Letter (WCP357.357)


Septr. 30th. 1854.


My dear Mother1

I last wrote to you from Malacca [Melaka] in July. I have now just returned to Singapore after two months hard work.

At Malacca [Melaka] I had a pretty strong touch of fever2 with the old Rio Negro symptoms, but the Government doctor made me take a great quantity of quinine every day for a week together & so killed it, & in less than a fortnight I was quite well & off to the Jungle again. I see now how to treat the fever, & shall commence at once when the symptoms again appear. I never took half enough quinine in America to cure me.

Malacca is a pretty place & I worked very hard. Insects are not very abundant there, still by perseverance I got a good number & many rare ones. Of birds too I made a good collection. I went to the celebrated Mount Ophir [Gunung Ledang] and ascended to the top. The walk was terrible 30 miles through jungle, a succession of mud holes. My boots did good service. [2] We lived there a week at the foot of the mountain in a little hut built by our men, & I got some fine new butterflies there and hundreds of other new & rare insects. We had only rice & a little fish & tea but came home quite well. The height of the Mountain is about 4000 feet — Near the top are beautiful ferns & several kinds of fir trees of which I made a small collection. Elephants & Rhinoceroses as well as Tigers are abundant there but we had our usual bad luck in not seeing any of them.

On returning to Malacca [Melaka] I found the accumulations of two or three posts a dozen letters & fifty newspapers — my watch & pins &c from Mr Stevens.3 I had letters from Algernon4 & my Uncle.5 The latter wants me to visit Adelaide, the former wants to visit me but is afraid he cannot manage it. Your letters contained much news. Mr Sims6 come to London is a miracle. You do not say whether any of you have been to the Crystal [3] Palace7 yet. Even G[eorge]. S[ilk].8 who admires nothing says it is indescribable.

I am glad to be safe in Singapore with my collections as from here they can be insured. I have now a fortnights work to arrange, examine, & pack them & then in four months hence there will be some work for Mr Stevens.

Sir James Brooke9 is here. I have called him. He received me most cordially, & offered me every assistance at Sarawak. I shall go there next, as the Missionary does not go to Cambodia for some months. Besides I shall have some pleasant society at Sarawak, & shall get on in Malay which is very easy, but I have had no practice — though still I can ask for most common things.

My books & instruments arrived in beautiful condition. They looked as if they had been packed up but a day. Not so the unfortunate eatables. We were all [4] very stupid to pack them up in a basket at all. Nothing but tin cases10 will preserve such things. The pudding and twelfth[?] cake were masses of mould & insects, quite useless. The covers of the jams were all eaten through by ants and small insects. The currant jam was mostly spoilt, sour, — The gooseberry remained very good. Anything of the sort put into tin cases & soldered up, which would not cost more than 6d — 1s would no doubt arrive perfectly good. I shall probably have a box sent in a few months then you can try the experiment. I am sorry you did not send my glazed shoes in Mr Steven’s parcel — The shirts do not send on any account, I have too many here at present.

The butterfly I sent in a letter I knew was not rare. I merely sent it as a specimen of a kind which there is nothing resembling in America.

With Love to all I remain │ Your affectionate Son │ Alfred R Wallace [signature]

Mrs. Wallace.

If it were not for the expense I would send Charles11 home; I think I could not have chanced upon a more untidy or careless boy. After 5 months I have still to tell him to put things away after he has been using them as the first week. He is very strong & able to do any thing, but can be trusted to do nothing out of my sight.12

Please put a stamp on the enclosed letter & post it.13

Wallace (née Greenell), Mary Ann (1792-1868). Mother of ARW.
Presumably ARW refers to an illness previously suffered in the Amazon, namely malaria, a serious infection transmitted to humans by Anopheles mosquitoes, causing episodes of chills and fever, most common in tropics and sub-tropics (The Editors of Enclycopaedia Britannica. 2018. Malaria. Pathology. Encyclopaedia Britannica. <https://www.britannica.com/science/malaria> [accessed 9 October 2018]).
Stevens, Samuel (1817-1899). British entomologist and dealer in natural history specimens; agent of ARW.
Wilson, Charles Algernon ("Algernon", "Ally") (1818-1884). Australian solicitor, public servant and entomologist; published under the pseudonym "Naturae Amator"; ARW's cousin, son of his uncle Thomas Wilson (1787-1863).
Wilson, Thomas (1787-1863). ARW's uncle; solicitor and author, emigrated to Australia in 1838.
Sims, Thomas (c. 1796- ). Father of Thomas Sims, brother-in-law of ARW; Bootmaker; Domestic Missionary
A very large building constructed of cast-iron and plate-glass, initially erected in Hyde Park, London, as the exhibition hall for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2018. Crystal Palace. Building, London, United Kingdom. Encyclopaedia Britannica. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Crystal-Palace-building-London> [accessed 16 October 2018]).
Silk, George Charles (1822-1910). Friend of ARW since childhood; secretary to the Archdeacon of Middlesex.
Brooke, James (1803-1868). British-born Rajah of Sarawak.
In a previous letter, ARW referred to the possibility of obtaining tinned food from the London store, Fortnum & Mason, for example (see: WCP360_L360).
Allen, Charles Martin (1839-1892). ARW's assistant in the Malay Archipelago, the Moluccas and New Guinea.
Written in the left-hand margin of this page, to be read if the page is rotated.
Written in the left hand margin of page 1, to be read if the page is rotated.

