Whys and wherefores

By George Beccaloni 

Why this website was created 

I have been meaning to set-up a website for the Wallace Fund for several years and have been slowly gathering material for it. What finally prompted me to create one was a comment by the presenter of a BBC Radio 4 programme about Wallace (with Redmond O'Hanlon and Sandy Knapp) in the series "Great Lives", which was broadcast on New Year's day 2008 (see my post here). The presenter remarked "There isn't a single place in Britain dedicated to his [Wallace's] achievements save a bench on the River Usk opposite the cottage where he was born"! Having spent the last eight years thinking about and helping to create memorials to Wallace, I thought that the time had come to make more people aware that many do in-fact exist. Another reason for creating the site, is to publicise that fact that 2008 is the 150th anniversary of the discovery of natural selection - and that Wallace was the co-discoverer of the idea.

Why erect monuments to Wallace?

A few people have asked me what purpose is served by erecting memorials to Wallace. Here are some reasons why I think it is important: 1) To make more people aware that Wallace was the co-discoverer of natural selection and one of the most important scientists in British (or even world) history; 2) to inform people about the history of their local area; 3) to help to protect sites, such as historically interesting houses, from 'development'; 4) preserving his grave means that someone could get a sample of his DNA in the future and create a race of super-Wallaces (just joking!); and 5) personal satisfaction!

A colleague (now retired) at the museum where I work once said that he thought I was wasting my (spare!) time renovating Wallace's grave, when I could be using the time to do something more productive. Well, just like seemingly esoteric scientific research, such projects may have unforeseen benefits. I have met a lot of interesting people as a result of the Fund, not least Wallace's grandsons and their families. Also, if I hadn't met Wallace's family the Natural History Museum would probably never have acquired a treasure-trove of manuscripts etc from them.  Thankfully there seem to be many other people out there who also think that this sort of thing is important - after all, Nature published a news article about the project and no less than Ernst Mayr made a contribution to the Fund!

Some of the Wallace-related projects which have resulted as a direct consequence of my Wallace Memorial Fund activities are as follows:

A. Purchase by the Natural History Museum (NHM), London of the Wallace Family Archive

I initiated the NHM library's project to purchase a very important collection of 5000 manuscripts, photographs, books, butterfly specimens etc from Wallace's grandsons in January 2002, which has been described as the most important acquisition made by the library in the last 40 years. See here, here and here.

Also see:

Smith, G. 2002. Wallace moths get new home. Evening Standard, Monday, 4 March: 19.

B. Acquisition by the NHM of Wallace's insects

Richard Wallace found two boxes of insects from Wallace's collection in the attic of his house which he gave me to deposit in the NHM. They had been badly damaged by pests so I restored them and added them to the collection of insects which the Museum had purchased as part of the Wallace Family Archive. See articles here and here.

Also see:

Beccaloni, G. W. 2006. Science updates [Alfred Russel Wallace's private insect collection]. Nature First, 43: 15-16.

Beccaloni, G. W. 2006. Spotlight on science [Alfred Russel Wallace's private insect collection]. Second Nature, 17:  10-11.

Beccaloni, G. W. 2007. Alfred Russel Wallace's private insect collection. AES Bug Club Magazine, 15(1): 18-20.

Highfield, R. Scientific treasure comes down from the attic. The Daily Telegraph, Saturday, February 11, 2006.

Hoyle, S., 2006. Alfred Russel Wallace's ‘lost' treatures [sic] come to the Natural History Museum. Waterhouse Times, 52: 8.

Hoyle, S., 2006. Restoring the ‘lost' treasures of Alfred Russel Wallace. Taxidermist, 33: 2.

C. Purchase of the Kohler Collection of publications on Darwin and evolution

Curiously, a chance meeting I had with the Kohler's at the unveiling of "The Dell" plaque led me to initiate the NHM library's project to purchase the largest collection of Darwin-related publications ever assembled (3,500 items, including some relating to Wallace). At £985,000, the Kohler Darwin Collection is the biggest collection purchase in the Museum's 125-year history. See here, here and http://www.sheila-markham.com/Archives/kohler.htm.

Also see:

Baker, J. 2006. Important Darwin collection ‘comes home'. Waterhouse Times, 53: 4-5.

Perkins, R. 2006. The Kohler Darwin collection. Nature First, 44: 17-20.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith