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Wallace100

22 Posts tagged with the wallace_letters_online tag
1

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".

 

WCP367_L367_1.jpg

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.

 

WCP367_L367_4.jpg

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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

Wallace & Annie.jpg

Wallace and his wife Annie

© Wallace Memorial Fund & G. W. Beccaloni

 

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.

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Thursday 24 January saw the official launch of both the Museum's Wallace100 events programme for 2013 and the Wallace Correspondence Project's (WCP) digital archive of Wallace's correspondence - Wallace Letters Online (WLO). The launches took place at an evening event for people directly connected with these projects.

 

There were about 80 guests, including three generations of the Wallace family, Sir David Attenborough (Patron of the WCP), comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey, Wallace biographer Peter Raby, representatives of the Linnean, Royal Geographical and Royal Entomological Societies, staff from Kew Gardens, and from Museums at Thurrock, Hertford, Dudley, Swansea, Cardiff and Oxford (all of which are planning Wallace exhibitions this year).

 

Other notable guests included the Deputy Indonesian Ambassador to the UK, a Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project and a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. There were also about 16 Museum staff working on the night.

Judith,Shane&Andy.c.NHM.jpgLeft to right: Judith Magee (Wallace100 manager), Shane Winser (Royal Geographical Society), Andy Polaszek (Wallace100 manager).
© Natural History Museum
WallaceGreatGrandsons&Bill.c.J.Beccaloni.jpgLeft to right: Richard Wallace (ARW's great-grandson), Bill Bailey, Bill Wallace (ARW's great-grandson).
©  J. Beccaloni
c.J.Beccaloni.jpgLeft to right: John Wallace (ARW's grandson), Rosamund (ARW's great-great-granddaughter), George Beccaloni (director of WLO), Jan Beccaloni (secretary of the Wallace Fund), Susan (ARW's great-granddaughter).
© Natural History Museum

 

The evening started off with drinks and canapés in the Museum's Images of Nature gallery, giving people who are working on Wallace-related projects a chance to network with one another (one of the main aims of the evening). WCP Archivist Caroline Catchpole demonstrated Wallace Letters Online -which had gone live to the public on the Internet for the first time earlier that day - to guests, and the Museum's Nature Live team did short video interviews of selected guests.

TheVenue.c.JanBeccaloni.jpgThe Images of Nature gallery before the guests arrived.
©  J. Beccaloni


Half way through the event an announcement was made and guests gathered around the screen where Caroline had been demonstrating WLO. Bill Bailey then gave a speech about the project, declaring it to be 'officially launched'.

LaunchofWLO.c.NHM.jpgBill launches Wallace Letters Online.
© Natural History Museum

 

Towards the end of the evening guests made their way to the Museum's grand Central Hall and then part way up the central stairs - most gathered on the landing where the magnificent marble statue of Charles Darwin resides. Bill Bailey then made his way up the stairs and stood under the Museum's painting of Wallace, concealed under a golden cloth.

 

The picture had only two days previously been put back in this position; the one it had first occupied for a 50 year stretch after it was donated in 1923. Bill then gave a brilliant heartfelt speech, before gingerly pulling off the cloth to reveal the impressive portrait of Wallace. Afterwards he remarked "I must confess I was more nervous about that than the Royal Variety Show!"

BillUnveilingPortrait.c.J.Beccaloni.jpgBill unveils the painting...
©  J. Beccaloni
UnveiledPortrait.c.NHM.jpg
The painting revealed.
© Natural History Museum

 

Bill's speech was filmed by a crew from the BBC and it will form the grand finale to a two part documentary about Wallace that he has been working on. After Bill had finished his stuff, another Bill - Wallace's great-grandson, William Wallace - concluded the evening by giving a short speech. Bill, who had travelled all the way from Canada to attend the launch, talked about his great-grandfather and said how proud he and the Wallace family were to see their illustrious relative back at the Museum and next to Darwin, where he belongs.

Bailey&Attenborough.c.J.Beccaloni.jpgBill and Sir David have a chat whilst Darwin looks on.
©  J. Beccaloni

 

Press coverage

 

A number of articles about the launch of Wallace100 and WLO have appeared on the web and in newspapers around the world. The main articles that I am aware of  on the internet are as follows (several of these were reproduced on hundreds  of other websites):

 

Nature

Scientific American

New Scientist

Wired

Daily Mail

The Guardian

The Independent

BBC News

Morning Star

Huffington Post 1

Huffington Post 2

Wellcome Library blog

Biodiversity Heritage Library blog

National Museum of Wales

Hertford Museum

 

Other languages

 

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Swiss newspaper in German)

Slobodna Dalmacija (newspaper in Croatian)

Volkskrant (newspaper in Dutch)

Greek newspaper (in Greek)

Foxnews (in Spanish)

NetMassimo (in Italian)

Gentside découvertes (in French)

Brazilian blog (in Portuguese)

 

Museum news reports about Wallace100 and WLO

 

News article

Wallace100 blog

Library and Archives blog

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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."

