support his brother. Alfred became a schoolmaster in Leicester, a market town in the English midlands. In the town library he read Humboldt’s story of his South American journey and met a fellow naturalist, Henry Bates. The two became friends and, like Humboldt and Bonpland half a century earlier, began looking for expeditions. They settled on a journey up the Amazon. Amazonian nature was unexplored, and they could finance the trip by selling the specimens they bagged to museums and collectors in London. The two left England in April 1848.
Wallace and Bates did make epic journeys in South America, but separately. No one knows why, but they parted company a few months after reaching Brazil. Wallace spent the next 4 years (Bates stayed for 11) traveling throughout Amazonia, going farther upriver than any previous naturalist, living with native tribes, and, with gun and collecting jar always at the ready, snaffling every species that crossed his path. He sent back regular shipments of beetles, butterflies, birds, alligators, monkeys, plants, and fish, to be sold by his London-based agent.
The trip, however, ended in a series of disasters. Alfred’s younger brother Herbert, who had come to Brazil in 1849 to join Alfred and pursue his own career as a collector, died of yellow fever in June 1851. Alfred suffered recurrent bouts of fever, some so bad he feared they would kill him (he would carry malaria for the rest of his life). And three weeks into the voyage home, after leaving Brazil in July 1852, his ship, the Helen, caught fire and sank. Wallace and the crew spent 10 days in a small boat, eking out what little food and water they had, before a passing ship came to the rescue. Alfred had lost his journals, his drawings, a small menagerie of live animals, a commercial collection that he estimated to be worth £500, and his personal collection, containing “hundreds of new and beautiful species, which would have rendered my cabinet … one of the finest in Europe.” All that survived was one parrot that had made it off the burning ship.
Wallace had hoped to return to London with a collection that would secure his financial future and make his scientific name. As it was, he could only be grateful that his agent had insured the lost specimens. There was nothing to be done except set off for the tropics again. Eighteen months later, in January 1854, he went east. Wallace spent the