This is one of my favorite tales of strange science – I have tried to recreate this experiment after finding these same ‘acari’ spontaneously generating from cups of moldy coffee I was observing for several months as part of an exhibition…
Crosse was from somerset and had a laboratory with a large copper antenna, apparently for attracting lightning.
(This following text and images taken from this excellent site http://www.rexresearch.com/1index.htm )
Andrew CROSSE: Abiogenesis of Acari
In 1837, Andrew Crosse reported to the London electrical Society concerning the accidental spontaneous generation of life in the form of Acurus genus insects while he was conducting experiments on the formation of artificial crystals by means of prolonged exposure to weak electric current. Throughout numerous strict experiments under a wide variety of conditions utterly inimical to life as we know it, the insects continued to manifest. The great Michael Faraday also reported to the Royal Institute that he had replicated the experiment. Soon afterwards, all notice of this phenomenon ceased to be reported, and the matter has not been resolved since then.
(and this text from http://bizarrelabs.com/acarix.htm )
This is Acarus electricus, a mite first noticed by Andrew Crosse in 1837. Crosse was an amateur scientist, and was conducting experiments on the growth of crystals by subjecting certain minerals to long term, low level electric currents. The mineral sample, an iron oxide, was imbibed with a toxic mixture of hydrochloric acid and a silicate of potash solution, and continuously electrified by means of a battery. Several weeks into the experiment, filaments began to appear on the stone, which apparently resembled insects. Eventually, Crosse noticed movement, and detected a great number of living mites on the sample. He repeated the experiment under closely monitored conditions using sterilized and sealed equipment. Again, the mites appeared. Word soon got out, and popular opinion was that living creatures had been synthesized from inorganic matter. Crosse was called everything from a blasphemer to a Frankenstein, despite the fact that he never made any claims that he had created life, or even discovered a new species. In fact, he never attempted to explain the phenomenon, other than hazarding a guess that they may have hatched from airborne eggs deposited before the device was sealed.