Thomas Henry Huxley

Thomas Henry Huxley

Ealing, London Borough of Ealing, Greater London, England
Death 29 Jun 1895 (aged 70)
Eastbourne, Eastbourne Borough, East Sussex, England
Burial East Finchley, London Borough of Barnet, Greater London, England
Plot Section F14, Central Avenue edge
Memorial ID 4603 · View Source
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Biologist, Author. He is remembered for organizing the X-Club, which was a group of nine scientists from varying fields that met monthly for many decades to support science in Victorian England. He is also known for his pioneer scientific research on ocean creatures and supporting of Charles Darwin's theories. He earned the nickname of “Darwin's Bulldog” for his tireless efforts of organizing public lectures and publishing writings supporting Darwin's theory on evolution. He was given credit for coining the word “agnostic.” Born over a butcher shop, he was the youngest of six children of a mathematics teacher, George Huxley, and his wife Rachel. He received only two years of formal education. After moving to Coventry in 1835 for his father's employment, he became a rebellious nonconformist. At the age of 13, he became an apprentice to a relative who had a medical business. At the age of 16, he relocated to London to study under a physician treating the indigents. Healing was not the reason he studied medicine as his interest was the working physiology of the human body. In 1842 attending Sydenham College, a cheap-rated anatomy school, he was award the prize for being a botany scholar. The same year, while on a free three-year scholarship to Charing Cross Hospital in London, he was awarded medals in physiology and organic chemistry. Self-taught by reading books, his excellent microscopic skills were shown in his 1845 discovery of a new membrane in the human hair sheath, which today is known as Huxley's layer. With mounting debts, he never finished his exams to graduate from college. At the age of twenty-one, he entered the Royal Navy as a surgeon's assistant in 1846 for four years. Sailing on the ship HMS “Rattlesnake,” the crew was ordered to survey Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and New Guinea. With his microscope tied to a chart room table, he was the first to study and document a long list of sea creatures that would have decomposed before reaching a laboratory's microscope on shore. Huxley mailed from every port all his research back to England to be published. While in Sydney, Australia, he became engaged to Henrietta Anne Heathorn or “Nettie.” The ship's voyage continued to the Coral Sea, where he nearly died from being overheated, suffered depression and insomnia while writing in his diary about the hardships of being on “a wood box with 150 men in it.” Returning to England in 1850, he received praise at the Royal Society of London with the rise of his scientific reputation: elected as a fellow and made councilor in 1851; and recipient of the Royal Medal and made his first public speech in 1852. With all this praise, the British Treasury cuts his stipend in half-pay but agreed to let him finish his research.. Since teaching positions were rare for Oxford-trained professors, he could not find a position with his much lower schooling; besides, most schools were not interested in teaching science. Although depressed and down-hearted, he continued his research in the Navy. In 1854 he became a lecturer at the School of Mines in London. After a long-distance engagement, he and Nettie were married in 1855 and had eight children. Five years after Darwin's book, Huxley's most famous piece, which was written in a style for general public reading, was published in 1863, “Evidence on Man's Place in Nature.” In November of 1864, he organized the X-Club, which was composed of nine like-minded men working to advance the cause of science. Besides Huxley, who was called “the Pope,” the members were John Tyndell, Joseph Dexter Hooker, John Lubbock, Herbert Spencer, William Spottiswoode, Thomas Hirst, Edward Frankland, and George Busk. All were fellows of the Royal Society except Spencer, and their main goal was to change society's thinking about science, politics and religion. The next goal was to acquire sources to educate the public on their ideas; the periodicals “Read” and “Natural History Review” became sources. The “Read” failed from the lack of a good editor. By 1869 the successful periodical “Nature” was publishing Huxley's numerous essays which later were published in thirty books. As the decades passed, these men were not always like-minded; Spence resigned in 1889 after a heated dispute with Huxley over science receiving state support. The X-club was most powerful from 1873 to 1885 as Hooker, Spottiswoode and Huxley were President of the Royal Society in succession. Huxley became a Trustee of the British Museum from 1882 to 1885 and Senator of London University 1883 to 1895. In 1880, he lectured at the Royal Institution on “The Coming of Age of Origin of Species,” with Darwin's theory at the center. In 1882 Huxley, Hooker, Sir Lubbock, and Spottiswoode were pall bearers at Darwin's funeral. As the group aged, their health declined causing the group to become smaller and ending altogether with Lobbock's death 1913. Huxley was buried in a family plot with his wife and young son. Over 200 people attended his funeral with some of the most noted scientists of the time present. By the time of his death, English universities were offering degrees in sciences other than medicine; something German universities had done for years.

Bio by: Linda Davis

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 22 Feb 1999
  • Find a Grave Memorial 4603
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Thomas Henry Huxley (4 May 1825–29 Jun 1895), Find a Grave Memorial no. 4603, citing East Finchley Cemetery and Crematorium, East Finchley, London Borough of Barnet, Greater London, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .