Bill Bailey's Jungle Hero (2013) s01e02 Episode Script

Wallace in the Spice Islands

I'm travelling in the footsteps of one of the great forgotten heroes of natural history, Alfred Russel Wallace.
I first heard about Wallace when I was trekking through the jungles of Indonesia 15 years ago and I've been fascinated by him ever since.
I guess you could say he's the missing link in the story of evolution.
Wallace was the most prolific collector of the Victorian age.
He discovered 5,000 new species.
Wallace would have had you, mate! But he was so much more than just a bug collector.
Along with Charles Darwin, he came up with one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, the theory of evolution by natural selection.
They each made their discovery independently.
But unlike Darwin, Wallace came from humble origins and got there against all odds.
I'm Bill Bailey Ding, ding.
and I'm on an extraordinary adventure to show you how Wallace made this momentous breakthrough.
I'll be meeting curious creatures That was amazing! .
and immersing myself in the world of the Victorian explorer Look at this.
with a bit of traffic calming on the side.
That's it, come on.
I want to put Wallace back on the map, because Darwin wasn't the only one to discover the driving force of evolution.
It's a total injustice and I'm on a mission to get Wallace the recognition he deserves.
Alfred Russel Wallace set sail from England in 1854, destined for the little-known Malay Archipelago.
He would spend eight years exploring some of the thousands of islands that now make up Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
In his early 30s, he was an untrained bug collector, but he had big ideas.
His quest was to solve the great mystery of the age, the origin of species.
So far, I've retraced the first two years of his epic journey, which took him deep into the heart of Borneo.
Here, he discovered hundreds of amazing new species, including the first-ever - and fantastical - flying frog.
Wow! Look at that! And he'd published a scientific paper setting out his idea that all species evolved from earlier forms.
He still hadn't figured out what made it happen, but his travels so far had convinced him this was the clearest explanation for life on Earth.
It was like a keen amateur astronomer writing to Stephen Hawking, saying, "Dear Stephen, I've worked out the theory of everything.
"I await your prompt response.
" But his paper was ignored by the powers that be, including the great Charles Darwin, who dismissed it as nothing new.
So after two years of mud and leeches in the jungles, Wallace was more determined than ever to discover how evolution actually worked.
In January 1856, he left Borneo and sailed more than 3,000 kilometres via Singapore, Bali and Lombok to the island of Sulawesi.
Initially this was just a stopover as he ventured east, but the creatures on Sulawesi were so curious and unique, he returned a further three times.
This amazing island is where I pick up his story.
And with the help of my guide Bobby, I'm searching for a tree-dwelling creature that would become a key piece of his evolutionary puzzle.
So Bobby, how do you find a bear cuscus? Well, I can smell.
You can smell them? Yes, yes, I can smell.
The pee is very stinky.
The pee? Yes, very stinky.
Right, so it's a very strong, pungent smell, yeah? Very strong yes.
Oh right, OK.
See if you can sniff one out.
Oh, up here.
Just here, yeah.
Oh, yeah.
Got it.
You got it? Yeah.
That's the first time I've ever seen one of these creatures, a bear cuscus.
And they are quite extraordinary.
They're unique.
You only find them here in Sulawesi.
I've seen other kinds of cuscus throughout Indonesia but this one is the only one that moves around during the day so it's a lot easier to see.
His face resembles quite a cross sloth.
You knowsloths are quite benign, almost sort of sleepy-looking.
But these look just like they're angry about something.
And in fact these are supposed to be active during the day but, I mean, that's not really active, is it? I mean, he scratched his ear once, that's really at the low end of active.
What excited Wallace about this lazy cuscus is it's a marsupial, a relative of Australian mammals like kangaroos, that carry their young in pouches.
And these weren't the only Australian creatures on this island.
He also came across Australian birds like cockatoos.
Wallace was starting to see a pattern.
From his travels so far, he knew that on the western islands there were Asian animals, monkeys, orang-utans, elephants, and yet now he'd encountered Australian creatures.
To Wallace, this was compelling evidence that he'd sailed over some kind of frontier, which marked a meeting point of two great animal groups, Asian and Australian.
This dramatic boundary would become known as the Wallace Line.
It would take him years to realise the significance of this discovery, but it would become his greatest ammunition to challenge the established ideas of the church, and science.
