Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
H. W. Bates, The Naturalist of the Amazons
(S446: 1892)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An obituary of Wallace's friend and co-Amazonian explorer Henry Walter Bates printed in the Nature issue of 25 February 1892. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S446.htm


    [[p. 398]] Henry Walter Bates was a native of Leicester, and was engaged in his father's warehouse when, about the year 1845, he made the acquaintance of Alfred Russel Wallace, then English master in the Collegiate [[p. 399]] School of that town. Bates was at that time an ardent entomologist, while Wallace was chiefly interested in botany; but the latter at once took up beetle-collecting, and after he left Leicester the following year kept up an entomological correspondence with his friend. Two years later Wallace proposed a joint expedition to Para in order to collect insects and other natural objects, attracted to this locality by the charming account of the country in Mr. W. H. Edwards's "Voyage up the Amazon," a choice confirmed by the late Edward Doubleday, who had just received some new and very beautiful butterflies collected near the city of Para. The two explorers sailed from Liverpool in April 1848, in a barque of 192 tons burthen, one of the very few vessels then trading to Para, and the results of their journey are well known to naturalists. They made joint collections for nearly a year while staying at or near Para, but afterwards found it more convenient to take separate districts and collect independently. Bates spent eleven years in the country, divided pretty equally between the lower and the upper Amazon, and he amassed a wonderful collection of insects. Returning home in 1859, he devoted himself to the study of his collections, and in 1861 read before the Linnean Society his remarkable and epoch-making paper on the Heliconidæ of the Amazon Valley. In this paper, besides making important corrections in the received classification of this group and its allies, he discussed and illustrated in the most careful manner the wonderful facts of "mimicry," and for the first time gave a clear and intelligible explanation of the phenomena, their origin and use, founded on the accepted principles of variation and natural selection. In spite of countless attacks--usually by persons who are more or less ignorant of the facts to be explained--this theory still holds its ground, and notwithstanding the constant accumulation of new facts, and its discussion by new writers, it has never been more clearly or more fully explained than by its original discoverer.

    So early as March 1860, Mr. Bates commenced a series of papers for the Entomological Society, under the title of "Contributions to an Insect Fauna of the Amazon Valley." These were at first devoted to the Diurnal Lepidoptera, and in one of them he gave a new classification of the whole group, founded chiefly on the structure of the legs, and leading to the conclusion that the Papilionidæ formed one of the lowest families, while the Nymphalidæ were the highest. This classification has been very generally adopted by entomologists, though there are a few dissentients, who hold that the principle adopted to determine the rank or grade of the respective families is an unsound one. Later on he wrote many papers on the various groups of Longicorn beetles; and finding that his circumstances and the time at his disposal did not allow him to keep up and study two such extensive groups as the Coleoptera and Lepidoptera, he parted with his fine collection of South American butterflies to Messrs. Salvin and Godman, and thereafter devoted himself exclusively to the study of Coleoptera. Later still, he almost confined his attention to the Carabidæ, on which important group he became a recognized authority. His largest works in this direction were his contributions to the "Biologia Centrali-Americana": Vol. I., Part I (Geodephaga); Vol. II., Part 2 (Pectinicornia and Lamellicornia); Vol. V. (Longicornia). A supplement to the Geodephaga has since been published in the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London for 1890 and 1891; and a supplement to the Longicornia was in course of preparation, but not finished at the time of his death.

    In 1864, he was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Royal Geographical Society, an appointment he held till his death. Besides editing the Journal and Proceedings, and carrying on an immense correspondence with travellers and others in every part of the world, he had practically the entire management of the large establishment of the Society, and the chief burden of the arrangements for the various meetings, as well as those for the Geographical Section of the British Association. There can be little doubt that it was the confinement and constant strain of this work that weakened his constitution and shortened a valuable life.

    When we consider the originality and clearness of exposition in his first great paper on "Mimicry," the accuracy and fulness of knowledge displayed in his systematic and descriptive work, and the power of observation and felicity of style which characterizes "The Naturalist on the Amazons," we cannot but regret that circumstances should have compelled him to devote so much of his time and strength to the mere drudgery of office work, and be thereby to a great extent debarred from devoting himself to those more congenial pursuits in which he had shown himself so well fitted to excel.

    His high reputation, both as a hard-working entomologist and philosophic naturalist, led to his being twice chosen President of the Entomological Society of London, first in 1869, and again in 1878; while he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1881. His somewhat rugged features, quiet, unassuming manners, and thoughtful utterance, must be familiar to all who have attended the evening meetings of the Royal Geographical Society during the last twenty-seven years. Rarely has any Society had a more efficient secretary, who not only carried on its work with accuracy and judgment, but also gained the respect and esteem of all who came in contact with him. He died on Febuary 16, at the age of sixty-seven.

A. R. W.


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