Sign on
Alfred Russell Wallace
Dates: 1823 - 1913
Biographical Account: Alfred Russell Wallace was an eminent ornithologist and naturalist, best known for his work on ornithology and migration patterns.  He is also considered to be the co-author of the theory of evolution by natural selection, with Charles Darwin, although he never received the recognition and fame deserving of this.  Wallace was born into a relatively poor middle class family.  Wallace's father had, through a series of unfortunate business deals, lost much of the family wealth and as a result, young Wallace had few of the privileges usual to those of his social class - for instance, he never finished Grammar school, as he had to be withdrawn as his parents couldn't afford the school fees.  Even so, Wallace's interest in the sciences led him to a job as a teacher at Leicester Collegiate School (Leicester University) in the mid 1840s, but by 1848, he had decided to abandon this career and travelled to South America to study the wildlife and, ever short of cash, return with specimens to sell to British collectors.  Wallace spent four years in South America, returning in 1852, but with the bad luck that appeared to dog his career, the ship he travelled on sank, along with all the specimens he had collected.  Between 1854 to 1862, Wallace journeyed to Malaysia and Indonesia, to collect and study animals there.  It was during this trip that Wallace came up with his theory of natural selection.  Wallace corresponded with Darwin, sending him a copy of his paper outlining his theory.  The fact that Darwin had been working on a similar theory for the past 20 years convinced Darwin to publish both his and Wallace's paper jointly in 1858, while Wallace was still in Malaysia.  Wallace never objected to Darwin publishing his paper in his absence or effectively, putting his name on it.  In fact, Wallace was happy to be included at all.  After his return to Britain, most biographies suggest that Wallace settled down, writing books and papers, he was engaged in 1864 to lady known only from his journals as Miss L., but this was broken off for unknown reasons.  His material in the Sheffield natural history collections all came via the naturalist Charles Dixon, who worked with Wallace on several papers during the 1870s.  It was collected by Wallace in Austria (probably more accurately Croatia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time) in 1864 - the same time his engagement was broken off.  Whether these two events are related are unknown, but the possibility is quite intriguing.  Wallace died in 1913 aged 90 and, as according to his wishes, was buried near his Dorset home even though there was a call for him to be buried in Westminster Abbey near to Darwin.  In 1915, a Wallace medallion was placed there instead.
gPowered byeMuseum

Museums Sheffield

Trying something new can be a little bit scary, but what a great feeling when you make the connection. We're trying new things all the time and we want you to try them too, so come with us and we'll help connect you with art, nature, history, ideas - and each other.

Jump in. Discover something new.

Explore our site