it is illustrated by 80 pen and ink and charcoal drawings. It gives a remarkable picture of islands which had, in living memory, a history of cannibalism. It also reflects her indomitable spirit and openness to different patterns of life.


  1. The Young Kelvin at Home by Elizabeth Thomson King
  3. The Life of Lord Kelvin by Silvanus Thompson
  6. Islands far Away. Fijian Pictures with Pen and Brush by Agnes Gardner King. Bibliolife



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