And there's an animal here that can help me explain just what he was up against.
They live inside strangler fig trees and only emerge after dark.
Tarsiers have huge eyes.
Each one is bigger than its brain.
Aw! They look cute, don't they? Don't let the big eyes fool you.
These are vicious little killers.
That was amazing.
It came flying over my shoulder like a little gremlin shot out of a cannon.
I told you they were ruthless, vicious hunters.
The tarsier, nemesis of the grasshopper.
Victorian scientists believed all creatures were made by God.
So God would create tarsiers with big eyes and tarsiers would remain exactly the same, generation after generation, until their habitat changed and they went extinct.
Then God would create a new model of the tarsier, ideally adapted to the new environment.
This idea was called Natural Theology.
But Wallace thought differently.
And this was the big question - were they just the latest version of tarsier created by God, or had they evolved from smaller-eyed ancestors? Wallace was convinced that species changed gradually over time, and he was determined to prove it.
But the jungles of Indonesia were a punishing place to gather evidence.
Living in remote villages, Wallace had no choice but to go native.
So to get a sense of what life was like, Bobby's cooked me a dish that Wallace nibbled on while he was here in Sulawesi.
Right, so, Bobby, what is this? This is fruit bat.
Oh, right.
And what does that taste like, then? Just like rat.
BILL LAUGHS Oh, right.
It tastes like rat.
That wasn't exactly that helpful, but here goes.
All right, then.
Cheers, cheers.
Mmm! You know, if I'm following in Wallace's footsteps, he was offered a fricassee of bats in the local village.
You knowa lot of things.
He skinned a lot of birds and ATE a lot of birds and then once it got so bad, he actually said that, er, he had to make a small parakeet do for two meals, so you know, they were slim pickings.
But he was in remote parts of the world, he couldn't be picky about his food.
So neither can I.
Mmm! Couldn't trouble you for some HP Sauce? Ketchup? BILL LAUGHS That's about it, I guess! When he wasn't eating potential specimens, Wallace was sending them home to sell to museums and private enthusiasts.
Look at this.
I caught one.
And in August 1856, he sent a duck and a jungle fowl to a new and esteemed acquaintance, a certain Mr Charles Darwin.
Darwin had contacted Wallace out of the blue, asking for specimens to help with his studies on evolution.
Wallace was thrilled.
But to Darwin, Wallace was just one of many collectors assisting him.
Darwin was already famous for his voyage around the world on the Beagle.
He was wealthy, Cambridge-educated and connected.
Wallace was an outsider, whose feckless father had squandered the family money, forcing him to leave school at 14 and earn a living.
But their lives were on a collision course that would come to rock Darwin's world.
The longer Wallace spent on Sulawesi, the more it puzzled him.
The cuscus and tarsiers weren't the only curiosities.
So many bizarre creatures here were unique, found nowhere else in the world.
And it was on this very beach more than 150 years ago that Wallace encountered one of the strangest of all, Sulawesi macaques.
They really are quite odd-looking creatures, small, compact, jet-black fur, and as Wallace wrote, about the size of a spaniel.
They've got this strange hair and big foreheads and a permanent look of surprise on their faces.
They really are peculiar-looking creatures.
What? OK, so maybe there is a passing resemblance.
He wrote how they would stare at him in astonishment as he went collecting.
Ten o'clock, monkey incoming.
We've obviously attracted a bit of attention here.
We've got the whole family's turned up to have a look at us.
And they haven't lost that natural curiosity.
This one's just checking me out! I've obviously been accepted as part primate.
Wallace had encountered other species of macaques on his travels.
All were brown, and had tails.
But their cousins on Sulawesi were black and tailless.
And they had mohicans.
Wallace wanted to understand why these monkeys, and the other creatures here, were so different.
Something about this island drove species to change.
He was convinced the answer lay in the seas surrounding the island.
When he looked at his map, he noted that Sulawesi was surrounded by very deep waters.
Wallace believed these deep seas had imprisoned the animals on the island.
The creatures here had been isolated for millions of years.
This long period of isolation was the key to explaining the startling strangeness of the creatures here.
On Sulawesi, evolution had thrown up some bizarre-looking oddballs, which is true I suppose of any isolated rural community.
