Alfred Russel Wallace: forgotten hero of natural selection

ARW in 1869.Small_2013 marks the centenary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a naturalist and biologist who was born in Llanbadock near Usk, Monmouthshire.  In the last hundred years he has been mainly overshadowed by his contemporary Charles Darwin; but with the anniversary of his death, his work has started to be commemorated recently in TV programmes.  The most recent was broadcast on BBc2 on Sunday 21st April 2013, and featured the comedian Bill Bailey heading to Indonesia to follow in the footsteps of Wallace, who collected thousands of specimens there.

In his younger days he spent time in a variety of places around the country, including London and Leicester, before living and working  in Neath as a surveyor with his brother for several years.  Finally in 1848 he set off on his first voyage abroad as a naturalist, travelling to Brazil with the entomologist, Henry Bates.  From 1854 to 1862 he travelled through what was then known as the Malay Archipelago (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia).  His discoveries there were eventually published in 1869 to great acclaim.

Wallace developed theories on evolution and natural selection independently of Darwin; the two men corresponded and exchanged ideas, stimulating each other’s thought processes, but these days it is Darwin who people tend to remember.

SCOLAR holds a number of Wallace’s books, including The geographical distribution of animals :  with a study of the relations of living and extinct faunas as elucidating the past changes of the earth’s surface (1876), Tropical nature : and other essays (1878) and Darwinism : an exposition of the theory of natural selection, with some of the applications (1889).

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