Astronomy in Leicestershire title image

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913)

Alfred Russel Wallace is best known as a naturalist, and for his work on evolution by natural selection. Amongst the books he wrote is Man's Place In The Universe, 1903.

Alfred Russel Wallace, age 24, in 1848.
Alfred Russel Wallace, age 24, in 1848.
(From Wikimedia Commons)
The Collegiate School in 1840.
The Collegiate School in 1840

During the years 1844-5 Wallace taught surveying and drawing, amongst other subjects, at the Collegiate School, near Leicester Railway Station.

He wrote of visiting Bradgate Park for picnics with the Collegiate School and collecting plants and insects. (My Life, Vol I, p238)

The Collegiate School in 2013
The Collegiate School in 2013
New Hall, site of the Mechanics Institute
New Hall, used by Leicester Mechanics' Institute.

In 1844 Wallace met Henry Walter Bates (1825–1892) by chance, in the Library of the Mechanics' Institute.

In his own account of his life, Wallace writes of the library in Leicester, and appreciating having time and opportunity for reading. There was no free public library in the town in the 1840s. The Town Library in the Guildhall was neglected. The naturalist Henry Walter Bates spent what leisure time he had at the Mechanics' Institute (Moon, 1976) which had a library. This had 1,800 volumes at the end of 1841 and nearly 2,600 by the end of 1846 (Lott, 1935, p11).

Plaque commemorating Wallace and Bates at New Walk Museum, Leicester.
Plaque at New Walk Museum.

The plaque commemorates Wallace and Bates and mentions their expedition to the Amazon in 1849.

Citing his meeting with Bates, and reading Malthus' Principles of Population at the library, Wallace wrote, "My year spent at Leicester must, therefore, be considered as perhaps the most important in my early life." (My Life, Vol I, p240)

Sketch by Wallace of a village near Leicester.
Sketch by Wallace of a village near Leicester, 1844.

From: My Life, 1905

The village is not named.

Man's Place In The Universe

In this book Wallace writes of the chances of finding live elsewhere in the universe. He comes to the conclusion that Earth is the only planet with life.

Title page of 1908 edition of Man's Place In The Universe

Diagram of Milky Way in 1908 edition of Man's Place In The Universe


Lott, F. B., The Story of the Leicester Mechanics' Institute, 1833-1871, W. Thornley & Son, 1935. p8, Bates mentioned

The Midland counties' railway companion..., 1840. p88, ad p17 in supplement

Moon, H. P., Henry Walter Bates, FRS, 1825–1892, Explorer, Scientist and Darwinian, Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Record Service, 1976.

Raby, Peter, Alfred Russel Wallace, A Life, Princeton University Press, 2001.

Story of Leicester - Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 -1913)

Wallace, Alfred Russel, Man's Place in the Universe, 1903. - online version.

Wallace, Alfred Russel, My Life, 1905. Time in Leicester: Vol I. pp230-


The Alfred Russel Wallace Website

A walk through Bates' and Wallace's Leicester


Last updated 29th June, 2013.

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