Alfred Russell Wallace. Broadstone’s Most Famous Resident

Alfred Russell Wallace was a British naturalist, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist who was born in the small town of Llanbadoc, Monmouthshire, Wales in 1823.

He is best known for co-developing the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin, but his contributions to science and pseudo-science span a much wider range.

Wallace was born into a working-class family, the 8th of 9 children. His early years were marked by poverty and illness. Despite this, he was a gifted student, and he developed an early interest in natural history and botany. At the age of 14, he became an apprentice to a surveyor, but he continued to study and collect specimens of plants and animals on the side.

In 1848, Wallace left England for South America, where he spent several years exploring and collecting specimens in the Amazon rainforest. He was especially interested in studying the relationships between different species and how they evolved over time. During this period, he also became interested in environmentalism and the conservation of natural resources.

Alfred Wallace

source: Evstafieff/Down House, Downe, Kent, UK/English Heritage Photo Library/Bridgeman

In 1854, Wallace returned to England, and he began writing about his observations and theories on evolution and the origin of species. He corresponded with Darwin, and the two men began sharing their ideas and theories. In 1858, Wallace sent Darwin a paper outlining his ideas on evolution by natural selection, and Darwin was so impressed that he encouraged Wallace to publish it. The paper was read before the Linnean Society of London later that year, and it quickly became clear that Wallace and Darwin had independently arrived at the same conclusions about evolution.

Despite his early success, Wallace was often at odds with the scientific community throughout his life. He was a strong advocate for environmentalism, and he believed that human activities were causing widespread ecological damage and that measures needed to be taken to protect the planet. He also believed in spiritualism and astrobiology, and he was a firm believer in the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Wallace was also a prolific writer, and he wrote extensively on a wide range of subjects, including evolution, environmentalism, spiritualism, and anti-vaccination.

He was also a vocal opponent of the flat earth theory. A flat-earth proponent named John Hampden offered a wager of £500 if anyone could prove that the earth was not flat. Wallace designed an experiement to prove the earth is spherical. The judge for the wager, the editor of Field magazine, declared Wallace the winner. Hampden refused to accept the result. He sued Wallace and launched a campaign, which persisted for several years, of writing letters to various publications and to organisations of which Wallace was a member denouncing him as a swindler and a thief. Wallace won multiple libel suits against Hampden, but the resulting litigation cost Wallace more than the amount of the wager, and the controversy frustrated him for years.

Despite his many contributions to science and pseudo-science, Wallace was not well known during his lifetime, and it was only after his death that he became more famous. He died on November 7, 1913, at the age of 90, in Broadstone, England, where he had lived for many years. He was buried in the nearby cemetery, and a memorial stone was erected in his honor.

In conclusion, Alfred Russell Wallace was a brilliant and complex individual who made valuable contributions to science and pseudo-science throughout his life. He was a pioneering environmentalist, a passionate believer in spiritualism and astrobiology, and a prolific writer who was not afraid to speak out on controversial issues. Despite his many achievements, he was not widely recognized during his lifetime, and it was only after his death that he became widely known and celebrated. Today, he is remembered as one of the great minds of his time and one of the most important figures in the history of evolutionary theory.

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