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December 12, 2012
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Press release: Natural History Museum marks centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace

DATE POSTED: 12 December 2012

 

w100_orange.SMALL.jpg

The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death.


Alfred Russel Wallace’s reaction to capturing a new butterfly in Indonesia in 1859.

 

Next year marks 100 years since the death of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), the often overlooked co-discoverer of the process of evolution by natural selection. He and Charles Darwin published the scientific article that first proposed the theory in 1858, one year before Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species came out. As the home of the world’s largest collection of Wallace’s specimens and manuscripts, the Natural History Museum is launching a programme of events to mark this significant anniversary, Wallace100.

 

Wallace is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. Not only did he independently discover natural selection, but he founded evolutionary biogeography (the study of the geographical distribution of plants and animals) and made many significant contributions to subjects as diverse as anthropology and epidemiology. He was also an intrepid traveller and an avid collector of natural history specimens, sending back many thousands of species new to science to the UK for further study.

 

Wallace100 launches on 24 January 2013 with comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey unveiling an impressive portrait of Wallace in the Museum’s iconic Central Hall, near the famous statue of Darwin. Over the summer, families can follow a Wallace Discovery Trail around the Museum to see some of Wallace’s most important specimens, and also take part in lively, interactive Nature Live talks about Wallace in the Attenborough Studio. For adults, there will be monthly lectures about Wallace’s life and work by leading biologists and historians. The lecture series opens on 7 February 2013, with Professor Steve Jones, world-renowned geneticist from UCL, and builds towards a landmark lecture on 7 November 2013, the anniversary of Wallace’s death. There will be live videoconferencing for schools as part of Wallace100, and the Museum’s website will offer a range of new information and resources, including access to Wallace’s letters, beautiful images from his collections, features on Wallace’s life and importance as a scientist, and a blog by the Museum’s Wallace expert Dr George Beccaloni.

 

Dr George Beccaloni, curator at the Natural History Museum and expert on Wallace says, ‘This anniversary is a great opportunity to raise awareness of Wallace’s ground-breaking scientific work, his valuable collections which are still being studied today, and his amazing adventures in South America and southeast Asia in search of the process responsible for generating the astonishing diversity of life on Earth. Wallace’s remarkable accomplishments are not as appreciated today as they were in his own lifetime, and are often overshadowed by Darwin’s. The events being organised by the Natural History Museum and other organisations in the UK and abroad as part of the Wallace100 celebrations will help to bring him out of Darwin’s shadow.’

 

Further information about Wallace100 is available from www.nhm.ac.uk/wallace100

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Evolution by natural selection has been called "...arguably the most momentous idea ever to occur to a human mind" yet only one of its co-discoverers, Charles Darwin, is honoured by a statue in the Natural History Museum. The other, Alfred Russel Wallace, has no statue in this museum or indeed anywhere else in the world, a sad fact that the Wallace Memorial Fund would like to change.

 

About 2 months ago the Fund launched a campaign to raise the money needed for a life-size bronze statue of Wallace for the Museum, which if all goes to plan, will be unveiled on the 100th anniversary of his death, 7 November 2013. Unfortunately, fundraising has been slow and £38,000 remains to be found by the impending deadline of 31 January 2013.

 

In an attempt to publicise the campaign and boost donations the Wallace Fund has just launched a free prize draw with the following fantastic prizes:

 

  • A pair of tickets to attend a very special event at the Natural History Museum on Thursday the 7 November 2013 - the 100th anniversary of Wallace's death. Details of this event have not been finalised, but it is very likely that there will be a lecture by Sir David Attenborough at the start of the event. Bill Bailey should be attending the event and he and/or Sir David will unveil the Wallace statue - that is if sufficient money has been raised to commission it! Tickets to the lecture will be in short supply and the VIP event afterwards will be by invitation only.
  • An exclusive leather-bound copy of the hand-printed book The Letter from Ternate by Tim Preston which is due to be published in Spring 2013. Only 100 individually numbered copies of this book will be produced and the standard copies will be cloth-bound.
  • A pack of assorted Bill Bailey merchandise - some/all will be signed by Bill himself.
  • A signed copy of the hardback edition of the book Natural Selection and Beyond edited by Charles Smith and George Beccaloni.

 

More details about the draw may be found on the Wallace Memorial Fund website.

Charles_Darwin_Statue,_Natural_History_Museum,_London (1).jpgThe Natural History Museum's magnificent statue of Darwin
Photo copyright Eluveitie/London