When Englishman Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species in November 1859, his theory of evolution by ‘natural selection’ made humans rethink their place in the world.
But was Darwin a fraudster who stole his ideas from Patrick Matthew – a relatively unknown Perthshire landowner and orchard farmer from the Carse of Gowrie?
Was it fair that Matthew a champion of the Dundee working classes was not taken seriously when, somewhat remarkably, he predicted the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster in a letter to his local newspaper, the Dundee Advertiser, 10 years to the day before it happened?
Dr Mike Sutton, a leading academic from Nottingham Trent University, will tell an audience at the Hutton Institute, Invergowrie, on Thursday March 17 why he believes a “great injustice” has been done.
The English criminologist will challenge the orthodox view that Darwin was the first to discover the process of natural selection.
Matthew first published his discovery in 1831, nearly 30 years prior to Darwin writing the ‘Origin of Species’.
But Dr Sutton has uncovered evidence that Darwin, who always denied plagiarism, must not only have been aware of Matthew’s work but borrowed from it heavily.
“What I would say to the Scots is that overall your nation has been punterised which means effectively treated as a dipstick for 155 years – through fallacies and myths,“ Dr Sutton told The Courier in an interview ahead of his lecture.
“I’m not doing this to peddle conspiracy theories, but Scots should weigh up the independently verifiable facts, versus the old un-evidenced stories about Matthew and Darwin for themselves. Newly discovered facts prove the Scots have got a new, neglected, science hero, and it shouldn’t be up to me to hammer this message home. I’m an Englishman after all!”
Born in 1790, on Scone Palace estate, Patrick Matthew went to Edinburgh University, before working the family farm in Gourdiehill, near Grange.
He, like many other farmers in the 19th Century, created large orchards, and this is where, it’s claimed, he discovered the process of ‘natural selection’.
In 1831, the farmer, orchard owner, grain dealer, and botanist authored ‘On Naval Timber and Arboriculture’ which contains the complete hypothesis of the theory of natural selection.
But Matthew, who was related to Adam Duncan, the 1st Viscount Duncan, was also a Chartist part of a working class movement for political reform.
With Matthew’s book, and general views about society, going against the religious and establishment interests of the time, the book was banned by Perth Library, so controversial was it deemed to be.
Now, Dr Sutton says his new evidence suggests that Darwin and his correspondent and claimed independent co-discoverer Alfred Russel Wallace “lied by pretending they had no prior knowledge” of Matthew’s work when publishing their individual papers with the Linnean Society in 1858 and Darwin his Origin of the Species in 1859.
Sutton claims both committed science fraud by plagiarising Matthew’s discovery and his name for it. Matthew challenged the originality of their work in letters to the press in 1860 and was roundly mocked.
Dr Sutton said: “Darwin alone is recognised as first to take his own discovery of the theory of natural selection forward, with many confirmatory evidences, convincing others of its veracity and importance.
“But in my lecture I will bring brand new and independently verifiable evidence which proves that instead of the 155-year-old and currently accepted story that Matthew’s ideas went unread before he brought them to Darwin’s attention in 1860, his 1831 book was read by at least 25 people because, it is newly discovered, they cited it in published literature.
“Seven of the 25 were naturalists, four of whom were well known to Darwin and Wallace and three of those four played major roles influencing and facilitating the work of Darwin and Wallace, and their influencers, before Darwin and Wallace replicated those original ideas in 1858 and Darwin did so again in 1859.”
Dr Sutton is reader in Criminology at Nottingham Trent University, where he teaches Hi Tech Crime and also Crime Reduction and Community Safety.
The award winning criminologist previously worked for 14 years as a senior researcher in the Policing and Reducing Crime Unit in the Home Office in London.
And yet it is “quite by chance” that he became interested in the history of the discovery of natural selection.
In the winter of 2013 he had been experimenting with various ways to search the millions of newly scanned books and other documents in the Google Books Library Project. He was doing that to try to check the veracity of long-accepted claims regarding the origination of words, terms and their associated concepts.
And it was through this research that he learned the prior-known fact that Patrick Matthew’s published research on natural selection being the origin of the species predated Darwin. And most significantly of all, he made his own “literally shocking” original discovery that contrary to prior knowledge it was read and cited by Darwin’s friends and influencers before Darwin replicated the idea and referred to it many times as “my theory”. Up to that point, Charles Darwin had been one of his heroes
Sutton first made the revelation public in his 2014 book Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s greatest secret, and has continued researching since.
“My basic argument for Matthew being more important than Darwin or Wallace,“ added Dr Sutton,“ is that not only was he proven first to discover and publish the full theory of natural selection, his work in fact was read by other naturalists – moreover naturalists known to Darwin and Wallace who influenced and facilitated their work and that of their influencers – namely Loudon, Selby and Chambers – all years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859.
“Further research makes the case for more-likely-than-not pre-1858 for Matthewian knowledge contamination of the work of Darwin and Wallace
“In sum, Darwin may have found many confirmatory examples to confirm Matthew’s prior published original hypothesis of “the process of natural selection”, but no amount of confirmatory evidence gathering can ever transmute a prior published original idea into your own.”
Of course, it’s Charles Darwin who appears on the back of the English £10 note.
But Fiona Ross, chair of The Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group which has organised Thursday’s lecture, revealed that a dream of Matthew’s descendants would be to see his portrait on a Scottish £10 note.
Would that help resolve a deep rooted injustice that many now feel is long overdue?
*For ticket information on the Invergowrie lecture contact Fiona Ross via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07788 740709.