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!
This month’s letter comes from Ternate, when Wallace was 4 years into his 'Eastern journey ' exploring the Malay Archipelago. I selected this letter not just for its content, fascinating though it is, but for the story behind it and the fact that this innocent letter has caused quite a stir, albeit unintentionally.
Wallace travelled to the Malay Archipelago (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) in March 1854, eighteen months after returning from his Amazon expedition. He spent eight years exploring the islands, travelling a total of 14,000 miles and undertaking 60-70 separate journeys. In this time he amassed a huge, diverse and important collection of insects, birds, mammals and reptiles – around 25,000 specimens in total, with well over a thousand of these new to science.
The scientific observations Wallace made on these islands contributed to some of his most important work. The two volume book The Malay Archipelago published in 1869 was written about his eight years there, and was so successful that it hasn’t been out of print since its publication.
The letter in question is one from Wallace to Frederick Bates, brother of Henry Walter who was Wallace’s Amazon companion. It was written from Ternate, on 2nd March 1858 and discusses insect collecting, insect coloration and other musings on the richness of the archipelago.
Frederick, like his brother Henry, collected insects and had written to Wallace previously about the sorts of things he had been collecting, in particular exotic insects. Wallace shared details in the letter about the sorts of species he had been collecting and where they had been found. He mentioned to Bates that his second Macassar collection should reach England soon and he believed it contained "the most remarkable lot of Carabidae ever collected in the tropics in so short a time". He gives a vivid account of what life as a collector in the tropics sometimes amounted to, spending "hours daily on my knees in wet sand & rotten leaves".
Letter to Bates from Ternate, 2nd March 1858
The letter has an extremely rich entomological content, discussing species found in different localities and the research he has been conducting which will contribute to scholarly work upon his return. Musing on the richness of the archipelago, Wallace writes:
"I could spend 20 years here were life long enough, but feel I cannot stand it away from home & books & collections & comforts, more than four or five, & then I shall have work to do for the rest of my life. What would be the use of accumulating materials which one could not have time to work up?"
Luckily for us, he heeded his own words of wisdom, returning in 1862 to write and publish much on the region.
The link in the letter to the story behind it comes as he writes, "I have lately worked out a theory which accounts for them naturally". This sentence is a reference to the now famous essay he wrote whilst recovering from a fever in February 1858. The essay in question was on the theory of evolution by natural selection, which he sent together with an accompanying letter to Charles Darwin shortly after penning it, asking Darwin to forward it on to Sir Charles Lyell.
Darwin received the letter and essay on 18th June, writing to Lyell the same day asking what he should do with Wallace’s work. Knowing that Darwin had deivsed a similar theory Lyell and Joseph Hooker thought the fairest thing to do would be to read the two men’s work at a meeting of the Linnean Society. This was duly done on 1st July 1858, leading to the publication of "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection" – thus uniting the two great scientists as co-discoverers of this ground-breaking theory.
Whether or not it was fair for the essay to be read publically without Wallace’s knowledge is a whole other blog entirely – the controversy this blog is concerned with is the date on which Darwin received Wallace's essay, 18th June 1858, and the discovery of the letter to Frederick Bates in the later decades of the twentieth century which was received by Bates on 3rd June 1858.
OK, you might say, two completely different letters to two completely different people, written around the same time – why should that cause a stir? Well, there was only one steamer a month that carried mail on its journey to the UK and it had long been thought that Wallace had sent his letter and essay to Darwin on the March steamer.
The discovery of the Bates letter confuses matters because it quite clearly has 3 postage marks on it, indicating it began its journey aboard the steamer that left Ternate on 9th March 1858. There is a mark indicating its arrival in Singapore on 21st April 1858 and then London on 3rd June, and a final mark showing that it arrived at its destination, Leicester, the same day 3rd June.
Therefore if Wallace’s letter and essay to Darwin had been sent on the March steamer they would have reached Down House also on 3rd June or thereabouts (one would assume, especially as Down House is much closer to Southampton than Leicester). Therefore, conspiracy theorists have delighted in theorising that Darwin received the essay on 3rd June but said nothing about it to anyone until the 18th, which is when he wrote to Charles Lyell saying he had received it. This would have given him time to read over Wallace’s work and use it to amend his own.
Page 4 of the letter to Bates, clearly showing the three postage marks of Singapore, London and Leicester
As unlikely as this seems, it has actually spurred four authors to write about it; McKinney (1972), Brackman (1980), Brooks (1984), and Davies (2008) and many more have questioned what really went on - did Darwin receive the letter two weeks before he said he did? Did he use Wallace’s essay to shape his own work?
