Natural History Museum promises to bring Alfred Russel Wallace "out of Darwin’s shadow"

By Richard Moss | 12 December 2012
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a photo of mounted butterlfies
Alfred Russel Wallace’s insects – a rare personal collection by Wallace from Southeast Asia in 1854-1862. Wallace co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin and kept very few of the specimens he collected.© Natural History Museum

Wallace100 - celebrating Alfred Russel Wallace's life and legacy at the Natural History Museum and other venues throughout 2013.

“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.”

These animated words, written by the intrepid naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) about a new species of Indonesian butterfly in 1859, encapsulate the passion of the often overlooked co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection.

It was Wallace who co-published with Charles Darwin the scientific article that first proposed the theory of evolution in 1858, one year before Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species came out.

a black and white photo of a man with glasses, grey hair and beard
Alfred Russel Wallace, 1908.© Linnean Society [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of this important scientist and the Natural History Museum, which is home to the world’s largest collection of Wallace’s specimens and manuscripts, has announced a suitably ambitious programme of events to celebrate him.  

Wallace100 launches on January 24 2013 when comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey (whose Wallace documentary airs early 2013) unveils an impressive portrait of Wallace in the museum’s iconic Central Hall, near the famous statue of Darwin.

The centenary year unfolds at the NHM with Discovery Trails of the Wallace collections, talks in the Attenborough Studio, monthly lectures by leading biologists and historians, live videoconferencing for schools and a variety of web resources.

"Wallace’s remarkable accomplishments are not as appreciated today as they were in his own lifetime, and are often overshadowed by Darwin’s,” says the Museum’s Wallace expert, curator Dr George Beccaloni.

“The events being organised by the Natural History Museum and other organisations in the UK and abroad as part of the Wallace100 celebrations will help to bring him out of Darwin’s shadow.”

Wallace concluded his narrative about the capture of the rare butterfly by exclaiming: “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.”

For those who are yet to discover the life, work and adventures of this remarkable man, it’s going to be quite a year.

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