Alfred Russel Wallace


In 2013, 100 years after his death, we celebrate the life of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), one of the greatest Victorian naturalists, travellers and collectors, a scientific and social thinker, early bio-geographer and ecologist, co-founder with Charles Darwin, of the theory of evolution through Natural Selection.

The Hope Entomological Collections (HEC) has many examples of species named after Wallace and of specimens collected by Wallace himself including species types such as Wallace’s giant bee.

Hymenoptera, Megachilidae, Megachile pluto, bee, insect, type, OUMNH, HEC
Megachile pluto described by B. Smith, 1869 is the largest bee species in the world. It occurs in Indonesia and builds its nest inside active termite nests.

The OUMNH also has nearly 300 letters written by Wallace discussing scientific topics, social issues, his relationship with Charles Darwin, and family matters which have been scanned as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP). Recently, the WCP has launched a new searchable open access on-line database entitled  ‘Wallace letters on-line‘. Staff and volunteers in the HEC have put in many hours of work in order to add our own holdings of letters and correspondance to this exciting project.

Wallace, correspondance, letter, entomologist, naturalist, archives

Wallace, correspondance, letter, entomologist, naturalist, archives
A letter from A.R. Wallace to E.B. Poulton, a former curator of the Hope Entomological Collections.
Wallace was largely self-educated. He developed an interest in natural history when young, and, like Darwin, became a keen beetle-collector. Fourteen years younger than Darwin, and from a less wealthy background, Wallace always had to earn a living while developing his scientific ideas. The Victorians were fascinated by the mystery behind the development of species and the anonymous publication in 1844 of ‘Vestiges of the Origin of Creation’ (actually written by Robert Chambers) caused a sensation. Wallace determined to resolve the species question himself, and travelled to South America with Henry Walter Bates to collect specimens and theorise about species, inspired by earlier travellers such as Humboldt, Edwards and Darwin himself. 
Wallace spent four and a half years in Amazonia before returning to England (losing most of his precious collections and notes in a ship’s fire on the way home) and had already published some scientific articles before publishing two short books, ‘A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro’ and ‘Palm Trees of the Amazon and their Uses’, but he realised he needed to continue collecting if he was to achieve his aim.
Wallace chose as his new collecting ground, the Indonesian region. Before leaving England, Wallace happened to meet Darwin briefly at the British Museum. While Darwin continued his painstaking work on barnacles and other researches, Wallace arrived in Singapore in 1854 and spent eight and a half years travelling an estimated 14,000 miles throughout the region, as described in his much republished book ‘The Malay Archipelago’.
It was here that Wallace wrote his illuminating essay ‘On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species’ (known as the ‘Sarawak Law’ paper) in 1855. This was followed in February 1858 by Wallace’s most famous paper ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type’ which did lead Darwin to publish On The Origin of Species the following year.
Wallace was suffering from malarial fever when the idea crystallised in his mind. Between bouts of fever, he wrote out his theory in a few days, and sent it to Darwin (whom he knew would be sympathetic to his ideas), hoping for advice on whether and how to publish it. A key for both Darwin and Wallace in formulating their theories of natural selection was recollection of Malthus’s essay on population. Of course, when Darwin received Wallace’s letter, he was presented with a dilemma. He had been working on his theory for twenty years, and here was an outline of that theory, written by a relative unknown, far away in the tropics. Darwin sought advice from Sir Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker(later Sir Joseph Hooker), who decided that it would be fairest to publish some extracts of Darwin’s earlier writings together with Wallace’s paper, at the next meeting of the Linnean Society. It happened that an emergency meeting was being called and the papers were added to the agenda and read on 1 July 1858, with neither author present (Wallace was still in the Malay Archipelago and Darwin’s son Charles had just died).
Darwin was relieved when he found that far from resenting his treatment, Wallace felt honoured for their ideas to be associated. In fact, when writing about natural selection, Wallace chose the term ‘Darwinism’ and defended ‘Darwinism’ with vigour, both in England and abroad, describing himself as a ‘Darwinian’. Both Darwin and Wallace recognised that their theory (which they both acknowledged had been arrived at independently) had anticipators and were fully aware of the importance of recognising the contributions of others. They remained correspondents, consulting each other on various topics and Wallace was one of the pall-bearers at Darwin’s funeral.
Wallace was a believer in inspiration and said ‘all my best ideas have come to me suddenly’. Modest to a fault, he was happy to receive (among many other honours heaped on him) the Royal Society’s ‘Darwin’ medal, and described as ‘outrageous’ attempts to put him on same level as Darwin. 
When presented with the first ‘Darwin-Wallace’ medal by the Linnean Society on 1 July 1908 (celebrating the anniversary of publication of the Darwin-Wallace papers), Wallace contrasted himself with Darwin: “I was then (as often since) the “young man in a hurry”: he, the painstaking and patient student, seeking ever the full demonstration of the truth that he had discovered, rather than to achieve immediate personal fame.”.  Wallace felt himself more suited to fieldwork (he was meticulous with his labels and had always recognised the importance of noting the location where each specimen had been found) and was glad that Darwin had been able to provide the vital detailed proofs and analysis for their controversial ideas.
Although they did not agree on everything (and sometimes had to agree to disagree), Darwin and Wallace shared mutual respect and friendship, and believed ardently in the spirit of co-operation, which their relationship personified.
Wallace, correspondance, postcard, entomologist, naturalist, archives
The postcard above, written in Wallace’s handwriting reads as follows ‘Many thanks for the kind congratulations- Am feeling quite jolly! Alfred R Wallace’
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Drawing techniques for publication

