Discover life and work of overlooked evolutionist at Oriel y Parc

An exhibition featuring the ground-breaking work of a remarkable Welshman, who discovered the process of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin, has gone on display at Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre in St Davids.

Wallace: The Forgotten Evolutionist? will focus on the forgotten figure of Alfred Russel Wallace, one of leading evolutionary figures of the 1800s who was once described as ‘the last of the great Victorians.’

Alfred Russel Wallace  George Beccaloni.
Alfred Russel Wallace © George Beccaloni.

Wallace was many things; an intrepid explorer, a brilliant naturalist, a social activist and political commentator, who died in 1913 at the age of 90. Some fabulous natural history specimens from Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales - including bugs, butterflies, birds and more – will highlight the work of this extraordinary man.

Bryony Dawkes, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales Partnership Projects Curator, said: “We’re so pleased to be able to once again show this exhibition, which was first on display at National Museum Cardiff in 2013 - Wallace’s centenary year.

“To complement the exhibition, there will be a new display of work by Graham Sutherland, showing how the natural history and geology of Pembrokeshire was such an important influence on his work from the 1930s onwards.

“Wallace was also one of the first scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity - a theme that is brought bang up to date in the work of current Artist in Residence at Oriel y Parc, Mike Perry, in his Môr Plastig series, which is on display at Oriel y Parc until 17 April.”

Born in Llanbadoc near Usk in 1823 and educated in Hertford, Wallace returned to Wales in 1845 and spent a number of years in the Neath area as an architect and surveyor. It was during this period his passion for natural history really developed, influenced by the writings of great naturalists such as Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell and Robert Chambers.

This inspiration led Wallace to embark on a great adventure, travelling to Brazil to explore the Amazon and collect specimens accompanied by fellow naturalist Henry Bates.

His intention was to sell some of the insect and animal specimens to collectors back in the UK, but disaster struck and when the ship he was on caught fire and sank, taking with it the majority of his collection.

Back in London Wallace penned a number of academic papers and books which allowed him to return to his travels. From 1854 to 1862 he travelled through the Malay Archipelago, a trip that was to significantly drive and further shape his thinking, not only on evolutionary theory, but about the geographical distribution of animals now known as biogeography.

In 1858 he sent an article outlining his ideas on evolution to Darwin, which ultimately led to the joint presentation of both their papers to the Linnean Society and the birth of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Natural history specimens including bugs, butterflies and more  will highlight the work of Alfred Russel Wallace.  National Museum of Wales

Natural history specimens including bugs, butterflies and more – will highlight the work of Alfred Russel Wallace © National Museum of Wales

Wallace became a renowned part of the scientific establishment and although he struggled financially he continued to publish widely and had always been strongly attracted to unconventional ideas.

In later life his advocacy for Spiritualism strained his relationship with much of the scientific establishment. He was also a social activist and had been influenced in his early years by notable social reformers such as Robert Owen.

Wallace: The Forgotten Evolutionist? will be on display at Oriel y Parc until 25 November 2015.


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