Facts About Alfred Russel Wallace: The British Naturalist

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Alfred Russel Wallace is a British naturalist, born in Usk in Wales. He schooled at Hertford Grammar School.

Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist was born on January 8, 1823 in the small village of Usk, Wales. Alfred Wallace received his only formal education in the one-room Hertford Grammar School. He left school at age 14 and joined his brother in London where he began to train as a surveyor. He also embarked on an extensive program of self-education, attending lectures and night classes, reading books about geology, optics, mathematics, botany, and other subjects. He developed a keen interest in wildlife and began collecting beetles. He was universally known for developing the theory of evolution along side the British naturalist Charles Darwin.


In 1849 he set off for the Amazon River with the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates, convinced that he could make a living collecting exotic specimens of wildlife for museums and universities. He spent three years collecting many species of fish, insect, and plant life. While returning from his journey with the specimens he collected from the Amazon, Wallace's boat caught fire and sank, along with all his collected specimens. In 1854, he set off for another eight-year expedition to a place known then as the Malay Archipelago in today’s Indonesia and Malaysia, in Southeast Asia where he developed the concept of natural selection. He came up with a hypothesis that competition for survival in a local environment exerts pressure on populations to adapt. He claimed that nature selects the individuals with the best combinations of traits for survival. He made these observations during his journey of the Malay Archipelago that covered some 23,000 km (14,000 mi) as he collected nearly 125,000 specimens of mammals, insects, shells, and reptiles. Wallace also noted a marked difference between the plants and animals of Southeast Asia and those of Australia, and was the first to postulate that their physical separation prevented competition between species.


In 1858, while still in the Malay Archipelago, he sent a paper containing his theory of evolution to Charles Darwin, who arranged, through Charles Lyell, for it to be jointly read before the Linnaean Society with his own. Charles Darwin, an elderly naturalist accepted to share credit with Wallace; so Wallace paper and some of Darwin’s unpublished writings were read together at a scientific meeting of the Linnean Society in London in June of 1858.

When Wallace returned to England, he supported himself primarily as a writer and lecturer. In 1869, he published ‘The Malay Archipelago’ where he expounded his theory of evolution. In 1870, he published ‘Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection’. In 1876, he published ‘The Geographic Distribution of Animals’ which recorded his observations of species distribution gathered during his years of expeditions. In 1889, he published ‘Darwinism’ and ‘Man’s Place in the Universe’ in 1903. He received the Darwin Medal of the Royal Society in1890, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in1908, and the Order of Merit in1908. He died on November 7, 1913. Although Wallace believed in evolution, he still held the belief that human intelligence has a supernatural origin.


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