T. H. Huxley
Letters and Diary 1850

New Guinea Fleet of Canoes

National Library of Australia

February 11, 1850

[To Mrs. Rachel Huxley]

I cannot at all realise the idea of our return. We have been leading such a semi-savage life for years past, such a wandering nomadic existence, that any other seems in a manner unnatural to me. Time was when I should have looked upon our return with unmixed joy; but so many new and strong ties have arisen to unite me with Sydney, that now when the anchor is getting up for England, I scarcely know whether to rejoice or to grieve. You must not be angry, my dear Mother; I have none the less affection for you or any other of those whom I love in England –only a very great deal for a certain little lassie whom I must leave behind me without clearly seeing when we are to meet again. You must remember the Scripture as my excuse, "A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his" (I wish I could add) wife. Our long cruises are fine times for reflection and during the last I determined that we would be terribly prudent and get married about 1870, or the Greek Kalends, or, what is about the same thing, whenever I am afflicted with the malheur de richesses.

People talk about the satisfaction of an approving conscience. Mine approves me intensely; but I'll be hanged if I see the satisfaction of it. I feel much more inclined to swear "worse than our armies in Flanders." . . . So far as my private doings are concerned, I hear very satisfactory news of them. I heard from an old messmate of mine at Haslar the other day that Dr. MacWilliam, F.R.S., one of our deputy-inspectors, had been talking about one of my papers, and gave him to understand that it was to be printed. Furthermore, he is a great advocate for the claims of assistant surgeons to ward-room rank, and all that sort of stuff, and, I am told, quoted me as an example! Henceforward I look upon the learned doctor as a man of sound sense and discrimination! Without joking, however, I am glad to have come under his notice, as he may be of essential use to me. I find myself getting horribly selfish, looking at everything with regard to the influence it may have on my grand objects.

April 6, 1850

Here is the end of a "History of Four Years", dearest. It tells of the wanderings of a man among all varieties of human life and character, from the ball-room among the elegancies and soft nothings of society to the hut of the savage and the grand untrodden forest. It should tell more. It should tell of the wider and stranger wanderings of a human soul, now proud and confident, now sunk in bitter despondency–now so raised above its own coarser nature by the influence of a pure and devoted love as to dare to feel almost worthy of being so loved.

Could the history of the soul be written for that time it would be fuller of change and struggle than that of the outward man, but who shall write it? I, the only possible historian, am too much implicated, too interested, to tell such a story fairly.

I have besides no talent for writing on any such subject. I no sooner take the pen in my hand than I begin thinking of all things in heaven and earth relevant and irrelevant to the matter under consideration. I am not of a "subjective" disposition and unless I have some tangible object for my thoughts they all go woolgathering.

Just now indeed I can with difficulty keepthem fixed on any subject. One feeling hangs like an incubus over me. When I go to sleep and when I wake in the morning, whenever I am not actively engaged during the day there is like a weight, or a sense of evil hanging over me.

Can you guess, dearest, what this feeling is? I fear so, for I see the same in your patience and weakness and the clouds that sometimes–too often–pass over a face incapable of concealment or dissimulation.

We are to part–dearest–the thought seems ever present to me.

And though I am sure that two or three years at the outside must bring us together again, to be parted, as I fervently hope, no more, and though I chide myself for allowing these feelings to arise, when I ought to have strength and cheerfulness enough for us both, yet there they are and remain, and I fear will remain until the dreaded separation is over, and Hope has again become the only possible comforter.

May 4, 1850

Such a vile night–half a gale of wind–the ship rolling heavily and no sleep to be had. Oh the vile odour, oh the noises! Göthe in his account of the siege of Mayence enumerates fifteen distinct sets of noises he heard going on one sleepless night. I heard:

And I think with ingenuity and a little trouble, I could find some more.

The ladies all thoroughly done up–or rather down and invisible. I beg pardon, the Misses Crawford and McGillivray were seen but decidedly under a cloud.–No fear of any fantasia for some time.

This is my twenty-fifth birthday. I ought to be up and doing inthe world if ever I mean to do anything. Twenty-five to thirty-five is the "mezzo cammin".

May 13, 1850

This morning, Inskip and I, in accordance with some hints we had received that such an application would be successful, made a formal complaint of the state of the gun-room to the commanding officer–who forwarded the matter to Yule. There was a cabinet council immediately, and the result is that we are to put in to the Bay of Islands, and do what can be done to stop the leaks. I am very glad, not only because I wish to see New Zealand, but because I shall be able to send a letter to dear Menen.

Will she not be surprised at receiving a letter from me in ten days or thereabouts?

A chum of poor Taylor's who was in contant attendance upon him has sickened with, I fear, the same disorder. I fear he has somehow or other become inoculated. He is a very good man, and I am anxious about him.

On Thursday the 16th, we entered the Bay of Islands and anchored off Point Kororareka. This is a little village rather than a town, consisting of a few houses and stores scattered along the beach; a church and Roman Catholic chapel are conspicuous on the side of the hill. The site is pretty enough, the long fern giving a greenness to the aspect of the country which makes up in some measure for its want of trees. The military are stationed quite away from the town at Wahpu. I did not visit their settlement. At the time of our visit, they were 160 strong.

Meat, potatoes, and honey are to be had at reasonable prices at Kororareka, everything else dear and bad. The place I fancy had hardly recovered from its sack by Heki five years ago.

There was a report of some fine falls to be seen some eleven miles off up the Kidi Kidi river, and a party was made up to go thither in the cutter. Brady and I wished to see as much as we could of the country, and so determined to get leave till Monday, and walk on to Waimate and the chief Missionary station wh. lies about 10 or 12 miles from Kidi Kidi.

The Kidi Kidi river is a small stream with usually high and hilly banks. We ascended to within about a couple of miles of the falls and then a small rapid which becomes a fall at low water obliged us to land. At this point, there is a sort of branch station with a large store. The Missionary at the station is the Rev. Mr Kemp, and the store is kept by his sons. Commodities are here kept to exchange with the natives for produce. The Missionary was away, but his son treated us with great civility and almost obliged us to make use of one of the rooms of his home to dine in. He gave us a guide to the falls in the shape of a little Maori boy who took us through about three-quarters of a mile of as nasty a swamp as I ever traversed. It was absurd to see us floundering through it in single file, with our light-heeled unencumbered guide dancing on before us.

