WCP359

Letter (WCP359.359)

[1]

Sadong River Sarawak,

June 25th. 1855

My dear Fanny1

I will write my family letter this time to you, having just received yours of March 19th & my Mothers2 of April 2nd. Do not write any more in the middle of the month the only mail here now is on the 4th.. [sic] I am very much please indeed to hear that you are getting on so well & that Thomas3 has at last got into the transparent pictures.4 He has never told me yet whether there is any thing new, or whether they are the same as he tried when I was with you & which I always told him would be sure to succeed if he would stick to them a little. You have not told me what you know I should be so much interested to hear, what he is to have for them. I trust he has not taken them too cheap — It is no good doing so. An order like that should make his fortune. If he has taken them at less than 5 s. each it is absurd. At that I suppose for a thousand he might make something handsome. For such an order he ought to clear £100 for a months work. I certainly think myself it would be unwise for you to go to another place in London unless Thomas has made up his mind to stay there eight or ten years. The rent & expense of fitting up an establishment in a good situation would be so great as to use up all your savings up to this time & for such work as this, what better would you be off? He would be obliged to have more assistants if he meant to do a much larger business & would have much more anxiety & trouble. If indeed you could get a handsome sum for the present Glass House5 & apparatus then indeed you might venture but secure that first. If he has taken these clear pictures at a proper price at first & there are still as many portraits as Edward6 can take & you still think of going abroad or at least getting away from London in a year or two, it certainly does not seem advisable to move. [2] If you do determine on risking the move to a better situation I hope you will live in the Country at least 6 — 8 miles out of town near the Railway whose station is nearest to your place of business, — where Edward could live. Then with 2 Annual railway tickets you might be very comfortable, & all the long summer mornings Thomas could be gardener or fowl keeper & ruralize to his hearts content — I am now obliged to keep pigs & fowls or we should get nothing to eat. I have 3 pigs now & a china boy to attend to them who also assists in skinning "orang utans" which he & Charles7 are doing at this moment. I have also planted some onions & pumpkins which were above ground in three days and are growing vigorously. I have been practising salting pork & find I can make excellent pickled pork here which I thought was impossible as every one I have seen try has failed. It is because they leave it to servants who will not take the necessary trouble[.] I do it myself. I shall therefore always keep pigs for the future.

I find there will not be time for another box around the Cape so must have a small parcel overland. I should much like my lasts8 but nothing else unless some canvass shoes are made — If the young man my mother & Mr Stevens9 mentioned comes he can bring them. I shall write to Mr. Stevens about the terms on which I can take him. I am however rather shy about it having hitherto had no one to suit me. As you seem to know him I suppose he comes to you sometimes. Let me know what you think of him. Do not tell me merely that he is "a very nice young man". Of course he is. So is Charles a very nice boy, but I would[?] not be troubled with another like him for any consideration whatever. I have written to Mr. Stevens to let me know his character, as regards usefulness & perseverance in doing any thing he is set about. From you I should like to know if he is quiet or boisterous forward, or shy. Talkative or silent, — sensible or frivolous — Delicate or strong. Ask him whether he can live on rice & salt fish for a week on an occasion. Whether he can do without wine or beer & sometimes without tea coffee or sugar — Whether he can sleep on a board. Whether he likes the [3] hottest weather in England. Whether he is too delicate to skin a stinking animal. Whether he can walk 20 miles a day. Whether he can work, for there is sometimes as hard work in collecting as in any thing. Can he draw, (not copy), can he speak French. Does he write a good hand. Can he make any thing — Can he saw a piece of board straight? (Charles cannot & every bit of carpenter work I have to do myself.). Ask him to make you any thing, — a little card box, or wooden peg or bottle stopper and see if he makes them neat straight & square. Charles never does any thing the one or the other. Charles has now been with me more than a year & every day some such conversation as this ensues — "Charles look at these butterflies that you set at yesterday" "Yes sir" "Look at that one, is it set out evenly" "No Sir." "Put it right then & all the others that want it" In five minutes he brings me the box to look at. "Have you put them all right" "Yes sir." — There’s one with the wings uneven. There’s another with the body on one side — Then another with the pin crooked. Put[?] them all right this time. It most frequently happens that they have to go back a third time. Then all is right. If he puts up a bird, the head is on one side, there is a great lump of cotton on one side of the neck like a wen, the feet are twisted soles uppermost or something else — In every thing it is the same[,] what ought to be straight is always put crooked. This after 12 months constant practice & constant teaching! And not the slightest sign of improvement, I believe he never will improve — Day after day I have to look over every thing he does & tell him of the same faults. Another with a similar incapacity would drive me mad. He never too by any chance puts any thing away after him. When done with, — every thing is thrown on the floor. Every other day an hour is lost looking for knife, scissors, pliers, hammer, pins, or something he has mislaid. Yet out of doors he does very well — he collects insects well, & if I could get a neat & orderly person in the house I would keep him almost entirely at out of door work and at skinning which he does also well but cannot put into shape. [4] I must now tell you of the addition to my establishment in the form of an orphan baby, a curious little half nigger baby which I have nursed now more than a month. I will tell you by and by how I came to get it, but in the mean time must relate my inventive skill as a nurse. The little innocent was unweaned and I had nothing proper to feed it with but rice water. I contrived a pap bottle with a large mouthed bottle, making two holes in the cork in one of which I inserted a quill so that the baby could suck. I fitted up a box for a cradle with a mat to lay upon which I had washed & changed every day. I fed it four times a day and washed it once and brushed its hair which it liked very much only crying when it was hungry or dirty. In about a week I fed it with a spoon & gave it the rice water a little more solid and always sweetened to make it nice.