Of course, this theorising wouldn’t even need to happen if we still had the letter Wallace sent to Darwin as it would no doubt have similar postage stamps to the Bates letter, charting the journey to its destination. However, we still don’t know where the letter is, or if it even survives, although the museum did launch an appeal in 2011 to try and trace this iconic piece of history.
Late in 2011, Dr. John van Wyhe and Kees Rookmaaker sought to re-investigate this thorny issue in an article they published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society "A new theory to explain the receipt of Wallace’ Ternate essay by Darwin in 1858" (2012, 105, pp. 249-252). They put forth an argument that in fact, the letter to Darwin was sent on the April steamer, not March. This is supported by evidence that Wallace’s letter (which he sent the essay) was a reply to Darwin’s letter of 22nd December 1857 (this is actually one of the few things known about the missing letter).
Davies (2008) undertook some detective work which indicated Wallace would have received this December letter from Darwin in March 1858, on the same steamer that he would have sent the letter to Bates on. As the steamer would not have stayed long at Ternate, there would therefore be no way Wallace could have written a reply and send it off to England on the 9th March steamer. Wallace’s later recollections of sending this letter to Darwin don’t allude to the month he sent it either, just that it was sent to him via the "next post".
Dr. van Wyhe and Rookmaaker chart the journey of the letter and essay via the various stops it would have made in its way back to England, finally reaching Southampton on 16th June 1858 at nine o’clock in the evening, travelling to London early on the 17th and finally reaching Down House on the 18th June.
So, this seemingly innocuous letter to Bates ended up causing quite a stir and I’m sure Wallace would have been quite amused at all the fuss! Conspiracy theories will always abound and there will always be people who prefer Darwin to Wallace and vice versa, but really if you strip all that away, what you have are two remarkable men, independently co-discovering a theory that was forever to change the way we see the world.
You can explore Wallace and Darwin’s relationship through their letters here. Check back next month when I’ll be writing about something else that’s caught my eye.
Bill Bailey's two part TV series on Wallace is finally ready to be broadcast. It is called Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero and the first episode will be shown on BBC2 at 20.00 on 21 April, and episode 2 on 28 April. Nothing like this has ever been made about Wallace before and I am hoping that it will increase interest in his life and work considerably. I have seen an almost finished version and I think it is excellent. Bill's subtle and surreal humour works brilliantly to keep the viewer entertained, whilst not detracting from or trivialising the story. Bill's personal passion for the subject is obvious.
I was Series Consultant for the programme and my main jobs were to provide information about Wallace and to check all the facts to ensure that the script was as historically accurate as possible. Due to constraints such as not being able to film on all the islands that the Producers would have liked to, and the need to simplify the story for television, a few minor inaccuracies remain that should only be noticed by a few real Wallace geeks.
Me admiring a nocturnal coconut crab (the world's largest terrestrial arthropod!) in Sulawesi. Copyright: Jan Beccaloni.
In July last year I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks working on the second programme with Bill and the BBC crew in Indonesia (Sulawesi, Ternate and Halmahera). I had an amazing time: I experienced the first earthquake of my life (scary), got up close and personal with black macaques (one even used my back as a trampoline when I bent over to photograph an insect!), was enthralled by gremlin-like tarsiers, impressed by colossal coconut crabs, and blown-away by Wallace's standardwing birds of paradise displaying only about 10 metres away from me. My wife Jan came out as well and we wrote a number of posts for this blog about our experiences, starting with this one.
More information about Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero, including some clips (two of which are footage which never made it in to the programme), can be seen on the BBC2 website. Put the dates in your calendar and tune in on the 21 Apr to see the first episode.
Myself and Bill in the jungle in Halmahera island. Photo by Jan Beccaloni. Copyright NHM.
So far in this series of posts on the making of the Wallace statue, we've described the background to the project and introduced me as the sculptor, and shown the important first stages of preparation.
In this third entry in the series, things are beginning to take shape:
The steel and wood armature that will support the plaster and clay of the sculpture.
Steel rods are used to support the arms, and a number of screws are added to the central wooden board and the leg frames in order to give greater support for the light-weight materials that are added next.
The rough shape of the body and limbs are 'blocked-out' using light-weight materials such as polystyrene foam and wood-wool (which is bound tightly to the armature using strong twine). It is onto these materials that the plaster and clay will be added.