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Above: Letter to Wallace from Biology students at Colorado University
© Natural History Museum, London

 

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.

 

You can read the letters for yourself here and here and can explore the many thousands more that are available on Wallace Letters Online.

 

Check back next month, when I’ll be delving into the Wallace correspondence again to write about another letter that caught my eye.

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WLO.JPGWallace Letters Online (WLO), an online archive giving everyone access to the correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, is launched today by comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey at the Natural History Museum. Bailey will also be launching Wallace100, a programme of events to mark the centenary of Wallace’s death, by unveiling an impressive portrait of Wallace in the Museum’s iconic Central Hall, near the famous statue of Darwin.

 

WLO brings together all surviving letters to and from Wallace, both personal and scholarly, for the first time. His unpublished correspondence is scattered across the collections of more than 100 institutions worldwide so it has been very difficult for people to study, until now.

 

Highlights in WLO include the fascinating letters he wrote and received during his epic trip to the Malay Archipelago between 1854 and 1862, and his complete correspondence with Charles Darwin, which has never been published in full before. Online materials will also include other important documents, such as Wallace's notebooks from the Museum’s Wallace Family Archive.

 

Alfred Russel Wallace is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. Not only did he independently discover natural selection, he also founded the science of evolutionary biogeography; the study of the geographical distribution of plants and animals.

 

He made significant contributions to academic fields as diverse as anthropology and epidemiology, and was an intrepid traveller and avid collector of natural history specimens who sent back thousands of species new to science from South America and south-east Asia.

 

About 4,500 letters to and from Wallace are known to survive, with more than half of these held in the collections of the Natural History Museum (1,200) and the British Library (1,600). The Wallace Correspondence Project has so far digitised about 95 per cent of the letters, and is searching for others hidden away in libraries and private collections around the world. Wallace Letters Online is the Web interface to the Wallace Correspondence Project's electronic database of Wallace's letters.

 

Dr George Beccaloni, Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project and a curator here at the Museum says, ‘Collating, transcribing and making this material freely available online marks a huge advance in understanding this great man. It presents a wealth of new information for those interested in Wallace’s life, work and beliefs. I hope it will help build a new and more accurate picture of him, and help to bring him out of Darwin's shadow.'

 

More details and highlights of WLO

 

WLO aims to catalogue and provide images and transcripts of all known letters sent to or written by Wallace (including the original envelopes and any enclosures), plus selected letters between others which contain important information pertaining to Wallace (e.g. a letter from Charles Darwin to Thomas Huxley which discusses Wallace). WLO also includes a selection of other important manuscript documents and other items which are not letters e.g. Wallace's notebooks in the Museum's Wallace Family Archive.

 

Current coverage

 

WLO currently contains records of 4,151 letters, of which 2,026 were written by ARW, 1,856 were sent to ARW and 269 are third party letters which pertain to ARW. It also contains details of 26 other documents such as notebooks.

 

WLO currently contains about 95% of Wallace's known surviving correspondence, including all of Wallace's early (pre. 1863) correspondence, and all of the surviving letters he sent or received during his epic trip to the Malay Archipelago between March 1854 and April 1862. It also includes the complete surviving Darwin-Wallace correspondence in full for the first time. Previous published compilations of the Darwin-Wallace letters (i.e. Darwin (1893), Marchant (1916)) are incomplete and the published transcripts were often heavily edited and sometimes suffer from important omissions of text.

 

Highlights of WLO

 

Note: If you would like to find an item in WLO (e.g. WCP4766), go to the Search Page and type the item number minus the "WCP" prefix (e.g. 4766), into the "WCP Number" search box.

 

To see the database entry for each highlight listed below, click the WCP number.

 

 

A) Letters

 

There follows a selection of key letters relating to some of Wallace's greatest discoveries: evolution by natural selection; the Wallace Line; and warning colouration.

 

Early life (1823-1848)

 

WCP346: Wallace to Henry Walter Bates, 28 December 1845. Wallace discusses his views of the book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation - the work which convinced him of the reality of evolution and started him on his quest to discover the mechanism which drives it.  For more information about this letter see here.

