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Wallace, Alfred Russel in correspondent 
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Text Online
From:
Alfred Russel Wallace
To:
Richard Spruce
Date:
[19 Sept. 1852 - 5 Oct. 1852]
Source of text:
  • Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/24
  • University of Dundee: UR-SF 2/17/2
  • Wallace, A. R. (1908). In: My Life: a Record of Events and Opinions (2nd edition). London: Chapman & Hall. [pp. 151-160]
Summary:

Describes the disastrous burning and sinking of the "Helen" off Brazil, loss of his collections, ten days in lifeboat almost starving, rescue and return to London via a passing vessel 200 miles from Bermuda, insurance coverage for lost collections. On 6th of August, the captain said “I am afraid the ship’s on fire.” Crew spent a whole day tearing apart cargo seeking its source, but too late to save the ship. All boarded two leaky life boats, which required constant bailing. Still weak from illness; skinned his hands descending rope into boat. ARW salvaged only a small tin box containing drawings of fish and palm trees, his watch, and a few sovereigns. “The reward of my four years of privation & danger was lost.” Kept near the ship as it burned for days, hoping they would attract a rescue vessel; eventually were picked up near Bermuda. Return to England took seventy days, more than double the original passage to South America. Barely survived on meager rations of biscuits and raw pork. Update note October 1st: Arrived at Deal. “Oh! glorious day!...beef steaks & damson tart, a paradise for hungry sinners.”

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Richard Spruce
To:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Date:
10 October 1852
Source of text:
Natural History Museum, London: NHM WP1/3/25
Summary:

Describes chaotic political situation in Barra; “the President went away & left no one in charge of the state.” Officials have sucked all the money in the Treasury. Worst season of year; no collecting; living on very meager food. Will stay 12 or 15 months although it’s very difficult and is unhappy “buried in forest.” Disturbed by unsettling news of problems in England received via London papers; voyage by river from San Gabriel to San Jeronimo; collecting specimens of ferns; plans to travel with Agostinho; problems with lazy, incompetent Indian servants; wants news of whether Sir Robt Humbugck [sic: Schomburgk] has published on vegetation of Rio Negro.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project
Text Online
From:
Alfred Russel Wallace
To:
[unknown person]
Date:
19 October 1852
Source of text:
Wallace, A. R. (1852). [LTTE from Alfred R. Wallace concerning the ship fire, dated 19 Oct. 1852]. Zoologist : 10 (119): 3641-3643
Summary:

Account for publication of “unfortunate accident that took place on my voyage home from South America.” On 2 July retrieved collection of birds, insects, reptiles, and fishes that had been left at Para while I traveled upriver. On 12th of July embarked in the “Helen” for London, still suffering from fever, with my collections and some live monkeys and birds. On 6th of August “smoke was discovered...and soon filled the cabin;” ship burst into flames and we had to abandon it for life boats. Natural history collections and live animals were completely lost; we steered for Bermuda, 700 miles away. After ten days at sea, almost starved, we were rescued by passing ship 200 miles off Bermuda. . Only things I saved were “my watch, drawings of fishes,” and some notes and journals. Had packed 50-foot leaf of Jupate palm (Oredoxia regia). Mr. Spruce and Mr. Bates were fine when last seen.

Contributor:
Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project