The “earthquake-tortured island of Ternate” (as Wallace called it in his book The Malay Archipelago) is a small island off the north-east coast of Sulawesi. It basically consists of a very large volcano (Mount Gamalama, 1,715 m) which is only inhabited around the base and is forested all the way to the crater. The volcano erupted violently in 1840 wiping out most of the town. The last time it erupted in a more modest way was a few months ago and the ash closed the airport for several days. This is a sobering thought, given that you can clearly see the volcano from any part of the island, and it only looks a stone’s throw away from the back of our hotel...
For Wallace fans, Ternate is one of THE places to visit, because it was on this island (or possibly on the neighbouring island of Halmahera) in February 1858 that Wallace discovered the process of evolution by natural selection, whilst laying incapacitated with fever. After he had recovered enough to put pen to paper, he wrote an essay explaining his theory and posted it from Ternate together with a covering letter to Charles Darwin in Kent, England.
Wallace rented a house on Ternate for three years, which he used as a base to return to after voyages to distant islands in search of rare specimens. This house has become legendary, and although many have tried to locate it the site of it is still a bit of a mystery. Wallace writes that from his house, “five minutes’ walk down the road brought me to the market and the beach, while in the opposite direction there are no more European houses between me and the mountain”. He continues “ just below my house is the fort, built by the Portuguese”. This fort is called Benteng Oranye and it was built by the Dutch in 1607 on the foundations of an earlier Portuguese structure.
Left: The building that the local people think is on the site of Wallace's house
Right: Bill in Wallace Alley
A house owned by a Chinese family has been identified by some as THE house, but it has the wrong orientation to the mountain, is too far from the fort, and the front garden is too large. We used the landmark of the fort to orientate ourselves and found a plot across the road and up-hill of the fort which is about the right size as the one that Wallace’s house would have occupied (his house was 40 feet in width and had a garden on either side of it). The width is of great relevance, because plots of land on which houses are built tend not to change in size over time. This plot is now occupied by a new two storey building owned by “Adira Finance”. It will probably never be possible to be 100% certain whether this is the actual site of the house, but we feel that we may be a step closer to finding the Wallace holy grail.
The building we think might be on the plot where Wallace's house once stood