Sea Trek and Friends Honor Alfred Russel Wallace in His Ternate Home


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.

Wallace pictured in his days in Waigeo (present day Raja Ampat, Papua.) On his table lies a freshly collected Bird of Paradise Specimen. The hut in which he stayed, pictured in the background has been reconstructed on it’s original site with the help of Sea Trek Sailing Adventures and the local villagers of Yenbesir.x


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.

The Perfectly conical Volcanos of Tidore, Ternate and Hiri line up along the coast of Indonesia’s Halmahera Island.  It is easy to see how Wallace would be stirred to protect the natural environment around him.


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.


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 house where Alfred Russel Walace stayed during his time in Ternate. The house is located on Jalan Sultan Babulla, close to the Sultan’s Palace in Ternate town.


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.



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 Whitten, Asia-Pacific Regional Director of Fauna & Flora International and featured expert for Sea Trek’s “In the Wake of Wallace” cruise kicks off the evening’s events with an introduction on the deck of the Ombak Putih.

This group of energetic, young, dancers prepares for the special evening’s entertainment.

Sea Trek Guests were welcomed to the Wallace house in style.

The guests are welcomed with the epic Soya-Soya Dance, which tells the story of the historic events of the struggle of the people of Ternate against the Portuguese colonial powers.


The first to speak, Tony Whiten tells his tale of Wallace in Ternate and the time he spent in this house.

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.

The keynote speakers of the evening, left to right: Ir Arief Gani, Expert Staff of the Ternate Mayor. Dr Syaiful Bahri Ruray. Chairman of the North Moluccas Parliament. Mr Ismunandar Syah, member of the Sultan’s family and caretaker of the Wallace House. Tony Whitten, Asia-Pacific Regional Director of Fauna & Flora International.

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.



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,



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:

After the ceremonies, all were invited to enjoy a wonderful buffet meal of sumptuous local specialties including spicy curries and fish dishes “Ikan Cabut Tulang.”


After dinner everyone is treated to the festive “La La” Dance”


Sea Trek guests cut the rug with local dancers before starting their adventures at sea.

The attendees of the evening’s festivities, including Sea Trek owners, guides and guests, Government Officials gather for a group photo. Everyone present felt lucky to pay homage to such a great man and be a part of a new established presence for Wallace in Ternate.

“Wallace is one of the most important figures of nineteenth-century biology and in character among its most admirable.” E. O. Wilson


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.


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