Thomas Henry Huxley

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Thomas Henry Huxley

Also Known As: "Darwin's Bulldog"
Birthdate: (70)
Birthplace: Ealing, Greater London, UK
Death: Died in Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK
Immediate Family:

Son of George Huxley and Rachel Huxley
Husband of Henrietta Anne Huxley
Father of Noel Huxley; Jesse Oriana Huxley; Marian Huxley; Leonard Huxley; Rachel Shawcross and 3 others
Brother of Eliza Scott (Salt); James Edmund Huxley; William Thomas Huxley; Ellen Huxley and George Knight Huxley

Managed by: Carlos F. Bunge
Last Updated:

About Thomas Henry Huxley

Thomas Henry Huxley PC FRS FLS was an English biologist, known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Huxley's famous 1860 debate with Samuel Wilberforce was a key moment in the wider acceptance of evolution, and in his own career. Huxley had been planning to leave Oxford on the previous day, but, after an encounter with Robert Chambers, the author of Vestiges, he changed his mind and decided to join the debate. Wilberforce was coached by Richard Owen, against whom Huxley also debated whether humans were closely related to apes.

Huxley was slow to accept some of Darwin's ideas, such as gradualism, and was undecided about natural selection, but despite this he was wholehearted in his public support of Darwin. He was instrumental in developing scientific education in Britain, and fought against the more extreme versions of religious tradition.

Huxley coined the term 'agnostic' to describe his own views on theology, a term whose use has continued to the present day.

Family

In 1855, he married Henrietta Anne Heathorn (1825–1915), an English émigrée whom he had met in Sydney. They kept correspondence until he was able to send for her. They had five daughters and three sons:

  • Noel Huxley (1856–60), died aged 4.
  • Jessie Oriana Huxley (1856–1927), married architect Fred Waller in 1877.
  • Marian Huxley (1859–87), married artist John Collier in 1879.
  • Leonard Huxley, (1860–1933) author.
  • Rachel Huxley (1862–1934) married civil engineer Alfred Eckersley in 1884; he died 1895.
  • Henrietta (Nettie) Huxley (1863–1940), married Harold Roller, travelled Europe as a singer.
  • Henry Huxley (1865–1946), became a fashionable general practitioner in London.
  • Ethel Huxley (1866–1941), married artist John Collier (widower of sister) in 1889.

Huxley's relationship with his relatives and children were genial by the standards of the day—so long as they lived their lives in an honourable manner, which some did not. After his mother, his eldest sister Lizzie was the most important person in his life until his own marriage. He remained on good terms with his children, more than can be said of many Victorian fathers. This excerpt from a letter to Jessie, his eldest daughter is full of affection:

"Dearest Jess, You are a badly used young person—you are; and nothing short of that conviction would get a letter out of your still worse used Pater, the bête noir of whose existence is letter-writing. Catch me discussing the Afghan question with you, you little pepper-pot! No, not if I know it..." [goes on nevertheless to give strong opinions of the Afghans, at that time causing plenty of trouble to the Indian Empire—see Second Anglo-Afghan War] "There, you plague—ever your affec. Daddy, THH." (letter Dec 7th 1878, Huxley L 1900)

Huxley's descendents include children of Leonard Huxley:

  • Sir Julian Huxley FRS was the first Director of UNESCO and a notable evolutionary biologist and humanist.
  • Aldous Huxley was a famous author (Brave New World 1932, Eyeless in Gaza 1936, The Doors of Perception 1954).
  • Sir Andrew Huxley OM FRS won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963. Andrew is the second Huxley to become President of the Royal Society.

Other significant descendents of Huxley, such as Sir Crispin Tickell, are treated in the Huxley family.

Mental problems in the family

Biographers have sometimes noted the occurrence of mental illness in the Huxley family. His father became "sunk in worse than childish imbecility of mind", and later died in Barming Asylum; brother George suffered from "extreme mental anxiety" and died in 1863 leaving serious debts. Brother James, a well known psychiatrist and Superintendent of Kent County Asylum, was at 55 "as near mad as any sane man can be"; and there is more. His favourite daughter, the artistically talented Mady (Marion), who became the first wife of artist John Collier, was troubled by mental illness for years. She died of pneumonia in her mid-twenties.

About Huxley himself we have a more complete record. As a young apprentice to a medical practitioner, aged thirteen or fourteen, Huxley was taken to watch a post-mortem dissection. Afterwards he sank into a 'deep lethargy' and though Huxley ascribed this to dissection poisoning, Bibby and others may be right to suspect that emotional shock precipitated the depression. Huxley recuperated on a farm, looking thin and ill.

The next episode we know of in Huxley's life when he suffered a debilitating depression was on the third voyage of HMS Rattlesnake in 1848. Huxley had further periods of depression at the end of 1871, and again in 1873. Finally, in 1884 he sank into another depression, and this time it precipitated his decision to retire in 1885, at the age of only 60. This is enough to indicate the way depression (or perhaps a moderate bi-polar disorder) interfered with his life, yet unlike some of the other family members, he was able to function extremely well at other times.

The problems continued sporadically into the third generation. Two of Leonard's sons suffered serious depression: Trevennen committed suicide in 1914 and Julian suffered a breakdown in 1913, and five more later in life.


Naturalist met Nettie Heathorn in Sydney, 1849, while surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake.

Other References

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Thomas Henry Huxley's Timeline

1825
May 4, 1825
Ealing, Greater London, UK
1856
1856
Age 30
1859
1859
Age 33
1859
Age 33
1860
December 11, 1860
Age 35
London, Greater London, UK
1862
1862
Age 36
1863
1863
Age 37
1865
1865
Age 39
1866
1866
Age 40