The fall was very pretty; much the same style of place as the Chamarelle, only not so grand, being not more than sixty feet, but then in compensation, there was a much larger body of water. Underneath, the unceasing action of the spray has hollowed a large cave, where tradition says a great number of Maori were once slain. The floor and walls of the cave are covered with verdure, ferns, Marsileae, and numerous other small cryptogamic plants forming a thick carpet. A coating of green slime too renders the passage into the cave on this side by no means easy.

May 27, 1850

between 8 and 9 P.M.

The moon very brilliant, but light showers are falling all around us. There was the most beautiful lunar rainbow I ever saw, a perfect arch, bright coloured, and about 20° high– outside this at a considerable distance was a faint second arch of about the same intensity of colour as the ordinary lunar bows.

Last night, I had a long walk up and down the deck with the doctor, and a very interesting conversation at the same time. Something was said about our paying off and the dispersion that would then take place. I said with one or two exceptions, I greatly rejoiced at the prospect, but I could not help adding that I trusted that our friendship was not to come to so speedy an end. I told him how much I was indebted to him for the good understanding that has always existed between us, and how much I felt the uniform delicacy with which he had treated me. I was glad of the opportunity of saying this much–for Thomson is one of the few men for whose friendship I care and whom I thoroughly esteem. I felt that my hot temper had not always permitted me to act with perfect justice towards him, and though we never quarrelled, I felt as I told him that that was more owing to his even and amiable disposition than to my deserts. There are few people to whom my pride would have let me say this much, but I was not disappointed in him. He met me halfway, and more than halfway, and I feel sure that he has a real friendship for me. I am very glad that this kind of explanation has taken place between us –I did not feel sure before that he really esteemed me, and I liked him too much to be at all comfortable under that notion. I have always looked upon him as a better man in every sense than myself. Better tempered, with more self-control, and with a more solid and practical if not a sharper intellect. I could not but be amused at his want of self-knowledge when he said "That although placed by the service as my superior, he had never forgotten that I had far the advantage in intellect and knowledge". Much as this flattered me, I felt in sorrow how untrue it was–and could not rest until I had put in a vehement disclaimer.

Is it a poor vanity, or a just pride in his good opinion, even though wrong, that has made me write this down?

We talked a great deal of Alice Radford and McClatchie. He evidently likes Alice very much from what he has seen of her, and looks upon her as thrown away. Acknowledging all Archie's good qualities, he dwelt strongly on the defects in his temper and the influence they would be likely to have on Alice's happiness. I stuck up for Archie as I best might, but could not help feeling there was some truth in what he said. One thing I do not believe. He said he thought McClatchie would forget her and break off the connection. I said I did not think such a thing likely, and furthermore that I hoped most sincerely he would not, for I looked upon Alice as a sister–and I should call him to a heavy reckoning. And so I would, as if he were my own brother.

But it is utterly improbable–I have too much confidence in Archie with all his faults to entertain the idea for a moment.

I laughed and said, What did he think I would do? And what he said I shall not tell you, little Menen, so don't be curious.

And then he talked about his wife, and I about mine. He said he would never have married a woman whom he did not think would make a good mother to her children and I agreed with him–and told him that though unmarried I could form a perfect judgment of what sort of mother my wife would make.

I told him that I had had the opportunity of watching a most interesting series of experiments on that very point and that while I laughed at Nettie for her attachment to a child, I was in truth anxiously watching how she manged it, how she made it at once love and obey her, and how I knew from what I had seen, that all my requirements would be satisfied, and that I should love the mother of my children even better than my dear mistress. How I envied him in my heart that he could speak of his child. I felt more than ever the bitterness of our separation. I should like to see his wife. I think she must be a very nice creature. She is well loved at any rate.

July 4, 1850

If we have any luck at all and keep our present wind we shall double the dread cape in the next twelve hours. The altitude of the sun to-day was only 9° 54' and the day not seven hours long. It's desperately cold, a sharp southerly wind blowing and the thermometer down to 22°. It has not risen to thirty for the last three days and we have had frequent snow showers. It suits me better than I expected–I wrap myself up in your comforter and my great-coat, dearest, and walk up and down the deck for two or three hours during the day. By the bye, what delightful things those wrist-affairs are, and the neatness of their appearance has excited much admiration. A brig, the Adelaide, has been in sight all yesterday and to-day–to-day within two or three miles. She signalled her name, but there was some blunder about her last signal, and we don't know where she comes from. Curious the interest one takes in a stupid little brig we should pass with contempt anywhere else.

Mrs Stanley has been confined to her cabin by the cold and I have just looked into see how she was getting on yesterday and the day before. She must be amazingly lonely there. She is remarkably well informed and has a good literary taste so that I really derived a good deal of pleasure from my little conversation with her. The other day, I got her the New Times from Simpson. I wish I could do her any other good turn, for apart from a liking I have for her, she has afforded me many an hour's pleasure by lending me Macaulay's History , and Lamartine's Histoire des Girondins , to say nothing of Mary Barton. I have just finished the last–and a fine novel it is. I must send it out to you, Menen. I can testify to the general truths of its descriptions of the working classes in manufacturing towns–their dialect and ways–from what I have seen myself in Coventry. Mrs Stanley tells me it is by a Mrs. Gaskill [sic], wife of a lawyer near Manchester.

If any subject ever strongly excited your sympathies, dear Menen, you would write very well. Your letters, although you write as I would have you, without calculation and carelessly, tumbling one thought above another, are always good–good simple saxon expressing clearly your thoughts and feelings–and you are a capital hand at little bits of mischievous description. And some of your letters, dearest, are beautiful–letters where your little heart speaks out–dear letters, that I would shew to no-one.

