§ 19. Aryans, et al.: Ethnology


Today, Huxley receives even less notice as an ethnologist than as a physical anthropologist. His contributions to ethnology begin with the observations he wrote in the journal and letters of the Rattlesnake voyage and with the many sketches he made of New Guinea people and of their artifacts and continued to 1890. Commentaries in his Rattlesnake diary provide material for appreciating his role as an observer and interpreter of cultures that seem to be far removed from the European, though he would devise generalizations covering both. Of the many examples in diary items, letters, and pictures, these are representative of his early ethnological interest and skill as reporter and as artistic recorder of natives and of their artifacts, canoes, huts and villages. His first drawing of a native is that of Sewan, "The little Asmodeus of a boy," a Mauritius boy sketched at Chamerelle Falls in 1847.

"Interview with natives of Redscar Bay"
June 1849
Hair Style
Papuan fashion, New Guinea, Sept. 49
New Guinea Artifacts
Betal calabash and stopper, Fish hooks, Jawbone bracelet, Spears, shield, basket, and comb, Drum, cup, flask, Panean pipe with bamboo tube, Wooden pillow
Funeral Scene, Mount Ernest, Torres Straits"
Funeral memorial, Oct. 1849
Pencil sketch of Cape York woman
"Catamaran and Natives of Brumer Island"
Louisiade Archipeligo
Village scene
New Guinea natives with European visitors
January 4, 1847
Christmas Eve festivities at Madeira
May 15, 1847
Costumes and conduct of people at Port Louis
May 21, 1848
Canoes and canoerers at Rockingham Bay
June 21, 1848
Attack by natives at Palm Island
June 16, 1849
Barter with "blackies"
July 6, 1849
Dancing with Papuans; T. H. H. named "Tamoo"

Additional pictures, diary items, and letters of an ethnological interest are in§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake.

On the Rattlesnake cruise, Lieutenant Huxley showed no more interest in rendering any hostile criticism of British imperialism than did any of his crewmates, all of whom had a job in insuring safety for British commerce through the Torres Straits. His comments on Portuguese imperialism were hostile, since he believed that the British would have been more humane than the Portuguese if they had been the occupying power of Brazil: he had "much greater respect" for the slaves than " for their beastly Portuguese masters, than whom there is not a more vile, ignorant, and besotted nation under the sun. I only regret that such a glorious country as this should be in such hands. Had Brazil been colonised by Engl, ve rivalled our Indian Empire"–March 28, 1847.

While he admired the Papuans, he did not admire Australian aborigines or European colonists. In Science at Sea (1854), he wrote: "[T]here can be no doubt as to the immense difference which exists at present between the Papuan and the Australian races. The elimination of the latter from the earth’s surface can be viewed only with satisfaction, as the removal of a great blot from the, 19ty, by all those who know them as they are, and are not to be misled by the maudlin philanthropy of 'aborigines’ friends.' But we must confess that, even while believing it to be necessary step in the progress of mankind, we cannot look forward without a feeling of sadness to the time, assuredly fast approaching, when the peaceful idyllic simplicity of a life without care and without reproach, such as glides along in these Papuan Isles–the very Paradise of Lotus Eaters–in harmony with the soft murmur of the graceful feathery leaves of the cocoa-nut trees, trembling in the lap of the gentle monsoon, with the surf breaking in long white lines athwart the deep blue sea, not in loud and angry rebellion against iron-bound shores, but in lazy play with the outstretched arms of the coral; when all this shall be defaced by the obtrusion of the polynesian 'scourge of God'–the white man. To substitute–what? 'The blessings of civilization'–which means for the dark race, labour, care, drunkenness, disease, and ultimate subjection and extinction."

Several of the articles in the 1854-55 Westminster Review are on ethnological subjects, e.g., Carpenter, et al.: on a book about New Zealanders, Huxley contributes an anecdote from his brief visit to New Zealand and favors a novel ethnological hypothesis that has Sanskrit, Lithuano-Slavic, and other tongues resulting from an eastward rather than westward migration; and on monogeny vs. polygeny in tracing etiology of races–Brewster, et al. The "blessings of civilization" at least did not, contrary to popular belief, render the innate senses of Europeans inferior to the senses of other people–October 27, 1890.

