This Day In History: 1895-06-29


Thomas Henry Huxley (1825 – 1895) died on this day.
He was British biologist, best known today for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, earning from his debate with Wilberforce the sobriquet, “Darwin’s Bulldog”. Huxley took the position of physician-naturalist aboard HMS Rattlesnake on an expedition surveying New Guinea and Australia (1846 – 50), he studied marine invertebrates, uniting the Hydroid and Sertularian polyps with the Medusae to form a class to which he subsequently gave the name of Hydrozoa, and showing that the Appendicularia and the Ascidians are both tunicates, today regarded as a sister group to the vertebrates in the phylum Chordata. He was one of the first to look at samples of mud dredged from the deep sea floor with a microscope, seeing distinct, round, light-coloured particles everywhere within the mud, for which he coined the word “coccolith”, later understood to be a ubiquitous form of phytoplankton. Huxley had a great influence on the development of the British educational system, putting an emphasis on the biological sciences at a time when British universities had little to offer, up until this time most biologists had been either self-taught, or trained in medicine.

Huxley is honoured in the names of a number of species under huxleyi.