I am afraid you would call it an ugly baby for it has a very dark skin and red hair, a very large mouth but very pretty little hands & feet. It has now cut its two lower front teeth & the uppers are coming. At first it would not sleep at night alone but cried very much but I made a pillow of an old stocking, which it likes to hug and now sleeps very soundly. It has very strong lungs and sometimes screams tremendously so I hope it will live. But I must now tell you how I came to take charge of it. Don’t be alarmed, I was the cause of its mother’s death. It happened as follows, — I was out shooting in the jungle and saw something up in a tree which of course I thought was a large monkey or orang utan, so I fired at it and down fell this little baby in its mothers arms. What she did up a tree of course I can’t imagine, but as she ran about in the branches very quickly I presume she was a "wild" "woman of the woods" so have preserved her skin & skeleton and am endeavouring to bring up her only daughter and hope some day to introduce her to fashionable society at the Zoological Gardens.. [sic]10 When its mother fell mortally wounded the poor baby was plunged head over ears in a swamp about the consistence of pea soup and looked very pitiful. It clung to me very tight hard when I carried it home & having got its little hands unawares into my beard, it clutched so tight that I had great difficulty in making it leave go. Its mother poor creature had very long hair, & while she was running about the trees like a mad woman, the poor little baby had to hold on tight fast to prevent itself from falling, which accounts for the remarkable [5] strength of its little fingers & toes which catch hold of everything with the firmness of a young vice. About a week ago I bought a little monkey with a long tail, and as the baby was very lonely while we were out in the day time, I put the little monkey into the cradle to keep it warm. You will perhaps say (or my mother will) that this was not proper, — "how could I do such a thing," — but I assure you the baby likes it exceedingly, and they are excellent friends. When the monkey wants to run away by himself a little as he often does, baby clutches him by the tail or ears & drags him back, & if the monkey does succeed in escaping, screams violently till he is brought back again. Of course, baby cannot walk yet, but I let it crawl about on the floor a little to exercise its limbs, but it is the most wonderful baby I ever saw and has such strength in its arms that it will catch hold of my trousers & hang underneath my leg for a quarter of an hour together without being the least tired, all the time trying to suck, thinking no doubt it has got hold of its poor dear mother. When it finds no milk is to be got, there comes another scream & I have to put in [it] back in its cradle and give it "Toby" the little monkey, to hug, which quiets it immediately. From this short account you will see that my baby is no common baby, and I may safely say, what so many have said before with much less truth, "There never was such a baby as my baby" — and I am sure nobody ever had such a dear little duck of a darling of a little brown hairy baby before!

