Watch a video recording by the British Humanist Association of a talk about Wallace's life and work and his discovery of evolution by natural selection. I presented this talk at Ancestor's Trail 2013 on the 25 August 2013:
As many of you will know, the Museum has been celebrating the life and work of Alfred Russel Wallace this year in a big way. As part of the celebrations, the Museum's magazine evolve has published four interesting articles about Wallace, and thanks to an agreement with the magazine's Senior Editor Helen Sturge, and the authors of the articles in question, they can now be downloaded as PDFs.
+ Richard Conniff's article Wallace: species seeker extraordinaire from issue 15 (pictured). Download the PDF.
+ Caroline Catchpole's article Letters of a naturalist: the Wallace Correspondence Project fromissue 16. Download the PDF.
+ George Beccaloni's article Wallace immortalised: Museum set to receive Wallace statue 100 years later than planned from issue 17. Download the PDF.
+ Jim Costa's article On the Organic Law of Change: Alfred Russel Wallace and the book that should have been from issue 17. Download the PDF.
Because issue 17 of evolve hasn't even been distributed yet you will get to read the two interesting articles in it before everyone else!
A wonderful and unique map, showing the routes of Wallace and Darwin's journeys and explaining how both men came to discover evolution by natural selection, has just been published by Operation Wallacea in association with the Wallace Memorial Fund. An image of the map is shown below and a larger version is attached as a PDF file (see the link at the bottom of this post).
The map is being distributed free of charge as a high quality A2 size (42 x 59.4 cm; 16.54 x 23.39 inches) poster to all secondary schools in the UK as well as a further 10,000 schools worldwide - a GREAT way of increasing awareness of Wallace.
An Indonesian language version of the poster will probably also be produced for distribution to schools in Indonesia. If you would like a physical copy of the English version of the poster at cost price then please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The price is £1 plus postage and packing.
I will also have a limited number of copies to give away at Science Uncovered on Friday 27 September between 17.30 and 18.30. Please come and find me at the Evolution Station in the Museum's Central Hall. Come early to avoid disappointment!
The map comparing Darwin's and Wallace's travels, which led to them independently formulating their theory of evolution by natural selection.
I have discovered that a lucky buyer has an amazing stone carving brought back from Java by Wallace and they may not yet know its fascinating history! Ahren Lester, a friend of mine who is doing a PhD on Wallace, recently pointed out the following comment in a letter written by Wallace's son William in 1935:
"I may mention that the carved stone figure from Modjo-pahit, Java, which is illustrated on p. 78 "The Malay Archipelago" is in Charterhouse School Museum at Godalming. When I was last there is was unlabelled! It seems quite out of place in a school museum."
Looking in Wallace's book I found the illustration of the carving which William mentioned:
Illustration of the carved stone figure from Modjo-pahit, Java
Wallace writes about how he came to acquire it in Java in August 1861:
"In the house of the Waidono or district chief at Modjo-agong [in Java], I saw a beautiful figure carved in high relief out of a block of lava, and which had been found buried in the ground near the village. On my expressing a wish to obtain some such specimen, Mr. B. [Ball] asked the chief for it, and much to my surprise he immediately gave it me. It represented the Hindoo goddess Durga, called in Java, Lora Jonggrang (the exalted virgin). She has eight arms, and stands on the back of a kneeling bull. Her lower right hand holds the tail of the bull, while the corresponding left hand grasps the hair of a captive, Dewth Mahikusor, the personification of vice, who has attempted to slay her bull. He has a cord round his waist, and crouches at her feet in an attitude of supplication. The other hands of the goddess hold, on her right side, a double hook or small anchor, a broad straight sword, and a noose of thick cord; on her left, a girdle or armlet of large beads or shells, an unstrung bow, and a standard or war flag. This deity was a special favourite among the old Javanese, and her image is often found in the ruined temples which abound in the eastern part of the island.
The specimen I had obtained was a small one, about two feet high, weighing perhaps a hundred weight; and the next day we had it conveyed to Modjo-kerto to await my return to Sourabaya."
Wallace lived in Godalming, Surrey very near Charterhouse School from 1881 to 1889 and was very friendly with some of the Masters and pupils at the school. It is very probable that he donated the carving to the school museum during this time period. Since I have been trying to make a list of all Wallace-related artifacts in museums and other institutions I was momentarily excited at the thought of contacting the school to see whether they still had the carving.
