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September 2012

One of the historically most important documents in the Wallace Family Archive at the Natural History Museum is an 'offprint' (an author's copy sent by the publisher) of the famous 1858 Darwin-Wallace paper on natural selection - the scientific article which launched the evolution revolution. This paper is widely regarded as being one of the most important scientific papers of all time, and what is special about the Museum's copy is that it was owned and annotated by Wallace.

1858paper.jpgTitle of the 1858 Darwin-Wallace paper from Wallace's offprint.
Copyright Natural History Museum.


The Darwin-Wallace paper was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on the 1st of July 1858 and then published in their journal about 7 weeks later. Although we don't know who sent the offprint to Wallace, or exactly when, we do know for sure that it was sent by post from England to him whilst he was out collecting in Indonesia, or the Malay Archipelago as he called it. The reason we know this is that there is a relatively long pencil annotation on a blank end page of the offprint which was written by Wallace whilst on Amboina [Ambon] Island, Indonesia, in February 1860. This note is of extreme interest as it gives Wallace's first recorded reaction to reading Darwin's On the Origin of Species for the first time. Here is a transcript of it:


1860. Feb.


After reading Mr Darwin's admirable work "On the Origin of Species", I find that there is absolutely nothing here that is not in almost perfect agreement with that gentlemans facts & opinions.


His work however touches upon & explains in detail many points which I had scarcely thought upon, - as the laws of variation, correlation of growth, sexual selection, the origin of instincts and of neuter insects, & the true explanation of Embryological affinities. Many of his facts & explanations in Geographical distribution are also quite new to me & of the highest interest -


ARWallace [signature] … Amboina


A pdf of the whole of this historic document is available on the Wallace Correspondence Project's website. Please visit the site and then download the 1858_PAPER.pdf file. For a transcript of the text of the paper minus Wallace's annotations see this page.


If you would like to read more about the history of Wallace's offprint and the annotations he made on it, then please see the chapter I wrote on it in my book Natural Selection & Beyond: The Intelectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, which can be read here. Finally, for an account of Wallace's discovery of natural selection, and why he and Darwin published their ideas together download my PDF.


Historian of Science Dr John van Wyhe (National University of Singapore), officially launched his Wallace Online website today. Wallace Online is the first complete edition of Wallace's published writings (22 books and over 900 articles). It also contains records of manuscript items extracted from a number of electronic catalogues - such as the NHM's Archives Catalogue - which means that these can be conveniently searched using a single interface. Although transcripts of most of Wallace's publications have been available for many years on Charles Smith's Wallace Page website, Wallace Online also includes scans of the actual documents, which - in the same way as Darwin Online - can be viewed either by themselves or side-by-side with the relevant transcript. Wallace Online's major novelty is, however, that it includes the publications in which the huge number of new species of insects, birds etc which Wallace collected on his epic expedition to South-East Asia were described (given scientific names) by other naturalists.


Next month will see the 'soft launch' of the Wallace Correspondence Project's database of Wallace's letters, The Correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace Online. This, together with Wallace Online, will provide an amazingly complete Wallace resource which will be invaluable for exploring and studying his extraordinary life and work.


For a nice article about the launch of Wallace Online see Ian Sample's article in the Guardian newspaper.


Articles about the Wallace Memorial Fund's campaign to raise funds to commission a bronze statue of Wallace for the Natural History Museum have been published on the BBC Wales website and in the South Wales Argus - a newspaper that covers the 'Wallace heartland' of southern Wales.


Anthony Smith, the sculptor the Fund will employ to create the statue has just been commissioned by the Royal Mint to design a new £2 coin. His design will be going into circulation later this year. Perhaps it will feature a portrait of Wallace!? Well, perhaps not...


To see an article about the 'original' Wallace Memorial Fund's efforts to raise funds for a statue of Wallace for the Museum visit the Nature journal's website.


The Linnean Society of London (where Darwin and Wallace's seminal paper which first proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection was famously read in 1858) have announced that they plan to publish the Wallace notebooks they own online as a contribution to the 2013 anniversary celebrations. The Society has 10 of Wallace's important early notebooks, including four volumes of the journal Wallace kept whilst travelling in the Malay Archipelago, which he used to write his famous travel book The Malay Archipelago. They were donated to the Society by Wallace's son William after his father's death in 1913 and have only been read by a few scholars since.


Two of these notebooks, the 'Species Notebook' and the 'North American Journal' will also be published as printed books in 2013. The first is being transcribed and analysed in minute detail by evolutionary biologist James Costa, and the second is being transcribed and edited by Wallace historian Charles Smith. For more information about the Linnean's project see:


It is also worth noting that William donated his father's two other early notebooks to the Natural History Museum library (which also has a number of later notebooks). These are Wallace's collecting notebooks, in which he listed the insect and bird species he collected in South-East Asia, along with notes on their behaviour etc. The Wallace Correspondence Project, which I am the Director of, has scanned these and aims to publish them soon as part of its online catalogue of Wallace's correspondence. This online catalogue will be 'soft launched' on the Museum's website next month. Watch this space!!