Watch a 30 minute Nature Live talk with George Beccaloni and Caroline Catchpole about Wallace's early life and his adventures in the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago. The event on 25 January 2013 marked the simultaneous launch of the Museum's Wallace100 events programme and Wallace Letters Online, and it features footage of comedian and Wallace fan Bill Bailey unveiling the magnificent portrait of Wallace, newly reinstated in the Museum's Central Hall.
As February is the month of romance and many of us get into the spirit by celebrating St. Valentine’s Day on the 14th, I thought I would make February’s letter of the month feature all about romance and look behind the science to Wallace the man.
This month’s letter was written to Alfred Newton, who was the first Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at Cambridge University, elected to the post in 1866 and one he retained until his death in 1907. Wallace and Newton corresponded extensively upon Wallace’s return to England from the Malay Archipelago on a variety of scientific and personal subjects and Wallace Letters Online features a total of 83 letters written between the two men.
However, one particular letter dated 19th February 1865 that Wallace wrote to Newton caught my eye; it was about more than science, revealing a recent heartbreak he had suffered. He writes to Newton,
“The fact is however I have done nothing for the last six months, -- having met with that "tide" Shakespear[sic] speaks of, which I had thought to have taken at the flood & been carried on, not to fortune but to happiness, -- when a wave came & left me high & dry, -- & here I am like a fish out of water.
To descend from metaphor I have been considerably cut up. I was to have been married in December, -- everything appeared serene, -- invitations were sent out, wedding dresses ordered & all the programme settled, when almost at the last moment without the slightest warning the whole affair was broken off.”
The lady in question was Marion Leslie, daughter of Wallace’s chess-playing friend Lewis Leslie. Peter Raby, in his excellent biography of Wallace theorises some possible reasons for the literal jilt at the altar, citing Wallace’s unsteady income, lack of investments and possibly some of his more ‘unorthdox’ views may have reached the family.
Wallace also speaks of his heartbreak to Darwin in January 1865, writing “you may imagine how this has upset me when I tell you that I never in my life before had met with a woman I could love, & in this case I firmly believe I was most truly loved in return.
Scarcely any of my acquaintances know of this, but though we have met so little yet I look upon you as a friend, & as such hope you will pardon my boring you with my private affairs.”
Wallace despairs in another letter to Darwin in October 1865 that he is struggling to complete his work and believes having a wife would greatly assist him with his work although he believes it “not likely” to happen. At this point, you have to really feel for Wallace, jilted at the altar and believing himself to remain a bachelor from there on in. It’s also nice to see first-hand that Wallace felt Darwin and Newton were close enough confidantes and friends that he could share such delicate affairs of the heart with them.
All was not lost, thankfully! To give the story the happy ending it deserves, he met his future wife Annie Mitten, daughter of William Mitten, an authority on bryophytes, when he visited Mitten’s home in Treeps with his friend Richard Spruce. Alfred and Annie were married on 5th April 1866 and their first son Herbert was born in June the following year, with Violet and William following in 1869 and 1871. They remained happily married for the rest of his life.
Call me a hopeless romantic but this letter really piqued my interest. When we think back to the great scientific minds of the nineteenth century, we often define them by their theories and the great scientific work they produced (and also conjure up an image of them which is invariably them in old age, bearded and be-spectacled) and forget they were just like you and me (albeit a touch more intelligent!) and I find it immensely interesting to uncover the more personal side of the scientist, the character and personality behind the science. This is just one of many reasons Wallace Letters Online is such a useful resource, as it can finally give unbiased insights into Wallace’s private life, from the man himself!
Follow the Library and Archives twitter feed where we’ll be tweeting Wallace facts weekly and check back next month when I take another leap into Wallace Letters Online for March’s letter of the month.
During the Wallace100 year, I will be selecting a letter every month to write about. This letter could be historically important, scientifically significant or just funny and interesting!
I thought I’d start the series by writing about two letters – a letter written to Wallace and his reply to it. Wallace received the letter very late on in his life, in 1912, and his response to it gives a great insight into his thoughts and feelings of his long and illustrious career.
Wallace was great friends with Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell, an American zoologist who, in 1912, was professor of systematic zoology and a lecturer at the University of Colorado, USA. Cockerell’s students sent Wallace a letter of appreciation and greeting’s card for his 89th birthday in January 1912 which was signed by 129 students. They wrote at the top the letter:
"To Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace:
We, the students in the General Biology Class at the University of Colorado, ardent admirers of your work on Evolution, send you respectful greetings on the occasion of your eighty-ninth birthday, wishing you health and happiness."
