Alfred Russel Wallace

Picture of Alfred Russel WallaceAlfred Russel Wallace (1823 - 1913) is one of the forgotten fathers of modern science. He was born in the village of Usk in Monmouthshire, England. His father died when Alfred was young. Not long after formal schooling ended for Alfred. He joined his brother, William, in surveying a number of English counties over the next four years. This experience was to teach him how to make accurate observations and detailed recordings, skills which would be of immense importance in later life. Shortly after this, Wallace was appointed to the position of drawing-master at the Collegiate School in Leicester. It was here that he met Henry Walter Bates, a fellow teacher who introduced his young colleague to the methods and delights of botany.

After two years the friends set out for South America on an expedition which would see them explore the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers. In order to cover a larger area Bates and Wallace split up. Wallace sent his collection of specimens to Para for storage in advance of transportation to England. He spent over four years in the tropical jungles of Brazil before setting sail for home in 1852. Disaster struck on the high seas. Wallace's ship caught fire and had to be abandoned in great haste. He lost his entire collection and most of his notes. Luckily, the crew and passengers were rescued by a passing vessel and, after further difficulties, arrived at Deal in an exhausted state.

Such a calamity would have defeated a lesser person but Wallace turned his energies to writing an account of his time in Brazil, Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853). Within twelve months he again left England and sailed eastwards towards Singapore. It was here, over the next eight years, that A.R. Wallace was to make the great voyage which led to his formulation of the theory of Natural Selection.

Singapore, in 1854, was a bustling place. Traders from near and far would bring their goods to the city's teeming marketplaces. Spices, in particular, were highly prized. Ships from many different nations would arrive to transport the precious commodity across the world's seas. It was here that Wallace spent his first few weeks. After a brief rest he headed to the islands of the Moluccas group, the place from where the modern voyage will set sail. Here he made the initial preparations for exploring the region ...

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