Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest

By Adrian Desmond | Go to book overview
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5
An Ark of Promise

As A PORT OF CALL Hobart was unscheduled. The captain surprised his brother Charlie on 25 June 1847. But he found Eliza as uncomfortable at Government House as she had been among the Stanleys at home, and rudely snubbed by the Governor's wife. Huxley had a grand view of these social manoeuvrings at the soirees. And there were plenty of these. In fact, Hobart was 'a round of lesser and greater debaucheries'.

Huxley walked Hobart's chilly winter streets, gazing up at Mount Wellington, with its thick eucalyptus cover. After so long at sea English tea and fireside chat were a godsend. Fresh from London he was lionized - which meant being invited into local homes, served by 'ticket-of-leave' men (convicts free to work as they please) and pumped for gossip. The poor boy, socially deprived as he saw himself, loved it: Tasmania 'was without question one of the best places we have sojourned in. The people are very hospitable - really hospitable'.

For a colony barely 40 years old and 12,000 miles from home, it was surprisingly au fait with medical developments. The local surgeons initiated him into the latest painless surgery. Mesmeric operations he knew all about, like Chandler's, using hypnosis as an anaesthetic. But as he left England word was arriving from Boston of a rival anaesthetic, ether. The anti-mesmeric surgeons were lauding it. It was a wonderful 'Yankee dodge' to dislodge Elliotson's populists and put the power back into the hands of the professionals. An equally theatrical 'etherial epidemic' was sweeping Britain, with druggists' placards blaring 'Painless Extraction of Teeth'. But it was here in Hobart, only eight months after the Boston announcement, that Huxley 'saw an ether operation for

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