Published letter (WCP357.5902)

[1] [p. 52]


Singapore. October 15, 1854.

Dear G.,— To-morrow I sail for Sarawak. Sir J. Brooke has given me a letter to his nephew, Capt. Brooke, to make me at home till he arrives, which may be a month, perhaps. I look forward with much interest to see what he has done [2] in Singapore cheaper than in London, so I need not have troubled myself to take any. So far both I and Charles have enjoyed excellent health. He can now shoot pretty well, and is so fond of it that I can hardly get him to do anything else. He will soon be very useful, if I can cure him of his incorrigible carelessness. At present I cannot trust him to do the smallest thing without watching that he does it properly, so that I might generally as well do it myself. I shall remain here probably two months, and then return to Singapore to prepare for a voyage to Cambodia or somewhere else, so do not be alarmed if you do not hear from me regularly. Love to all. — Your affectionate son, ALFRED R. WALLACE.

Published letter (WCP357.6914)


"Malacca is a pretty place. Insects are not very abundant there, still, by perseverance, I got a good number, and many rare ones. Of birds, too, I made a good collection. I went to the celebrated Mount Ophir, and ascended to the top, sleeping under a rock. The walk there was hard work, thirty miles through jungle in a succession of mud-holes, and swarming with leeches, which crawled all over us, and sucked when and where they pleased. We lived a week at the foot of the mountain, in a little hut built by our men, near a beautiful rocky stream. I got some fine new butterflies there, and hundreds of other new or rare insects. Huge centipedes and scorpions, some nearly a foot long, were common, but we none of us got bitten or stung. We only had rice, and a little fish and tea, but came home quite well. The mountain is over four thousand feet high. Near the top are

[2] [p. 177]

beautiful ferns and pitcher-plants, of which I made a small collection. Elephants and rhinoceroses, as well as tigers, are abundant there, but we had our usual bad luck in seeing only their tracks. On returning to Malacca I found the accumulation of two or three posts — a dozen letters, and about fifty newspapers.

...I am glad to be safe in Singapore with my collections, as from here they can be insured. I have now a fortnight's work to arrange, examine, and pack them, and four months hence there will be work for Mr. Stevens.*

"Sir James Brooke is here. I have called on him. He received me most cordially, and offered me every assistance at Sarawak. I shall go there next, as I shall have pleasant society at Sarawak, and shall get on in Malay, which is very easy; but I have had no practice yet, though I can ask for most common things."

I reached Sarawak early in November, and remained in Borneo fourteen months, seeing a good deal of the country. The first four months was the wet season, during which I made journeys up and down the Sarawak river, but obtained very scanty collections. In March I went to the Sadong river, where coal mines were being opened by an English mining engineer, Mr. Coulson, a Yorkshireman, and stayed there nearly nine months, it being the best locality for beetles I found during my twelve years' tropical collecting, and very good for other groups. It was also in this place that I obtained numerous skins and skeletons of the orang-utan, as fully described in my "Malay Archipelago."

* [Footnote 1] They were sent by sailing ship round the Cape of Good Hope, the overland route being too costly for goods.

[3] [p. 178]

In another letter referring to the Dyaks, I say :—

"The old men here relate with pride how many 'heads' they took in their youth; and though they all acknowledge the goodness of the present rajah, yet they think that if they were allowed to take a few heads, as of old, they would have better crops. The more I see of uncivilized people, the better I think of human nature on the whole, and the essential differences between civilized and savage man seem to disappear. Here we are, two Europeans, surrounded by a population of Chinese, Malays, and Dyaks. The Chinese are generally considered, and with some amount of truth, to be thieves, liars, and reckless of human life, and these Chinese are coolies of the lowest and least educated class, though they can all read and write. The Malays are invariably described as being barbarous and bloodthirsty; and the Dyaks have only recently ceased to think head-taking a necessity of their existence. We are two days' journey from Sarawak, where, though the government is nominally European, it only exists with the consent and by the support of the native population. Yet I can safely say that in any part of Europe where the same opportunities for crime and disturbance existed, things would not go so smoothly as they do here. We sleep with open doors, and go about constantly unarmed; one or two petty robberies and a little fighting have occurred among the Chinese, but the great majority of them are quiet, honest, decent sort of people."

Please cite as “WCP357,” in Beccaloni, G. W. (ed.), Ɛpsilon: The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection accessed on 25 September 2022, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/wallace/letters/WCP357