PageFromARWsNotebook.jpgA page from one of Wallace's collecting notebooks owned by the NHM
Copyright: The Natural History Museum

The Wallace Memorial Fund has today sent out the Press Release below, appealing for funds for a magnificent and unique life-size bronze statue to commemorate the 100th anniversary next year of Wallace's death (7 November 2013). You can help the campaign in various ways e.g. by posting the text and images below on relevant websites and blogs, or telling potential donors about the campaign. Your help (in whatever way) would be very much appreciated. Wouldn't it be great to see the statue and think that you helped to make it a reality!



Discoverer of Natural Selection to finally get his statue (albeit 100 years late)

Statue of Alfred Russel Wallace to be commissioned for the Natural History Museum, 100 years after the project was scuppered by the First World War.

Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the greatest scientists of the nineteenth century and when he passed away aged 90 in November 1913 plans were soon underway to commemorate his remarkable life. Fundraising began for a statue to be displayed at the Natural History Museum in London, but within a few months this was scuppered by the outbreak of the First World War and the project had to be abandoned.


One-hundred years on, the Wallace Memorial Fund has been revived and is attempting to raise £50,000 GBP to commission a life-sized bronze statue which it will donate to the Natural History Museum. It would be unveiled on 7th November 2013, to commemorate the centenary of Wallace's death. The piece would be sculpted by Anthony Smith; a zoology graduate-turned sculptor, who in 2009 created an acclaimed statue of Charles Darwin for Cambridge University.


The Wallace Fund has already received a generous donation of £10,000 GBP, but it needs to raise the remaining £40,000 GBP in just four months, in order to give the sculptor enough time to produce the work for the November 2013 unveiling.


British comedian Bill Bailey, the Wallace Memorial Fund's Patron, who is a long-time admirer of Wallace, appealed to everyone who loves natural history and science for donations. “Wallace was a maverick genius who deserves much greater recognition for his brilliant discoveries.” He continues, “The statue will be seen by many of the 4.5 million people who visit the museum each year and it will help raise awareness of this extraordinary man.”



Bill at the Natural History Museum, London, with a painting of Wallace and some of Wallace’s specimens. 
© Janet Beccaloni


The Natural History Museum is planning a big celebration of Wallace’s life and scientific legacy called Wallace100 which will be launched in January 2013. Wallace100 will culminate with the unveiling of the statue in November. Many other museums and other organisations worldwide are also planning Wallace events; with conferences in London, New York, Mexico, Gibraltar and Sarawak, Malaysia; museum exhibitions in London, Oxford, Wales, the Netherlands, Singapore and Australia; plus several books; and at least one TV documentary.


For more information about the statue, including details of how to donate, visit the Wallace Fund's website.

About Wallace:


ARW in 1869.jpgAlfred Russel Wallace in c. 1869 aged c. 46
© G. W. Beccaloni


Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 - 1913) was one of the 19th century's most remarkable intellectuals. Not only did he co-discover the process of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin in 1858, but he also made very many other significant contributions, not just to biology, but also to subjects as diverse as glaciology, land reform, anthropology, ethnography, epidemiology, and astrobiology.


His pioneering work on evolutionary biogeography (the study of how plants and animals are distributed) led to him becoming recognised as that subject’s ‘father’. Beyond this, Wallace is regarded as the pre-eminent collector and field biologist of tropical regions of the 19th century, and his book The Malay Archipelago (which was Joseph Conrad’s favourite bedside reading) is one of the most celebrated travel writings of that century and has never been out of print.


The bulk of his remarkable collection of more than 120,000 specimens of insects, birds and other animals which he made in South-East Asia between 1854 and 1862, including over 5,000 species which were new to science, is cared for by the Natural History Museum. Hundreds of animal species have been named after him, including the spectacular bird-of-paradise Wallace's Standardwing from the Maluku Islands, Indonesia, and the recently discovered gremlin-like Wallace’s tarsier from Sulawesi Island, Indonesia.


Whilst Darwin came from a very wealthy background, Wallace struggled to support his passion for natural history and had to fund his tropical expeditions by selling specimens to collectors back home (Darwin included).


By the time of his death Wallace was probably the world’s most famous scientist, but since then his intellectual legacy has been overshadowed by that of Darwin (who, of course, already has a statue at the Natural History Museum).




For more information please contact Dr George Beccaloni, Chairman of the Wallace Memorial Fund (Email: or


Bill Bailey is currently on tour in the Antipodes. Check out this great blog post about Bill's recent behind-the-scenes visit to the Melbourne Museum. Blimey Cobber! They have some bonzer Wallace specimens there as well!