Exploring the World of Wallace at the Dorset County Museum’s Craft Academy

Alfred Russel Wallace © Dorset County Museum 2017

Looking for something to do with the kids over the summer holidays? Come and join us for a morning of messy fun at Dorset County Museum’s Craft Academy on Wednesday 2 August 10.30am – 12.30pm

Taking inspiration from the museum’s collection of exotic birds collected by Victorian naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace. Children will have a chance to learn about Wallace’s ideas and achievements.

craft-academy-dorset-county-museumWe’ll provide the materials and the inspiration – you’ll create a wonderful piece to take home with you. Even better, it’s absolutely FREE thanks to sponsorship from Battens Solicitors.

Each time you create a masterpiece at one of our sessions, we will stamp your Craft Academy passport. If you collect three stamps we’ll give you a special certificate.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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A Century Ago

Poole High Street Project

It was November 1913, a year before the outbreak of a devastating war. The East Dorset Herald was reporting the ‘Death of Dr. Russel Wallace – The Grand Old Man of Science’ at his residence, Old Orchard, Broadstone. From an unpromising childhood with poor schooling and no scientific training to speak of, he rose to become ‘a stimulating and original thinker, a finely trained observer, a naturalist of world-wide reputation, a vigorous conversationalist, a notable explorer and great traveller’. ‘His supreme achievement was his discovery of the process of Natural Selection simultaneously with Darwin’. During his adventurous career he travelled in the Amazon (being shipwrecked on the return voyage) and later journeyed around the Malay Archipelago, observing and collecting specimens of the flora and fauna. It was here, while suffering from a bout of fever, that he conceived the theory of natural selection. Back in England, he wrote a…

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Wallace: The Greatest Tropical Naturalist of the 19th Century by David Croman

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, O.M., L.L.D., D.C.L., F.R.S.

Dorset County Museum is pleased to present a talk on the subject of one of Charles Darwin’s major contemporaries.  The event forms part of the celebrations marking the centenary of the death of the great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace.

David Croman, former Head of Department at Salisbury College, Principal Examiner and teacher, will be speaking about the adventures, triumphs and failures of Wallace as an explorer, biologist, anthropologist and geographer and will reveal why he is now thought of as the greatest tropical naturalist of the nineteenth century.

The talk is free of charge but a donation of £3.00 is encouraged to cover costs.  The event takes place on Friday 29th November. Doors open at 7.00pm and the talk will commence at 7.30pm.

For further information please see www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or telephone 01305 262735.

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Am feeling quite jolly!

Darkened not dormant

This lovely example of Alfred Russel Wallace’s beautiful handwriting and cheerful nature was written to chemist and Wallace’s good friend Raphael Meldola. He wrote it on his 90th (and sadly last) birthday. It is particular favourite of Annette Lord, who has scanned and transcribed the Museum’s collection of 300+ Wallace documents.

Today marks 100 years since Wallace’s death and provides a good opportunity to reflect on his achievements. We’ve set up a display in the Museum to mark the occasion and show some of the most impressive Wallace specimens in our collection. Wallace travelled to remote, dangerous parts of the world in search of new and fascinating species. He was a meticulous and careful collector; you can’t help but marvel at how the incredibly long antennae of these beetles survived the journey back to Britain!

Wallace is now credited by many as co-author of the theory of evolution through natural selection, so it is very exciting to…

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Wallace in his own words

Darkened not dormant

Here in the Museum of Natural History’s archives, we proudly house over 300 of Alfred Russel Wallace’s documents. Letters, notes and postcards written by the great naturalist himself. Here you can see Sir David Attenborough holding one of his favourites.

Over the past two years, all of the Wallace paper items in our collection have been scanned, transcribed and uploaded to Wallace Letters Online, a worldwide documentation project that’s part of the Wallace 100 celebrations. But the most remarkable thing is that all this work was done by one woman!

Annette Lord has been a volunteer at the Museum for 3 years and has helped with many family friendly activities, but one day she popped up to the Entomology Department to ask about Wallace’s letters. Her curiosity was piqued and she soon set to work on the enormous task of making them accessible to Wallace fans across the world.


