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Island Adventurer 



Exhibition Date:

From 30 Nov 2013


Hall B, Mezzanine Floor

Typical Time Required:

30 minutes

Exhibition Partners:

The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the NUS Faculty of Science



Forget the myth that evolution was discovered in the Galapagos Islands, it was actually discovered here in South East Asia! The great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) explored the Malay Archipelago (now Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia), between 1854-1862. Through his specimen collecting and field study of the rich biodiversity here, Wallace managed to identify and solve some of the most striking puzzles of biogeography, as well as to conceive of the theory of evolution by natural selection independently of Charles Darwin.

Created in collaboration with the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Science and Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, The Island Adventurer exhibition will focus on Wallace’s adventure in expeditions and field studies. To know that one could literally ‘follow in the footsteps’ of Wallace practically in our own backyard in Bukit Timah, can be a form of great inspiration to our youths! Who knows maybe the next ground breaking theory in Science can be a result of this…



Exhibition Highlights

Start of a New Adventure

Unlike most other Victorian scientists who were mainly armchair academics, Wallace chose to travel to the exotic and farflung (to them) islands of the Malay Archipelago, where he spent the next 8 years roughing it out in the field. Why was there a market for exotic specimens of natural history? This zone sets the stage for the adventure to come, as well as explains the state of Victorian science and society in Wallace’s time.

Wallace Who?

What was it about Wallace’s upbringing and circumstance that lead to his tenacity and self-sufficiency? How did Wallace end up in the Malay Archipelago? This zone introduces our hero, Wallace, and provides a summary of his life.

Wallace in Singapore

Wallace spent quite a bit of time in Singapore during his 8-year tenure in the Malay Archipelago. What was Singapore like during Wallace’s time? Where and what did Wallace collect while he was here? Are there any connections with Wallace that can still be seen today?

Wallace in the Field

Life on the field was tough! What kind of conditions did Wallace live and work in? What issues and interesting/dangerous situations did he experience? This zone recreates Wallace’s work environment (i.e. Wallace’s Hut) to allow visitors a chance to experience life as a collector in the forests of the Malay Archipelago in the 1850s. This zone also presents certain puzzling trends that Wallace observed amongst the animals/insects that he collected.

Crossing the Line

Based on the trends that he observed of Nature, what theories and concepts in evolution and biogeography did these observations lead Wallace to put forth? How did these lead up to the conceptualization of his crowning theory of evolution by natural selection? Did Darwin conspire to steal Wallace’s theory as his own, thus reducing Wallace to the masses of scientists forgotten by history? This zone aims to explain key concepts in evolutionary biology as well as to explore the drama and conspiracy theories between Wallace and Darwin.

Wallace and You

The discovery of evolution was very impactful. What are some of the many modern fields of science that arose in its wake? What are some new discoveries in these fields of science moving forward? This zone showcases relevant advances in scientific research, and reminds visitors to cherish and pay more attention to the nature around them.Back To Top


This exhibition was put together with the expert advice, kind contributions and generous support from the following Parties and Individuals:

Dr John van Wyhe
Historian of Science, with a focus on Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace 
Senior Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences,
Department of History
National University of Singapore
Dr Patricia Vickers-Rich
Personal Chair, Palaeontology, and founding director of PrimeSCI!
Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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