In April 1867, he delivered a series of twelves lectures on ethnology to the Royal Institution. "Lecture II. The Negritos" exists as a heavily-edited galley proof of 23 pages, unpublished. It covers Indian, Australian, and New Guinea people, attempting to answer questions such as "Are these people really a distinct race from any other kind of man? Or, to go further, are they a distinct species from any other kind of man?" Is it true that infertility is inspired by the mating of people of different races? He thought that as imaginary a view as the belief that "a black woman who had once had children by a white man would never again have one by a black man."

The essay gives detailed descriptions of New Guinea hair-style, its structure and tincture, of combs, artifacts, skulls (he presented drawings of New Guinea artifacts–inventoried above). Though the natives offered a "hideous" appearance when they opened their mouths and revealed betal stains, the appearance prompted Huxley to compare them to English snuff-takers. Discussion continued of perched huts, such as that of Darnley Island. He planned a series of ethnological lectures to give to working-men (in 1880): "Anthropology: the distinctive characters of the Human Species and of the Races of Mankind."

European Ethnology

As in the laboratory he investigated brains, so in the field and in the library he investigated not only to compare human beings of different ethnic and racial groups on their anatomies, but also on their myths and cultures. 1865 began with his series of lectures on "The Various Races of Mankind"–January 1, 1865. He studied and published articles on the ethnology of native Americans, of Indians, and, especially, of Britons. On the Method and Results of Ethnology (1865) has ethnology incorporated into physical anthropology. The Asiatic Society had a plan to select and study representatives of Asian tribes, Huxley invited by Dr. Fayrer to travel to Calcutta as a physical anthropologist and ethnologist. Though he could not undertake that mission, he wrote to Fayrer commending the plan and recommending procedures for observing and recording physical and linguistic features–June 14, 1866. At a talk in Birmingham in 1867, he pointed out, as Alfred Russel Wallace would do at some length, that a study of people who lack technological advance shows that they are not inherently more primtive than those who enjoy it.

Huxley was elected President of the Ethnological Society in 1870–Anniversary Address of the President of the Ethnological Society and On the Ethnology of Britain, reviewed in Professor Huxley on Political Ethnology (Pall Mall Gazette, January 1870); another version of the address was reproduced in Nature (March 1870): The Forefathers of the English People. In 1870 he wrote On the Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind. At the British Association meeting in the fall of 1870, Huxley read a paper on research he had done into penicillium. After listening to a paper by John Lubbock on the "Social and Religious Condition of the Lower Races of Mankind," Huxley drew parallels betweeen the savage behavior of Papuans and that of slum dwellers in London and Liverpool and other centers of advanced civilization–Rotherhithe (September 17, 1870).

To Huxley's ideas on British ethnology, R. H. Hutton took exception in an article in the SpectatorPope Huxley (1870), as did "A Devonshire Man" in the Pall Mall Gazette (1870)–Professor Huxley's Last New Theory, to which Huxley replied with humor and venom in Professor Huxley on Celts and Teutons (January 21, 1870), noting to Darwin why he had taken the time to chastise the Devonshire Man–January 21, 1870. Huxley's On Some Fixed Points in British Ethnology appeared in 1871. A Nature report on a meeting held in the summer of 1878 gave his views of that year–Practical Fallacies, and Huxley's letter, British Race Types of To-Day, appeared in the Times later (October 12, 1887).

In a letter to Sir John Evans–August 12, 1890, Huxley suggested the probability that a Pliocene hominid had existed: "For my part I should by no means be astonished to find the genus Homo represented in the Miocene, say the Neanderthal man with rather smaller brain capacity, longer arms, and more movable great toe, but at most specifically different"; and he returned once more to his ethnological thesis that language is not a test of race. He found bones more importrant features of racial and ethnic determination than language or other artifacts.

"Eohippus + Eohomo"
Doodle of extinct man riding extinct horse, probably by THH.