Wallace wrote a reply to the students, enclosing it in a letter to Cockerell. He wrote to his friend that he was writing in response "to the very kind greetings of the members of your class of general Biology" and that they can have "no more capable and enthusiastic teacher".
In his letter to Cockerell’s students, dated 12 January 1912, Wallace gives a fascinating insight into his feelings of nature that he describes as the "solace of my life". He goes on to write "my first views of the grand forests of the Amazon; thence to the Malay Archipelago, where every fresh island with its marvellous novelties and beauties was an additional delight – nature has afforded me an ever increasing rapture". Wallace describes how his love of nature has not dwindled over the years but has in fact been cultivated in a different way through his "wild garden and greenhouse". Wallace’s letter to the Biology students is very touching and insightful and the students were extremely privileged indeed to receive such a letter.
*PLEASE NOTE (29/01/2013): All tickets for this talk have now been reserved*
As part of the Wallace100 celebrations taking part in 2013, the Museum will be hosting a monthly lecture series. These lectures are part of an international programme of projects and events celebrating the centenary of Wallace’s death on 7 November 2013.
At these monthly events, leading biologists and historians will discuss different aspects of Wallace’s life and work. The series also highlights the significance of the Museum as a focal point for Wallace collections and studies.
Tickets for the first of the Wallace100 lecture series are free and available to the public and Museum staff via the Museum website. The details are as follows:
Prof. Steve Jones, UCL - ‘Wallace and the Joy of Sects: Rewriting the Bible as a scientific text’.
17:00-18:00, 7 February 2013 in the the Natural History Museum's Flett Lecture Theatre
Join us for the first in the Museum's series of Wallace100 lectures celebrating the life and legacy of naturalist, and collector, Alfred Russel Wallace.
At this event, world-renowned geneticist Professor Steve Jones re-evaluates important biblical thinking from the perspective of Wallace's spiritually-based scientific interpretation.
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) co-discovered the process of evolution by natural selection along with Charles Darwin, but he always felt there was something beyond evolution itself. Professor Jones explores the dilemmas raised by Wallace's evolutionary theories of natural selection in the light of Wallace's spiritual beliefs and examines how these questions align with science today and current religious precepts. In spite of the parallels drawn, Professor Jones surmises that in the end it may be that Darwin was closer to the truth than Wallace.
Wallace was certain that Homo sapiens had 'something which he has not derived from his animal progenitors - a spiritual essence or nature... (that) can only find an explanation in the unseen universe of Spirit.' However, Charles Darwin was dubious about such use of his ideas. Jones says: 'On balance, I go with Darwin, but Wallace still tells us something useful about ourselves.'
About Steve Jones
Steve Jones is Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, and has 30,000 pickled snails locked away in the Museum. He describes himself as a serial plagiarist, having tried to rewrite (or at least update) all the works of Charles Darwin for a modern audience. He has now embarked on the ultimate plagiarism: to rewrite the Bible as a scientific text, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the Universe (not to mention the whole of evolution and brain science)
There will be no cloakroom facilities for this event and all items left in the NHM cloakrooms should be retrieved prior to the event. There are currently no lift facilities to the Flett Theatre. If you have any questions regarding access please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Press release: Natural History Museum marks centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace
DATE POSTED: 12 December 2012
‘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.’
For some time I have been trying to piece together a detailed genealogy of Alfred Russel Wallace and his close family and assemble a collection of photos of as many of them as possible. Given that 'Wallace year' is fast approaching and others may be interested in this information too for publications, exhibitions etc, I decided to update the Wallace genealogy page on the Wallace Memorial fund's website and link the names of people to images of them, where these are available. Unfortunately no images are available of 5 of Wallace's brothers and sisters, although this actually not surprising as they all died before the days of cheap commercial photography.
As can be seen from what I have managed to compile so far, there is still a fair amount of information missing, especially for Wallace's more distant relatives. One or two of these people were quite famous during their lifetimes, such as his "...mother's grandfather, who died in 1797, aged 80, was for many years an alderman, and twice Mayor of Hertford (in 1773 and 1779), as stated in the records of the borough. He was buried in St. Andrew's churchyard." (quoted from Wallace's autobiography My Life). Wallace didn't give his name and I have not managed to find any information about him. I even went to the graveyard of St. Andrew's church with Wallace historian Charles Smith, in September last year and tried to find his grave, with no luck. We did, however, find the grave of Wallace's maternal grandfather John Greenell (1747 - 15 July 1824) and his second wife Rebecca - see below.
