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The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 - 1913) was one of the world's most important scientists. His seminal contributions to biology rival those of his friend and colleague Charles Darwin, though he is far less well known. Together Wallace and Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1858, and their prolific subsequent work laid the foundations of modern evolutionary biology, and much more besides.

Wallace made enduring scholarly contributions to subjects as diverse as glaciology, land reform, anthropology, ethnography, epidemiology, and astrobiology. His pioneering work on evolutionary biogeography (the science that seeks to explain the geographical distribution of organisms) led to him becoming recognised as that subject’s ‘father’. Beyond this Wallace is regarded as the pre-eminent collector and field biologist of tropical regions of the 19th century, and his book The Malay Archipelago (which was Joseph Conrad’s favourite bedside reading) is one of the most celebrated travel writings of that century and has never been out of print. Wallace was a man with an extraordinary breadth of interests who was actively engaged with many of the big questions and important issues of his day. He was anti-slavery, anti-eugenics, anti-vivisection, anti-militarism, anti-Imperialism, a conservationist and an advocate of woman's rights. He strongly believed in the rights of the ordinary person, was a socialist, an anti-vaccinationist (for rational reasons), and a believer in naturalistic, evolutionary spiritualism. He did not come from a privileged background and was largely self-taught. For a brief biography see http://www.wallaceletters.info/content/mini-biography

The Wallace Correspondence Project (WCP) was founded by George Beccaloni in 2010. Its aims are to locate, digitise, catalogue, transcribe, interpret and publish Wallace's surviving correspondence and other manuscripts. About 5,700 letters to and from Wallace are currently known to survive, and they are held by c. 240 institutions and individuals worldwide. Wallace's letters are a biographical treasure trove, which provides a far better picture of the 'real' Wallace than his heavily edited and censored published writings (e.g. his autobiography My Life (1905) and his letters in Marchant's Letters and Reminiscences (1916)). For example, Wallace never even mentions his wife's name (Annie) in any of his published writings, including his autobiography. The letters are also key to gaining a deeper understanding of his scientific and other work: how and why his ideas arose, and how they evolved over time.

The WCP is unlocking this valuable resource by gathering all the letters together for the first time, and transcribing them so that they can be more easily read and information within them discovered using electronic searches for words and phrases. The vast amount of unpublished information which is coming to light will surely form the basis for numerous articles, scholarly papers, PhD theses and perhaps the first definitive biography.

Epsilon is being used by the WCP's as its online archive of Wallace's correspondence. It replaces our previous archive, Wallace Letters Online, which was last updated in 2015. The process of editing the transcripts and associated metadata is a work in progress which will take many years to complete. Our project’s policy is, however, to make the information we have available to users at the earliest possible opportunity, even if it is incomplete and/or imperfect. For a guide to our data, including the protocols we use for metadata and transcriptions, please see http://www.wallaceletters.info/content/epsilon

Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
William Jackson Hooker
Date:
29 January 1850
Source of text:
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: KLDC10180
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Herbert Edward ("Edward") Wallace
To:
Richard Spruce
Date:
15 March 1850?
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/21
Summary:

Living conditions in Barra [Amazonas, Brazil]. Doggerel about fishing: “Here we work with Net and Trigger/By the famous river Nigger” (Watertown) Puns on local words: “All the ‘redes’ (nets) possess a title because they’re Barra-nets.”

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Alfred Russel Wallace
To:
Samuel Stevens
Date:
20 March 1850
Source of text:
Stevens, S. (1850). Journey to explore the natural history of the Amazon River. Annals and Magazine of Natural History : Series Series 2, 6 (36): 494-496 [pp. 495-496]
Summary:

Delays in finding new canoe crews each few days to go upriver, arrived at Bara 30th of December; took 34 days from Santarem. Plagued by mosquitos until reached Rio Negro, which deserves its name: waters are “black as ink”, but mercifully no mosquitos. Staying with Sir Henrique Anthony; Richard Spruce arrived there previous evening. Impossible to send live animals from here, would not pay to do so. Collected more umbrella bird skins, bell birds, and two new species of anacaris [aracaris?] (small toucans).

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
William Jackson Hooker
Date:
April 1850
Source of text:
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: KLDC10179
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Herbert Edward ("Edward") Wallace
To:
Sims (née Wallace), Frances ("Fanny") & Wallace (née Greenell), Mary Ann?
Date:
30 August [1850]
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/77
Summary:

ARW's younger brother Herbert had joined his adventure in Brazil but Alfred left him in the City of Rio Negro, a thousand miles from Para, and “has started today on his long journey up the Rio Negro.” Herbert decides to spend two months collecting specimens in the area in order to repay ARW's loan and cover costs of passage home; plans to time his return to England to be with mother and sister at Christmas.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Herbert Edward ("Edward") Wallace
To:
Richard Spruce
Date:
29 December 1850
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/20
Summary:

