For most people only one name is associated with the theory of natural selection – a certain Charles Darwin.
Little do they know, however, that British naturalist and Sussex resident Alfred Russel Wallace was the catalyst for Darwin’s theory.
Now campaigners hope to mark the centenary of his death by bringing him back to public acclaim.
It was in 1854 that a 31-year-old Wallace travelled to Singapore with the aim of collecting wildlife specimens to sell back in London.
Evidence Eight years later museums and wealthy collectors awaited his arrival home in the hope that he would be laden with lavish foreign goods.
Dr George Beccaloni, who works at the Natural History Museum and founded the website wallacefund.info, said: “He originally set out for the Amazon in 1848 looking for a theory on how things evolved. He did go to collect various items, but Wallace’s main concern for the trip was to seek evidence for evolution and attempt to discover its mechanism. He set off for Asia following that.”
It was during this trip that the artist, explorer and biologist amassed a bizarre collection of insects and birds that he planned to sell. The trip proved valuable in another way. Through studying the animals over the period of his travels he set on the road to reveal one of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries: the theory of evolution through natural selection.
Dr Beccaloni said: “When he died in 1913 he was probably the most famous scientist in the world. As time passed his name dropped out of the limelight because people didn’t accept natural selection as being the true explanation of evolution. Darwin is now attributed with the credit but it should be 50/50.”
His work on the theory is now available for the first time in a web project directed by John van Wyhe, a historian at the National University of Singapore. Called The Wallace Online Project, Wallace’s insight into evolution and biodiversity, his paintings, drawings, books and articles are all available in one central hub.
Wallace lived in Hurstpierpoint from 1867 to 1868. Today a plaque sits proudly outside Treeps, marking his achievements and date of residence.
Dr Beccaloni wants to raise £40,000 to build a bronze life-size statue of Wallace, which is to be unveiled in January 2013 at the Natural History Museum in London. To make a donation visit wallacefund.info.
Funds for the project have been donated by an anonymous American and the work is published in time for the 100th anniversary of Wallace’s death next year.