By Katherine Child

Despite the prevalence of photography in scientific and technical books and papers today, there are still times when a scientific work will call for a more traditional approach. Drawing remains an important part of natural history illustration, and can often provide a more specific and flexible way of communicating information.

Coleoptera, Corylopidae, beetle, drawing
An example of the way key features can be highlighted and isolated to provide clarity in a drawn illustration. Cleidostethus meliponae Arrow, from the genus Cleidostethus Arrow, by Stanley Bowestead.


Stanley Bowestead and Thomas Eccles are both enthusiastic advocates of drawing and have recently published a joint paper on technical drawing for publication in collaboration with the HEC. They argue that the value of drawing lies not only in the end results ability to communicate, but also that the process of drawing is in itself crucial to the better understanding of the subject at hand.  Producing a detailed drawing of a beetle for example, requires rigorous observational skills and after studying the insect, the observer will have gained a unique understanding of the form of that specimen.
Coleoptera, Coccinellidae, ladybird, beetle, drawing

Anatis ocellata (L.) by Stanley Bowestead. White gel pen has been used to highlight the setae on the legs.

In the past it was not only the lack of modern alternatives which made drawing a popular tool for documenting scientific findings. Science, art and religion all used to be closely linked to one another – to the point of being virtually indistinguishable as separate subjects. The study and appreciation of natural history through drawing was thought to bring a person closer to God, as well as being at the height of fashion during the Victorian era.    

So, it is shifting attitudes towards science and art, as well as photographic advances and the development of other imaging techniques such as SEMs, that have lead drawing to decline over the last 50 years or so in the study of natural history.  


Coleoptera, Scarabaidae, Cetoniinae, beetle, scarab, insect
An automontage photograph of a scarab. Photographic equipment and image processing have advanced rapidly in the last 30 years and high quality digital pictures are now becoming normal in scientific publications.
Stan and Thomas’ paper as well as being a practical how to guide on the technical drawing of insects, hopes to promote the value of drawing alongside other contemporary methods of illustration, as being something which remains relevant and invaluable as a learning resource in the field of science today. ­­
Coleoptera, Carabidae, Harpalinae, ground beelte, drawing

Lebia chlorocephalaby Thomas Eccles. Worked in colour pencil with highlights picked out in white ink.


The paper is available to download for free from the museum’s website.

A new record for a little red Lygaeid

Arocatus longiceps is in the insect order Hemiptera, commonly called ‘true bugs’ and is part of the family called Lygaeidae often referred to as seed bugs, due to their feeding behaviour on plant seeds. This species is not native to the UK and was first discovered in Britain during 2007 on plane trees in the grounds of the Natural History Museum, London. This appearance made the bug quite famous; it even featured on the BBC News in 2008 as a new, apparently unidentifiable species.

Originally this species was determined as Arocatus roselii, however specialist researchers in seed bugs were consulted and the bug was finally identified as Arocatus longiceps an eastern Mediterranean species which has been spreading across Europe over the last few decades.

The species has mainly been recorded in the London area; but on the 30th November 2012 two specimens were found in the basement rooms at the Museum. This is a new record for Oxfordshire (Flanagan & Ryan, personal communication) and is probably the most Northerly record so far.

Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bugHemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug
Photographs of the Arocatus longiceps taken using the auto-montage system
This bug is commonly found across Europe, and in October Amoret saw quite a few during a visit to Prague. The host plant is the plane tree; when the specimens were found in the museum, it prompted us to see whether there were more. As the photos below show, upon searching the plane trees outside the museum, we found an abundance of this bug.
Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug, entomology, field

Chris Jarvis of the Education Department uses his detective skills to find the bug.

Hemiptera, Lygaeidae, Arocatus longiceps, true bug, field entomology

A large number of Arocatus longiceps were found beneath the bark. They overwinter as adults in clusters.