With today marking the anniversary of the first reading of Darwin and Wallace’s theories of evolution, here’s a rundown of the two fathers of evolution.
If you think evolution, you think Charles Robert Darwin. Born on 12 February 1809 he trained as a doctor but didn’t enjoy the experience at all. Via a degree in Theology at Cambridge University, Darwin found himself invited on a trip to South America aboard the HMS Beagle as his interest in the natural sciences was well-known.
While on the Galapagos Islands Darwin noticed that finches had different sized beaks depending on their diet, leading him to theorise that creatures evolved different body parts and shapes based on their diet, predators and competitors.
This theory took many years to shape but he was spurred into action after he was sent a paper written by fellow scientist Alfred Russel Wallace who had come up with a very similar theory. With Wallace abroad, Darwin presented the two papers to the Linnean Society, but it was artfully done so as to make Darwin’s appear the better.
After this, Darwin’s book: On the Origin of Species sold out its first print run and he went down in history as one of the most revolutionary thinkers ever.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Some might say that Alfred Russel Wallace is more deserving of a place in the history books. Ironically inspired by Darwin’s writings from his trip, Wallace took to the ocean, heading to Brazil to look for insects and animals of the Amazon.
He continued to travel around the world already believing in evolution and attempting to find evidence to support this theory. He found sufficient evidence to support his idea that environmental pressures caused creatures to change their appearance during his travels to the Amazon and Malay Archipelago and sent his paper to Darwin.
As he was still in Malay he could take no part in the presentation of the two papers, but records suggest that he bore no grudge against Darwin.
Despite being a naturalist himself and presenting a coherent argument for natural selection, his absence from the presentation meant that only a small percentage of people interested in the field will have heard the name Alfred Russel Wallace, the man who kick-started Darwin and the theory of evolution into action.