Letters of Alfred Russel Wallace go online


Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace are credited for co-discovering evolution by natural selection in early 1858. But on one morning back in the summer of 1852, as Wallace had just finished his breakfast, evolution nearly went up in smoke.

Wallace was on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, relaxing in his cabin, when the captain strolled in and announced, perhaps too calmly: “I am afraid the ship’s on fire. Come and see what you think of it.”

Within a few hours, the vessel was on its side, engulfed in flames. Sitting in a small lifeboat 1,100 kilometres from land, with minimal supplies, Wallace almost fell victim to the very process he would later uncover — what we would today call survival of the fittest.

Thankfully, after ten days, Wallace was rescued by the Jordeson, a brig running between the West Indies and London. On arriving back home, he was overjoyed, writing to a friend: “Oh! Glorious day! … Beef steaks and damson tart, a paradise for hungry sinners.”

This episode is just one of many to emerge from Wallace Letters Online, launched today on the website of the Natural History Museum in London. It is a project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation based in New York city to track down and digitize Wallace’s correspondence.

Written By: James Poskett
continue to source article at nature.com


  1. In reply to #2 by aquilacane:

    So, who will write the screenplay? I’ll lose interest after figuring out a good title.

    I don’t suppose there’s any chance at all that Emma Darwin’s pet name for her husband was Gromit, is there? In the admittedly very unlikely event that she did call him that, I think I might have a title for you.

  2. how about “Parallel Evolution” ?? ( ok, so I am better at science than media studies, sue me).

  3. I think Wallace’s story would make a great movie. The largely self-taught genius who winds and stumbles up on one of the greatest ideas known to human kind. I’d watch it!

  4. Some great historical documents, now available for the wider public to view. History in the making!

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