For Wallace, this was powerful evidence to support his view that species changed gradually over time.
Animals isolated on islands became distinct new forms.
Wallace was getting closer to figuring out the driving force for evolution.
To add to his excitement, eight months after dispatching the duck to his hero Charles Darwin, he received a reply.
Darwin offered encouraging words, but failed to mention he'd already discovered how evolution works.
In fact, he'd cracked it nearly 20 years earlier but hadn't published a word and had told only a few close friends.
Since returning from his Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin had settled into home life and had been sketching out his theory of natural selection.
But the years had gone by, and being such a perfectionist he was still reluctant to publish.
He needed more evidence.
So he took the advice of the eminent botanist Joseph Hooker and began an in-depth study of a whole group of animals to give his voice greater authority on the subject of species.
Darwin chose barnacles - small, manageable, perfect for the stay-at-home naturalist, and after eight years of painstaking work, Darwin was now the world expert in barnacles, as you would indeed hope to be.
But Darwin's friends in the scientific elite were getting jittery.
They feared he might be scooped to publishing his theory.
One of his closest allies was Charles Lyell, another wealthy scientist, Oxford educated and world renowned.
In 1856, Lyell urged Darwin to re-read the Sarawak Law, the paper Wallace had written two years earlier in Borneo.
In it, Wallace used the analogy of an evolutionary tree to explain how similar species are related through common ancestors.
Darwin could now see Wallace was onto something.
So he wrote him a letter that has been aptly described as a polite trespass notice.
I'll read you this section here.
"This summer will make the 20th year (!) since I opened "my first notebook on the question of how and in what way "do species and varieties differ from each other.
"I am now preparing my work for publication, "but I find the subject so very large that though I have written many chapters, "I do not suppose I will go to press for another two years.
"I have never heard how long you intend staying in the Malay Archipelago.
" Well, to me, in today's language, it's clear what this says.
"I've been working on this for 20 years, this is my patch - back off! "And by the way - don't hurry back!" For Darwin, the race to publish his theory was on.
He feared that Wallace, the lowly bug collector with no formal training, could beat him to one of the greatest scientific theories of all time.
Wallace, on the other hand, was oblivious to the fact he was even in a race.
He was simply delighted to be in correspondence with the great Charles Darwin.
But Wallace couldn't afford to spend his time theorising.
He had more pressing matters to deal with.
As a freelance collector, he was completely reliant on the money his specimens would make when sold to museums back home, and his funds were in a desperate state.
Wallace was skint, and unless he could find some way of earning money sharpish, he was going to have to return home, accept failure, which would have been a crushing blow, since he was so tantalisingly close to unravelling the origin of species, this mystery of mysteries.
Wallace took a huge gamble.
He decided to go in search of highly prized birds of paradise.
These birds held near mythical status.
Locals believed they'd descended from heaven.
If he could find them, he would make enough money continue his intellectual quest.
It was birds of paradise or bust.
And certainly no European had ever seen them in the wild, never seen their legendary dancing displays.
So for Wallace, this was a powerful double incentive - to be the first European to see these dazzling marvels of nature and to capture one, well, that would earn him a fortune back home, not to mention the huge boost to his reputation.
So for Wallace, the naturalist and the collector, finding birds of paradise was the ultimate prize.
What he couldn't have known was that the islands on which the birds lived would provide a major breakthrough in his understanding of the origin of species.
Like Wallace, I'm going in search of birds of paradise.
My quest is to find Wallace's standardwing, the species he described as his greatest discovery.
My search takes me 300 kilometres east to the volcanic island of Ternate, the heart of an ancient kingdom ruled by a sultan.
Before Wallace could begin his search for birds of paradise, he had to seek the sultan's permission.
I'm travelling there to do the same, and I can see why Wallace fell in love with this place.
Very little has changed in the times since Wallace was here.
Occasionally, the volcanoes will blow their top but other than that, this is the scene which would have greeted Wallace as he sailed towards Ternate.
Wallace describes the town as a tropical haven, surrounded by lush fruit trees.
These days, it's home to around 160,000 people .
most of them in one vehicle.
Ternate was Wallace's base for numerous collecting trips over three years.
Ho, hey! And the people here haven't forgotten him.
So before my appointment at the sultan's palace, I'm going in search of any reminders of his time here.
