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Wallace100

April 2013
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WallaceConference.jpgAlfred Russel Wallace and his Legacy - Wallace100 conference

 

A free one day conference about Wallace will be held at the Museum on Wednesday 23 October 2013. This event is aimed at people who are interested in Wallace's natural history collections and want to find out more about the Wallace-related material kept in the Museum.

 

In the afternoon there will be a unique chance to join an exclusive tour of the Museum Library's Rare Books Room, showcasing manuscripts, artwork, publications and specimens collected by Wallace. Places are limited, so it is essential to book your place in advance. For more information and to register go to the Museum's Wallace conference webpage.

 

Note that the Museum's conference follows on from a two day discussion meeting about Wallace's legacy at The Royal Society, London, which is being held on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 October. This meeting will discuss Wallace's major scientific interests, including evolution, natural history, biogeography, animal colouration, sexual selection and astronomy. It will also examine current thinking on issues that preoccupied him, including his contributions to the social sciences. This event is intended for researchers in relevant fields. It is free to attend but places are limited.

 

Visit the Royal Society website for registration and more details.

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It will be broadcast this Sunday 28 April on BBC2 at 8 pm and will be available on BBC iPlayer not long afterwards. The first part was very highly praised, and in my opinion the second part is even better. Don't miss it!

 

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This month’s letter was written to Henry Eeles Dresser (1838-1915), an English ornithologist, on 28 April 1871 - a time when Wallace was well and truly settled back into life in England after his expeditions to the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago.

 

I chose this letter as it reveals not only information about the next big publication he was working on but also more about another great passion he had; building houses. Wallace lived in a fair few places throughout his life; on his return to England from the Malay Archipelago in 1862 he rented a few different properties in London, before building his first house, The Dell, in Grays Essex, living there from 1872-1876. He then moved again and rented three different houses, one in Surrey and two in Croydon, before building his second home Nutwood Cottage in Godalming Surrey, living there from 1881-1889. In 1889 he moved west to Dorset, renting and then buying Corfe View in Parkstone. He built his last home, Old Orchard in Broadstone, Dorset, and lived there from 1902 until his death in 1913.

 

His training as a land surveyor early on in his life no doubt had an enormous impact on his ability to plan his houses as he wanted them - his superb draughtsmen skills are reflected in some original plans we hold in the Wallace archive in the Museum’s library.

 

The Dell floor plan_WP4_1_3.jpg

Above: Ground plan of The Dell, by Wallace c. 1871 (WP4/1/3).

 

The Dell - the first house he built is the one he references in his letter to Dresser. He begins by apologising to him for not replying to a letter Dresser sent on the 6 February. He explains, “I obtained a piece of land I had been trying after for a year & a half, & have ever since been so busy clearing, roadmaking, & planting, & preparing for building a house, that insects, birds, & Geog. Distribution have alike been driven out of my head”

 

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Plan of the front view of The Dell, c.1871 (WP4/1/4).

 

It took a year to build the Dell and he moved in on 25 March 1872. Prior to this, he was renting a house in Barking, East London, which isn’t too far away from Grays. His move to Grays and desire to build a house was no doubt partly influenced by his young family. He had married Annie five years previous in 1866 and three children quickly arrived; Herbert in 1867, Violet in 1869 and William in 1871. A move to Grays, which was surrounded by countryside, whilst still being close to London by train for business, seemed the best of both worlds.

 

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The Dell, the first house Wallace built, once complete.

© A. R. Wallace Memorial Fund & G. W. Beccaloni

 

The Dell was one of the first houses in England to be built mainly of concrete, facilitated by a cement works nearby. The architect was Thomas Wonnacott of Farnham and it is the only house Wallace built that still survives - today it is privately owned but can still be seen from the road.  The Wallace Memorial Fund designed and paid for a commemorative Thurrock Heritage Plaque to be placed on The Dell in 2002. Quite timely for this blog post also is the fact that The Dell has just been put on the market. Anyone rich enough and who wanted to, could live in the house that Wallace built!

 

Whilst at The Dell, Wallace wrote and published one of his landmark texts - 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. It is also the other reason I chose this letter to feature as letter of the month. Wallace writes to Dresser, after urging him to write a paper on the “Birds of Scandinavia & Northern parts of the Palearctic Region”, that he expects he won’t have time until the autumn to “work at the subject of Geog. Distribution… when I hope to be settled in my new abode”.

 

In fact, Wallace wasn’t able to really start work on Geographical Distribution in earnest until 1874 due in part to problems with assembling the  taxonomic classifications for many types of animals, which were not clearly defined and in flux during this period. Philip Lutley Sclater had developed an earlier map showing the world distribution of birds which Wallace built on and expanded in his study to include mammals, reptiles and insects. Wallace's landmark text spilt the world into six distinct zoogeographic regions (known as Wallace's Realms) which are still in use today and he is known as the “father of evolutionary biogeography” because of his contribution to the founding of the subject.

 

Wallace had been observing the geographical distribution of species since his time in the Amazon from 1848-1852 and continued these observations in the Malay Archipelago. He would make notes during his travels on this topic and he gradually realised that the species of a particular region are generally more closely related to each other than they are to species in other regions. It was only realised much later that the reason that Wallace's Realms more-or-less correspond to the Earth's continents is a result of plate tectonics.