July 12, 1850

Falkland Islands

[To Miss Heathorn]

I have great hopes of being able to send a letter to you, via California, even from this remote corner of the world. It is the Ultima Thule and no mistake. Fancy two good-sized islands with undulated surface and sometimes elevated hills, but without tree or bush as tall as a man. When we arrived the 8th inst. the barren uniformity was rendered still more obvious by the deep coating of snow which enveloped everything. How can I describe to you "Stanley," the sole town, metropolis, and seat of government? It consists of a lot of black, low, weather-board houses scattered along the hillsides which rise round the harbour. One barnlike place is Government House, another the pensioners' barracks, rendered imposing by four field-pieces in front; others smaller are the residences of the colonel, surgeon, etc. In one particularly black and unpromising-looking house lives a Mrs. Sullivan (sic) the wife of Captain Sullivan, who surveyed these islands, and has settled out here. I asked myself if I could have the heart to bring you to such a desolate place, and myself said "No." However, I believe she is very happy with her children. Sullivan is a fine energetic man, so I suppose if she loves him, well and good, and fancies (is she not a silly woman?) that she has her reward. Mrs. Stanley has gone to stay with them while the ship remains here, and I think I shall go and look them up under pretence of making a call. They say that the present winter is far more savage than the generality of Falkland Island winters, and it had need be, for I never felt anything so bitterly cold in my life. The thermometer has been down below 22, and shallow parts of the harbour even have frozen. Nothing to be done ashore. My rifle lies idle in its case; no chance of a shot at a bull, and one has to go away 20 miles to get hold even of the upland geese and rabbits. The only thing to be done is to eat, eat, eat, and the cold assists one wonderfully in that operation. You consume a pound or so of beefsteaks at breakfast and then walk the deck for an appetite at dinner, when you take another pound or two of beef or a goose, or some such trifle. By four o'clock it is dark night, and as it is too cold to read the only thing to be done is to vanish under blankets at soon as possible and take twelve or fourteen hours' sleep.

Mrs. Stanley's Bougirigards, which I have taken under my care during the cold weather, admire this sort of thing exeedingly and thrive under it, so I suppose I ought to.

The journey from New Zealand here has been upon the whole favourable; no gales–quite the reverse–but light variable winds and calms. The latter part of our voyage has, however, been very cold, snow falling in abundance, and the ice forming great stalactites about our bows. We have seen no icebergs nor anything remarkable. From all I can learn it is most probable that we shall leave in about a week and shall go direct to England without stopping at any other port. I wish it may be so. I want to get home and look about me.

We have had news up to the end of March. There is nothing of any importance going on. By the Navy list for April I see that I shall be as nearly as possible in the middle of those of my own rank, i. e. I shall have about 150 above and as many below me. This is about what I ought to expect in the ordinary run of promotion in eight years, and I have served four and a half of that time. I don't expect much in the way of promotion, especially in these economic times; but I do not fear that I shall be able to keep me in Engalnd for at least a year after our arrival in order to publish my papers. The Admiralty have quite recently published a distinct declaration that they will consider scientific attainments as a claim to their notice, and I expect to be the first to remind them of their promise, and I will take care to have the reminder so backed that they must and shall take note ot it. Even if they will not promote me at once, it would answer our purpose to have an appointment in some ship on the home station for a short time.

October 6, 1850


Dearest Menen, I have not talked to you for a long time, but this has not been for want of many, many thoughts of you. Let me see, it's a whole month since I have written a word–and we have now just left the Azores. In consequence of our usual luck–fine calm weather with light variable winds –our passage from the Falklands became very much lengthened, and our supply of water fell seriously short. We had to go on an allowance of 3 pints per diem for all purposes, which is but just sufficient for all our animal wants, and sadly diminished our small stock of comforts.

So it was determined to call at the Azores. Our first intention was to go to Terceira but Fayal was nearest, and we were glad enough to put in there.

At dawn last Sunday, we knew that we ought to see the great peak of Pico, one of the islands, which rises a sharp cone for near 8000 feet. I went on deck before dawn (such an extraordinary exertion was no great merit, for I was called up to see a sick man) and there sure enough, right ahead of us was Pico, a sharp peak, rising straight out of the sea some thirty miles off. As the sun rose behind it, nothing could be more glorious than it appeared, dark and majestic, and crowned with a beautiful and richly coloured garland of clouds. I thought to myself what a grand thing it would be to be up on the top of that about sunrise and formed a resolution that if possible there I would be before we left the Azores.

I did nothing but talk about it all that day–and found plenty of people who promised they would go too. However, many were called but few chosen, as you will see by and bye. Soon we had a clear view of Fayal, which is comparatively low, and the island of St George which lies further away from Fayal than Pico. Then the Magdalen rocks came in sight and finally we came to an anchor off the town of Horta (Fayal) about four in the afternoon.

I did not go ashore then, but looked after the commissariat. The people brought off lots of eggs at a very cheap rate, and vast quantities were immediately consumed on board.–There is something perfectly animal and filthy in one's ravenous appetite on first coming into harbour.

As for the town, it looked like all the Portuguese towns I have ever seen–very white and clean-looking with various churches and convents in a most hideous style of architecture.

The party returning from the shore reported that there was nothing to be seen–only the English consul was very polite and hospitable and had a very pretty unmarried daughter. Of course I thought it would be expedient to pay my respects at the earliest opportunity, especially as I was very desirous to ascertain the feasability [sic] of getting up the Pico. So I called the next morning and saw the consul Mr Minchin, a very kind and polite old military gentleman, and the daughter Miss Minchin–pretty enough but not much to my taste–and another daughter Mrs Creagh, not so pretty but much handsomer. I fell in friendship with her at first sight and she quite justified my instinct–turning out to be a most agreeable, kind, ladylike creature. Then there was her husband, a young major– unattached, and decidedly a fast man, but a gentleman withal, and whom I found a most essential adjunct to the Pico scheme.

The consul was a painter, and we talked about painting, and to my horror he asked me to bring my sketches ashore and come and dine with him. And I went and dined–and exhibited –and "snaked" myself into Mrs Creagh's good graces, while Simpson (tell it not in Gath) and Brady flirted with pretty Miss Nelly.