There's an alleyway named after him.
Well, it's better than nothing, I suppose.
And then something quite extraordinary.
Hah! Hah-ha ha! Wow! This is brilliant.
This is Wallace-based graffiti.
I don't think there's anywhere else in the world you would see this.
And this is academic graffiti.
Complimentary graffiti, and it's actually quite witty as well because it says, "Alfred Russel Wallace, ilmuan Ternate, kelahiran Inggris".
And that means Ternate scientist born in England.
The Ternate graffiti artists are claiming Wallace for their own.
So after a quick scrub-up and securing the only Panama hat this side of the Wallace line, I'm off to the palace.
Right, then.
Let's go.
In Wallace's day, the sultan of Ternate was an eccentric, one-eyed octogenarian who ruled over a vast swathe of islands stretching hundreds of kilometres.
If Wallace wanted to explore them, he needed the sultan's permission.
So he'd bring a gift to curry favour.
I've bought the sultan a tin of biscuits from Harrods.
I'm not sure whether that's an appropriate gift for a sultan.
It might be a bit rubbish.
He might normally get a speedboat or a helicopter or something.
So that could be a bit lame by comparison, but, umI dunno.
They are nice biscuits.
I mean, they're REALLY nice biscuits.
You know.
Eventually I'm summoned.
Please sit down.
Are you from the government, or? Me? No, I'm actually an actor.
HE SPEAKS IN LOCAL LANGUAGE You make jokes? Yes! Why don't you make jokes after this Yes, I was going to make .
with our mayor? THEY ALL LAUGH The first time Wallace visit Ternate, this is the place he comes.
Yes? This is the place.
He came here? Yes.
I see.
Do you think the people of Ternate, there is a sense of pride, they are proud of this Especially me.
Especially you? Uh, yeah.
Very proud about Wallace, what he has done.
They do not do that in England.
No! It's a pity.
It is.
It's a terrible pity.
It's an injustice.
Injustice, yeah.
I've never met a sultan before, but he seems like a decent chap so in front of his crown, I ask for approval to search for birds of paradise.
May we have your permission to explore the area? Yes.
Of course you can, I'll give you my letter.
So we just show them this letter and say the sultan Yes.
said it was OK? Is on duty from the sultan.
It was a little bit sort of formal at the beginning.
Everyone was standing around in this kind of phalanx and he's sitting on a throne.
It's slightly awkward talking to someone on a throne.
I felt like I was about ten years old talking to the headmaster about running in the corridors for the first five minutes and then sort of relaxed a little bit and then we talked about Wallace and he was very, very voluble and very kind of expansive about Wallace, which was brilliant.
With permission from the palace, I now need to find a seaworthy vessel to take me to the birds of paradise.
That will require some serious negotiation.
Wallace was short of money and on his many trips between the islands, he had to haggle with the local boat owners to get the best price, and that's exactly what I'm going to do with this chap over here.
I'm going to drive a hard bargain.
Except I'm a bit rubbish at haggling.
I'm liable to say, "Mm, that sounds perfectly reasonable," at the first price he suggests.
Wallace writes how it is absolutely necessary to offer very little, as the natives are never satisfied till you add a little more.
That's quite a lot.
I'm going to go in low.
Go 500,000.
BILL SPEAKS LOCAL LANGUAGE I've told him it's my birthday.
Sometimes works.
We settle on one million rupiah, about £60.
The old birthday trick - works every time! It's a two-hour crossing to the island of Halmahera.
Even today, if you're travelling around Indonesia, you're going to have to get on a little boat like this at some point and in Wallace's time he had no choice - this was the only means of transport between the islands and Wallace was terrified of boats.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
An anchor broke free, a crew would be stranded on an island for weeks at a time, rats would eat the sail, they encountered storms, tsunamis, even a venomous snake got on board.
Yet it's a measure of the man, he never complained, he stuck to his task, such was his determination and strength of purpose.
Wallace's obsessive collecting meant he was constantly island-hopping.
Over the eight years of his expedition, he sailed over 22,000 kilometres.
His findings supported what he'd seen on Sulawesi.
Isolated animals became new and distinct species.
Islands are natural laboratories for evolution.
By choosing Indonesia, with 17,000 of them, Wallace had chanced upon one of the best spots on Earth to study how species change.