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What’s on the van? – Wallace’s giant bee

Darkened not dormant


This Thursday, 7th November, marks 100 years since the death of the famous Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was an intrepid explorer and prolific collector and is hugely important in our understanding of the natural world. He co-discovered evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin and we are fortunate to have several hundred of his specimens and letters in our collections here at the Museum of Natural History. 

To celebrate the life of such an important scientific figure, we’re dedicating this week on the blog to all things Wallace. We’ll be sharing some hidden gems, little known facts about the great man and stories of Museum staff walking in the footsteps of Wallace.
So here begins Wallace Week, with a description of one of his fantastic specimens…


This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Sally-Ann Spence of Minibeast Mayhem and the Bug Club.

A single female bee stands…

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Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection by Dr. Peter Raby

Wallace100Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the late nineteenth century’s most outstanding scientific thinkers. He is probably best known as the co-discoverer (with Charles Darwin) of the principle of natural selection but he also made significant contributions in many other fields and founded the discipline of biogeography.  Followers of Wallace still regard him as the pre-eminent field biologist, collector and naturalist of tropical regions – he collected over 125,000 natural history specimens in South East Asia alone.

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, O.M., L.L.D., D.C.L., F.R.S.

However, his work in many areas is not well-known even today and his significant achievements remain poorly recognised.  In his talk, Dr. Peter Raby of Homerton College, Cambridge, who wrote a biography of Wallace in 2001, will seek to redress the balance.  He will describe how Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin excitedly outlining his new theory of natural selection, throwing Darwin into a panic.  Just two weeks later Darwin’s outline and Wallace’s paper were jointly presented in London. The following year Darwin, using much of the material from Wallace’s meticulous research, published ‘On the Origin of Species’ to wide acclaim.  Wallace, meanwhile, was still on the other side of the world – his crucial contribution to the work largely overlooked.

Dr. Raby’s talk, The Man who Selected Darwin,  complements the Museum’s current exhibition Alfred Russel Wallace: A Centenary Celebration which provides a rare opportunity to see its entire collection of brightly coloured bird skins from Wallace’s Malay Archipelago trip in 1854-1855.  Dr. Raby has also written widely on drama
and the theatre and is the editor of the Cambridge Companions to Oscar Wilde and
Harold Pinter.

The lecture takes place at 7.30pm on Wednesday 23th October 2013. Entry is FREE and the doors are open from 7.00pm.

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

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In Wallace’s Footsteps by Robert Hall

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, O.M., L.L.D., D.C.L., F.R.S.

Alfred Russel Wallace was arguably the greatest tropical naturalist of the 19th century and a co-founder (with Charles Darwin) of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

He was not a geologist but he certainly appreciated the role of geology in influencing the distributions of animals and plants. He was the first to recognise the division which today bears his name, the Wallace Line, which separates Australian and Asian faunas.

This area is the collision zone between Australia and South East Asia and has seen the most significant changes in the distribution of land and sea in the last few million years. 45 million years ago Australia began to move rapidly north. About 20 million years later it finally collided with Indonesia and the collision continues today leading to the creation of a fascinating landscape of high mountains and deep basins

Indonesian landscape

Indonesian landscape

Wallace travelled extensively in the Malay Archipelago with local guides using small boats. Despite the impact of the modern world many parts of the region are still much as Wallace saw them in the 19th century. In his lecture Robert Hall of Royal Holloway University of London will illustrate some of the places Wallace visited, outline the history of this geologically dynamic region, and offer some suggestions as to why it may act as a major control of the global climate and contain the most diverse biota on Earth.

This Geology Lecture takes place at 7.00pm on Wednesday 9th October 2013. Entry is free and the doors are open from 6.30pm. A donation of £3.00 is encouraged to cover costs.

