Darwin Seminar

Wallace's Paper (1858) came to Darwin's House This Way

From Ternate to London

Wallace finished his "Ternate paper" (to become part of the Joint Paper, later) in February 1858. His letter to Darwin, together with this paper was sent to Darwin on March 9; it arrived in Batavia on March 25, then went to Singapore. There are two possibilities: it departed from Singapore either on April 7, or on April 21. Then it went through Calcutta, Suez, Alexandria, and Malta. At Malta, letters and packages are divided into two groups, light and heavy, and light letters go to Marseilles, and go to London by train; this is the faster route. On the other hand, heavy packages go by boat to the Atlantic Ocean (via Gibraltar) and arrives at Southampton, and they go to London. Wallace's letter was of course light. J. L Brooks found these facts, based on the postal records.


Via the Indian Ocean, to Suez and Alexandria

From Alexandria to the Malta. At the Malta Island, letters and heavy packages are divided into two different routes: the light goes to Marseilles, and then by train to London and other cities in Europe; the heavy, by boat, to Southampton.


Now the crucial point: the light letters should have reached London either May 14 (if left Singapore on April 7), or May 28 (if left Singapore on April 21). Correspondingly, heavy packages should have reached London either May 20 or June 2. Wallace's package to another person (sent at the same time as his letter to Darwin) reached the person on June 3, and this was confirmed by H. L. McKinney.

What did Darwin say? He consistently said he recieved Wallace's letter on June 18. Now the question is: why did he lie? Darwin's letters to Hooker etc. clearly show his anxiety for the priority.


Brooks, J. L. (1984) Just before the Origin, Columbia University Press.


Last modified, October 25, 2002. (c) Soshichi Uchii