I have come to the conclusion, my dear Menen, that there must be something in my peculiarly ugly phiz which inspireth great confidence in woman-kind–a sort of old-man expression–inasmuch as it has more than once happened to me, to be consulted by them within four and twenty hours after I had first had the honour of their acquaintance. So it was in the present case. Mrs Creagh had come out from England in a very debilitated state, and was not thoroughly recovered, and I had to put on additional gravity in order to listen to her complaints. I was very glad to have it in my power to do her some good, what between physic and lancet.

I have stated all this for your especial rumination, wicked one, inasmuch as you used, I remember, to treat my professional dignity with great slight. But that's just it, "a prophet hath no honour in his own country".

You will only be jealous if I tell you how one taught the sisters the Schottische–how one used to dine at the consul's every night and then practise it, and how much fun one had– so I won't say a word more about it. I will only tell you how I persuaded Nelly that your hair was "Australian Silk" and how, when Mrs Creagh gave me a very beautiful bouquet at parting, I told her it was lucky that the owner of the Australian silk did not see it.

Well they were most kind hospitable people, and I assure you I was quite sorry to leave our friends of six days' standing, when in spite of all Nelly's pretty persuasion, old Yule stolidly determined on sailing last Saturday.

While we were at Fayal, an Italian gentleman, Signor Augustin Robbio, a violinist, brought a letter of introduction to the consul–and one evening was kind enough to give us a specimen of his playing at the consul's home. I was very much pleased with his musical powers–as far as I can judge, they were of a high order. He visits England I believe in the Spring.

The American consul, Mr Datney, was very civil to us. His family was in some affliction as one of his sons had married the favourite daughter of that unhappy man Professor Webster [?] who was hanged the other day. I did not see her, but I am told that she is a clever person of great musical talent, but very apathetic. She seems to care nothing for the horrible catastrophe which has befallen her father. When her husband broke the news of the murder to her, she listened very quietly and when he had done only said "what an unfortunate occurrence". I think that is the sublime of bathos. I should have boxed her ears had I been her husband–I love a snow-house but not an iceberg.

But I have not yet told you about the ascent of the Pico– and that I shall leave for another time, as it is the middle of the night, blowing a gale of wind right in our teeth and the ship nearly pitching us under. Addio, little one. I shall read some of your journal. October 9th, I850.

October 13, 1850

[To Henrietta Heathorn]

The Party "what went up the Pico" consisted of Dunbar, Capt. Stewart, Tighe, Heath, Major Creagh, a half-Portuguese who spoke English very well, and myself. I had been ashore at Fayal all the morning of Thursday the day we started, and was half tempted not to go. The consul wanted me to dine with him, and I had once submitted to the lot in the shape of tossing, which decided against me. However, my invincible dislike to give up any project once formed was too much for me, and off I started for the ship at about two o'clock. Now two o'clock was fixed as the latest hour we were to start–but I got on board and dressed appropriately and still found plenty of time, greatly rejoiced after all at not giving up a resolution. Stewart was fretting and fussing away after the grub, Creagh talking to everybody all at once with incredible volubility, Dunbar ditto, Tighe snuffling, Heath quiet and resolute as usual and looking after proviant and requisites, very much in earnest–and it was nearly four before we left the ship for Pico, about five miles distant.

I began to laugh when we left the ship, and I don't think that I left off for about six hours. Such a queer trio as Dunbar, Creagh and Stewart I never had the luck to meet with before. After sundry ridiculous disputes as to navigation, we reached the town, dashing up through some heavy rollers which threatened to swamp us. Ourselves and our traps landed, any rational people would have commenced travelling, as we had some twelve miles to go to the proposed resting place, and the sun was near setting. But not we. First and foremost we went and took possession of an empty house the proprietor of which had kindly given us his key.

Then there was a great question about animals, Stewart and Dunbar protesting they would not and could not walk a mile. None were to be had, however, but there were hopes entertained that the priest who lived up at the other end of the long straggling town might be persuaded to lend a horse.

So, attended by all the population, who looked at us with faces not unlike those of an English mob round a Cherokee Indian, we trudged on. We had a tail of seven or eight Portuguese to carry our luggage and altogether formed quite a procession.

We had not gone very far before Creagh called a halt opposite one house and said we must go and see his friend one Signor Teira, a rich proprietor. So up we went and sitting on a sort of terrace devoured fruit while M. Teira was being found. While thus engaged a most ridiculous scene took place in the shape of a quarrel between Stewart and Dunbar, the former abusing the latter in the most unmeasured terms for certain improprieties. Poor Stewart, he lost his breath; he might as well have talked to a post. There was a rich, comic, stolid expression on his adversary's face all the while, beautiful to behold. It nearly killed me laughing, when at the end of Stewart's tirade, his reply consisted merely in mimicking the three last words thereof. The cream of the joke was that old Stewart was just as bad as the other himself.

Creagh is decidedly a "fast man", but this little scene rather palled on him and he asked me quietly if this style of conversation was common among naval officers. I rather enlightened him on that point, by assuring him that the two in this case quite understood one another. In fact they were excellent friends again in half an hour.

By and bye Signor Teira, a pleasing gentlemanly young man, made his appearance with a lot more Portuguese gentlemen. We must taste his wine, and very good it was, the second bottle especially was I think the most delicious Port I ever tasted. Imported direct from Lisbon and unadulterated it is quite a different thing from the fiery abomination you get in England.

The sun set apace, and at last we started again. A great deal of time was now lost in embassages to the Padre, who is a man not to be lightly treated in Portuguese places. Hopes were beginning to be entertained of bringing the matter to a successful issue, when Creagh swore a big swear that he wouldn't wait any longer and if anybody would come with him he would start sans guide sans provisions and sans everything. We who meant to go to the top, to wit, Heath, Tighe, and myself, immediately seconded the motion and off we went leaving the others to follow when they pleased. Creagh had a very indefinite idea of the road, which lies between high stone fences, built up of blocks of lava, but he knew there were two old ruined houses on the right hand side about seven miles off and insisted greatly on that point! Furthermore he was very particular in taking a compass bearing of the peak, the utility of which measure was not clear to any one but himself, inasmuch as we had to follow a road, not to go across country. Cross-country, indeed–it would puzzle all the steeple-chasers in or about Melton to manage that. The face of the country is cut up by high lava walls as I have told you with narrow lanes between them. These walls enclose fields or rather vineyards, but the vines are not grown on poles, but on stone fences of just the same character as the walls, running in parallel lines about four feet apart right across the field, so that the fields, as the vines did not cover the fences, had very much the look of immense currycombs.