Madame Pfeiffer11 was at Sarawak about a year or two ago and lived in Rajah Brooke’s12 house while there. Capt[ain]. Brooke13 says she was a very nice old lady something like the picture of Mrs. Harris in "Punch".14 The insects she got in Borneo were not very good, Those from Celebes [Sulawesi] & the Moluccas [Maluku Islands] were the rare ones for which Mr. Stevens got so much money for her. I expect she will set up regular collector now as it will pay all her expenses & enable her to travel where she likes. I have told Mr Stevens to recommend Madagascar to her. [6] I have received the rings in the letter & am much obliged — Here I have no use for them as so near Sarawak the Dyaks15 prefer money. When I take a trip further into the interior they will be useful, or in other Islands further Eastward. I also thank you beforehand for the things you have sent me by Ship. I hope you secured the bacon well, filling up the Pot with bran & pasting on gumming paper round the edges. I am very glad I did not have any thing to do with the Australian Expedition.16 Such tremendous delay & no well known man at the head of it. The recent news of Mr Strange’s murder by the natives must be a rather disagreeable commencement.17 A gentleman has just come here to see the place who has recently come from England to join the Mission. When he saw how we lived in open houses & open doors at night surrounded by Chineese & Dyaks he said "People in England won’t believe this". He said "I met a Dyak on the path with a long knife & I expected to have my head cut off." Whereas the idea of cutting off the heads of Europeans is never for a moment imagined by these poor people. Let me hear about John18 & Mary19 when they arrive in California. I see by the Papers there have been some great failures there lately among others the House of Page Bacon & Co.20 through who he sent money when I was in England. I trust he had nothing in their hands. Did you learn from him how he had invested his money[?] I hope safely but I suppose most in the Water Company.21

Tell Mr Sims22 I have been dreadfully hard up for shoes lately & have been dissecting & patching till I am quite learned in the internal machinery of a shoe welts, vamps, quarters, uppers, &c &c. I shall take care to keep a better stock by me for the future, as shoemaking without tools is horrid work. I have never told you that my musical box is a never ending delight to the Dyaks. They call it a bird and almost every day I am asked to shew it them.

With my best love to my dear Mother & remembrances to all friends | I must now remain | Your affectionate Brother | Alfred R Wallace [signature]

Mrs. F. Sims.

Sims (née Wallace), Frances ("Fanny") (1812-1893). Sister of ARW; teacher.
Wallace (née Greenell), Mary Ann (1792-1868). Mother of ARW.
Sims, Thomas (1826-1910). Brother-in-law of ARW; photographer.
Perhaps a reference to the use of glass negatives in Sims's photographic business.
A photographer's room with a glass roof (Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. glass-house, n. 2.b. Oxford English Dictionary. <www.oed.com>).
Sims, Edward (1829-1906). Brother of Thomas Sims, brother-in-law of ARW; photographer.
Allen, Charles Martin (1839-1892). ARW's assistant in the Malay Archipelago, the Moluccas and New Guinea.
Models of the foot for shaping boots or shoes while being made, particularly made-to-measure (Oxford English Dictionary. 2014. last, n.1. 2. a. Oxford English Dictionary. <www.oed.com>).
Stevens, Samuel (1817-1899). British entomologist and dealer in natural history specimens; agent of ARW.
Now known as London Zoo, founded by the Zoological Society of London in Regent's Park, London, in 1828 and forming the world's oldest zoological gardens in continual use (The University of Sheffield. 2018. Zoological Gardens. National Fairground and Circus Archive. <https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/nfca/researchandarticles/zoologicalgardens> [accessed 7 August 2018]).
Pfeiffer (née Reyer), Ida Laura (1797-1858). Austrian traveller, author and collector of plants, animals and minerals.
Brooke, James (1803-1868). British-born Rajah of Sarawak.
Brooke Johnson, John (1823-1868). Elder nephew of James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak.
"Mrs Harris", a character from Charles Dickens's 1844 novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, depicted in 1845 in the long-standing British weekly satirical magazine Punch, or The London Charivari, in print 1841-1992 and 1996-2002 (Punch, or the London Charivari. 1845. Punch and the "Standard"; Some account of Mrs Harris. Punch. 9:240; 262; Allingham, P. V. 2018. Punch, or the London Charivari (1841-1992) — A British Institution. The Victorian Web. <http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/punch/pva44.html> [accessed 7 August 2018]).
Indigenous peoples of Borneo, particularly Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2018. Dayak. People. Enclyclopaedia Britannica. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dayak> [accessed 3 August 2018]).
Strange, Frederick (1826-1854). British-born collector, particularly of birds, shells and plants in Australia.
Having organised a trading and collecting expedition to the islands to the north-east of Australia commencing 4 September 1854, Strange and his party anchored off the Second Percy Island on 14 October, but four members of the expedition, including Strange, were killed by indigenous people the following day (Whittell, H. M. 1947. Frederick Strange. The Australian Zoologist. 11: 96-114).
Wallace, John (1818-1895). Brother of ARW; engineer and surveyor.
Wallace (née Webster), Mary Elizabeth Podger (1832-1913). Wife of ARW's brother John.
A run on the San Francisco branch of Page, Bacon & Co., a St. Louis banking house, was caused by the firm's failure, reported in San Francisco on 1 May 1855 (Seligman, J. 2010-2018. The Failure of Page, Bacon & Co., reported in the Daily Dispatch newspaper of 5 June 1855. [p.3]. German Historical Institute. Immigrant Entrepreneurship. German-Americal Business Biographies. 1720 to the Present. <https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/document.php?rec=523> [accessed 7 August 2018]).
Presumably the Tuolumne County Water Company, of which John Wallace was chief engineer by July 1853 and in which he had two shares by October 1853 (WCP1638 and WCP1294).
Sims, Thomas (c. 1796- ). Father of Thomas Sims, brother-in-law of ARW; Bootmaker; Domestic Missionary.

