Darwin’s Supporters—Bond of Salt

Thomas Huxley, John Hooker, and Alfred Russel Wallace: In one way or another, these three men are also responsible for the Darwin’s theory of evolution. Each had a pivotal roll in supporting Darwin, pushing him along and providing guidance as he worked through his theory.

They shared a love and appreciate of science and of scientific adventure – each man journeyed across the oceans in search of answers. Because of this shared experience, the foursome dubbed their connection the “bond of salt.”

Thomas Huxley, 1825–1895

Forced to leave school at the age of 10 because of his family’s financial difficulties, Huxley – who would go on to become one of his age’s brightest biologists – never received further formal education. His knowledge was entirely self taught.

Huxley’s travel over the seas was by means of the Royal Navy aboard the HMS Rattlesnake. While his job was as a surgeon’s mate, he devoted as much time as possible to the study of marine invertebrates.

In 1853, Huxley met Darwin. And while he did not wholeheartedly believe in Darwin’s theory in the beginning, he saw the argument for it as essential to creating a new England. Huxley wanted change in Britain. He wanted to take the nation from being a rural-based society to one focused on the future – one that was urban and industrial.

Huxley’s fervent support of Charles Darwin earned him the nickname of Darwin’s bulldog. He wrote favourable reviews for “On the Origin of Species” and most famously took on Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, vice-president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at a public debate.

John Hooker, 1817–1911

Hooker was born to botany. His father, William Jackson Hooker, was one of England’s most famous botanists and director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. From the age of seven, Hooker attended his father’s lectures at Glasgow University, which would later become his own alma mater.

Sailing on the HMS Erebus, Hooker was the youngest of the ship’s 128-man crew. On the seas from 1839 to 1843, Hooker collected plant specimens along the various stops, which covered parts of South America, New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica. From 1847 to 1851, Hooker was off again, this time on an overland expedition through the Himalayas.

Upon his return from the Antarctic voyage, Darwin asked Hooker to classify the plants that he had found in South America and Galapagos Islands. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship. Darwin turned to Hooker more than once for his guidance and counsel.

Like his father before him, Hooker became one of the most famous and respected botanists in Britain. And he also succeeded his father as director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

Alfred Russel Wallace, 1823–1913

The eighth of nine children, Wallace attended school for only a few years before his family ran into financial difficulties. He then apprenticed for two of his older brothers, one of whom was a builder, the other a surveyor. Wallace held a collection of jobs before he decided to travel abroad as a naturalist, inspired by travel chronicles he had read.

Wallace’s adventures across the seas occurred on more than one ship. In 1848, he was aboard the Mischief bound for Brazil. After a return and short stay back in the UK, he was off again – this time headed for the Malay Archipelago. Wallace was in the area from 1854 to 1862, where he collected more than 125,000 specimens.

He wrote of his adventures and studies during this time, which were published in 1869. Wallace continued writing for the remainder of his life. He was never able to procure a full-time position within the sciences, so Wallace and his family depended on his various writings for income.

Upon his death in 1913, the New York Times called him “the last of the giants belonging to that wonderful group of intellectuals … whose daring investigations revolutionized and evolutionized the thought of the century.”

  • The mid-19th century was a volatile time in the UK, with different groups fighting for change. The Chartist movement was a collection of organizations focussed on parliamentary reform.

    They had six main demands:

    • Votes for all men
    • Equal electoral districts
    • Abolition of the requirement that Members of Parliament be property owners
    • Payment for MPs
    • Annual general elections
    • Secret ballots

    The Chartists took their demands to the House of Commons in 1839. When it was voted down, leaders threatened to strike, demonstrators marched and two subsequent petitions were composed over the years.

    While each petition was rejected, and the Chartist movement ultimately failed in 1848, the unrest during these years symbolized the growing need for reform.