The next month, he confided to Joseph Hooker that his controversy with Prime Minister Gladstone on demonology had made him "quite unendurable" to himself and everyone else, and that he had been toiling away "at a tremendously scientific article about the 'Aryan question' absolutely devoid of blasphemy"–September 29, 1890'. The Aryan Question and Pre-Historic Man(1890) continues his contention that language is no sign of race, people of different races speaking the same language, and people of the same race speaking different languages. The original inhabitants of western Europe, including Britain, were Melanchroi (whose language, he suggests, was allied to Basque); the later group, the Xanthochroi, spoke Celtic as well as other languages differing from those of the Melanochroi. He preferred sub-divisions Xanthrochroi and Melanochroi to the taxon name Caucasian. He notes "The combination of swarthiness with stature above the average and a long skull, confer upon me the serene impartiality of a mongrel." Unlike the Africans, the Xanthochroi had histories.

Foreign affairs was never a favorite topic for Huxley. He commented on Irish agitation, including assassination and bombing, in many letters, such as that to Leonard Huxley–May 9, 1882' and to Donnelly–January 25, 1885. He was against Home Rule for Ireland, his prognosis for what would happen were it granted: "It is just because I do not want to see our children involved in civil war that I postpone all political considerations to keeping up a Unionist Government" (October 15, 1891). A comment on this appears in a letter of the following year, to Grey: "I am as much opposed to the Home Rule scheme as any one can possibly be, and if I were a political man I would fight against it as long as I had any breath left in me; but I have carefully kept out of the political field all my life, and it is too late for me now to think of entering it. Anxious watching of the course of affairs for many years past has persuaded me that nothing short of some sharp and sweeping national misfortune will convince the majority of our countrymen that government by average opinion is merely a circuitous method of going to the devil; and that those who profess to lead but in fact slavishly follow this average opinion are simply the fastest runners and the loudest squeakers of the herd which is rushing blindly down to its destruction"–March 21, 1886. In a later letter, to Lecky, he wrote: "The Unionist cause is looking up. What a strange thing it is that the Irish malcontents are always sold, one way or the other, by their leaders"–November 26, 1890.

Far from being a internationalist in his views, Huxley supported imperialistic conquest not only in Ireland, but in Tasmania, Africa, and the rest of the non-European world, European people being civilized and therefore not only more ethical but more powerful than savages.

Asia and Africa

He much approved of Germany as an intellectual, particularly scientific, center, and sided with Germany in that country's engagement with France, though he warned prophetically that Germany was in danger of getting "bitten by the military mad dog"–November 17, 1870, the year in which Huxley studiedd a large collection of ethnological photographs provided by the Colonial Office.

Though he was no admirer of Russia, he did not approve of British support of the Afghans, Russia interested then as it would be a century later in controlling Afghanistan. On the Afghans, harbinger Huxley wrote to his daughter Jess: "At this present time real justice requires that the power of England should be used to maintain order and introduce civilisation wherever that power extends. The Afghans are a pack of disorderly treacherous bloodthirsty thieves and caterans who should never have been allowed to escape from the heavy hand we laid upon them, after the massacre of twenty thousand of our men, women (and) children in the Khoord Cabul Pass thirty years ago. We have let them be, and the consequence is they now lend themselves to the Russians, and are ready to stir up disorder and undo all the good we have been doing in India for the last generation. They are to India exactly what the Highlanders of Scotland were to the Lowlanders before 1745; and we have just as much right to deal with them in the same way. I am of opinion that our Indian Empire is a curse to us. But so long as we make up justice both for ourselves, our subject population, and the Afghans themselves"–our minds to hold it, we must also make up our minds to do those tings which are needful to hold it effectually, and in the long-run it will be found that so doing is real December 7, 1878.