But this was also a dangerous, lawless corner of the world, and his plans to find birds of paradise were scuppered by pirates.
They were part of the notorious Bugis tribe whose fearful reputation has led some to believe their name is the origin of the mythical bogeyman.
And he writes with typical Victorian understatement.
"The natives were of course dreadfully alarmed, "as these marauders attack their villages, burn and murder "and carry away women and children for slaves.
" Well, that would make you a bit tense, wouldn't it? I mean, can you imagine what it was like for him 150 years ago, out here in this remote part of the world, alone? The pirates were eventually captured and executed - so that told 'em! But Wallace was back on course for birds of paradise.
Like Wallace, I'm heading deep into the interior on a journey that will reveal more about this remarkable man.
I'm searching for his greatest treasure, the standardwing that, admittedly, doesn't sound that exciting.
Other birds of paradise have names far more befitting of their beauty, the red bird of paradise, the king bird of paradise, the superb bird of paradise, the magnificent bird of paradise, so the standardwing sounds a bit plain by comparison, just your basic wing, yes, like your standard wing.
It's misleading, because it's anything but.
The dugout canoes could only take Wallace so far.
After that, he'd have to hike miles on foot.
He wrote of one trek how the constant walking in water destroyed his shoes, and forced him to walk in his stockings, so he reached his jungle hut quite lame.
You know, this is quite amazing terrain.
We've just walked down a waterfall which actually, surprisingly, was not that slippy underfoot.
This is really the only way to do it - barefoot.
This is the kind of journey that Wallace would have made right into the interior to see these birds of paradise, and all I can say is, I hope they're worth it.
The best way to find birds of paradise is to search for their display tree, since they use the same tree every morning.
What about this one? And my guide, Janis, says he knows where the tree is.
That's it, that'sthat one there.
HE SPEAKS NATIVE LANGUAGE You sure? But I'm beginning to wonder - he might just be winding me up.
This one? HE SPEAKS NATIVE LANGUAGE What about this one? HE SPEAKS NATIVE LANGUAGE Well, this isn't going quite as well as I'd hoped.
But Janis assures me if I return the following day before dawn, the bird's raucous calls will guide me in.
So it's a very early start.
Well, it's been about a 20-minute trek into the jungle up this muddy path in darkness.
It's about 6 o'clock in the morning and the forest's really starting to come alive and I think the birds are very close so we're going to check them out.
And sure enough, the birds make themselves heard.
It's an extraordinary thing.
It's a real privilege to see these in the wild.
It's very, very rare to get this opportunity.
And in fact, since Wallace's time, they've only been spotted a handful of times.
To see one isjust an extraordinary, rare privilege.
All those months of hardship, the trekking, the boat disasters - all of that would have just faded away when he saw these birds.
It's incredible the lengths the males will go to to impress a female.
It's barely light and the jungle is full of their nasal barks.
All the males have their own individual call.
It's like they're trying to out-do each other.
It's like, "You've got a wark-wark-wark.
All right - I've got a WAURK-WAURK-WAURK!" Their name, the standardwing, comes from the long, white feathers that look a bit like military standards or flags.
For Wallace, seeing these birds of paradise - these entirely NEW birds of paradise - must have been an extraordinary culmination of his quest.
I mean, he came here to see these birds, to collect them, but to find an entirely new one, unlike any other bird of paradise, must have exceeded his wildest expectations and in fact he writes to his agent Stevens in a state of gibbering excitement, "I consider this my greatest discovery yet.
During his eight years away, Wallace collected five different species of birds of paradise.
He was the first European to see their wildly ostentatious displays.
As a collector, he knew they'd make him money.
But as a naturalist, birds of paradise filled him with a deep sense of wonder.
He wrote, "I thought of the long ages of the past, "during which the successive generations of this little creature "had run their course, year by year being born, and living and dying "amid these dark and gloomy woods, with no intelligent eye to gaze upon "their loveliness, to all appearance such a wanton waste of beauty.
"This consideration must surely tell us "that all living things were not made for man.
" And I totally understand what he means.
Having seen these birds in these dark and gloomy woods, they're just such a surreal and unexpected delight.
It's like stumbling across an ancient society performing a secret ritual.
But his search for birds of paradise also revealed a greater truth and his most powerful evidence to destroy the existing view of creation, Natural Theology.
