Our library trainee, Marc, blogs about the display he and Elisabeth Thurlow have curated on Alfred Russel Wallace, and looks at some of the connections between this eminent naturalist and Kew
To commemorate the centenary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s death, we have a new small display in the Wolfson Rare Books Room prepared by this year’s Library and Archive Graduate Trainees. Showcasing material held in Kew’s collections, the display charts the long relationship between the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, providing a view of this distinguished and hard working self-taught naturalist.
Portrait of Wallace from Kew's Art collections
Alfred Russel Wallace was born 8th January 1823, and eventually become apprenticed to his brother as a surveyor. Whist working as a drawing master at the Collegiate School in Leicester, he befriended noted entomologist Henry Walter Bates . They later exchanged letters, discussing the works of travelling naturalists, and developing a desire to make their own journey of exploration.
Deciding on the Amazon as a destination and carrying a letter of introduction from William Hooker, Wallace and Bates set out to explore the area. After parting ways with Bates in 1849, Wallace’s expedition from 1848-1852 allowed him to amass a large collection of material, assisted at times by botanist Richard Spruce. A shipwreck whilst on the return journey home destroyed all of it, save a few small items. Upon his return, Wallace spent two years recovering from the ordeal before leaving for another expedition to the Malay Archipelago. While there, he independently came up with the idea of natural selection, providing a mechanism for evolution, giving him an equal standing with the other author of the theory, Charles Darwin.
To mark the centenary of his death in 1913, we have created a display to detail the connection between Kew and Alfred Russel Wallace. The collection Kew holds of Wallace material, covering a period of 65 years, spans the leadership of four of Kew’s earliest directors. Wallace was a constant visitor to the Gardens and even corresponded with Kew for help in developing his own garden, once he had settled back in England. Whilst on his expeditions, Wallace sent many botanical specimens to Kew, including some from the Amazon, which were dispatched prior to Wallace’s return to England.
Kew's display, showing one of the fern specimens collected in Borneo
We hope you can find the time to come visit us in the Library and have a look at our display, which is on until the 20 May 2013. The display includes rare letters and publications, photographs, plant artefacts and specimens, including one of the few surviving Amazon specimens. The Library is based in the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives building on Kew Green. Entry is free and we are open Monday-Friday, 09.00-17.00. Afterwards, should you wish to know more, Kew holds a number of his publications and 135 letters from Wallace to Kew in its Library and Archive collections. The letters were sent along with many botanical specimens, which are now held in the Herbarium. Some objects are also held in Kew’s Economic Botany collections.
Some of the publications in the display
This display joins many others as part of the Wallace100 events being run this year in association with a number of other organisations. An events calendar can be found on the Natural History Museum’s Wallace page.
Letter, portraits and publications in the display
- Marc -
- Read the blog post by Kew's palm expert, Bill Baker, on Wallace to find out more about a culinary connection between botanists past and present
- For further information on Wallace, visit the Alfred Russel Wallace website
- To discover further Wallace-related events, visit the Natural History Museum's Wallace100 pages
- For further information about Kew's LAA collections, or the display, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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