However, no wise discouraged we started off at a sporting pace and walked (with a few stoppages for consultations as to the "diritta via" and a few doublings and returns not worth mentioning) some three or four miles. It was now dark. We neither heard nor saw anything of our friends, and beginning to entertain some not altogether unfounded doubts of the correctness of our course, we betook ourselves to the next cottage to inquire if our friends had not passed. The courteous old Portuguese peasant made us at home with much politeness, brought us fruit, and then his wife brought out a picturesque lamp dangling from a tripod and the little daughter made big eyes at us out of the dark shade within the house–we were a most picturesque party.

Well, we waited and waited, but no one came. We were too grand to go back, and having received some assurances (half understood, for not one of us could understand a dozen words of Portuguese) that we were in the right track we started again. We trudged on, frequently looking back to catch a glimpse of the lights of our party (sometimes fancying we saw them) for about four miles–shin-breaking work it was too, and chill withal. At last we reached the Major's house, which however turned out most unaccountably to be on the left side of the road, and here were determined to wait, especially as it was beginning to rain smartly and we had no covering and no water. The house was miserable and half unroofed. Some of the thatch made us a fire, and at the imminent risk of our heads, no plaster or mortar being employed in Pico architecture, we dislodged a rude rafter for firewood. Then we set fire to the bush outside and, not knowing what mischief we might be doing, took infinite pains to put it out again.

Finally, when the rain pattered through the thatch and a couple of hours had elapsed, we began to abuse our companions for leaving us in the lurch. Firewood began to run short, and we had debates worthy of an American Congress as to the propriety of "annexing" the door of the hut, but considerations of Justice I am happy to say prevailed. Then we held a council of war, and as we all agreed that nothing could be done without the commissariat, we determined on marching down hill again. A bitter resolution this was, and many were the anathemas on our friends below. We had not gone very far, however, before we saw a light below us and rejoicing in the arrival of our party we all rushed back to the hut, determined not to let them know our misgivings. We waited patiently some time, and at last appeared a single Portuguese with a lantern. All he had to say was "You come back– signors not come". Fancy how cantankerous we got, how mürrend we descended, and how John Portugal got small thanks. But again we had not proceeded half a mile before we saw more lights and had in answer to our cooee a loud hail; this time it was our veritable tail, commissariat and all. Such a rich procession, first various flambeau bearers; then Dunbar à pied, trudging laboriously up the hill; then Stewart à coeval, on a little beast of a pony and looking for all the world like Silenus; then a whole troop of blackguards carrying tent and tentpoles, baskets of fruit, water, etc. etc.

The delay had been all about the Padre's horse, but we soon forgot all about that, in the inhibition of certain liquids round our fire. But we were not allowed to rest here, our guide telling us that we must go further on, so we formed again and marched two or three miles further–up hill continually–till we reached some empty cottages, after the same style as that we had left. It was now nine or ten o'clock and as we who meant to go up (Stewart and Dunbar had long before declared their intention of waiting for us at the first resting place) determined to see the sun rise from the peak, we had not more than an hour to spare.

Stewart was constituted cook and immediately set to work upon a stew, which being concocted was put on a fire outside, one of us mounting guard to see that our Portuguese friends did not make free with its savoury contents.

Heath brewed a pot of tea, inside. Dunbar lay on his back and did nothing but make us laugh, and Creagh was afflicted with a continual succession of small angular lumps of lava wh. would run into his back. The "Portugals" carried it clearly written on their faces that they thought us a party of mad Englishmen. And I don't wonder at it.

Having greatly comforted and refreshed our inward man, the five of us–to wit, Creagh, Heath, Tighe, Lane and myself, with our guide and three or four Portuguese bearers– proceeded on our journey. The road now became nothing but the bed of a dry torrent, and even with our torches required much circumspection. Still we walked continually between the high lava walls. On, on–I never had such a queer walk. Then we marched through a queer long cleft in the rock some thirty feet deep, and not more than two wide, with perpendicular sides all overhanging with fern. Up, up continually. At last we came to a clear space, without fences, where "the difficult air of the mountain top" blew freely on our faces. Here we walked over a springy turf, saturated with moisture. The Peak looked quite close, black and frowning. And as for us we seemed mere pigmies in the wide spaces. Odd basin-shaped cavities of old craters were lit up fantastically as we crossed, our shadows thrown long and weird on the smooth turf. At one place was a pool of water, the last we should meet with we were told, and we took the opportunity to refresh. Still we ascended until we came to a low wall with a wicket gate, and here we were told it was no use going any further as we should probably break our necks if we went on without the moon's light. Creagh's energy on this and like occasions was something delightful. He gesticulated and sputtered in Portuguese English and gave them to understand that we were a kind of people who rather took a pleasure in breaking our necks, if it so pleased us, that we were very different from them–d–d Portuguese as they were–and that go on we would. Eventually the dispute was compromised into an hour's rest. So we gathered heather for our beds and each wrapping himself up in his plaid or coat, went peacefully to sleep. In about an hour I woke and I was just looking at the Great Bear and wondering if I had really slept an hour, when Creagh who was close to me sang out, "I say, Doctor, time to start; haven't you been snoring!", immediately jumping up and beginning to bully the Portuguese, which seemed to be a great relief to his excitable feelings. It was now about two o'clock. All our worst climbing was before us, but we were in capital order, and worked on in capital style.

The rarefaction of the air began to give one a little uneasiness about the throat, but that was merged in the satisfaction of being so high up, and after one or two rebellions on the part of the guides, which were greeted by Creagh's eloquent appeals to their fears, cupidity, or jealousy as the case might be, the first grey of dawn found us not above a mile from the base of the crater. But here we left Lane, the half-Portuguese; he said he had a pain in his legs and gave up without a struggle. We left him to make his way back, the Major taking occasion to draw a great moral on the comparative endurance of English and Portuguese.