 

WCP348: Wallace to Bates, 11 October 1847. This letter contains his famous statement "I begin to feel rather dissatisfied with a mere local collection - little is to be learnt by it. I sh[ould]d like to take some one family, to study thoroughly - principally with a view to the theory of the origin of species. By that means I am strongly of [the] opinion that some definite results might be arrived at." This was the prelude to Wallace suggesting to Bates that they go on a expedition to Brazil to collect birds, butterflies and beetles in order to try to discover what drives the evolution of new species. For more information see here.

 

Four year expedition to the Amazon Basin (1848-1852)

 

WCP349: Wallace to Richard Spruce, 19 September 1852. "On Friday the 6th of August...about 9 o’clock in the morning just after breakfast the Captain (who was the owner of the vessel) came into the cabin & said "I am afraid the ship’s on fire. Come & see what you think of it"". After four years in Brazil, Wallace sailed back to England taking with him the most valuable part of the collection of natural history specimens he had made whilst there. Twenty-six days into the voyage, in the mid-Atlantic, the ship caught fire and sank, taking his specimens down with it. Wallace and the crew took to the lifeboats and miraculously, were rescued 10 days later. This letter describes the sinking.

 

Eight year expedition to the Malay Archipelago (1854-1862)

 

WCP1703: Wallace to his agent Samuel Stevens, 21 August 1856. This letter is the first mention of Wallace's famous discovery of what was later named the Wallace Line - the invisible boundary between the animals of Asia and the Australian region. He says "The Birds have however interested me much more than the insects, they are proportionally much more numerous, and throw great light on the laws of Geographical distribution of Animals in the East. The Islands of Baly & Lombock for instance, though of nearly the same size, of the same soil aspect elevation & climate and within sight of each other, yet differ considerably in their productions, and in fact belong to two quite distinct Zoological provinces, of which they form the extreme limits. As an instance I may mention the Cockatoos, a group of birds confined to Australia & the Moluccas, but quite unknown in Java Borneo Sumatra & Malacca. One species however (Plyctolophus sulphureus) is abundant in Lombock but is unknown in Baly, the island of Lombock forming the extreme eastern limit of its range & that of the whole family. Many other species illustrate the same fact & I am preparing a short account of them for publication." For more information see here.

 

WCP1454: Wallace to Joseph Dalton Hooker, 6 October 1858. This is the only letter which survives of those surrounding Wallace's discovery of natural selection and the subsequent publication of the theory with Charles Darwin. The letter illustrates Wallace's good nature and demonstrates that he was more interested in discovering new ideas than reaping personal glory from publishing them. For more information about the events surrounding Darwin and Wallace's joint publication on natural selection see here.

 

Later life in England (1862-1913)

 

WCP609: Charles Darwin to Wallace, 23 February 1867. Darwin and Wallace became good friends. In this letter Darwin writes "On Monday evening I called on Bates & put a difficulty before him, which he could not answer, & as on some former similar occasion, his first suggestion was, "you had better ask Wallace". My difficulty is, why are caterpillars sometimes so beautifully & artistically coloured?" Darwin was puzzled because his theory of sexual selection (where females choose their mates based on how attractive they are) would not apply to caterpillars  since they are immature.

 

Wallace replied the next day (WCP4083) with the suggestion that since some caterpillars "...are protected by a disagreeable taste or odour, it would be a positive advantage to them never to be mistaken for any of the palatable catterpillars, because a slight wound such as would be caused by a peck of a bird’s bill almost always I believe kills a growing catterpillar. Any gaudy & conspicuous colour therefore, that would plainly distinguish them from the brown & green eatable catterpillars, would enable birds to recognise them easily as at a kind not fit for food, & thus they would escape seizure which is as bad as being eaten.

 

Thus the concept of warning or aposematic colouration in animals was born.

 

WCP575: The Secretary of The Royal Society to Wallace, 6 November 1890. Informing Wallace (with unintended irony) that "... the Royal Society have awarded to you the Darwin Medal for your Independent Origination of the Theory of the Origin of Species by Natural Selection."

 

WCP543: The King's Private Secretary to Wallace, 2 November 1908. Informs Wallace that he is to be awarded the Order of Merit by the King "...in recognition of the great services which you have rendered to science." The Order is awarded by the ruling Monarch and is the highest civilian honour of Great Britain. It has been described as "...quite possibly, the most prestigious honour one can receive on planet Earth." There are only 24 living individuals in the Order at any given time, not including honorary appointees.

 

WCP4244: Wallace to the Biology Students at the University of Colorado, 12 January 1912. In this charming letter, Wallace aged 89 tells the students how "The wonders of nature have been the delight and solace of...[his]...life." and how "...nature has afforded...[him]...an ever increasing rapture, and the attempt to solve some of her myriad problems an ever-growing sense of mystery and awe". He ends by saying "I sincerely wish you all some of the delight in the mere contemplation of nature’s mysteries and beauties which I have enjoyed, and still enjoy."

