Sunday, July 14, 2013

Wallace and the Sarawak Law

ON Nov 1, 1854, Alfred Russel Wallace arrived in Kuching after a brief spell recovering from a shipwreck on his return to England following his explorations of Brazil between 1848 and 1852.

In 1855, after just a year in Sarawak as the guest of Rajah James Brooke, he wrote a paper in only three evening sessions, while staying at a government lodge in Santubong, entitled ‘On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species’. This was later known as the ‘Sarawak Law’ and was published in September 1855 in ‘The Annals and Magazine of Natural History in London’. In it he declared that, “Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with closely allied species.”

Wallace frequently led expeditions along the Sarawak River to Santubong and into the Chinese-owned goldfields and coalfields near Bau and Simunjan. January 1856 saw Wallace’s departure from Borneo as he moved on to Sulawesi Island, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Singapore before returning to London in 1862.

In 1856, the eminent British geologist Sir Charles Lyell persuaded Charles Darwin to read the ‘Sarawak Law’!

November 2013 will be the centenary of Wallace’s death and he is being remembered worldwide as we follow ‘The Wallace Trail’. The second international conference on Wallace will be held by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) and the Sarawak Museum on Nov 7-8.

Equally exciting is the recent report in this paper that the Sarawak Museum will open a Wallace Gallery by the end of this year. AR Wallace Memorial Fund had promised to contribute a bust of Wallace for the gallery and this was officially handed over at the end of last month.

Charles Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey in London and the Natural History Museum boasts a grandiose statue of him. Wallace, as requested, was buried in his local churchyard at Parkstone, near Poole, in Dorset on Nov 10, 1913.

At 86 years old, and only four years before he died, Wallace was interviewed by a magazine reporter at his home in Dorset. The reporter described Wallace as “a mid-Victorian giant who, in spite of his six-and-eighty years, retains his intellectual strength and a measure of physical strength which would do credit to any a man of half his age. The Malaysian habitat has been exchanged to a many-gabled warm brick house on the southern coast”.

During his travels in Sarawak, Wallace reported in his book, ‘The Malay Archipelago’ – published in 1869 – that he was “a confirmed durian eater – a fruit reckoned to be superior to all others”. One of his converts to durian was a young English naturalist, Charles Allen, who accompanied him on many of his specimen collecting expeditions.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Wallace and the Sarawak Law