Alfred Russel Wallace was the, until recently, unknown Welsh Scientist who is credited with co-conceiving the theory of ‘Natural Selection’ in animals and plants back in 1858 in a joint paper with Charles Darwin.
He was born in a small village named Llanbadoc, near Usk, Monmouthshire on 8th January 1823 and he was the seventh of nine children.
He began his working life as a surveyor, drawing the street plans of Llandrindod Wells and a council building in Neath.
Then he moved on to redraw property boundaries following the Enclosure Act which divided publicly owned commons amongst rich land owners. As far as Wallace was concerned this was ‘legalized robbery of the poor’, due to his profound concern with the moral, social, and political values of human life.
Wallace wanted to travel, and he made his way down through South America, through the Amazon River Basin and the Malay Archipelago where he ended up doing extensive fieldwork on the development and spread of animals.
He wrote a book called “The Malay Archipelago”, which contained details of his amazing travels and adventures of his time in the East Indies.
When Wallace returned to England back in 1862 he was an established natural scientist and geographer, and also was a collector of more than 125,000 animal specimens.
During Wallace’s life he was recognised for his work, and was awarded the Order of Merit, which is the highest honour a member of the British Royal Family can award to a civilian. Altough he is now overshadowed by Darwin, there is a commemorative medallion in his honour at Westminster Abbey which was unveiled in 1915.
Some other awards Wallace received included the Royal Society of London’s Royal Medal in 1868, the Darwin Medal in 1890 for his work in the independent origination of the origin of species by natural selection, the Copley Medal in 1908, the Linnean Society of London’s Gold Medal in 1892, the Darwin-Wallace Medal also in 1908 and the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal in 1892.
He also received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Dublin in 1882 and Oxford in 1889 and won election to the Royal Society in 1893.
Alfred Russel Wallace died on 7th November 1913 and is buried at Broadstone, Dorset.