We reached the base of the crater and it was still dawn. We were all in high spirits and I had just remarked that I felt as little tired as when I started, when I found myself seized with a sudden attack of my old enemy, palpitation of the heart, so bad that I was obliged to lie down. Stand I could not in spite of all my efforts, so I told them to go on, that I should be well presently and would join them, as I believed I should. However, there I stuck for about a couple of hours, unable to make any exertion, and cursing my stars at being thus balked.

We had ascended on the west side of the Peak too, so that there was no chance of my absolutely seeing the sun rise, and I began to be rather disgusted. But I was amply repaid for all my trouble as the sun rose. Where I was, was more than 7000 feet above the sea, within 6 or 700 feet of the top of the Peak, so that had I reached the top my view would not have been perceptibly more extensive. How can I describe to you the glory of the scene. Far–thousands of feet–below me lay a huge mass of fleecy white clouds, gorgeously tinged here and there as they caught the rays of the sun. In the midst of them was an opening, and there lay framed the island of Fayal. From the great distance of the horizon, sea and sky were melted into one grey mass, and Fayal looked like an exquisite little painting on a rich grey ground. And then as the light increased you might spy the ship, a mere speck in the bay of Orta, and in the channel between the islands a white spot here and there, which you knew and yet could hardly believe was a boat's sail. I never shall forget it as long as I live. I had my sketch book in my haversack but it would have been presumption in Titian and Claude and Turner if they could have been rolled into one to attempt to depict such a sight. Furthermore my condition was not exactly favourable to artistic pursuits.

My reverie over the sunrise had been somewhat interrupted by the importunity of two Portuguese boys who had been left behind with me, and who not understanding the good cause I had to be quiet, were continually shouting to me to "come on, you". I felt a morbid desire to break both their heads. As I would not ascend, they began to descend while shouting to me to "come on, you", but as descending was as difficult to me as ascending I remained where I was, until I became sufficiently recovered as to crawl along a little way towards my tormentors. As I did this I suspect in rather a lame, tumbledown sort of manner, it seemed at length to enter their stupid heads that there might be something wrong and one came back to me. By way of explaining, I took his hand and put it upon my heart which was going pit-a-pat at a great rate. He felt it with a great air of commiseration and then gradually sliding his hand over the other side, to my astonishment I found his finger sliding into my waistcoat pocket, where my spare cash lay. I gave my friend to understand that this was not quite correct, and then made him help me down to his companion who was some distance below us with a keg of wine, just the thing I wanted.

When I reached this worthy, I demanded wine at once, but deuce a bit could I get until I handed over a sixpence a drink. I was angry at the impertinence of the blackguard but as I was not exactly in a position to quarrel with him I acceded to his demand. The keg was pulled away each time and not given back till the demand "You give shilling" was complied with. The best of the joke was we had bought the wine so that it was absolutely mine.

I got much better with the wine and wrapping myself up had a doze until the three who went to the top, Heath, Creagh and Tighe, returned. They had had a hard climb, and had not seen very much more than I, though that did not much alleviate my disgust at my shortcoming.

We began to descend, and on our way I told Creagh as rather a good joke what had befallen me with my friends the boys. He was mightily wroth and threatened great things. (He had had occasion to knock down one gentleman after we parted.) I begged of him to take no notice of the affair and I thought it was all over, but it was not, as you will hear in the end.

When we reached the hut where we left Stewart and Dunbar on the previous night, the former had according to his agreement prepared us a grand breakfast of eggs and milk and Irish stew. I sat and drank and then being regularly knocked up went fast asleep inside the hut.

In the meanwhile Creagh had informed Stewart of the conduct of the boys, and he most outrageously proceeded at once to administer naval justice upon the unfortunate principal delinquent.

Being rather too fat and short-winded to perform such a feat himself, he bribed a Portuguese who was standing by and who was a sort of constable in the village, with a couple of shillings, to catch the culprit. Then he had him "seized up" nautical fashion and with a cob made up by himself for the occasion he administered personally a preliminary dozen lashes, with a will I have no doubt, then getting tired he handed over the cob to the constable and by the aid of the universal persuader, a shilling, got him to give the remaining three dozen, contenting himself with merely superintending. It was a tolerable cool proceeding in a foreign country and I wonder they did not give him a touch of the knife, but I suppose they looked upon us as "those mad Englishmen who always have pistols about them".

I should have put a stop to the whole affair had I been conscious of it, but I was unfortunately in a dead sleep the whole time.

We got on board again without further adventures, by about four o'clock, so that our whole expedition had not taken us more than 24 hours. I dressed, went ashore, dined at the consul's and afterwards danced schottisches and polkas with his daughters, not getting on board again till about 1 o'clock in the morning.

I did not feel at all tired until a day or two afterwards, and then not much.

On Saturday they had got up a very pleasant excursion for us into the country, but old Yule, bother him, would not stop and we sailed about two o'clock on that day. I really felt quite sorry to part with our friends, particularly Mrs Creagh (don't be jealous!)–there was so much genuine kindness, apart from mere civility, about them. But such is our life in the Service.

We had a splendid westerly gale for two days, and fully expected to have been in England last Sunday (the 18th) but (our luck!) it suddenly dropped and most unaccountably a strong E. gale sprang up in our teeth. This lasted, abating in violence, until yesterday, when a light westerly wind again sprang up, and now bids fair to carry us home. I do not now wish that word–home–from my heart, dearest. I did four years ago. But now I feel most truly, that where you are there is my true home. There is where all my loves and all my anxieties are centered. Those whose care and affection reared me into manhood seem but as aliens, compared with you. The scenes of my childhood and youthhood seem but as strange compared with dear old Holmwood, and the bush paths where we twain have walked hand in hand. Why is this? Your heart will tell you.


