Alfred Russel Wallace


Alfred Russel Wallace : biography

df=y August 1 – 7 November 1913

Today it is believed that Wallace collected the specimens in the rosewood cabinet for instructional purposes by the scientist. Quigley’s Cabinet, retrieved 7/10/2010 Live Science, retrieved 25 Jan 2012 Washington Post, retrieved Feb 8, 2009


On 7 November 1913, Wallace died at home in the country house he called Old Orchard, which he had built a decade earlier.Slotten p. 490. He was 90 years old. His death was widely reported in the press. The New York Times called him "the last of the giants belonging to that wonderful group of intellectuals that included, among others, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Lyell, and Owen, whose daring investigations revolutionised and evolutionised the thought of the century." Another commentator in the same edition said "No apology need be made for the few literary or scientific follies of the author of that great book on the ‘Malay Archipelago’."Slotten p. 491.

Some of Wallace’s friends suggested that he be buried in Westminster Abbey, but his wife followed his wishes and had him buried in the small cemetery at Broadstone, Dorset. Several prominent British scientists formed a committee to have a medallion of Wallace placed in Westminster Abbey near where Darwin had been buried. The medallion was unveiled on 1 November 1915.

Theory of evolution

Early evolutionary thinking

Unlike Darwin, Wallace began his career as a travelling naturalist already believing in the transmutation of species. The concept had been advocated by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Erasmus Darwin, and Robert Grant, among others. It was widely discussed, but not generally accepted by leading naturalists, and was considered to have radical, even revolutionary connotations.Larson Evolution p. 73.Bowler & Morus "Making Modern Science" p. 141.

Prominent anatomists and geologists such as Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Adam Sedgwick, and Charles Lyell attacked it vigorously.McGowan The Dragon Seekers pp. 101, 154–55.Larson pp. 23–24, 37–38. It has been suggested that Wallace accepted the idea of the transmutation of species in part because he was always inclined to favour radical ideas in politics, religion and science, and because he was unusually open to marginal, even fringe, ideas in science.Shermer p. 54.

He was also profoundly influenced by Robert Chambers’ work Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, a highly controversial work of popular science published anonymously in 1844 that advocated an evolutionary origin for the solar system, the earth, and living things.Slotten p. 31. Wallace wrote to Henry Bates in 1845:

I have a rather more favourable opinion of the ‘Vestiges’ than you appear to have. I do not consider it a hasty generalization, but rather as an ingenious hypothesis strongly supported by some striking facts and analogies, but which remains to be proven by more facts and the additional light which more research may throw upon the problem. It furnishes a subject for every student of nature to attend to; every fact he observes will make either for or against it, and it thus serves both as an incitement to the collection of facts, and an object to which they can be applied when collected.

In 1847, he wrote to Bates: I should like to take some one family [of beetles] to study thoroughly, principally with a view to the theory of the origin of species. By that means I am strongly of opinion that some definite results might be arrived at. Wallace Family Archive, 11 Oct. 1847, quoted in .

Wallace deliberately planned some of his field work to test the hypothesis that under an evolutionary scenario closely related species should inhabit neighbouring territories. During his work in the Amazon basin, he came to realise that geographical barriers—such as the Amazon and its major tributaries—often separated the ranges of closely allied species, and he included these observations in his 1853 paper "On the Monkeys of the Amazon".Slotten p. 94. Near the end of the paper he asks the question "Are very closely allied species ever separated by a wide interval of country?"