Charles Smith beside the grave of John Greenell. Copyright Janet Beccaloni
Close-up of the grave. The inscription reads: "Sacred to the memory of John Greenell, Esq. Who was 70 years an Inhabitant of this Town and died on the 15th Day of July 1824 in the 79th year of his Age, having uniformly practised every Christian Virtue." Copyright Janet Beccaloni.
In his autobiography, My Life, Wallace recounts the family belief that they were descended on the male side from the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace. He says "As all the Wallaces of Scotland are held to be various branches of the one family of the hero Sir William Wallace, we have always considered ourselves to be descended from that famous stock; and this view is supported by the fact that our family crest was said to be an ostrich's head with a horseshoe in its mouth, and this crest belongs, according to Burke's "Peerage," to Craigie-Wallace, one of the branches of the patriot's family." It would be very exciting indeed if one were able to prove this distinguished ancestry, but I very much doubt it will be possible!
Apart from this blog (which you obviously know about!) the best place to go to find recent Wallace-related articles, blog posts, news items etc is the Alfred Russel Wallace Facebook page. This page lists all recent material about Wallace which I have found on the Web and which I personally think is interesting or important. The one thing generally NOT listed are Wallace-related events, which are instead listed on the NHM's Wallace100 Events Diary.
The Wallace Memorial Fund's Wallace News Blog is also another place to look, as is the automated news aggregator on the bottom left of the Wallace Fund's website (scroll down the page). The latter lists all new Wallace-related pages as they appear on the Web, apart from most blog posts which for some reason aren't picked up. So if you don't trust my selection on the Facebook page then check the news aggregator on a regular basis.
Locked away in a bank vault for more than 40 years, Wallace's unique gold edition of the Darwin-Wallace medal has recently been taken out and photographed in colour for the first time.
The two sides of Wallace's solid gold copy of the Darwin-Wallace medal.
The Darwin-Wallace medal
To honour his independent discovery of evolution by natural selection, Wallace was awarded with probably every important medal it was possible for a biologist to receive in Britain at that time. These included the Darwin–Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals of the Linnean Society of London; the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals of the Royal Society (Britain's premier scientific body); and the Order of Merit (awarded by the ruling Monarch as the highest civilian honour of Great Britain). Of these the Darwin-Wallace medal is special, both because it features a portrait of Wallace, and because it was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reading of the Darwin-Wallace paper on natural selection at the Linnean Society on the 1st July 1858.
The 1908 celebration
On the 1st July 1908 a grand event, organised by the Linnean Society, commemorated the public reading of the Darwin-Wallace paper on natural selection, which had taken place at a meeting of the Society 50 years before. Invitations to this event "..were sent to the Fellows, Foreign Members and Associates, certain distinguished naturalists, every University in the United Kingdom, and Societies publishing on subjects of biology." Wallace himself attended.
"The PRESIDENT, in welcoming the delegates and guests, said:—
We are met together to-day to celebrate what is without doubt the greatest event in the history of our Society since its foundation. Nor is it easy to conceive the possibility in the future of any second revolution of Biological thought so momentous as that which was started 50 years ago by the reading of the joint papers of Mr. Darwin and Dr. Wallace, "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection,"...
Darwin and Wallace not only freed us from the dogma of Special Creation, a dogma which we now find it difficult to conceive of as once seriously held "Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus,"—they afforded a natural explanation of the marvellous indications of Design which had been the great strength of the old doctrine..."
At the ceremony 7 prominent biologists of the day were presented with the newly created Darwin-Wallace medal. Wallace was awarded with the only gold version of the medal ever made, whilst the other six received silver versions.
"In presenting the gold medal the President said:-
Dr. ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE, We rejoice that we are so happy as to have with us to-day the survivor of the two great naturalists whose crowning work we are here to commemorate.
Your brilliant work, in Natural History and Geography, and as one of the founders of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, is universally honoured and has often received public recognition, as in the awards of the Darwin and Royal Medals of the Royal Society, and of our own Medal in 1892.
To-day, in asking you to accept the first Darwin-Wallace Medal, we are offering you of your own, for it is you, equally with your great colleague, who created the occasion which we celebrate."
Silver versions of the Darwin-Wallace medal were awarded to 6 evolutionary biologists on the 1st July 1908 and to 20 recipients on the 1st July 1958 to commemorate the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the reading of the Darwin-Wallace paper.