As he explored further east around New Guinea, he noted more and more Australian animals.
Marsupial cuscus.
Flamboyant cockatoos.
Emu-like cassowaries and even kangaroos.
But these weren't ordinary kangaroos hopping around on the ground, these were a hundred feet up in the jungle canopy.
They were behaving more like monkeys.
And as Wallace noted, they weren't particularly well-adapted for climbing trees.
Well, large, hind legs, big tail - it's not ideal, is it? But Wallace wanted to know what on earth were they doing here.
According to Natural Theology, God made animals perfectly adapted to their habitat and climate.
So there should be just one set of jungle animals across the archipelago.
For Wallace, this was a conundrum.
Why were there monkeys in the jungles of Borneo, kangaroos in the jungles of New Guinea? The habitat, the climate were the same, but the animals were completely different.
Perhaps there was more than one god.
Perhaps there was a god for Borneo and a god for New Guinea.
But what about Sulawesi? That had its own unique set of oddities.
And why stop there? Why not thousands of gods, each creating feverishly away throughout the archipelago? The argument started to sound ridiculous.
For Wallace, it was clear.
Natural Theology did not have the answers.
In fact, it was crumbling under the weight of its own absurdity.
It was a bold, courageous claim to make.
That was Wallace - if the facts didn't fit, he wasn't afraid to speak out.
Now he had some explaining to do.
If Natural Theology couldn't predict the distribution of animals, then what could? Just as he'd found in Sulawesi, the answer came from the seas.
His maps clearly showed the sea depths across the archipelago.
In the east, shallow seas linked Australia, New Guinea and the surrounding islands.
And in the west, there were also shallow seas between Borneo, Sumatra and mainland Asia.
But in the middle, around Sulawesi, the waters were much deeper.
Wallace believed this was key to explaining distribution.
At some point in the recent past, areas linked by shallow seas must have been connected.
Suddenly, everything fell into place.
A distant ancestor of the kangaroo bounced from Australia to New Guinea when these two islands were one great landmass.
Cockatoos, cuscus and cassowaries did the same.
From the west, Asian animals like elephants, tigers and orang-utans worked their way over great land bridges linking the mainland, Borneo and Sumatra.
And when conditions changed, the creatures became trapped on islands.
But in the middle, the waters were so deep that there had never been land bridges.
Wallace suggested these islands were populated by castaways that had floated there on great rafts of vegetation, and because they were isolated for far longer, they had developed into more unique forms.
It was such a simple theory, but it explained all the patterns of animal distribution he observed in his years travelling across the archipelago.
And right down the middle, dividing these two great animal families, Asian and Australian, runs the Wallace Line and, to this day, it marks the most dramatic boundary of animal life on the planet.
To Wallace, this was also crucial evidence to explain the origin of species.
He now knew similar animals on neighbouring islands must share common ancestors.
But one great mystery remained - what drove species to change? By late 1857, Wallace was heading for Ternate in high spirits.
His prized birds of paradise had collected a staggering £1,000, the equivalent of tens of thousands in today's money.
Wallace could continue his expedition and for once, he travelled in style.
"At 6am, a cup of tea or coffee is provided for those who like it.
"At 7 to 8, there is a light breakfast of tea, eggs and sardines.
"At 10, Madeira, gin and bitters are brought on deck as a whet to the "substantial 11 o'clock breakfast, "which differs from dinner only in the absence of soup.
"Cups of tea and coffee are brought around 3pm.
"Gin and bitters again at 5.
"A good dinner with beer and claret at 6.
30, "concluded by tea and coffee at 8.
" BILL CHORTLES After months of hardship, when often he had nothing much to eat but the odd scrawny bird, this was sheer luxury for Wallace.
He wrote at the time in a rather matter of fact way of bouts of fever, being eaten alive by insects, dysentery, ulcers, pustules on his legs so bad he couldn't walk, but even through the Victorian understatement, it seethes with discomfort.
So here he was, for once treating himself, living like a lord, plenty of money in this pocket, he was on a high and judging by the amount of alcohol he put away, drunk out of his mind! Wallace arrived in Ternate in January 1858.
This was the first time he didn't have financial worries.
He'd earned time to think.
The question he asked himself was always the same - what drives species to change? But the good times weren't to last.