 

The ‘Wallace Line’, named in his honour, separates the zoogeographic regions of Asia and Australasia and was discovered by Wallace in June 1856 as he made the short 22 mile journey from Bali to Lombok. He observed many distinct differences amongst the animal species on the two islands. One example that illustrates the many differences he observed is the presence of cockatoo’s on Lombok, which were generally found to have a mainly Australasian distribution. No doubt his early surveying training also had a part to play in this work, as it gave him a keen sense of how things are spatially arranged.

 

The Wallace Collection pages on the Museum’s website features key items from the Wallace archive, including a section on architecture and plans of the three houses he built, as well as some observations made by Wallace on geographical distribution.

 

If you don’t already, then follow the Library and Archives on twitter, where we’re tweeting weekly about Wallace as part of the Wallace100 celebrations. Also watch out for the next instalment of Letter of the Month in May.

 

Caroline Catchpole, Wallace Correspondence Project

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A very special book is currently being produced to commemorative the Wallace anniversary this year. The Letter from Ternate is being hand printed by Tim Preston on his Victorian Albion printing press at a rate of only about two pages per day. It is a labour of love and poor Tim has been printing for five weeks so far. Fortunately the end is now in sight. Once printing is finished, the book will be professionally hand-bound and engravings and other illustrations tipped-in. There will be a pocket on the inside back cover with additional pictures and other material. The book will consist of 96pp (not 80pp, as I stated in an earlier post). It is being printed on a beautiful mould-made paper from St Cuthbert’s Mill.

 

The book should be of considerable interest to Wallace aficionados since it includes new transcriptions from the original manuscripts of all surviving correspondence relating to the original publication of the Ternate essay, plus the famous essay itself and the speech Wallace gave at the Linnean Society in 1908 to mark the 50th anniversary of the essay's publication. This will be the first time that accurate copies of all the surviving correspondence relating to the publication of the essay have been published together in this way.

 

Only 100 copies of the book will be printed. Most have been reserved already, but a few are still available at the pre-publication price of £50 (£80 after publication). All profits will be donated to the Wallace Memorial Fund. The publication date is late Spring, 2013.

 

Specifications are as follows: the book will measure 12.5 x 18.75cm. Printed letterpress by hand on Somerset Book Soft White 175g, quarter bound in cloth with decorated paper sides. The introduction is by yours truly (George Beccaloni).

 

If you are interested in a copy please contact Tim directly by email.

 

See my earlier post for more information about the book.

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Title page of the book
standardwing.jpgAn illustration from the book: Wallace's standardwing bird of paradise.
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Wallace Letters Online (the electronic archive of Wallace's correspondence) has just received its first major update since its launch on 24 January this year. A total of 297 new transcripts, 320 letters (178 of them published versions) and 17 manuscript items have been added, including one of Wallace's notebooks (WCP5223), a scientifically important note about weevil (beetle) specimens he collected in the Malay Archipelago (WCP5114), and some 'newly discovered' pencil sketches that Wallace made in Brazil (WCP5099, WCP5100, WCP5101, WCP5102).

 

The latter are the most exciting additions since they are some of the few possessions which Wallace managed to rescue from the smoke-filled cabin of his ship, before it burned and sank in the mid-Atlantic on his way back to England in 1852. All of the other sketches that he managed to save, apart from his fish drawings, are owned by the Linnean Society, so it's great that the Museum now has a few of its own. They were  loosely inserted into his personal first edition copy of his book Narrative of travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro and although I had noticed them there years ago, it was only recently that I realised that they were unknown to others, including the Museum's librarians!

 

One of them (WCP5102) was reproduced in his Amazon book as the illustration on plate 2 "Forms of Granite rocks". It is wonderful to be able to 'rediscover' treasures like these and make them available to Wallace scholars for the first time.

WCP5099_M5604_1.jpgWCP5099. Front reads: "First rocky point, in Rio Tocantins 50 miles above Bãiao.Sept 10", back reads: "Sketch no. 4. First rocky point in the Tocantins [River]"
WCP5100_M5605_1.jpgWCP5100. Back reads: "Sketch no. 5. Mr C's. Hous[e] in the Island of Mexicana"

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WCP5101. Front reads: "Sugar and Rice Mill.", back reads: "Sketch no. 6. S. Jozé on the Capim River"

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WCP5102. No caption front or back, but the published version in his book is labeled: "Forms of Granite rocks"
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Sculptor Anthony Smith writes:

 

It has been rather tricky tracking down the exact designs of the boots, trousers and (particularly) the shirt that Wallace would have worn, but we have finally managed it thanks to various individuals at the V&A, the University of Auckland, the Northampton Museum, and some great detective work by George Beccaloni.

 

Using information gleaned from Wallace's own writings as well as the advice of various experts, we can now depict Wallace in his full, authentic clothing, and with all his proper collecting equipment (which I'm sure he would be very happy about!). The plaster stage of the sculpture has been completed and I am now working on the clay (see below).

Statue1.smaller.jpgStatue2.smaller.jpg

 

The general forms that make up the body are sculpted in plaster but are kept slightly small in order to leave space for the clay surface. The plaster is then varnished to prevent it from drawing too much moisture from the clay on top.

 

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Ankle-height, lace-up leather boots circa 1861, of the type Wallace probably wore in the Malay Archipelago

 

Read the earlier posts in this series:

 

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Be sure to watch this on BBC2 this Sunday at 20.00!

 

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See the BBC's Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero pages for more details, plus clips from the series and lots more!

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An article I recently wrote entitled Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection: the Real Story has just been put onto the Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero page on the BBC website as a downloadable pdf file. If you think you know the story of how Wallace and Darwin came to publish the theory of natural selection together you might be in for a few surprises!