Holmwood, Sydney

New Town Home of Fanning Family 1850
J. Huxley, Diary

October 31, 1850

[To Sir John Richardson]

I regret very much that in consequence of our being ordered to be paid off at Chatham, instead of Portsmouth, as we always hoped and expected, I shall be unable to submit to your inspection the zoological notes and drawings which I have made during our cruise. They are somewhat numerous (over 180 sheets of drawings), and I hope not altogether valueless, since they have been made with as great care and attention as I am master of–and with a microscope, such as has rarely, if ever, made a voyage round the world before. A further reason for indulging in this hope consists in the fact that they relate for the most part to animals hitherto very little known, whether from their rarity or from their perishable nature, and that they bear upon many curious physiological points.

I may thus classify and enumerate the observations I have made–

1. Upon the organs of hearing and circulation in some of the transparent Crustacea, and upon the structure of certain of the lower forms of Crustacea.

2. Upon some very remarkable new forms of Annelids, and especially upon the much contested genus Sagitta, which I have evidence to show is neither a Mollusc nor an Epizoon, but an Annelid.

3. Upon the nervous system of certain Mollusca hitherto imperfectly described–upon what appears to me to be an urinary organ in many of them–and upon the structure of Firola and Atlanta, of which latter I have a pretty complete account.

4. Upon two perfectly new (ordinally new) species of Ascidians.

5. Upon Pyrosoma and Salpa. The former has never been described (I think) since Savigny's time, and he had only specimens preserved in spirits. I have a great deal to add and alter. Then as to Salpa, whose mode of generation has always been so great a bone of contention, I have a long series of observations and drawings which I have verified over and over again, and which, if correct, must give rise to quite a new view of the matter. I may mention as an interesting fact that in these animals so low in the scale I have found a placental circulation, rudimentary indeed, but nevertheless a perfect model on a small scale of that which takes place in the mammalia.

6. I have the materials for a monograph upon the Acalephæ and Hydrostatic Acalephæ. I have examined very carefully more than forty genera of these animals–many of them very rare, and some quite new. But I paid comparatively little attention to the collection of new species, caring rather to come to some clear and definite idea as to the structure of those which had indeed been long known, but very little understood. Unfortunately for science, but fortunately for me, this method appears to have been somewhat novel with observers of these animals, and consequently everywhere new and remarkable facts were to be had for the picking up.

It is not to be supposed that one could occupy one's self with the animals for so long without coming to some conclusion as to their systematic place, however subsidiary to observation such considerations must always be regarded, and it seems to me (although on such matters I can of course only speak with the greatest hesitation) that just as the more minute and careful observations made upon the old "Vermes" of Linnæus necessitated the breaking up of that class into several very distinct classes, so more careful investigation requires the breaking up of Cuvier's "Radiata" (which succeeded the "Vermes" as a sort of zoological lumber-room) into several very distinct and well-defined new classes, of which the Acalephæ, Hydrostatic Acalephæ, actinoid and hydroid polypes, will form one. But I fear that I am trespassing beyond the limits of a letter. I have only wished to state what I have done in order that you may judge concerning the propriety or impropriety of what I propose to do. And I trust that you will not think that I am presuming too much upon your kindness if I take the liberty of thus asking your advice about my own affairs. In truth, I feel in a manner responsible to you for the use of the appointment you procured for me; and furthermore, Capt. Stanley's unfortunate decease has left the interests of the ship in general and my own in particular without a representative.

Can you inform me, then, what chance I should have either (1) of procuring a grant for the publication of my papers, or (2) should that not be feasible, to obtain a nominal appointment (say to the Fisguard at Woolwich, as in Dr. Hooker's case) for such time as might be requisite for the publication of my papers and drawings in some other way?

I shall see Professors Owen and Forbes when I reach London, and I have a letter of introduction to Sir John Herschel (who has, I hear, a great penchant for the towing-net). Supposing I could do so, would it be of any use to procure recommendations from them that my papers should be published?

[(Half-erased) To Sir F. Beaufort also I have a letter.] Would it not be proper also to write to Sir W. Burnett acquainting him with my views, and requesting his acquiescence and assistance?

Begging an answer at your earliest convenience, addressed either to the Rattlesnake or to my brother, I remain, your obedient servant, T. H. Huxley

November 21, 1850

41 North Bank My dearest Lizzie–We have been at home now nearly three weeks, and I have been a free man again twelve days. Her Majesty's ships have been paid off on the 9th of this month.

Properly speaking, indeed, we have been at home longer, for we touched at Plymouth and trod English ground and saw English green fields on the 23rd of October, but we were allowed to remain only twenty-four hours, and to my great disgust were ordered round to Chatham to be paid off. The ill-luck which had made our voyage homeward so long (we sailed from Sydney on the 2nd of May) pursued us in the Channel, and we did not reach Chatham until the 2nd of November; and what do you think was one of the first things I did when we reached Plymouth? Wrote to Eliza K. asking news of a certain naughty sister of mine, from whom I had never heard a word since we had been away–and if perchance there should be any letter, begging her to forward it immediately to Chatham. And so, when at length we got there, I found your kind long letter had been in England some six or seven months; but hearing of the likelihood of our return, they had very judiciously not sent it to me.

Your letter, my poor Lizzie, justifies many a heartache I have had when thinking over your lot, knowing, as I well do, what emigrant life is in climates less trying than that in which you live. I have seen a good deal of bush life in Australia, and it enables me fully to sympathise with and enter into every particular you tell me–from the baking and boiling and pigs squealing, down to that ferocious landshark Mrs. Gunther, of whose class Australia will furnish fine specimens. Had I been at home, too, I could have enlightened the good folks as to the means of carriage in the colonies, and could have told them that the two or twenty thousand miles over sea is the smallest part of the difficulty and expense of getting anything to people living inland; as it is, I think I have done some good in the matter; their meaning was good but their discretion small. But the obtuseness of English in general about anything out of the immediate circle of their own experience is something wonderful.

I had heard here and there fractional accounts of your doings from Eliza K. and my mother–not of the most cheery description–and therefore I was right glad to get your letter, which, though it tells of sorrow and misfortune enough and to spare, yet shows me that the brave woman's heart you always had, my dearest Lizzie, is still yours, and that you have always had the warm love of those immediately around you, and now, as the doctor's letter tells us, you have one more source of joy and happiness, and this new joy must efface the bitterness–I do not say the memory, knowing how impossible that would be–of your great loss.[The death of her daughter Jessie]. God knows, my dear sister, I could feel for you. It was as if I could see again a shadow of the great sorrow that fell upon us all years ago.