The months in the jungle had taken their toll.
Wallace fell desperately ill.
Vicious bouts of malarial fever kept him confined to his hut for weeks.
His body was weak, but his mind was racing.
Perhaps he was contemplating his own mortality.
Or maybe he was wondering why he had survived while others around him had not.
Whatever it was, something made him recall the work of the Reverend Thomas Malthus.
Malthus was a controversial scholar famous for his theories on human populations.
He believed numbers should increase exponentially, but are kept in check by a lethal combination of disease, accidents, war and famine.
Eurgh! Bleurgh! Argh! Eurgh! As his fever raged, Wallace had a flash of inspiration.
Surely these same controls must also act on animals? Suddenly the key question became obvious.
"Why do some live and some die?" Wallace's years of meticulous observation had shown him that in the struggle for existence, tiny variations matter and that even the slightest advantage could mean the difference between life and death.
The flying frog with the biggest feet would have a better chance of evading predators.
The tarsier with the largest eyes would find the most food at night.
The beetle with the most powerful jaws would best defend itself against rivals and the butterfly with the best camouflage would be more likely to survive.
Wallace wrote, "Then it suddenly flashed upon me "that this self-acting process would necessarily improve the race, "because in every generation, the inferior would inevitably be killed off, "and the superior would remain, that is, the fittest would survive.
" This eureka moment, this epiphany, changed for ever our understanding of the natural world and the way we see life on Earth.
This fevered flash of inspiration took place in February 1858, almost four years after his journey began.
Wallace knew immediately he had cracked it, the driving force for evolution - natural selection.
His constant search for patterns in nature, and his meticulous eye for detail, had finally unlocked the great mystery of the age.
Imagine you're Wallace for a minute.
You've just come up with possibly the greatest idea in the history of science, evolution by natural selection.
Thousands of miles away in London, fame and status await, the chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest scientific thinkers of the age.
To be accepted at last.
Well, what would you do? Most of us would get on the first boat and sail home into scientific stardom.
But not Wallace.
He wrote a letter to Charles Darwin, England.
He could have sent his theory straight for publication.
But he wanted a second opinion.
He had no way of knowing he was sending it to the only person in the world who had already come up with exactly the same idea.
And he just posted it off.
The theory of evolution.
One of the greatest thoughts ever to occur in the human mind, just popped it in the post.
And in the letter he wrote, "I hope this is as new to you as it is to me, and that it "would supply the missing factor to explain the origin of species.
" The missing factor? The key, the mechanism that explained the theory of evolution.
He just posted it off like it was a gardening tip and that's the true nature of Wallace, an innocent, naive maybe, but for him, fame was secondary to the love and appreciation of the natural world.
Wallace's letter took months to arrive in England.
When Darwin read it, it sent him into meltdown.
Here was the outline of his own theory, precise and clear.
A scoop on his decades of work.
Darwin contacted his close friend, the eminent geologist Charles Lyell, who'd warned him more than two years earlier to hurry up and publish before someone beat him to it.
Darwin wrote bitterly to Lyell, "Your words have come true with "a vengeance that I should be forestalled.
" He wrote of Wallace's paper, "I never saw such a striking coincidence.
"If Wallace had my sketch written out in 1842 he could not have "made a better short abstract.
" You could hear the despair in Darwin's voice when he wrote, "All my originality, whatever that may amount to, will be smashed.
" Lyell and distinguished botanist Joseph Hooker cooked up a plan.
They would present Wallace's Ternate letter along with two excerpts from Darwin's work never intended for publication.
And Darwin's name would be placed first, to ensure that he was seen as the originator of the idea.
Darwin agonised over it.
He called the whole thing a "trumpery affair" saying he would rather burn his whole book than he or any other man think he behaved in such a paltry spirit.
Yet in the end, he went along with it.
They never even asked Wallace's permission to publish.
The establishment weren't going to let their man lose priority, so they cooked up this connivance, which has been described at best as a delicate arrangement, or at worst, an ethically reprehensible cover-up.
The Darwin-Wallace Theory of Natural Selection was announced to the world in London in July 1858.
Wallace was still away searching for birds of paradise.
He didn't find out for another three months, when letters from Darwin and Hooker arrived in Ternate.