Huxley's Schamyl, the Prophet-Warrior of the Caucasus (1854) is both the first of his biographical sketches and the most surprising, the Islamic fanatic Schamyl raised to the level of Oliver Cromwell. Huxley preferred Islam's "youthful vigour" to Russia's "degraded idolatry ... misnamed Christianity," and thought his paper among the best he had ever written, well worth its 30. What is not surprising is Huxley's affection thirty years later for General Gordon, whose dramatic mission was to rescue British soldiers from a jihad triumph in Khartoum; Huxley exclaimed to John Donnelly: "How wonderfully Gordon is holding his own. I should like to see him lick the Mahdi into fits before Wolseley gets up. You despise the Jews, but Gordon is more like one of the Maccabees of Bar-Kochba than any sort of modern man"–September 10, 1884; also to Donnelly, February 16, 1885, and to Foster, February 14, 1885. Prime Minister Gladstone's refusal to help Gordon and the G. O. M.'s favoring of home rule for Ireland were additional stimuli to Huxley's dislike of his antics.

He referred now and again in the mid-80's to General Gordon's attempt to relieve the British installation at Khartoum. Though General Gordon's past exploits to locate the sites of the Garden of Eden, of where the Ark landed after the flood, and of the resurrection did not elicit Huxley's admiration, Huxley much approved of the military hero Gordon. "Of all the people whom I have met with in my life, he and Darwin are the two in whom I have found something bigger than ordinary humanity–an unequalled simplicity and directness of purpose–a sublime unselfishness. Horrible as it is to us, I imagine that the manner of his death was not unwelcome to himself. Better wear out than rust out, and better break than wear out" –February 16, 1885.

A readable and informative discourse, a highlight example of Huxley as historian, to Eton volunteers tracks connections between ancient Greece and ancient Egypt–Unwritten History (1883). A useful synopsis of his views on the Negro as a full member of the human species, though "lower" than the "higher" Aryans, is to be found in Mammalia (1864). Objective ethnological evaluation of New Guinea culture often was lost in his admiration of the intelligence, the sense of fun, and good behavior of the people, as for example in his diary items June 13, 1849 and September 5, 1849.


Huxley never re-visited the South Pacific, though he cruised there often through strange seas of thought. He did once visit the United States, in 1876, to give the opening address for a new university, Johns Hopkins, and lectures on evolution in New York; and he was a frequent traveller in Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, once south to Egypt. From these places, he would comment, rarely reaching the level of picareque narrative of the Rattlesnake voyage, on the natural history, the artifacts and the people of the lands he toured. Touring the Alps with Tyndall resulted not only in fun, but also in investigation of glaciers–Letter to Mr. Tyndall on the Structure of Glacier Ice (1857); touring Italy resulted in investigation of Mount Vesuvius, reported to Tyndall in a flaming passage describing red-hot stones, lava, a "most charming little pocket-volcano," and violent torrents of steam–March 31, 1872.

A. Bassano photograph, 1880.

Glaciers and volcanoes were more innocent than the rituals of Roman Catholic belief he witnessed during his several vacations in Italy. Seeing God made and eaten was not pleasant: "I must have a strong strain of Puritan blood in me somewhere, for I am possessed with a desire to arise and slay the whole brood of idolators whenever I assist at one of these ceremonies. You will observe that I am decidedly better, and have a capacity for a good hatred still"– January 18, 1885. Jesus, he informed his son Leonard, would not have recognized the Papacy: "She was a simple maiden enough and vastly more attractive than the bedizened old harridan of the modern Papacy, so smothered under the old clothes of Paganism which she has been appropriating for the last fifteen centuries that Jesus of Nazareth would not know her if he met her"–January 25, 1885, would have been driven distraught by its fetish worship–May 9, 1882', such as adoration of the "Bambino"–January 8, 1885. From Siena, he wrote to Leonard: "The old town itself is a marvel of picturesque crookedness, and the cathedral a marvel. M. and I have been devoting ourselves this morning to St. Catarina and Sodoma's pictures. I am reading a very interesting life of her by Capecelatro, and if my liver continues out of order, may yet turn Dominican"–February 25, 1885.

An ethnological paper of great importance because it compares New Guinea religion with Hebraic, combining Huxley's interests in anthropology and ethnology with those in philosophy and theology, is The Evolution of Theology: An Anthropological Study (1886).

Inventor of Protoplasm
Men of the Day Vanity Fair 1871, With famous, often-reproduced, cartoon, "A great Med'cine Man, among the Inqui-ring Redskins"



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

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

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