 

B) Other documents

 

WCP4756: Wallace's personal annotated copy of the famous scientific paper he co-authored with Charles Darwin in 1858, in which the theory of evolution by natural selection was proposed for the first time. For more information about this historically important item see here.

 

WCP4766 and WCP4767: Wallace's two scientifically important 'Species Register' notebooks from his trip to the Malay Archipelago, which meticulously detail the species and specimens of insects, birds and other animals he collected on numerous islands he visited.

 

WCP4779 and WCP4806: Two of Wallace's address books, which cover the period from c. 1864 to his death in 1913, i.e. most of his adult life. Contacts listed include Charles Darwin, Rajah James Brooke (ruler of Sarawak) and hundreds of other, many of whom were very famous at the time.

 

The earlier of the address books was used by him between c. 1864 and c. 1872,  both for listing addresses and for recording his investments in shares etc. The investment records occupy one end of the book and the addresses start from the other end. Also in this book are some interesting lists, such as a list of the people which Wallace sent copies of his book The Malay Archipelago to when it was first published, and a list of "Persons to whom Hampden has abused me" (John Hampden was a flat earth believer who persecuted Wallace for very many years).

 

The second address book has been 'opened from both ends' like the first - with address lists running from one end, and notes about garden plants starting at the other end. There are four separate lists of addresses in this book, each of which is arranged from A to Z, and between each and the next address list are various notes and lists, some of which are historically quite important.

 

WCP4791: Wallace's Last Will and Testament.

 

References

 

 

Darwin, F. (Ed.). 1893. Charles Darwin; His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 365 pp.

 

Marchant, J. (Ed.). 1916. Alfred Russel Wallace; Letters and Reminiscences. London & New York: Cassell and Co. 2 vols., 507 pp.

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What is Wallace100?w100_orange.SMALL.jpg


Wallace100 is an informal international association of organisations with projects that are designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wallace’s death in 2013. Its main purpose is to publicise the anniversary and the events which are being planned to commemorate it.

 

The Museum has set up an events page where all such projects can be listed. To have your event included and to obtain copies of the Wallace100 logo please contact me (i.e. George Beccaloni). Even if you do not have a project, we would be grateful if you could help to publicise Wallace100 by including the logo on your website and linking to the events calendar.

 

By co-ordinating our efforts and working together where possible, we will ensure that 2013 is the biggest and best celebration of Wallace's life and work ever seen!

 

The Museum will be launching its Wallace100 projects on 24 January 2013. Wallace Letters Online, the Web version of the Wallace Correspondence Project's catalogue of letters to and from Wallace, will also be officially launched on that date.

 

The Wallace100 logo

 

The logo features three males of Wallace's golden birdwing butterfly and its orange colour is similar to that of the butterfly. The logo is available in two different sizes and backgrounds and there is also a black version which might look better on some websites.

Wallace's golden birdwing butterfly

 

Wallace's golden birdwing butterfly was chosen for the logo because it is probably the most famous of the one hundred and thirty species and subspecies of south-east Asian butterflies which Wallace named. Its scientific name is Ornithoptera croesus - Crösus being a mythological king famed for his wealth.

 

Wallace caught the first male specimen of this magnificent butterfly in 1859 whilst on the Indonesian island of Batchian (Bacan), and the rapturous account he gave of its capture has since become legendary:

 

"I found it to be as I had expected, a perfectly new and most magnificent species, and one of the most gorgeously coloured butterflies in the world. Fine specimens of the male are more than seven inches across the wings, which are velvety black and fiery orange, the latter colour replacing the green of the allied species. 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. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause." (Wallace, 1869. The Malay Archipelago.)

 

A few years ago I did some detective work and I am pretty sure that I managed to find the very specimen that Wallace got so excited about. It was amongst dozens of other specimens of this species (some collected by Wallace) in the NHM butterfly collection and I was able to pin-point it because of certain information on the label that Wallace had pinned beneath it. Curiously it has a faint fingerprint on each of its forewings - possibly those of Wallace himself, when, trembling, he took it out of his net.

 

I told this story to a poet friend and she wrote a wonderful poem about it which was later published in her book Batu-Angas, Envisioning Nature with Alfred Russel Wallace.

 

Wallaces_croesus_specimen.jpg

Ornithoptera croesus croesus collected by Wallace in 1859. This is probably the first male he caught: the one which gave him such a headache! © The Natural History Museum, London.
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