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Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) was an explorer and scientist best known for his ideas on natural selection and the theory of evolution. In some respects, Wallace is thought of as a ‘forgotten naturalist’, overshadowed by the success of Charles Darwin.

Initially a teacher, Wallace left England to travel in South America’s Amazon region and later throughout South-East Asia. During his travels, he procured massive natural history collections, many for the British Museum. These included 2474 specimens of birds and 123 of mammals from the Indonesian Archipelago. Other vertebrate specimens were destined for the then infant National Museum of Victoria. These were obtained by the museum’s director, Frederick McCoy, from John Gould, to whom they had been forwarded for resale.

Like Gould and Darwin, Alfred Wallace was a prolific author. One of his major publications, written jointly in 1858 with Charles Darwin, appeared in theJournal of the Linnean Society of London and considered the idea of natural selection. This cooperative work was an effort to expand on information Wallace had published previously, in 1856, in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Other publications reflected his ideas and findings through his researches in the Indo-Malayan and Indonesian archipelagos.

Among the birds collected in the Indonesian archipelago were many birds-of-paradise. One, the Red Bird-of-Paradise, is an inhabitant of rainforests of the western Papuan islands of Indonesia. Its spectacularly coloured flank plumes give the bird its common name. After obtaining the specimen from Wallace, Gould sold it to the museum as part of a larger series of zoological specimens.

Red Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisea rubra)
 Red Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisea rubra)

 Red Bird-of-Paradise (detail) (Paradisea rubra)

 Red Bird-of-Paradise (detail) (Paradisea rubra)

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Red Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisea rubra), collected by Alfred Russel Wallace
Registration No. B.21325
Image source: Museum Victoria

© Museum Victoria Australia