Philip Henry Gosse

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Philip Henry Gosse[1] (April 6, 1810 – August 23, 1888) was an English naturalist and popularizer of natural science, virtually the inventor of the seawater aquarium, and a painstaking innovator in the study of marine biology. Gosse is perhaps best known today as the author of Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile the immense geological ages presupposed by Charles Lyell with the biblical account of creation.

After his death, Gosse was caricatured as a despotic and fanatically religious father in Father and Son (1907), the literary masterpiece of his son, poet and critic Edmund Gosse.[2]


Early life

Gosse was born in Worcester in 1810 of an itinerant painter of miniature portraits and a lady's maid. He spent his childhood mostly in Poole, Dorset, where his aunt, Susan Bell, taught him to draw and introduced him to zoology as she had her own son, Thomas Bell, twenty years older and later to be a great friend to Henry.[3]

At fifteen he began work as a clerk in the counting house of George Garland and Sons in Poole, and in 1827 he sailed to Newfoundland to serve as a clerk in the Carbonear premises of Slade, Elson and Co., where he became a dedicated, self-taught student of Newfoundland entomology, "the first person systematically to investigate and to record the entomology" of the island.[4] In 1832 Gosse experienced a religious conversion—as he said, "solemnly, deliberately and uprightly, took God for my God."[5]

In 1835 he left Newfoundland for Compton, Lower Canada where he farmed unsuccessfully for three years, originally in an attempt to establish a commune with two of his religious friends. Nevertheless, the experience deepened his love for natural history, and locals referred to him as "that crazy Englishman who goes about picking up bugs."[6] During this time he became a member of the Natural History Society of Montreal and submitted specimens to its museum.[7]

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