Wallace Year updates

by Greg Mayer

UPDATE: Bill Bailey’s Wallace programs are available on Youtube here and here (thanks to Alex and ant for the links); and George Beccaloni has stopped by in the comments to let us know that there is a campaign to buy Wallace’s house for use as a heritage and study center– so now even not well-off Wallaceophiles can help preserve the house by pooling their resources.

This year is of course Wallace Year, the 100th anniversary of the death of Darwin’s great friend, colleague and co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. A few brief updates on Wallace Year goings on:

First, the Society for the Study of Evolution‘s annual meeting this year, to be held June 21-26 in Snowbird, Utah in conjunction with the American Society of Naturalists and the Society of Systematic Biologists (I’m a member of the first two, and was a long time member of the third, but my subscription got screwed up when they changed printers at one point and I never straightened it out), has adopted a Wallace Year theme.

The Evolution 2013 Logo.

The Evolution 2013 Logo.

Wallace was a spiritualist in later life, and thus would, I think, have appreciated his own spectral visage overlooking the Evolution 2013 meetings.

Second, The Dell, the house that Wallace built in Essex, and lived in from 1872-1876 is up for sale, listed at GBP 1.5 million. It’s a fine opportunity for the well-off WEIT reader with a passion for the history of biology– don’t forget to invite me for a visit! There’s lots of neat information about the house (and other things Wallace) at George Beccaloni’s Wallace site, including pictures– go explore!

Wallace's House

The Dell, Essex. My guess would be that the tennis courts are a later addition.

And finally, two programs about Wallace hosted by the English comedian Bill Bailey, Bill Baileys Jungle Hero: Wallace in Borneo, and Bill Baileys Jungle Hero: Wallace in the Spice Islands debuted on BBC2 last week. I don’t think they’re available in the US, but UK readers can view them here; more on the shows by George Beccaloni here.

Bill Bailey admires an arthropod.

Bill Bailey admires an arthropod.

h/t Dominic


  1. Alex Shuffell
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero (both parts uploaded by the same channel) are available on <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CYVKFNjioI&quot;;Youtube if you can’t use the iPlayer.

  2. lanceleuven
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I’d be interested to hear people’s views on Bill Bailey’s handling of Darwin’s part in Wallace’s story. He seemed a little unfair to me. He seemed to paint Darwin as a slightly conniving and underhanded fellow who eclipsed Wallace mainly for reasons of class. Which seemed unfair and uncharitable to me (and, as I understand it, untrue). I couldn’t help but feel that he’d hyped up the rhetoric a little with a David and Goliath element in order to add even more drama to Wallace’s story (which certainly wasn’t necessary!)

    Did anyone else feel that way? Was it justified? Or did I simply misinterpet?

    Although for the record I did greatly enjoy both episodes. It was fascinating stuff that I’d highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

    • Posted May 2, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      I had the same impression. But I didn’t think it detracted/distracted too much from the whole thing, which was fascinating.


      • BilBy
        Posted May 2, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        I watched the beginning and will save the rest for later: it is a trope that Wallace is ‘forgotten’ and much has been made of it – as a corollary it seems that Darwin and his chums are painted as semi-villains. No one who has much interest in evolution or the history of science considers Wallace forgotten; it’s just a hook to hang these programs on. Anyway, I think I will enjoy the program – Bill Bailey really seems genuinely interested in Wallace.

        • Posted May 2, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

          The programme certainly wasn’t unfair to Darwin and his pals – just historically accurate! What WAS unfair was Darwin, Lyell and Hooker’s decision to publish Wallace’s essay without asking his permission and prefixed with Darwin’s writings. See my pdf article on the Jungle Hero website here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0160nxk and the article by philosopher James Rachels here – http://www.jamesrachels.org/DML.pdf

          • lanceleuven
            Posted May 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

            Wow, George Beccaloni. Someone actually involved with the show! Thanks for you input on the conversation!

            I’ve read the links you’ve given but to me that seem to support the idea that Darwin struggled with the issue and therefore wasn’t simply trying to mistreat Wallace. I mean, let’s take the criticism about publishing Wallace’s ideas for a start. What should they have done? Surely they only had four options:

            1) Do nothing. This runs the risk that Wallace will write to others who will publish his ideas and leave Darwin and his two decades of work obsolete and forgotten.