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

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Alfred Russel Wallace – Local Hero

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, O.M., L.L.D., D.C.L., F.R.S. © DCM

A two-part series on BBC 2 Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero’, 21st and 28th April at 8.00pm. Will see comedian Bill Bailey head to the jungles of Indonesia in the footsteps of his hero, Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, to understand how he came up with the theory of evolution independently of Darwin. These programmes coincide with this years events held at the Natural History Museum –  Wallace100: a celebration of his life and scientific legacy in 2013, the centenary of his death.

As Wallace, was an Honorary member of the Dorset County Museums’ Dorset Natural History and Archaeolgical Society.  An obituary was published in the DNHAS proceedings Vol XXXV, 1914

Anniversary Address of the President by Nelson Moore Richardson, Esq.,BA (Read May 12th, 1914.)

“Of our Honorary Members, a most distinguished man, Alfred Russel Wallace, who was for some years after he came to live in Dorset an Ordinary Member of our Club, and was elected an Honorary Member in 1909, has passed from amongst us. His life and work have been so fully set forth in so many scientific and other publications, and also in a short memoir by our Vice-President, Mr. E. R. Sykes, which will be printed in the same Volume of Proceedings as this Address, that I do not propose to enter into it here. I will only add that we mourn his loss in common with scientists all over the world, and feel that our Club has been honoured by his connection with it.”

Alfred Russel Wallace A Memoir by E. R. Sykes.

By the death of Alfred Russel Wallace the last link with the great workers on evolution, whose names adorn the mid-nineteenth century, is broken. One by one, Darwin, Hooker, Huxley, &c., they have passed away, and now death has taken from us the last, and one of the greatest. We, of the Dorset Field Club, have a special interest in Wallace ; he was an Ordinary Member of the Club for some years, and in 1909 became one of our Honorary Members; to many of us he was personally known, and not a mere abstract personality.

Flying Frog

An illustration from The Malay Archipelago depicts the flying frog Wallace discovered.

Born on January 8th, 1823, at Usk, in Monmouthshire, he was educated at Hertford Grammar School, and for a short time assisted his brother as a land surveyor. Later, he became a schoolmaster at Leicester, and there, about 1845, he became friends with H. W. Bates, whose works on the Amazon Region are so well-known. This was a turning point in his career for, in 1848, he and Bates, both already keen students of nature, went out together to study and collect animals and plants in South America. After a short time they separated, and Wallace spent four years in the country, exploring the Rio Negro. Unfortunately the bulk of his collection was lost, owing to fire on the ship by which he returned home. In 1854 he started on his classic expedition to the Malay Archipelago, then but little known ; this lasted no less than eight years, and he brought back the vast store of over 125,000 specimens. On the materials so collected and his geographical studies were based his ”Island Life ” and “Geographical Distribution of Animals,” while we may also note his discovery of what has been called “Wallace’s line,” dividing the Archipelago into two distinct regions, with entirely different faunas.

A exotic bird specimen from the Wallace Collection

One of the many exotic bird specimens from the Wallace collection held by the Dorset County Museum © DCM

We may now turn to his epoch-making work, by which the name of Wallace will ever be remembered. While still in the Malay Archipelago he sent home to Darwin his essay ” On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type,”which, to the latter’s amazement, proved to be in theory and reasoning precisely similar to the great work on which he himself was then engaged. It was eventually arranged that a joint paper by Darwin and Wallace should be read at the Linnsean Society, and in 1858 this was done.After a stormy controversy the great theory of the survival of the fittest has met with universal acceptation, and the foundation-stone of modern biology stands firm and secure. To us of the present day it is hard to realise that what has been well called one of the driving forces of the world, and which seems to us but a simple truth, should have been found so hard to accept. Incidentally, we gain some insight into the working of Wallace’s mind, into which, after a long period of, no doubt, unconscious preparation, decisions flashed. The above conclusions came upon him suddenly,and we know that he said of himself  “I am a believer in inspiration. All my best theories have come to me suddenly.”

Characteristic of his enquiring mind was it, that he never considered the details of the theory as finally settled. He was far from accepting the whole of the “Origin of Species” verbatim, and, in later years, he endorsed the somewhat diverging views of Weissman. Finally, in his “World of Life,” he expressed his disagreement with the view attributed  to Darwin, that man, like all other animals, has been produced by the unaided operation of natural selection.

