Thomas Huxley (1825-1895).
Thomas Huxley was born in Ealing in 1825 son of a mathematics teacher. Mainly self taught he began a medical apprenticeship and soon won a scholarship to the Charing Cross Hospital where he gained an MB degree in 1845 from University of London. At the age of 21 he signed on as an assistant surgeon and was involved in surveying the seas around Australia and New Guinea aboard H.M.S. Rattlesnake. During this time he continued his studies and carried out fundamental research on marine invertebrates the detail of which he sent back to England. On his return the England he found that his research papers had been enthusiastically received and some had been read at the Royal Society and as a result he was soon acclaimed as a pioneering and brilliant biologist in his own right and was also elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1851.
In 1854 he became a lecturer in Natural History at the Government School of Mines that later became the Royal School of Mines and was later appointed as the first Dean of the Normal School of Science that eventually became the Royal College of Science (RCS) in 1889. He remained as joint Dean of both colleges until his death in 1895. He was a very strong advocate of technical education and like others before him e.g. Lyon Playfair and George Birkbeck fought hard for the subjects to be more fully recognised, valued and funded. He realised the importance of good science teaching and how essential it was that scientists and technologists received an effective grounding in the sciences and technology. He actively supported the various Parliamentary Bills on Education and was often used as an expert witness or as a full member on a number of Royal Commissions e.g. the Devonshire Report. Thomas Huxley was appointed a Member of the School Board of London in 1870 and played a major part in establishing the London elementary education system. As a Board member he argued strongly for liberal education. He frequently lectured to working men’s’ classes and believed that the detail of even the most complex topic could be communicated if carefully and sympathetically explained.
He met Charles Darwin in 1856 and became a great friend and supporter of his ideas. Following the publication of the ‘Origin of the Species’ Huxley became a passionate supporter and defender of the theory of evolution so much so he became known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’. He also helped to refine the theory and published a seminal book ‘Evidence on Man’s Place in Nature’ just five years after the ‘Origin of Species’. Huxley was an energetic individual pursuing a wide range of causes and interests. Throughout his life he worked incessantly as a researcher, scientist, teacher and writer. He lectured widely including at the Royal Institution where he held the Fullerian Professorship.
Huxley wrote a fascinating and influential book entitled ‘Science and Education’ in 1883’ (1). The book is a collection of his writings and lectures and contains a number of very interesting essays including one on ‘Technical Education’ written in 1877 (pages 402 to 426) and an ‘Address on behalf of the National Association for the Promotion of Technical Education’ delivered in 1887 (pages 427 to 451).
He was elected President of the Geological Society in 1869 and was President of the Royal Society between 1883 and 1885.
(1) Huxley. T.H. ‘Science and Education.’ Macmillan. 1905.