Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Letter from Dobbo, Aru Islands (S35: 1857)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Letter and postscript communicated to the Entomological Society of London meeting of 5 Oct. 1857, and later that year printed in their Proceedings series. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S035.htm


    [[p. 91]] Mr. Stevens read the following letter, received by him from Mr. A. R. Wallace:--

    "Dobbo, Arru Islands, March 10, 1857.--Here I am, alive, well, and hard at work. I have been here just two months, and as I am going into the interior I leave this note to be sent by a vessel which returns to Macassar in April. The country is all forest, flat and lofty, very like the Amazonian forest. Insects, on the whole, are tolerably plentiful in specimens, but very scarce in species. There are, however, some fine things, and I am getting good series of several, including Ornithoptera sp., near Priamus, perhaps O. Poseidon, or close to it, a glorious thing but hard to get perfect; four or five other rare or new Papilios, but all are scarce; Cocytia d'Urvillei? rather scarce, a lovely creature; also Hestia d'Urvillei. For six weeks I have almost daily [[p. 92]] seen Papilio Ulysses? or a new closely-allied species, but never a chance of him; he flies high and strong, only swooping down now and then, and off again to the tree-tops: fancy my agony and disgust; I fear I shall never get him. There is a fine Drusilla or Hyades abundant, with numerous varieties; but the Lycænidæ and Erycinidæ are the gems; I only wish there were more of them; there are about half-a-dozen species equal to the very finest of the little Amazonians. The Coleoptera are far too few in species to please me: in two months' hard work I can only muster fifty Longicornes, a number I reached in ten days in Singapore; but Lamellicornes are the most extraordinarily scarce; I have only nine species, and four of them single specimens; there are, however, two fine Lomaptera among them, I hope new. All other groups are the same; Geodephaga, scarcely a dozen species, and nothing remarkable; not one Cicindela; only one Tricondyla (T. aptera?) and one Theretes (T. labiata), with not a single Colliuris; two or three fine Buprestes, however, and some remarkable Curculionidæ, with the beautiful Tmesisternus mirabilis, make a pretty good show.

    "On my way here we stayed six days at Ké Island, and I got there some very fine beetles, two fine Cetonias, and a Buprestis the most beautiful I have seen. Of the few insects I got there the greater part were different from any I have seen here, though the distance is only sixty miles, the mountains of Ké being visible from Arru in fine weather. This makes me think I shall get different things at every island in this part of the Archipelago. Arru is zoologically a part of New Guinea. Of the birds here half are New Guinea species; in the small island where we live many of the birds of Arru never come, such as the two species of the birds of Paradise, the black cassowary, &c. I am going now to the mainland, or great Island of Arru, in search of these birds, but have had the usual difficulty about men and boats.

    "I have learnt here all about New Guinea; parts are dangerous, parts not; and next year, if I live and have health, I am determined to go. I must go either to Banda or Ternate first, I have not yet decided which, and shall try and go to the large Island of Wargion,1 at the north-east of New Guinea, where are found the Epimachus magnificus, three rare species of the Paradise birds, and the glorious Ornithoptera d'Urvilliana? The weather here is very changeable; storm, wind and sunshine alternately. I think nine-tenths of the things I am getting will be new to the English collections; with which comfort for our entomological friends,

    "I remain yours sincerely, Alfred R. Wallace."


    "Postscript.--Dobbo, May 15.--I have returned from my visit to the interior, and the brig is not gone yet; so I add a postscript. Rejoice with me, for I have found what I sought; one grand hope in my visit to Arru is realized: I have got the birds of Paradise (that announcement deserves a line of itself); one is the common species of commerce, the Paradisea apoda; all the native specimens I have seen are miserable, and cannot possibly be properly mounted; mine are magnificent. I have discovered their true attitude when displaying their plumes, which I believe is quite new information; they are then so beautiful and grand that, when mounted to represent it, they will make glorious specimens for show-cases, and I am sure will be in demand by stuffers. I shall describe them in a paper for the 'Annals.' The other species is the king bird (Paradisea regia, Linn.), the smallest of the paradisians, but a perfect gem for beauty; of this I doubt if any really fine specimens are known, for I think Lesson only got them from the natives; I have a few specimens absolutely perfect. I have, [[p. 93]] besides, a number of rare and curious birds,--the great black cockatoo, racquet-tailed kingfisher, magnificent pigeons, &c.,--and a fair addition to my insects and shells. On the whole I am so much pleased with Arru that my plans are somewhat altered: on returning to Macassar I shall probably not stay more than two or three months, but get as soon as I can to Ternate, and then to the north coast of New Guinea, where all the remaining species of Paradise birds are found? I believe I am the only Englishman who has ever shot and skinned (and ate) birds of Paradise, and the first European who has done so alive, and at his own risk and expense; and I deserve to reap the reward, if any reward is ever to be reaped by the exploring collector. I think there is good work for three years in N.E. Celebes, Gilolo Ceram, north coast of New Guinea, and intermediate islands, of all of which Ternate is near the centre, and it is certainly one of the least-explored districts in the world, and one which contains some of the finest birds and insects in the world. On the whole I have had much better health here than at Macassar, but I am now, and have been a whole month, confined to the house, owing to inflammation and sores on the legs, produced by hosts of insect bites. Confinement has brought on an attack of fever, which I am now getting over. My insect collecting has suffered dreadfully by this loss of time.--A. W."


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Editor's Note

1. Usually referred to as "Waigiou."

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