Wallace Collection learning resources

Life as a Victorian scientist

What was it like to be a collector in Victorian times?

Explore some of the items in the Wallace collection below, then answer the questions beneath each link.

Skills practice: research and analysis

WP1/3/29: Collecting insects in Singapore

This letter, dated May 1854, is from Wallace to his mother. He discusses sending beetles to his agent, Mr Stevens, his travel plans and his daily routine as a collector.

  1. On page 3, Wallace writes about his daily routine collecting insects in Singapore. How many hours a day did Wallace and his assistant spend in the jungle?
  2. Describe how you might feel if you were to do fieldwork like this?
  3. What evidence suggests the climate was uncomfortable in Singapore?
WP1/3/34: The qualities of a good field assistant and rearing an orang-utan

This letter, dated June 1855, is from Wallace to his sister Fanny. In it he describes life in Sarawak, what he looks for in a field assistant, Darwin’s failure to meet them, and hand rearing an orphaned orang-utan.

  1. On pages 2 and 3, Wallace describes the qualities he wants his field assistant to have. Which qualities would you have?
  2. What does this reveal about Wallace’s personality?
  3. From Wallace’s list, which requirements do you think researchers doing fieldwork today would not need to worry about?
  4. From page 4 onwards, Wallace describes hand-rearing a baby orang-utan. How did Wallace find this orang-utan?
  5. How did Wallace feel about the orphan?
  6. How has the study of animals changed since Wallace’s time?