Just over a year later in 1859, Darwin's hastily written book On The Origin Of Species was published.
A new word entered the scientific vocabulary - Darwinism.
But it could have been very different.
What would have happened if Wallace had not sent his paper to Darwin, and had instead sent it straight for publication? Well, now we'd be talking about Wallace's theory of evolution.
To me it's clear.
Wallace was robbed.
And having travelled in his footsteps, the injustice now seems even greater.
My journey's taught me that Wallace really did get there against all odds.
Even today, the islands he visited are really hard to get to.
He was fearless, living with headhunting tribes and enduring incredible hardships.
But my expedition has also given me an idea of what drove him on.
The sense of adventure, of discovery and of sheer delight at the beauty of the natural world.
And it's that I think which I realise is what sustained Wallace throughout those long years of hardship and isolation and now I have an even greater respect for this courageous, unassuming and remarkable man.
Wallace's story doesn't end there.
When he finally arrived home in 1862, after eight years away, he was at last welcomed into scientific society.
He wasn't bitter about Darwin taking the credit.
For the self-taught amateur, it was enough to be able to walk tall amongst the great and the good.
And when he finally wrote up the story of his adventures in his superb travelogue The Malay Archipelago, his fame spread far beyond scientific circles.
And guess who he dedicated it to? Yeah, Charles Darwin.
"Not only as a token of personal esteem and friendship, but also "to express my deep admiration for his genius and his works.
" And when Darwin read Wallace's book, he wrote to him, saying, "That you have returned alive is wonderful after "all your risks and sea voyages.
"Of all the impressions that I have received from your book, the "strongest is that your perseverance in the cause of science was heroic.
" His book was an overnight success.
It is one of the greatest travel journals ever written, and incredibly has never been out of print.
In his lifetime, honours were heaped upon him, Including the Order of Merit from King Edward VII, the highest award bestowed upon a civilian.
Taxi! And when he died, he wasn't just a famous naturalist, he was one of the most famous people in the world.
So why has Wallace been forgotten? Is it just because Darwin wrote the big tome on evolution, and history favours one name over two? Or is there some other reason? It might just be me, but I sometimes wonder if, even today, there isn't a closing of ranks from the scientific establishment, keen to keep Darwin on a pedestal, and Wallace in the shadows.
I've had academics come sidling up to me and surreptitiously say, "If you want any information about Wallace, here's my business card.
" Like they're still wary of publicly giving Wallace his due.
But now, after years of championing his cause, and fittingly on the centenary of his death, it's my chance to put Alfred Russel Wallace back where he rightfully belongs.
When I first began my Wallace journey many months ago, I came here to the Natural History Museum, and whilst Darwin was pride of place in the Central Hall, Wallace was nowhere to be seen.
So tonight in front of a distinguished audience, including members of Wallace's family, I've been invited to unveil his portrait alongside Darwin's statue.
So hello, friends of the museum, fellow Wallace aficionados.
Thank you for being here tonight.
I hope that this visible presence, here in this magnificent building will spark renewed interest in Wallace's extraordinary life and works, and maybe as he did with me, inspire people to make their own voyages of discovery.
So welcome back to the Natural History Museum Alfred Russel Wallace.
APPLAUSE With Wallace back in his place, I can catch up with Sir David Attenborough, who saw me off on my journey all those months ago.
You've gone along Wallace's tracks for a long way.
I mean you, you've been most of his journey.
Yes, we did.
We saw actually one of Wallace's flying frogs in Borneo.
Oh, did you? I've never seen them fly.
What did you do, throw it up in the air and see whether it flew? He needed quite a lot of encouragement, and I thought, this really won't look very good if I just chuck him up in the air, so I sort of encouraged him, and he did, he leapt and glided through the air.
And some of the, the Sulawesi macaques as well, they were just extraordinary.
Oh, with the funny With the mohicans.
And um, I was accepted by the troop.
Oh, it's just something about you? I think it's something about me.
I think they saw a family resemblance, perhaps.
Anyway, great to talk to you and thank you so much.
Thank you.
Well, this is it.
This has been an extraordinary Wallace journey, started here, took me halfway round the world, and now we've come back full circle.
I can't help feeling a great sense of achievement and I know he was a shy and unassuming man, but I bet he would be thrilled to be back where he belongs.