Papers of Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-376
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      17 letters, 1 bundle notes.
  • Location
      Dc.2.96/6/3; Dc.4.101-103; Dk.8.4/2; Gen. 1731 Huxley; Gen. 2169/75; E94.44; E95.72

Scope and Content

The Huxley collection consists mainly of correspondence including: letter to Sir W. Turner on his appointment as Professor of Anatomy, 1867; letter to J. Morley, 1873; letter to Prof. J. H. Balfour, 1875; letter concerning meetings of the Circumnavigation Committee; paper entitled Huxley as the professor; a student's reminiscences; letters to George Lillie Craik, 1874-1884; letter to P.G. Tait, 1875; letter accompanying a contribution to the Carlyle Memorial Fund, 1881; letters, 1875 and 1878; and, letter to Macmillan, 1880.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Henry Huxley was born in Ealing, Middlesex, on 4 May 1825. He received only two years of formal education, 1833-1835, but from around 1838 until 1841 he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, medical materialist John Charles Cooke. In 1841 he transferred to a practice in London's docklands, and while there he studied at Sydenham College, off Gower Street. Between 1842 and 1845, he studied on a free scholarship at Charing Cross Hospital, and in 1845 announced the discovery of the layer of cells in the root sheath of hair which came to bear his name. Huxley was appointed Assistant-Surgeon on HMS 'Rattlesnake' and served between 1846 and 1850 surveying Australia's Great Barrier Reef and New Guinea. He studied the structure and growth of sea anemones, hydras, jellyfish, and sea nettles such as the Portuguese man-of-war. Grouping them together as (sting-celled) Nematophora (later to be classified as the phylum Cnidaria or Coelenterata), he demonstrated that they were all composed of two 'foundation membranes' (endoderm and ectoderm ). In 1848, he sent to the Royal Society of London On the affinities of the family of the medusa. Huxley returned to Britain in 1850 and that year too he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1854 he began lecturing in Natural History and Paleontology at the Government School of Mines in Piccadilly, and in 1859 some research of his appeared as The Oceanic Hydrozoa. Meanwhile, from 1856, there began a long association between Huxley and Charles Darwin, the former seeing Darwin's approach as an important support to his own ambition of building a new scientific elite unbound by old constraints. Support of Darwin and his evolutionary naturalism provided him with the nickname 'Darwin's bulldog'. Huxley challenged the notion of supernatural creation and, as an advocate of agnosticism, a term which he coined, he sought no reconciliation between science and theology. In 1861 he observed that human and ape did not significantly differ and in 1863 he published Zoological evidence as to man's place in nature and On the causes of the phenomena of organic nature. In the academic session 1875-1876, he delivered a course of lectures in Zoology at Edinburgh University. Huxley served as President of the Geological Society (1869-71), the Ethnological Society (1868-71), the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1870), the Marine Biological Association (1884-90), and the Royal Society (1883-85). He also sat on several Royal Commissions, including that on the Sea-fisheries of the UK. His other publications include Lectures on the Elements of Comparative Anatomy (1864), A Manual of the Anatomy of Vertebrated Animals (1871), and A Manual of the Anatomy of Invertebrated Animals (1877). Thomas Henry Huxley died in Eastbourne, Sussex, on 29 June 1895.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Correspondence with Geikie purchased December 1960, Accession no. E60.33. Letter to Lyell, purchased 1974, Accession no. E74.9. Letter to Morley, purchased December 1974, Accession no. E74.37. Letter to Mitchell, purchased February 1975, Accession no. E75.7. Letter with contribution to Carlyle Memorial Fund, acquired October 1975, Accession no. E75.51. Letters to Craik, purchased October 1981, Accession no. E81.93. Letter to Tait, acquired May 1983, Accession no. E83.32. Letter purchased June 1994, Accession no. E94.44. Letters purchased October 1995, Accession no. E95.72.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) The dictionary of national biography. The concise dictionary. Part 1. From the beginnings to 1900. London: Oxford University Press, 1953. (2) University of Edinburgh journal. Volume 10. 1939-1940. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1940. (3) The new encyclopaedia Britannica. Vol.6. Micropaedia. Ready Reference. 15th ed. Chicago and London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show references to Huxley related material in the Geikie collection (check the Indexes for more details): letters to Sir. A. Geikie and to Macmillan, 1860-1888, at Gen. 525. The Indexes also refer to a requisition for specimens required by the Professor of Natural History from the Museum of Science and Art, 1876, at Da. (Gen.), and a letter of Sir Charles Lyell recommending Huxley for a post in the University of London, 1856, at Gen. 1730 (AAF). There is also a mention of Huxley in letters of R. Dick, geologist, 1859, at Gen. 863/1, a memorial to Huxley is mentioned in a letter of Sir W.T. Thiselton-Dyer to Sir A. Geikie, 1895, at Gen. 1426/134.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence, notebooks, diaries and papers, London University, Imperial College Archives, Ref. B/HUXLEY NRA 8194 Huxley, and letters (11) to Lord Playfair, 1854-1891, Ref. B/PLAYFAIR NRA 11556 Playfair; 1 manuscript, sketches of flower, insects and birds, 1884, Natural History Museum, Ref. L MSS HUX, and (copies) of letters from Huxley to Andrew Murray, 1859-1878, Ref. L MSS MUR, and correspondence and papers relating to Huxley Memorial Committee, 1895-1900; lecture notes, 1861-1862, National Library of Wales, Ref. Sir John Williams MSS 358; lecture notes, 1867, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, and letters to JT Knowles (84 items), 1871-1895, Ref. MS 5271; lecture notes, 1869-1871, Oxford University: Department of Zoology; letters (11) to Sir Henry Cole, 1857-1887, American Philosophical Society Library, and letters to Sir Charles Lyell, 1859-1868, NRA 9728 American Philosophic; correspondence with Charles Darwin (12 items), 1859-1880, Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, Ref. Darwin NRA 11458 Darwin, and correspondence with Sir George Stokes (81 items), 1864-1893, Ref. Add 7342, 7656 NRA 20700 Stokes; letters (184) to Sir Michael Foster, 1875-1895, Royal College of Physicians of London; letters to George Gordon, 1857-1892, Elgin Museum, Ref. NRA(S)1989 NRA 22745 Gordon; letters to George Holyoake, 1871-1891, Co-Operative Union Archive, Ref. MM/96636/1-12 NRA 16403 Holyoake; letters to Sir Norman Lockyer, Exeter University Library, NRA 11128 Lockyer Observatory; correspondence with Macmillans, 1866-1894, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MS 55210; letters (15) to Trenham Reeks, 1856-1879, British Geological Survey Library, Ref. IGS1 NRA 18675 Inst of Geol; correspondence with Herbert Spencer, 1860-1875, London University Library, Ref. MS 791 NRA 16253 Spencer; letters (c300) to Sir John Tyndall, Royal Institution of Great Britain; and, letters (16), 1856-1893, Huntington Library.