I then remembered having heard that some or all of the contents of their museum had been sold at auction a few years ago (something that has sadly happened to many school museum collections), so I had a look on the web and discovered that they had indeed auctioned off some fine ethnographic and other pieces through Sotheby's in November 2002.
Eventually I managed to find a list of the auction lots on Sotheby's website and I spotted Lot 147 "A JAVANESE VOLCANIC STONE STELE DEPICTING DURGA PREPARING TO SLAY THE BUFFALO DEMON"- sold for £2,629. Since the chances that Charterhouse School museum had more than one Javanese stone carving of Durga are very small indeed, it is extremely likely that this is the artifact that Wallace once owned. Shame that Charterhouse parted with an amazing part of their history! Oh well, some lucky person now has it and hopefully they may get to hear about this post at some point and realise the significance of their purchase...
PS. I confirmed that the scene depicted in the above illustration does indeed show Durga slaying the buffalo demon. For example, here is another carving of the same scene.
Dates and times: Every day, 1 July - 23 November, 10.00-17.50 (last admission 17.30)
This summer, take time to uncover the extraordinary adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace in a new family friendly trail at the Natural History Museum. Running from Monday 1 July, the Wallace Discovery Trail celebrates his role as the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, with Charles Darwin. The free trail is part of our Wallace100 celebrations, a series of activities commemorating the centenary of Wallace’s death.
Wallace was a British naturalist and explorer who collected more than 100,000 specimens on several epic journeys and discovered over 5,000 new species to science. His observations and notes on animal diversity in the Amazon and southeast Asia helped him discover evolution by natural selection independently of Darwin.
Follow the trail through the Museum’s iconic building, from the Central Hall to the spirit collection, to discover some of Wallace’s most important specimens and retrace his journey around the world.
The trail includes many items that have never been on public display before, revealing highlights from Wallace’s life and work:
exotic birds, reptiles and insects he collected, among them toucans and birds of paradise
his watercolours and drawings
tools of his trade, such as his telescope and sextant
a portrait, unveiled earlier this year by comedian and Wallace-enthusiast Bill Bailey
an adult orang-utan, probably the largest of all the specimens he collected
Dr George Beccaloni, curator at the Natural History Museum and expert on Wallace says:
‘This trail explores Wallace’s extraordinary adventures in South America and southeast Asia, in his quest to understand how life on Earth evolved. His travels were funded by the sale of animal specimens he collected, and a selection of some of the most spectacular of these will be on display. Wallace achieved his goal and discovered the process of evolution by natural selection while in Indonesia in 1858, a scientific breakthrough that is considered to be one of the most important ever made by anyone. Although Wallace was one of the most famous scientists of his era, he has largely been forgotten. This trail will help to remind people of his extraordinary life and many great achievements.’
By Tony Whitten, Regional Director, Asia-Pacific, Fauna & Flora International
Included in the Waigeo chapter of The Malay Archipelago is an engraving of a hut Wallace lived in whilst staying at Bessir (now Yenbesir) village while he was focusing on collecting the Red Bird of Paradise. During the first ‘In the Wake of Wallace’ cruise in January 2012, I paid a visit to this village to present a copy of the Indonesian-language edition of Wallace's book – Kepulauan Nusantara - to the Head of the village. I started to think how it might be possible to reconstruct the hut and during the following year I worked with the cruise owners and Rosita ‘Mona’ Tariola of Conservation International who occasionally visited the village in the context of a marine conservation programme.
Illustration of the hut in 'The Malay Archipelago'
We ensured that the reconstruction was as faithful as possible to the measurements in Wallace’s text and to the illustration, and by Christmas 2012 it was ready. On the following cruise shortly after this I took the first group of visitors to see it. The exact location of the original hut is in doubt, but we are told that the grandfather of the man on whose land the hut was built used to say that a European lived in the spot where the new hut stands.
Luckily we had someone (a former President of the Law Society) with us who is the same height as Wallace (6’ 1”) so we had the perfect means of imagining Wallace in and under his hut. The shape is slightly different from the illustration, but I checked the measurements and they are fine. The bindings, etc. are all done without nails and the walls are made from the leaf bases of palms as was traditionally done. The men who built it are quite proud that they now have an example of a house from former times. It is near the path to a Red Bird of Paradise viewing site so that tour groups can take in both during their visits and the owner may even let people stay in it for a consideration.
