Henry Walter Bates bigraphy, stories - English naturalist, explorer, evolutionary biologist

Henry Walter Bates : biography

8 February 1825 - 16 February 1892

Henry Walter Bates FRS FLS FGS (Leicester, 8 February 1825 – London, 16 February 1892) was an English naturalist and explorer who gave the first scientific account of mimicry in animals. He was most famous for his expedition to the rainforests of the Amazon with Alfred Russel Wallace, starting in 1848. Wallace returned in 1852, but lost his collection in a shipwreck. When Bates arrived home in 1859 after a full eleven years, he had sent back over 14,712 species (mostly of insects) of which 8,000 were new to science.Clodd, in Bates H.W. 1892. The naturalist on the river Amazons, with a memoir of the author by Edward Clodd. Murray, London. pxvii Bates wrote up his findings in his best-known work, The Naturalist on the River Amazons.


Bates was born in Leicester to a literate middle-class family. However, like Wallace, T.H. Huxley, and Herbert Spencer, he had no formal education in school at 12, and at 13 he became apprenticed to a hosiery manufacturer. He joined the Mechanics' Institute (which had a library), studied in his spare time, and collected insects in Charnwood Forest. In 1843 he had a short paper on beetles published in the journal Zoologist.Bates H.W. 1843. Notes on Coleopterous insects frequenting damp places. The Zoologist 1, 114-5.

Bates became friends with Wallace when the latter took a teaching post in the Leicester Collegiate School. Wallace was also a keen entomologist, and he had read the same kind of books as Bates had, and as Darwin, Huxley and no doubt many others had. These included Malthus on population, James Hutton and Lyell on geology, Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, and above all, the anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which put evolution into everyday discussion amongst literate folk. They also read William H. Edwards on his Amazon expedition,Edwards W.H. Voyage up the river Amazons, including a residence at Pará. London 1847. and this started them thinking that a visit to the region would be exciting, and might launch their careers.Moon H.P. 1976. Henry Walter Bates FRS 1825-1892: explorer, scientist and darwinian. Leicestershire Museums, Leicester.

The great adventure

In 1847 Wallace and Bates discussed the idea of an expedition to the Amazon Rainforest, the plan being to cover expenses by sending specimens back to London. There an agent would sell them for a commission. The main purpose was for the travellers to "gather facts towards solving the problem of the origin of species", as Wallace put it in a letter to Bates. The two friends, who were both by now experienced amateur entomologists, met in London to prepare themselves. This they did by viewing South American plants and animals in the main collections.Bates H.W. 1863. The naturalist on the river Amazons. 2 vols, Murray, London. Preface Also they collected 'wants lists' of the desires of museums and collectors. Letters from the pair survive in the Kew Garden library, asking what plants the Director (then William Jackson Hooker) would like them to find.

Bates in Amazonia

Bates and Wallace sailed from Liverpool in April 1848, arriving in Pará (now Belém) at the end of May. For the first year they settled in a villa near the city, collecting birds and insects. After that they agreed to collect independently, Bates travelling to Cametá on the Tocantins River. He then moved up the Amazon, to Óbidos, Manaus and finally to the Upper Amazon (Solimões). Tefé was his base-camp for four and a half years. His health eventually deteriorated and he returned to England, sending his collection by three different ships to avoid the same fate as Wallace. He spent the next three years writing his account of the trip, The Naturalist on the River Amazons, widely regarded as one of the finest reports of natural history travels.


His work

Plate from Bates' 1862 paper Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon Valley: Heliconiidae Henry Bates was one of a group of outstanding naturalist-explorers who were supporters of the theory of evolution by natural selection (Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace 1858).Darwin C. and Wallace A.R. 1958. On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection. J. Proc. Linnean Soc: Zoology 3 (9) 45-62. Other members of this group included J.D. Hooker, Fritz Müller, Richard Spruce and Thomas Henry Huxley.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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