Waiting for a passage to England; clothes left at Barra to be forwarded; speculation on Spruce's plans, regards to Mr King.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
William Jackson Hooker
Date:
31 December 1850
Source of text:
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: KMDC10180
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Alfred Russel Wallace
To:
Charles Algernon ("Algernon", "Ally", "Naturae Amator") Wilson
Date:
[January] [1851]
Source of text:
[Wilson, C. A.]. (1852). South America. Adelaide Morning Chronicle : 1 (104): 167
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Alfred Russel Wallace
To:
Charles Algernon ("Algernon", "Ally", "Naturae Amator") Wilson
Date:
[1851]
Source of text:
[Wilson, C. A.]. (1853). [LTTE with two letters from Alfred R. Wallace]. Adelaide Morning Chronicle : 11 (132): 255
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Alfred Russel Wallace
To:
Thomas Sims
Date:
20 January 1851
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/73
Summary:

Received post from Mr Stevens — the safe arrival of his Rio Negro birds; regards to his cousins George Wilson and Percy Wilson, brother John, mother and sister Fanny. Has not been idle since arriving in Guia 3 months ago but unsuccessful in collecting specimens. Travels upriver with Indian hunters, living on farinha and salt; unable to find Gallos de Serra, insects, or other birds. Plans to enter Venezuela near source of Rio Negro, then up the River Vaupes or Isanna to make anthropological and geographical observations. ARW plans to publish illustrated volume on fishes of Brazil, illustrated volume on palms, and map of the "Physical History of the Great Amazon valley, comprising its Geography, Geology, distribution of Animals and Plants, Meteorology & the history & Languages of the Aboriginal tribes," including description of his collection of butterflies. Misses home.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
Date:
7 March 1851
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/101
Summary:

Have been surveying mountains in this region of northern California to find better route for completion of our Canal or flume, ten miles from the Stanislaus river. We hiked where “no white man had been... only “Indian trail & the footprints of Grizly [sic] bear and Deer. Found better route for our water, 1500 feet higher up mountain; “a framework of timber will have to be constructed”; we installed a water saw mill at the river, which cuts 10,000 feet of lumber a day. “Our Company...is thought much of in these parts [as] a Great work.” Much water necessary to extract gold, as very little found on surface. Accident with lumber coming down chute unexpectedly and killing a worker; only man that “we had killed on the works.” I had “just time to jump out” of the way.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
George Bentham
Date:
1 April 1851
Source of text:
Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). (1908). In: Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes . Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [pp. 208-211]
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Henry Walter Bates
To:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
Date:
13 June 1851
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/22
Summary:

Henry W. Bates conveys to ARW’s mother news of the death of her son Edward (Herbert Edward), ARW’s younger brother, who reached camp while ARW was away upriver. He had contracted yellow fever; Bates was with him, obtained physician’s care, but after a few days Herbert perished from the “black vomit,” the most lethal form of the disease. Bates reports that Herbert was well looked after to the end.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
Date:
22 June 1851
Source of text:
  • Wallace Family Collection (private collection)
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/97
Summary:

“Little town of Sonora, Tuolomne County, has grown into a city.” No chance of me “settling down with a Wife” at present. Doing moderately well working in the mines (5-6 dollars a day); working at own company brings no cash, so must hire self out as ordinary miner during slow season; cannot “stand idle in California.” San Francisco had fire on 4th of May “destroying nearly the whole City;” last year Stockton also burned down, “but such is the magical influence of Gold that both Cities are now nearly the same as before.” About a thousand miners live and work in this vicinity.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Mary Ann? Wallace (née Greenell)?
Date:
August 1851
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/98
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/96/1
  • Wallace Family Collection (private collection)
Summary:

Has left nearest town “to be a sojourner in the wilderness.” Speculating on an immense construction project; joined 160 miners to build a canal or flume made of wood 20 miles long in steep rocky mountainous wilderness inhabited only by grisley [sic] bears, deer, and coyotes. It will convey water from Stanislaus River to Columbia region, which is rich in gold but requires water to extract it. Labor is furnished by unpaid miners, who also pay for equipment in exchange for shares in the Company; when system is operating, they will pay for use of the water to work their claims. As the only Surveyor here, it fell to me to engineer, design, and lay out the whole project. “There is no place like California for freedom of action and scope for enterprise.” Longs to hear more of the Great Exhibition and the Chrysal [sic] Palace in England “as every American paper is full of it.”

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
William Jackson Hooker
Date:
17 September 1851
Source of text:
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: KMDC1556
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
John Smith
Date:
24 September 1851
Source of text:
Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). (1908). In: Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes . Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [pp. 225-226]
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Henry Walter Bates
To:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
Date:
18 October 1851
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/23
Summary:

Bates informs ARW’s mother of the death of youngest son Edward Herbert Wallace from yellow fever; his insect collections will be sent home by next vessel. Herbert didn’t realize “that his case was serious until a few hours before his death,” and then he remarked that it was “sad to die so young.” About a third of population here wiped out by smallpox.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
John Wallace
To:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
Date:
23 November 1851
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/99
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/96/2
  • Wallace Family Collection (private collection)
Summary:

One of a set of letters providing in-depth descriptions John Wallace's life in the gold mining town of Columbia, California, building a system to bring water to gold mining operations in the town.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
John Smith
Date:
28 December 1851
Source of text:
Wallace, A. R. (Ed.). (1908). In: Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes . Vol. 1. London: Macmillan & Co. [pp. 264-268]
Summary:

No summary available.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project