The medal was not awarded on the 150th anniversary of the reading of the papers on 1st July 2008, as the Linnean Society decided to break with tradition and instead award it (to 13 recipients) on 12th February 2009, Darwin's 200th birthday. From 2010 the Society has awarded the medal annually in May to just a single evolutionary biologist. For a list of recipients of the medal see Wikipedia.
History of the medal
The Darwin-Wallace medal was designed in 1906 by the well known medal maker Frank Bowcher (1864-1938) and the portrait of Wallace he sculpted is known to have been based on a photograph of Wallace. The image he used was probably the one below, judging by details of Wallace's hair (to see all known photos of Wallace click here). It is curious that he decided to omit Wallace's glasses.
The Darwin-Wallace medals which were awarded from 1908 to 2009 were all silver, apart from Wallace's unique gold one, and I am unsure what material has been used since then. Curiously bronze copies of the 1908 and 1958 medals (the medals are dated) occasionally turn up for sale and I have discovered that these are replicas which were sold by the Linnean Society (in 1959 the Society was selling them for 35s each).
Interestingly, the British Museum have a "plaster model for the obverse of the Linnean Society's Darwin-Wallace medal, showing the "Bust of Alfred Russell [sic] Wallace to front... Diameter 174 mm, thickness 16 mm", which they purchased in 2004. It is curious that it is so large as the real medal is 48mm in diameter. I guess it was a stage in the medal making process.
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!
I am heading off to Wallacea on Sunday 29th July for three weeks to assist comedian Bill Bailey with a documentary he is presenting about - you guessed it - Alfred Russel Wallace. My wife Jan will also be on the trip. Her job is to make a video diary of our exploits and also take photos which can be used by the Museum for Wallace100-related events next year. Jan, by the way, is the Museum's Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda i.e. she manages the national collection of pickled spiders, centipedes, scorpions and their relatives. It often amuses me to think that Jan and I work on some of the most feared and loathed groups of animals (cockroaches are my speciality) - we make a perfect couple!
Bill, who Jan and I have known for about four years, is very interested in natural history -birds in particular- and is a big fan of Wallace. He often goes to Southeast Asia on holiday and it was on one such trip, many years ago, that he read Wallace's book The Malay Archipelago and became captivated by its author.
Bill wants to tell the world about Wallace's amazing life and work, and in particular he wants to put the record straight - that the theory of evolution by natural selection wasn't conceived by Charles Darwin alone, but it was instead jointly published in August 1858 (fifteen months before Darwin's book On the Origin of Species) by Darwin AND Wallace.
So what is Wallacea I hear you ask? It is the heart of the region Wallace called the Malay Archipelago, and it includes the large weirdly-shaped island of Sulawesi, as well as Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba, Timor, Halmahera, Buru, Seram, and many smaller islands - nearly all of which are part of Indonesia. Wallacea is named after Wallace and is a biogeographical transition zone between the Australian region to the east, and the Oriental region to the west. The mammals of the Australian region are mostly marsupials (e.g. kangeroos and wombats), whilst the Oriental region only has placental mammals (like tigers, elephants and rhinos). The islands in Wallacea contain a mix of Australian and Oriental animals. For more information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallacea
Wallacea, the heart of Indonesia. Wallacea encompasses islands which never had dry land connections to the main land masses of either the Australian region or the Oriental region Consequently it has few animals which find it difficult to cross stretches of open ocean (e.g. land mammals, land birds, or freshwater fish of continental origin). [From Wikipedia]
During our three weeks in Wallacea we plan to visit three of the most important Wallace-realated places in the whole of the Malay Archipelago: Sulawesi, Halmahera and Ternate. It was on Sulawesi that Wallace received his first ever letter from Darwin, starting a chain of correspondence which would ultimately lead to his theory of natural selection being co-published with Darwin. The "earthquake-tortured island of Ternate", as Wallace charmingly called it, is the place from which he posted his famous 'Ternate paper', which detailed his theory of natural selection, to Darwin in 1858. Halmahera, which is a large island very close to the much smaller island of Ternate, is home to the most incredible of all the 5000 of so species of animals new to science which Wallace collected in the Malay Archipelago i.e. Wallace's standardwing bird of paradise, Wallace's golden birdwing butterfly and Wallace's giant bee. We are fairly likely to see the first, less likely to spot the second, and very unlikely to come apon the third.