The photos show the hut and the builders. I have also included a view of Yenbesir, and also of Fruin, the village where Wallace stayed with the Chief before going across to Yenbesir.
This is Wallace's description of the hut:
"It was quite a dwarf's house, just eight feet square, raised on posts so that the floor was four and a half feet above the ground, and the highest part of the ridge only five feet above the flour. As I am six feet and an inch in my stockings, I looked at this with some dismay; but finding that the other houses were much further from water, were dreadfully dirty, and were crowded with people, I at once accepted the little one, and determined to make the best of it. At first I thought of taking out the floor, which would leave it high enough to walk in and out without stooping; but then there would not be room enough, so I left it just as it was, had it thoroughly cleaned out, and brought up my baggage.
The upper story I used for sleeping in, and for a store-room. In the lower part (which was quite open all round) I fixed up a small table, arranged my boxes, put up hanging-shelves, laid a mat on the ground with my wicker-chair upon it, hung up another mat on the windward side, and then found that, by bending double and carefully creeping in, I could sit on my chair with my head just clear of the ceiling. Here I lived pretty comfortably for six weeks, taking all my meals and doing all my work at my little table, to and from which I had to creep in a semi-horizontal position a dozen times a day; and, after a few severe knocks on the head by suddenly rising from my chair, learnt to accommodate myself to circumstances. We put up a little sloping cooking-but outside, and a bench on which my lads could skin their birds. At night I went up to my little loft, they spread their mats on the, floor below, and we none of us grumbled at our lodgings."
The rather spooky-looking plaster outline of Wallace shown in my last post has now been fleshed-out with a surface layer of clay and is now looking a lot more human. There are many possible sculpting materials, but I have found nothing better than a good quality water-based sculpting clay, which is similar to common potters clay, but with no grit or 'grog', which gives it a nice smooth finish.
I have begun by sculpting Wallace more-or-less nude, so that all of the limbs and muscle groups are correctly modelled, and it is onto this naked form I will soon be adding the clothes (again, all in clay). In order to get all the anatomy and the folds of the clothes correct I am working with a model with a similar physique to Wallace, who will also be wearing the same sorts of clothes that Wallace wore when out hunting specimens in the jungles of the Malay Archipelago. Quite a lot of research has gone into tracking-down the correct clothing, based on Wallace's own writings and the advice of experts, and I now have a Victorian 'hunting-shirt', just like the ones Wallace describes himself as wearing.
"To give English entomologists some idea of the collecting here, I will give a sketch of one good day’s work. Till breakfast I am occupied ticketing and noting the captures of the previous day, examining boxes for ants, putting out drying-boxes and setting the insects of any caught by lamp-light. About 10 o’clock I am ready to start. My equipment is, a rug-net [bag-net], large collecting-box hung by a strap over my shoulder, a pair of pliers for Hymenoptera, two bottles with spirits, one large and wide-mouthed for average Coleoptera, &c., the other very small for minute and active insects, which are often lost by attempting to drop them into a large mouthed bottle. These bottles are carried in pockets in my hunting-shirt, and are attached by strings round my neck; the corks are each secured to the bottle by a short string". Wallace in a letter to Stevens from Sarawak in 1855
Since the statue of Wallace is around 10% larger than life-size, I am constantly taking measurements from my model and doing enlargement calculations before making the additions to my sculpture.
We don't want to give too much of the design away at this stage, so future posts will be limited to written descriptions and perhaps a few detail shots. All will be revealed on 7 November at the unveiling!
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.
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).
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.
Ankle-height, lace-up leather boots circa 1861, of the type Wallace probably wore in the Malay Archipelago
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.
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.
A large area in Indonesia is named Wallacea after Wallace, but where did this word originate? According to Ernst Mayer (1944) the term was coined by Dickerson et al. in 1928. Wallacea 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 cuscus), 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. It 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]
Dickerson, R. E., Merrill, E. D., McGregor, R. C., Schultze, W., Taylor, E. H. & Herre, A. W. C. T. 1928. Distribution of life in the Philippines. Philippine Bureau of Science [Manila], Monograph No. 21: 322 pp.
Mayr, E. 1944. Wallace's Line in the light of recent zoogeographic studies. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 19(1): 1-14.
