At Last, Welsh Scientist Is to Escape from the Shadow of Evolutionary Giant Darwin; CO-CONCEIVER OF EVOLUTION THEORY TO BE PUT IN SPOTLIGHT

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

At Last, Welsh Scientist Is to Escape from the Shadow of Evolutionary Giant Darwin; CO-CONCEIVER OF EVOLUTION THEORY TO BE PUT IN SPOTLIGHT


Byline: ROBIN TURNER robin.turner@walesonline.co.uk

THE "forgotten" Welsh scientist credited with co-conceiving the theory of natural selection is at last getting recognition from the world of science.

Explorer, town surveyor and biology expert Alfred Russel Wallace was born in the village of Llanbadoc, near Usk, Monmouthshire in 1823, the seventh of nine children.

He later lived in Neath where his early habit of collecting different plant species inspired him to study the natural world.

After doing extensive fieldwork on the development and spread of animals in the Amazon River basin and the Malay Archipelago he co-published a paper on evolution theory with Charles Darwin in 1858.

But for the century and a half that followed he was overshadowed by Darwin.

Now, however, the Natural History Museum's Wallace 100 programme has been organised to mark the centenary of the Welshman's death in 1913 and put the biologist back in the spotlight.

It will begin today when comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey will unveil an impressive portrait of Wallace in the museum's Central Hall.

The portrait will hang near the famous statue of Charles Darwin.

Bailey is also to host a BBC2 TV series about Wallace's life due to be aired this spring.

And the museum will put an archive of Wallace's correspondence online, as well as displaying some of his most important specimens.

Wallace began his working life as a surveyor, devising the street plan of Llandrindod Wells and later designing a council building in Neath.

But his love of travel and deep interest in animal biology led to him travelling widely in South America, where his brother died and the ship carrying his specimens caught fire and sank. He went on to write a popular book, The Malay Archipelago, which provides a vivid account of his travels and adventures in the East Indies.

At one point he revealed he was sleeping one night "with half-a-dozen smoke-dried human skulls suspended over my head".

Writer Joseph Conrad whose novella Heart of Darkness partly inspired the 1979 movie hit Apocalypse Now, kept a copy of Wallace's book on his bedside table and drew on it for his own works, including Lord Jim.

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