            2) Ignore the letter from Wallace and simply publish Darwin’s work. Well, this means Darwin would be criticised for trying to airbrush Wallace and his discovery out of history.

            3) Solely publish Wallace’s work. Well this suffers from the same critcism of publishing his work without permission and also renders Darwin’s two decades of work obsolete.

            4) Publish both together. This suffers from the criticisms levelled at it, but seems the least worst option overall.

            I’d be very interested to know your thoughts. Is there another option I didn’t think of or is one of the above options better than I give it credit for?

            • George Beccaloni
              Posted May 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

              So you think it is ethically OK to publish someone’s scientific manuscript which they did not ask you to publish, but which they asked you to pass on to a colleague to read? In my opinion the only decent course of action was for Darwin to have written to Wallace, explain the situation and agree a course of action. This would have taken months to arrange, but what was the rush? After all Darwin had ‘sat’ on his theory for 20 years.

              • lanceleuven
                Posted May 2, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

                I can certainly see your point. Although it does run the risk that Wallace may write to someone else who publishes his ideas before Darwin’s letter reaches him. It’s certainly a tricky dilemma. I can symptahise with both sides of the argument.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted May 11, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                As the manuscript was intended for Lyell to read, he was perfectly within his rights to read it aloud at a meeting, accompanied by whatever remarks he chose.
                This was standard practice. In much the same way, extracts of Darwin’s letters to Henslow while he was on the Beagle voyage were read at society meetings and published in transactions without him ever formally submitting them for publication. I suppose that was ‘unethical’ too (to exactly the same extent) but he didn’t register any objections, any more than Wallace did.
                People traveling on the other side of the world were simply out of touch for most practical purposes, and there was a significant likelihood they would be dead of a fever or go down with a ship before they could access their email.

              • George Beccaloni
                Posted May 11, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

                Well, that is as maybe. If a colleague sent you a manuscript containing an amazing discovery they had made, would you read it out to a public meeting without asking their permission? Doesn’t seem right to me! Anyway, Lyell and Hooker submitted Wallace’s essay for *publication* after the meeting – and Darwin checked and corrected the proofs…..

        • lanceleuven
          Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          Bilby, I certainly do think you’ll enjoy the rest of the programme. Particularly to see how much Wallace means to Bill Bailey. I won’t throw in any spoilers but I think you’ll appreciate it. 🙂

      • lanceleuven
        Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Glad I wasn’t the only one who thought so. But I agree, it didn’t detract from it at all. It was a great programme. I had no idea about the Wallace line and I found it fascinating to learn about that, the fauna in that area and how Wallace developed his theory. I’ve been reading a fair amount lately about what led Darwin to his discovery so it was great timing to learn about the path that led Wallace to the same destination. Great stuff.

    • Posted May 2, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      I’ve not watched these films yet, but presenting Wallace as 1) forgotten by history and 2) ill-treated by Darwin and others are both themes within a certain strand of Wallace historiography that at times borders on pseudohistory. On the other hand, admiration of Wallace as a plucky overachiever who overcame economic and social disadvantages (that Darwin did not have to overcome) to achieve greatness is a way of generating interest in his story, and also has the benefit of being largely true. I won’t know which themes appear in Bill Bailey’s shows till I get a chance to watch them. As to points 1 and 2, Wallace has never been forgotten by history or science, but he has been forgotten by the general culture; and Wallace was not ill-treated by Darwin. I hope to return to this in later Wallace Year posts.


      • lanceleuven
        Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        I’d say Bill Bailey covers all those themes to be honest. But not to the detriment of the programme. It’s certainly worth the watch.

        I shall look forward to your future posts.

        • lanceleuven
          Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          In addition, Professor Coyne, it’s interesting that you mention there being a history of Darwin being misrepresented in that way. It makes me suspect that perhaps it wasn’t simply a decision by Bill Bailey in order to “sex up” Wallace’s story but simply him repeating what he’d been told/read. This makes his approach a little more understandable as after all he’s not a scientist. He’s simply an enthusiastic layman/TV presenter/comedian.

      • Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        Wallace himself never expressed unhappiness with Darwin’s treatment of him. In 1889, when he wrote a general book on evolution, what did he entitle it? Darwinism.

        • Posted May 2, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          The documentary was clear that Wallace wasn’t unhappy.


        • lanceleuven
          Posted May 2, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          It’s interesting you say that. I didn’t know Wallace had written a book on the subject too. Since watching Bill Bailey’s programme I’d began to wonder if it was Darwin’s book that had perhaps resulted in his notoriety. I’m aware of the whole Eclipse of Darwin era and I wondered if it was due to Darwin having written a convenient book to explain his ideas that meant that when the concept was rediscovered the discovery was (largely) attributed to him alone.

          • George Beccaloni
            Posted May 2, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

            I certainly believe your last sentence hits the nail on the head – it is a ‘theory’ I proposed a while ago and which is explained here: http://wallacefund.info/faqs-myths-misconceptions Any explanation has to take into account the fact that Wallace was one of the most famous people in the world when he died in 1913, yet was largely forgotten about except by a few, for a very long time.

            • microraptor
              Posted May 3, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

              Couldn’t that be said of most 19th Century naturalists other than Charles Darwin? I doubt that I’d be able to find too many people who aren’t biologists or ecologists who’ve heard of Thomas Huxley, Sir Richard Owen, or Alexander Von Humboldt in the US today.

        • Alektorophile
          Posted May 2, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

          I seem to remember that he also dedicated his “The Malay Archipelago” in “friendship” and “admiration” to Darwin. Wallace never felt ill-treated at all by the joint publication of their work, and always acknowledged that Darwin’s discovery of natural selection and his many years of accumulating evidence for it preceded his own insights into the matter.

          I haven’t watched all of Bailey’s documentary yet (I liked what I saw so far), so I can’t really comment on his handling of the matter. I did however recently listen to Bragg’s In Our Time episode on Wallace, and he seemed to be trying to push the notion that Wallace had been treated unfairly, in his usual irritating manner.

          • Posted May 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Exactly so:

            To CHARLES DARWIN,


            I dedicate this book,
            Not only as a token of personal esteem and friendship
            But also
            To express my deep admiration
            His genius and his works.


    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted May 3, 2013 at 2:50 am | Permalink

      I agree with you, lanceleuven. Both episodes were excellent, and well presented by Bill Bailey, but I share your feeling of unease. Bill did redress the balance somewhat at the end by quoting the dedication requoted by Ant. Whatever the truth of the matter it seems that Wallace was happy with the outcome.

      Although I know little of the full story behind this episode, It had always seemed to me that Darwin did a lot of plodding groundwork to back up his/their theory. Wallace’s work was amazing (and I had not realised before this series how much work he had done), but it seems to me that he arrived at the Theory largely by an intuitive leap, compared to the work done by Darwin.

      This is just my simple understanding, and I shall be happy to learn more and be corrected.

  3. Posted May 2, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I recommend the Bill Bailey documentary.

    But be quick, it’s only available on iPlayer until 8:59PM Sun, 5 May 2013!


  4. John Laughlin
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Bill Bailey’s piece on Wallace is available on YouTube John Laughlin Professor Emeritus of Religion Averett University, 1979-2011 laughlinjch@comcast.net 434-797-2093

  5. George Beccaloni
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Just to let you know that a group has been formed whose aim is to try to raise the money to buy Wallace’s house, the Dell, and use it for a heritage and study centre – see https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wallace-at-the-Dell/377260769055626 The Dell is not only interesting in that Wallace helped to design it, paying for it using the money he had earned selling specimens from the Malay archipelago, but it is also one of the first concrete houses in the world. I hope they manage to purchase it as it would be a great shame if it went the same way as the other two houses Wallace built..

  6. Ysaye
    Posted May 3, 2013 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed the documentary.

    In 2010 I visited Sulawesi, where I stayed with Bobby Lambaihang (Bill Bailey’s guide in the docu). Like Bill, we got to see a bear cuscus, as well as tarsiers and black crested macaques.

    The place is called Tangkoko Lodge:

    If anyone is interested, you can reach Booby at macaca_nigra[at]yahooco[dot]id.

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