The Land of the Oran-utan

Written by John Wilson, Curator (Vertebrate Zoology), World Museum, Liverpool

This article was first published as a blog for National Museums Liverpool, 16 August 2019.

150 years ago Alfred Russel Wallace wrote about “the land of the orang-utan” and sent specimens to Liverpool.

2019 is the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Alfred Russel Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago: The land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise. A narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature.

Although best known as the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin, The Malay Archipelago firmly established Wallace as one of the greatest natural history explorers.

Title page of the first edition of The Malay Archipelago published in 1869, 150 years ago.

The Malay Archipelago is a vivid, first-person account of Wallace’s travels, studies and natural history collecting in Southeast Asia. During 8 years Wallace travelled over 14,000 miles and collected 125,000 specimens. Orangutans feature prominently in the book’s title, and chapter four is largely devoted to Wallace’s adventures with orangutans in Sarawak, Borneo.

Wallace wrote: “… one of my chief objects in coming to stay at Simunjon [a river in Sarawak] was to see the Orang-utan (or great man-like ape of Borneo) in his native haunts, to study his habitats, and obtain good specimens of the different varieties and species of both sexes, and of the adult and young animals. In all these objects I succeeded beyond my expectations, …”

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NatSCA Digital Digest

Welcome to the fortnightly digest of posts from around the web with relevance to natural science collections. We hope you find this useful and if you have any articles that you feel would be of interest, please contact us at

1. Blog: Night at the Museum, Uni Week


The next wave of young scientists have been on their feet this week showing us all their exciting research. Yours truly went down to the Natural History Museum, London to see how collections are being used right now.

Night at the Museum, Uni Week

2. Conference: NatSCA / SPNHC / GCG Conference, Cardiff 2014

22-28 June 2014


Time is running out to book your place for the Cardiff conference. If your team can spare you for that long it’s going to be a great week. You can book your place here.

3. Training: Taxidermy Seminar

18 July 2014
UCL Room G10, Chandler House, 2 Wakefield Street, London, WC1N 1PF


For folks that can get into London next month we have a great seminar lined up for you with seven speakers spanning a number of taxidermy-related disciplines. Book fast, spaces are limited.


4. Lecture: Indefatigable Naturalists. Wallace and Darwin on the Evolutionary Trail

30 July 2014
Flett Events Theatre, Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London


Professor of Biology Dr. Jim Costa discusses the life and works of naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. The annual Wallace lecture is organised by the NHM’s Wallace Correspondence Project.

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Compiled by Samuel Barnett, NatSCA Blog Editor