From this time onwards Wallace occupied his rightful position as one of the leaders of scientific thought ; slowly, but steadily, recognition and honours poured in upon him; and he held his place till death, on November 7th, 1913, in his ninety first year, removed him from amongst us.

It is impossible in a brief memoir like the present to give any real survey of Wallace’s scientific or other work. An author who dealt with such widely – sundered subjects as Island Faunas and Spiritualism, the theory of evolution and State ownership of land, is not to be summarised in a few paragraphs. For a moment we may turn to his ” Island Life,” a summary it may be said, but a summary welded by a master-hand. Here, after a brief essay on distribution, he points out that the key must be sought in evolution ; and after dealing with glacial epochs and changes of climate, he gives a detailed survey of the fauna and flora so far as known, the result being a book of great value, not only to the specialist, but also to the general reader. In his ”Malay Archipelago,” again, we find most valuable observations, not only on the animals and plants, but also on the native races and their history ; and that he risked many dangers in the cause of science, the mere account of his voyage from Waigiou to Ternate, in 1860,is sufficient to show.

The influences which lead men to become what they are,though often apparently small in themselves, afford an interesting study. In the case of Wallace, his taste, already slightly developed, for zoology and botany, no doubt received a great stimulus from his friendship with Bates. This association largely led to the first expedition to South America, and, gradually, the collector became the master mind, using his collections in the way they should be used — as materials for study.

To take another instance, his views on the State ownership of land may be traced to his association with his elder brother, a surveyor, and to the experience this gave him. Patient, industrious, broad-minded, with wonderful powers of concentration, the world has lost a great naturalist and philosopher.”

– Alfred Russel Wallace in Dorset

  • 1889 – June: Rented the house at Parkstone
  • 1890 – Bought the house, having decided to settle in Dorset because of the “rich golden clumps of the dwarf gorse and because rhododendrons and water-lilies could be grown in the garden New edition of ‘Malay Archipelago’, ‘Human Selection’ in Fortnightly Review
  • 1891 – Two articles on the American flora New editions of ‘Natural Selection’, ‘Tropical Nature’ and ‘English and Flowers’ in Fortnightly Review
  • 1892 – Review articles (in Studies Social and Scientific)
  • 1893 – Australia for Compendium of Geography ‘Ice Ages‘ ‘Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics’ in Nature
  • 1894 – ‘What are Zoological Regions’ in Nature
  • 1895 – ‘The Palearctic and Nearctic Regions Compared as regards the Families and Genera of their Mammalia and Birds’, emphasizing all animals and absence as important criteria as presence (bears and deers for example).   An answer to Newton, who wanted a Holarctic Region. ‘Spines and Prickles in Flowers’ in Studies Social and Scientific ‘The Method of Organic Evolution’ (against Galton and Bate son) ‘Anarchy, Education, Expressiveness of Speech’ New edition ‘Island Life’
  • 1896 – ‘Ice Ages’
  • 1898 – ‘The Wonderful Century’
  • 1900 – Third edition ‘Darwinism’, ‘Studies Social and Scientific’,’His New Zealand and Zoological Region’  in Nature
  • 1901 – Bought three acres of land at Broadstone ‘The Wonderful Century Reader’ and ‘Vaccination a Delusion’
  • 1902 – Christmas: moved into Old Orchard, Broadstone
  • 1903 – ‘Man’ s Place in the Universe’
  • 1905 – ‘My Life’ 2 vols
  • 1907 – ‘Is Mars Habitable?’
  • 1908 – ‘Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes’ by Richard Spruce edited by A. R. Wallace ‘My Life’ revised in one vol ‘Darwinism versus Wallaceism’ In Contemporary Review
  • 1910 – ‘The World of Life’
  • 1913 – ‘Social Environment and Moral Progress’, ‘The Revolt of Democracy’  Many articles on social and political questions during this period. Wallace dies at his home at Broadstone on 7th November 1913.
  • 1916 – ‘Alfred Russel Wallace:Letters and Reminiscences’ by James Marchant

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