TH Huxley calling card
T.H. Huxley’s calling card.  Credit: Huxley family collection.

Our third-great grandfather Thomas Henry “T.H.” Huxley (1825-1895) was born in Ealing, on the western outskirts of London, while his father was the assistant master of the Great Ealing School.  He attended the Great Ealing School for some time, and hated it.  He matriculated into London University after a medical apprenticeship to his brother-in-law Dr. John Salt, and excelled in the study of medicine.  With exceptional grades and commendations, in 1846 he applied and was accepted to the Royal Navy as a surgeon.

Through 1850, T.H. served as assistant surgeon aboard the H.M.S. Rattlesnake– an exploratory posting that would define his scientific and literary reputation.  He assisted the naturalist John MacGillivray in describing, naming and cataloging previously unrecorded species from the area of Australia and New Guinea, earning him the same mystique of naturalists like Charles Darwin.  His papers from the exploration, which he sent to the Royal Society, would popularize his scientific positions – especially his early perception of evolutionary origins of some species – and earned him a Fellowship by 1851.  His strong reputation enabled him to take a professorship of natural history at the Royal School of Mines in 1854.

TH Huxley inscribed magnifier
A magnifying glass inscribed, “Thomas Henry Huxley.”  Credit: Huxley family collection.

T.H. Huxley met Henrietta Heathorn (1825-1915) while he was exploring aboard the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, during some time off near Sydney, Australia.  Henrietta’s family – her father Henry Heathorn and mother Sarah Richardson, and step-sister Oriana – had settled there in 1843.  The couple fell in love, were engaged, and after years apart finally married on 21 July 1855 at All Saints’ Church, Maida Vale, London.  They had the following children:

  1. Noel Huxley, 1856-1860
  2. Jessie Oriana (Huxley) Waller, 1858-1927; married Fred Waller, architect to the Dean and Chapter.
  3. Marian Huxley, 1859-1887; married the Edwardian portaitist John Collier.  She also was a painter of great skill.
  4. Rachel (Huxley) Eckersley, 1862-1934; married Alfred Eckersley, a civil engineer responsible for building a railroad to Gibraltar.
  5. Leonard Huxley, born 11 December 1860; first married (1) Julia Arnold in 1885, then married (2) Rosalind Bruce; died 2 May 1933.  Leonard and Rosalind are our direct ancestors.
  6. Henrietta “Nettie” (Huxley) Roller, 1863-1940; married Harold Roller.  Nettie was strong individualist – a singer and artist who traveled freely.
  7. Henry Huxley, 1865-1946; married Sophy Stobart.
  8. Ethel (Huxley) Collier, 1866-1941; married the artist John Collier after her sister Marian’s death.  Ethel was an artist, as well as a subject of John Collier’s paintings.

The family lived at 14 Waverley Place, London, and after 1860 at 26 Abbey Place, and later at 38 Marlborough Place.  Finally, T.H. and Henrietta made their home in Surrey at Beachy Head, where a historical plaque marks the home.  They named their Beachy Head home Hodeslea, after the Huxleys’ ancestral manor in Cheshire.

Marian Huxley Collier
John Collier’s famous portrait of Marian Huxley.  Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London.

In 1860 T.H. provoked a public argument for and against evolution by openly defending Charles Darwin’s 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, against the academic and religious establishment’s strong rejection.  He continued to defend Darwin’s evolutionism in a series of lectures through the next decade, earning the sobriquet of “Darwin’s bulldog.”  T.H. cemented his scientific reputation with the publication of the evolutionist book, Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, and then with the zoological paper The Crayfish – considered by some to be a perfect work of scientific observation and argumentation.

After his intellectual debut in the 1860s, T.H. attained great respect and was elected to the London School Board, he was appointed as Dean of the Royal College of Science, was a formative member of the Metaphysical Society, among other positions within the slowly redefining establishment.  In all of these positions he advocated for scientific education at the expense of religious dogma. In the Metaphysical Society he famously coined the term “agnostic” in opposition to the church’s Gnostic claim on faithful knowledge.

TH Huxley monkey in tux
A drawing of an ape in a tuxedo appears in T.H. Huxley’s unpublished sketch book.  Credit: Huxley family collection.

In their old age, T.H. and Henrietta enjoyed the natural beauty of their seaside home in Sussex, and mostly withdrew from the public clamor that had accompanied T.H.’s ground-breaking career.  Hodeslea offered respite from London, where the pollution played havoc with T.H.’s lungs and heart, but he died of a heart attack on 29 June 1895. He was buried on 4 July 1895, next to his son Noel in St. Marylebone Cemetery, in Finchley, London.