Published letter (WCP359.5905)

[1] [p. 56]

TO HIS SISTER, Mrs. Sims

Sadong River Borneo. June 25, 1855.

My dear Fanny,—... I am now obliged to keep fowls and pigs, or we should get nothing to eat. I have three pigs now and a China boy to attend to them, Who also insists in skinning "orangutans," which he and Charles are doing at this moment. I have also planted some onions and pumpkins, which were above ground in three days and [2] [p. 57] are growing vigorously. I have been practising salting pork, and find I can make excellent pickled pork here, which I thought was impossible, as everyone I have seen try has failed. It is because they leave it to servants, who will not take the necessary trouble. I do it myself. I shall therefore always keep pigs in the future. I find there will not be time for another box round the Cape, so must have a small parcel overland. I should much like my lasts, but nothing else, unless some canvas shoes are made.

If the young man my mother and Mr. Stevens mentioned comes, he can bring them. I shall write to Mr. Stevens about the terms on which I can take him. I am, however, rather shy about it, having hitherto had no one to suit me. As you seem to know him, I suppose he comes to see you sometimes. Let me know what you think of him. Do not tell me merely that he is "a very nice young man." Of course he is. So is Charles a very nice boy, but I could not be troubled with another like him for any consideration whatever. I have written to Mr. Stevens to let me know his character, as regards neatness and perseverance in doing anything he is set about. From you I should like to know whether he is quiet or boisterous, forward or shy, talkative or silent, sensible or frivolous, delicate or strong. Ask him whether he can live on rice and salt fish for a week on an occasion — whether he can do without wine or beer, and sometimes without tea, coffee or sugar — whether he can sleep on a board — whether he likes the hottest weather in England — whether he is too delicate to skin a stinking animal — whether he can walk twenty miles a day — whether he can work, for there is sometimes as hard work in collecting as in anything. Can he draw (not copy)? Can he speak French? Does he write a good hand? Can he make anything? Can he saw a piece of board straight ? (Charles cannot, and every bit of carpenter work I have to do myself.) [3] [p. 58] Ask him to make you anything — a little card box, a wooden peg or bottle-stopper, and see if he makes them neat, straight and square. Charles never does anything the one or the other. Charles has now been with me more than a year, and every day some such conversation as this ensues: "Charles, look at these butterflies that you set out yesterday." "Yes, sir." "Look at that one — is it set out evenly?" "No, sir." "Put it right then, and all the others that want it." In five minutes he brings me the box to look at. "Have you put them all right?" "Yes, sir." "There's one with the wings uneven, there's another with the body on one side, then another with the pin crooked. Put them all right this time." It most frequently happens that they have to go back a third time. Then all is right. If he puts up a bird, the head is on one side, there is a great lump of cotton on one side of the neck like a wen, the feet are twisted soles uppermost, or something else. In everything it is the same, what ought to be straight is always put crooked. This after twelve months' constant practice and constant teaching! And not the slightest sign of improvement. I believe he never will improve. Day after day I have to look over everything he does and tell him of the same faults. Another with a similar incapacity would drive me mad. He never, too, by any chance, puts anything away after him. When done with, everything is thrown on the floor. Every other day an hour is lost looking for knife, scissors, pliers, hammer, pins, or something he has mislaid. Yet out of doors he does very well — he collects insects well, and if I could get a neat, orderly person in the house I would keep him almost entirely at out-of-door work and at skinning, which he does also well, but cannot put into shape.... — Your affectionate brother, ALFRED R. WALLACE.