Nothing can bind me more closely to your children than I am already, but if the christening be not all over you must let me be godfather; and though I fear I am too much of a heretic to promise to bring him up a good son of the church–yet should ever the position which you prophesy, and of which I have an "Ahnung" (though I don't tell that to anybody but Nettie), be mine, he shall (if you will trust him to me) be cared for as few sons are. As things stand, I am talking half nonsense, but I mean it–and you know of old, for good and for evil, my tenacity of purpose.

Now, as to my own affairs–I am not married. Prudently, at any rate, but whether wisely or foolishly I am not quite sure yet, Nettie and I resolved to have nothing to do with matrimony for the present. In truth, though our marriage was my great wish on many accounts, yet I feared to bring upon her the consequences that might have occurred had anything happened to me within the next few years. We had a sad parting enough, and as is usually the case with me, time, instead of alleviating, renders more disagreeable our separation. I have a woman's element in me. I hate the incessant struggle and toil to cut one another's throat among us men, and I long to be able to meet with some one in whom I can place implicit confidence, whose judgment I can respect, and yet who will not laugh at my most foolish weaknesses, and in whose love I can forget all care. All these conditions I have fulfilled in Nettie. With a strong natural intelligence, and knowledge enough to understand and sympathise with my aims, with firmness of a man, when necessary, she combines the gentleness of a very woman and the honest simplicity of a child, and then she loves me well, as well as I love her, and you know I love but few–in the real meaning of the word, perhaps, but two–she and you. And now she is away, and you are away. The worst of it is I have no ambition, except as means to an end, and that end is the possession of a sufficient income to marry upon. I assure you I would not give two straws for all the honours and titles in the world. A worker I must always be–it is my nature–but if I had 400 a year I would never let my name appear to anything I did or shall ever do. It would be glorious to be a voice working in secret and free from all those personal motives that have actuated the best. But, unfortunately, one is not a "vox et præterea nihil," but with a considerable corporality attached which requires feeding, and so while my inner man is continually indulging in these anchorite reflections, the outer is sedulously elbowing and pushing as if he dreamed of nothing but gold medals and professors' caps.

I am getting on very well–better I fear than I deserve. One of my papers was published in 1849 in the Philosophical Transactions, another in the Zoological Transactions, and some more may be published in the Linnæan if I like–but I think I shall not like. Then I have worked pretty hard, and brought home a considerable amount of drawings and notes about new or rare animals, all particularly nasty slimy things, and they will most likely be published as a separate work by the Royal Society.

Owens, Forbes, Bell, and Sharpey (the doctor will tell you of what weight these names are) are all members of the committee which disposes of the money, and are all strongly in favour of my "valuable researches" (cock-a-doodle-doo!!) being published by the Society. From various circumstances I have taken a better position than I could have expected among these grandees, and I find them all immensely civil and ready to help me on, tooth and nail, particularly Prof. Forbes, who is a right good fellow, and has taken a great deal of trouble on my behalf. Owen volunteered to write to the "First Lord" on my behalf, and did so. Sharpey, when I saw him, reminded me, as he always does, of my great contest with Stocks (do you remember throwing the shoe?), and promised me all the assistance in his power. Prof. Bell, who is secretary to the Royal, and has great influence, promised to help me in every way, and asked me to dine with him and meet a lot of nobs. I take all these things quite as a matter of course, but am all the while considerably astonished. The other day I dined at the Geological Club and met Lyell, Murchison, de la B[eche] Horner, and a lot more, and last evening I dined with a whole lot of literary and scientific people.

Owen was, in my estimation, great, from the fact of his smoking his cigar and singing his song like a brick.

I tell you all these things to show you clearly how I stand. I am under no one's patronage, nor do I ever mean to be. I have never asked, and I never will ask, any man for his help from mere motives of friendship. If any man thinks that I am capable of forwarding the great cause in ever so small a way, let him just give me a helping hand and I will thank him, but if not, he is doing both himself and me harm in offering it, and if it should be necessary for me to find public expression to my thoughts on any matter, I have clearly made up my mind to do so, without allowing myself to be influenced by hope of gain or weight of authority.

There are many nice people in this world for whose praise or blame I care not a whistle. I don't know and I don't care whether I shall ever be what is called a great man. I will leave my mark somewhere, and it shall be clear and distinct: T. H. H., his mark, and free from the abominable blur of cant, humbug, and self-seeking which surrounds everything in this present world–that is to say, supposing that I am not already unconsciously tainted myself, a result of which I have a morbid dread. I am perhaps overrating myself. You must put me in mind of my better self, as you did in your last letter, when you write.

But I must come to the close of my epistle, as I have one to enclose from my mother. My next shall be longer, and I hope I shall then be able to tell you what I am doing. At any rate I hope to be in England for twelve months.

I am very much ashamed of myself for not having written to you for so long–open confession is good for the soul, they say, and I will honestly confess that I was half puzzled, half piqued, and altogether sulky at your not having answered my last letter containing my love story, of which I wrote you an account before anybody. You must not suppose my affection was a bit the less because I was half angry. Nettie, who knows you well, could tell you otherwise. Indeed, now that I know all, I consider myself a great brute, and I will give you leave, if you will but write soon, to scold me as much as you like. All the family are well. My father is the only one who is much altered, and that in mind and strength, not in bodily health, which is very good. My mother has lost her front teeth, but is otherwise just the same amusing, nervous, distressingly active old lady she always was.

Our cruisers visit New Orleans sometimes, and if ever I am on the West India station, who knows, I may take a run up to see you all. Kindest love to the children. Tell Florry that I could not get her the bird with the long tail, but that some day I will send her some pictures of copper-coloured gentlemen with great big wigs and no trousers, and tell her her old uncle loves her very much and never forgets her nor anybody else.

God bless you, dearest Lizzie. Write soon.–Ever your brother, Tom.

Letters of 1851
Letters of 1849, September through December

Letter Index



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
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Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden