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Wallace's treasures go online

13 April 2007

Lost treasures that belonged to Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the process of evolution by natural selection, are online for the first time through the Natural History Museum's website.

The newly digitised items in Wallace Online give a rare and personal insight into Wallace's life as a naturalist, collector, family man, spiritualist, social commentator and great thinker.

A remarkable selection of letters, notes, articles and even some of the insect specimens Wallace collected on his travels are brought together in the website.

You can find out how Wallace survived a sinking ship, trekked through rainforests, and made an epic journey across the Malay Archipelago.

'For the first time everyone can have access to the Wallace Collection, a unique and valuable source of information about the life and work of this brilliant scientist,' said George Beccaloni, the Wallace expert at the Natural History Museum.

'Now online, it is possible to explore one of the most important collections of his manuscripts and specimens in the world .'

Theory of evolution
Alfred Russell Wallace.

Alfred Russell Wallace.

Wallace travelled for over a decade in South America and southeast Asia, searching for clues into the mechanism of evolution and new species to bring home.

He was travelling in the Spice Islands (now part of Indonesia) when he wrote his famous essay about evolutionary mechanism and sent it to Charles Darwin for comment.

Wallace's article and some of Darwin's unpublished writings on the subject, were presented to the Linnean Society of London on 1 July 1858.

Their co-authored paper On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties and On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection was published a few months later and preceded Darwin's seminal work On the Origin of Species by one year.

Education section

The Wallace Collection includes an education section designed to support students and teachers who are following the Edexcel AS Level History, Philosophy and Ethics of Science (Perspectives on Science) course. Students can use primary source materials to develop their understanding of science. 

'It is a tremendous resource both to students studying evolution and to those doing research projects in this field,' said John Taylor, Chief Examiner for Edexcel.

'In terms of accessing documents and providing helpful questions it really fits perfectly with the style of material we will be providing in the text books.'

Explore the Wallace Collection online at

Further Information