Published letter (WCP359.6916)

[1] [p. 178]

"I must now tell you of the addition to my house-hold of an orphan baby, a curious little half-nigger baby, which I have nursed now more than a month. [2] [p. 179] I will tell you presently how I came to get it, but must first relate my inventive skill as a nurse. The little innocent was not weaned, and I had nothing proper to feed it with, so was obliged to give it rice-water. I got a large-mouthed bottle, making two holes in the cork, through one of which I inserted a large quill so that the baby could suck. I fitted up a box for a cradle with a mat for it to lie upon, which I had washed and changed every day. I feed it four times a day, and wash it and brush its hair every day, which it likes very much, only crying when it is hungry or dirty. In about a week I gave it the rice-water a little thicker, and always sweetened it to make it nice. I am afraid you would call it an ugly baby, for it has a dark brown skin and red hair, a very large mouth, but very pretty little hands and feet. It has now cut its two lower front teeth, and the uppers are coming. At first it would not sleep alone at night, but cried very much; so I made it a pillow of an old stocking, which it likes to hug, and now sleeps very soundly. It has powerful lungs, and sometimes screams tremendously, so I hope it will live.

"But I must now tell you how I came to take charge of it. Don’t be alarmed; I was the cause of its mother’s death. It happened as follows: — I was out shooting in the jungle and saw something up a tree which I thought was a large monkey or orang-utan, so I fired at it, and down fell this little baby — in its mother's arms. What she did up in the tree of course I can’t imagine, but as she ran about the branches quite easily, I presume she was a wild 'woman of the woods;' so I have preserved her skin and skeleton, and am trying to bring up her only daughter, and hope some day to introduce her to [3] [p. 180] fashionable society at the Zoological Gardens. When its poor mother fell mortally wounded, the baby was plunged head over ears in a swamp about the consistence of pea-soup, and when I got it out looked very pitiful. It clung to me very hard when I carried it home, and having got its little hands unawares into my beard, it clutched so tight that I had great difficulty in extricating myself. Its mother, poor creature, had very long hair, and while she was running about the trees like a mad woman, the little baby had to hold fast to prevent itself from falling, which accounts for the remarkable strength of its little fingers and toes, which catch hold of anything with the firmness of a vice. About a week ago I bought a little monkey with a long tail, and as the baby was very lonely while we were out in the daytime, I put the little monkey into the cradle to keep it warm. Perhaps you will say that this was not proper. 'How could you do such a thing?' But, I assure you, the baby likes it exceedingly, and they are excellent friends. When the monkey wants to run away, as he often does, the baby clutches him by the tail or ears and drags him back; and if the monkey does succeed in escaping, screams violently till he is brought back again. Of course, baby cannot walk yet, but I let it crawl about on the floor to exercise its limbs; but it is the most wonderful baby I ever saw, and has such strength in its arms that it will catch hold of my trousers as I sit at work, and hang under my legs for a quarter of an hour at a time without being the least tired, all the time trying to suck, thinking, no doubt, it has got hold of its poor dear mother. When it finds no milk is to be had, there comes another scream, and I have to put it back in its cradle and give it ‘Toby’ — the little monkey — to hug, which [4] quiets it immediately. From this short account you will see that my baby is no common baby, and I can safely say, what so many have said before with much less truth, 'There never was such a baby as my baby,' and I am sure nobody ever had such a dear little duck of a darling of a little brown hairy baby before."

Please cite as “WCP359,” in Beccaloni, G. W. (ed.), Ɛpsilon: The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection accessed on 25 September 2022, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/wallace/letters/WCP359