Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace bigraphy, stories - English naturalist and biologist

Alfred Russel Wallace : biography

df=y August 1 – 7 November 1913

Alfred Russel Wallace, OM, FRS (8 January 1823 – 7 November 1913) was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection, which prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own ideas in On the Origin of Species. Wallace did extensive fieldwork, first in the Amazon River basin and then in the Malay Archipelago, where he identified the Wallace Line that divides the Indonesian archipelago into two distinct parts: a western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia.

He was considered the 19th century’s leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the "father of biogeography". Wallace was one of the leading evolutionary thinkers of the 19th century and made many other contributions to the development of evolutionary theory besides being co-discoverer of natural selection. These included the concept of warning colouration in animals, and the Wallace effect, a hypothesis on how natural selection could contribute to speciation by encouraging the development of barriers against hybridization.

Wallace was strongly attracted to unconventional ideas. His advocacy of spiritualism and his belief in a non-material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with some members of the scientific establishment. In addition to his scientific work, he was a social activist who was critical of what he considered to be an unjust social and economic system in 19th-century Britain. His interest in natural history resulted in his being one of the first prominent scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity.

Wallace was a prolific author who wrote on both scientific and social issues; his account of his adventures and observations during his explorations in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, The Malay Archipelago, is regarded as probably the best of all journals of scientific exploration published during the 19th century.

Wallace had financial difficulties throughout much of his life. His Amazon and far-eastern trips were supported by the sale of specimens he collected and, after he lost most of the considerable money he made from those sales in unsuccessful investments, he had to support himself mostly from the publications he produced.

Unlike some of his contemporaries in the British scientific community, such as Darwin and Charles Lyell, he had no family wealth to fall back on and he was unsuccessful in finding a long-term salaried position, receiving no regular income until he was awarded a small government pension, through Darwin’s efforts, in 1881.

Awards, honours, and memorials

  • Among the many awards presented to Wallace were the Darwin Medal (1890), the Order of Merit (1908), the Royal Society’s Royal Medal (1868) and Copley Medal (1908), the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal (1892) as well as the Linnean Society’s Gold Medal (1892) and their Darwin–Wallace Medal (1908).
  • Elected head of the anthropology section of the British Association in 1866.
  • Elected president of the Entomological Society of London in 1870.
  • Elected head of the biology section of the British Association in 1876.
  • Awarded a civil pension of £200 a year, in large part due to lobbying by Darwin and Huxley, by British government in 1881.
  • Elected to the Royal Society in 1893.
  • Asked to chair the International Congress of Spiritualists (which was meeting in London) in 1898.
  • In 1928, a house at Richard Hale School (at the time called Hertford Grammar School) was named after Wallace. Wallace attended Richard Hale as a student from 1828 to 1836.
  • On 1 November 1915, a medallion with his name on it was placed in Westminster Abbey.
  • He is also honoured by having craters on Mars and the Moon named after him.
  • A centre for biodiversity research in Sarawak named in his memory was proposed in 2005.
  • The Geography and Biology building at Swansea University is named after Wallace.
  • A large lecture theatre at Cardiff University (Main Building 0.13) is named after Wallace.
  • Operation Wallacea, that operates scientific conservation expeditions worldwide, and the Operation Wallacea Trust, which creates sustainable community conservation programmes, are named after Wallace.
  • On January 24, 2013, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his death, his portrait was unveiled in the Main Hall of the Natural History Museum, London by Bill Bailey, a fervent admirer. The Guardian. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  • The programme where Bill Bailey revealed how Wallace cracked evolution by revisiting some places where Wallace discovered exotic species was first broadcast on Sunday 21 April 2013 at 8pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD. Episode one featured orangutans and flying frogs in Bailey’s journey through Borneo. Episode two featured birds of paradise. BBC TV Blog. Retrieved 3 May 2013.