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.
Title 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:
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 -
At last the day arrived to travel to Sulawesi, a weirdly-shaped island in Indonesia. The region is named Wallacea, after - you guessed it - Alfred Russel Wallace. We had a great flight, apart from the fact I was stuck next to a bad-tempered man with halitosis - on reflection, I think I’D PREFER TO HAVE TAKEN MY CHANCES strapped to the wing. It might have been a tad chilly, but it would have been more fragrant. Better luck next time. As we drove from the airport to the hotel, we were struck by the similarity of Sulawesi to Fiji - a highly humid, verdant and lush island, with numerous palms and towering volcanoes. One of the volcanoes had a plume of smoke emerging from the crown - we should have taken this as a warning of what was to come...
View of Manado with active volcano in distance (click images to see full size versions)
Another view of Manado with yet another active volcano in distance
The following morning, I gradually surfaced through the layers of consciousness to George shaking me awake. I thought he’d got rather carried away, because the whole bed appeared to be shaking, so it must have been a dream. Reality soon kicked in however – we were actually experiencing our first earthquake!! As I leaped out of bed, I could feel the whole room moving from side to side. We rushed out of the room and headed for the emergency stairs. Our room was on the 9th floor so it was a long way down. As we rushed bare footed (there had been no time to put on foot wear) in fear of our lives, I felt that I was almost literally following in Wallace’s footsteps. He wrote the following about an earthquake he experienced near Manado in his book The Malay Archipelago:
“During my stay at Rurukan, my curiosity was satisfied by experiencing a pretty sharp earthquake-shock. On the evening of June 29th, at a quarter after eight, as I was sitting reading, the house began shaking with a very gentle, but rapidly increasing motion. I sat still enjoying the novel sensation for some seconds; but in less than half a minute it became strong enough to shake me in my chair, and to make the house visibly rock about, and creak and crack as if it would fall to pieces. Then began a cry throughout the village of "Tana goyang! tana goyang! "(Earthquake! earthquake!) Everybody rushed out of their houses--women screamed and children cried--and I thought it prudent to go out too. On getting up, I found my head giddy and my steps unsteady, and could hardly walk without falling. The shock continued about a minute, during which time I felt as if I had been turned round and round, and was almost seasick. Going into the house again, I found a lamp and a bottle of arrack upset. The tumbler which formed the lamp had been thrown out of the saucer in which it had stood. The shock appeared to be nearly vertical, rapid, vibratory, and jerking. It was sufficient, I have no doubt, to have thrown down brick, chimneys, walls, and church towers; but as the houses here are all low, and strongly framed of timber, it is impossible for them to be much injured, except by a shock that would utterly destroy a European city. The people told me it was ten years since they had had a stronger shock than this, at which time many houses were thrown down and some people killed.
At intervals of ten minutes to half an hour, slight shocks and tremors were felt, sometimes strong enough to send us all out again. There was a strange mixture of the terrible and the ludicrous in our situation. We might at any moment have a much stronger shock, which would bring down the house over us, or-- what I feared more--cause a landslip, and send us down into the deep ravine on the very edge of which the village is built; yet I could not help laughing each time we ran out at a slight shock, and then in a few moments ran in again. The sublime and the ridiculous were here literally but a step apart. On the one hand, the most terrible and destructive of natural phenomena was in action around us--the rocks, the mountains, the solid earth were trembling and convulsed, and we were utterly impotent to guard against the danger that might at any moment overwhelm us. On the other hand was the spectacle of a number of men, women, and children running in and out of their houses, on what each time proved a very unnecessary alarm, as each shock ceased just as it became strong enough to frighten us. It seemed really very much like "playing at earthquakes," and made many of the people join me in a hearty laugh, even while reminding each other that it really might be no laughing matter.”
We emerged into the hotel lobby covered with thick dirt from the emergency stairs and dressed only in night attire. I thanked my lucky stars that I had gone to bed in pyjamas, and not in the all-together! The hotel staff tittered politely behind their hands at the sight of two dirty and semi-naked orang putih (that’s Indonesian for white people). The tremors, which we discovered later were 5.1 on the Richter scale, had finally stopped, and so we reluctantly went back to our room. We discovered later that it was the first earthquake of the year, and that some of the staff had been a bit scared!