IN THE WAKE OF WALLACE
Anchored at the foot of Mount Gamalama Volcano on the island of Tenate, the Sea Trek fleet made preparations to celebrate the evening of November 7th, the day that marked 100 years since the death of Alfred Russel Wallace. Sea Trek, government officials, members of the royal family, and passengers on the upcoming“In the Wake of Wallace” cruises gathered for the centenary celebrations to commemorate f the life and work of this most incredible man. Thanks to the generosity of Sea Trek Sailing Adventures a troupe of dancers and musicians celebrated in style in the old house which was lived in by Wallace during at least part of his time in Ternate, the very town from which Wallace had sent his famous letter to Charles Darwin on the mechanism of evolution, bringing about a revolution in the world of science, and changing the very way humans thought of their place in the world.
A LIFE WORTHY OF RECOGNITION
Alfred Russel Wallace (8 January 1823 – 7 November 1913) was a British naturalist regarded as the pre-eminent collector and field biologist of tropical regions of the 19th century, like the ‘David Attenborough of the Victorian Era.’ Not content with mere collecting, Wallace was also an explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist, and writer; certainly one of the 19th century’s most remarkable intellectuals.
Unlike most of his Victorian contemporaries, Wallace did extensive fieldwork, initially four years in the Amazon River basin and then eight years in the Malay Archipelago, through some of the remotest parts of Indonesia. He was collecting specimens of insects, snails, birds and mammals for his own study and for sale to museums and private collectors. And though Wallace’s strange creatures sold for good money back home, the collection had a more profound value. Through studying the animals, Wallace hit on one of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries: the theory of evolution through natural selection.
From 1855, Wallace published a series of articles that came ever closer to declaring the theory of evolution through natural selection. In the midst of a malarial fever, on the island of Ternate in Indonesia, he had a moment of clarity, that many are born, lots die, and only a few survive. He sent an essay from the island to Darwin, who passed it to the great geologist, Charles Lyell, who then proposed it to the Linnean Society alongside an essay from Darwin. The theory of evolution was born.
A CHAMPION FOR CONSERVATION
Wallace’s interest in natural history resulted in his being one of the first prominent scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity. In other papers, Wallace laments the rate at which species are being forced to extinction, and makes one of the earliest calls for conservation. He likens species to letters that make up the volumes of Earth’s history, and their loss obliterating an invaluable record of the past.”Future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations,” he writes in the Malay archipelago in 1863.
THE FATHER OF BIOGRAPHICAL BOUNDARIES
Wallace’s thorough survey of wildlife led to another breakthrough in 1859, which would later bear his name as “The Wallace Line.” He noticed that although some islands in the archipelago were geographically close, the native flora and fauna were distinctly different. Wallace began to sketch an imaginary boundary dividing the Indonesian archipelago into two distinct parts. In the western portion, the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia. Wallace proposed the animals came from two ancient, larger landmasses, a Super Asia and a Super Australia.
Wallace’s observations clashed with the thinking of the day, that species were created for their particular environment, but based in sound observation and experience, Wallace wasn’t afraid to thinking outside of the scientific box. It is no wonder that Wallace is considered the 19th century’s leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is often called the “father of bio geography,” the study of how plants and animals are distributed.
THE KING OF UNCONVENTIONAL
Clearly Wallace was strongly attracted to unconventional ideas (such as imaginary lines and descending from apes.) In addition to his revolutionary scientific work, he was also a social activist who defended the rights of the lower classes and was critical of what he considered to be an unjust social and economic system in 19th-century Britain. 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, making significant contributions to subjects as diverse as glaciology, land reform, anthropology, ethnography, epidemiology, and astrobiology. His advocacy of spiritualism and his belief in a non- material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with some members of the scientific establishment, but he still managed to keep his reputation as a reputable man of science intact.
THE STAY IN TERNATE
Wallace ‘spent many happy days’ based on the volcanic island of Ternate. According to the descendant of the Sultan, Mr Ismunandar Syah, whose family has always lived in the Wallace house, Wallace lived and worked in one of the smaller rooms in this colorful little colonnaded home at the invitation of his royal ancestors. Although the house is still in use for Ismunandar and his family, the Syahs are overjoyed at recognizing the site and having an opportunity to have a focus for Wallace interest in Ternate.
Tony opened the evening’s ceremonies with a few words about the legacy of Wallace, followed by several local speakers (shown below.) The speeches closed with Dr Syaiful Bahri Ruray, the Chairman of the North Moluccas Parliament who has been a great fan of Wallace for 20 years and has been working to get him better known and appreciated. Significantly, he then announced that he expects local budgetary resources to now be available to establish a Wallace centre (library, exhibition) in the house.
Sea Trek presented the representatives of the Mayor with a plaque for the house which read:
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) – British traveller, biologist, collector and co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection – is said to have lived in this house during his stays in Ternate in the 1860s while exploring the islands of eastern Indonesia. Unveiled on the 100th anniversary of his death – November 7th 2013.
HE LAID DOWN HIS PEN, ONLY TO DIE…
Although Wallace was forced to leave school at 13 due to financial reasons, he eventually became a prolific author, authoring 21 books and some 750 papers not just on natural history, but also on topics as diverse as the identity of Shakespeare, vaccinations, spiritualism, railways, and socialism. His book, The Malay Archipelago,which has never been out of print since first published in 1869, is regarded as probably the best of all journals of scientific exploration published during the 19th century. It was even claimed as Joseph Conrad’s favorite bedside read. Tony Whitten presented the major government officials with copies of Kepulauan Nusantara, the large format Indonesian translation of The Malay Archipelago, which includes an Introduction that Tony himself penned for the Periplus English edition of the book,
THE LETTER FROM TERNATE
John Priebe, co-owner of Seatrek Bali, presented Mr Ismunandar with a copy of Tim Preston’s beautifully hand-printed book The Letter from Ternate as an early contribution to the house’s collection of Wallace collection of materials. The limited edition publication documents the correspondence between Darwin and Wallace while gracing the pages with beautifully printed illustrations and images. More information on Tim’s exquisite work can be found at: http://wallacefund.info/new-book-about-wallace-and-darwin-just-published
GONE, BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN
The history of science is littered with names overlooked, but few so much as Sir Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was was fêted and honoured in his day, and at the time of his death Wallace was probably the world’s most famous scientists. But since then his intellectual legacy has been almost completely overshadowed by Darwin’s. Here in Ternate, where he spent some of the most important days of his life, we are happy to give recognition and a grateful nod to a little known hero.
Many thanks to those who helped us sing words of praise for Wallace:
Dr. George Baccaloni and our friends at the A.R. Wallace Memorial Fund
Follow up on events around the world celebrating Wallace’s life and Legacy at “Wallace 100”
Book your own adventure to follow “In the Wake of Wallace” with Sea Trek Sailing Adventures.