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Letter from Batchian (S50: 1859)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Extracts from a letter communicated to the Entomological Society of London meeting of 6 June 1859, and later 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/S050.htm

    [[p. 70]] Mr. Stevens communicated the following extracts from a letter received by him from Mr. A. R. Wallace, dated Batchian, Moluccas, January 28, 1859:--

    "I had determined to leave here about this time, but two circumstances decided me to prolong my stay--first, I succeeded at last in taking the magnificent new Ornithoptera, and, secondly, I obtained positive information of the existence here of a second species of Paradisea, apparently more beautiful and curious than the one I have obtained. You may perhaps imagine my excitement when, after seeing it only two or three times in three months, I at length took a male Ornithoptera. When I took it out of my net, and opened its gorgeous wings, I was nearer fainting with delight and excitement than I have ever been in my life; my heart beat violently, and the blood rushed to my head, leaving a headache for the rest of the day. The insect surpassed my expectations, being, though allied to Priamus, perfectly new, distinct, and of a most gorgeous and unique colour; it is a fiery golden orange, changing, when viewed obliquely, to opaline-yellow and green. It is, I think, the finest of the Ornithoptera, and consequently the finest butterfly in the world? Besides the colour, it differs much in markings from all of the Priamus group. Soon after I first took it I set one of my men to search for it daily, giving him a premium on every specimen, good or bad, he takes; he consequently works hard from early morn to dewy eve, and occasionally brings home one; unfortunately several of them are in bad condition. I also occasionally take the lovely Papilio Telemachus, n.s.

    "I have sent off a small box containing four males, one female, and one young bird of the new Batchian Paradisea, besides one red-ticketed private specimen; six males and five females of the new Ornithoptera, and seven Papilio Telemachus.

    "Tell Mr. Gray and Mr. Gould that the Paradisea had better not be described yet, as I am making great exertions to get the second species, evidently of the same genus, which will enable a generic character to be more accurately given. The butterflies, I trust, will be both figured, male and female, either in Mr. Hewitson's book or in Ent. Soc. Trans. For the Ornithoptera I propose Crœsus as a good name. Butterflies are scarce; good beetles turn up occasionally, but nothing very grand. I have now a handsome series of Buprestidæ, and a remarkably pretty lot of Longicorns; one of my last acquisitions is a grand bronzy Tmesisternus, 1 ½ inch long, a single specimen only. In almost all orders, and in birds, there is a deficiency of species; yet there are so many pretty and brilliant things, and a few so grand and new, that on the whole I am inclined to think my Batchian collection will be the best I have made anywhere.

    "Another reason which may induce me to stay perhaps two or three months longer at Batchian is that I have had no fever here, which I have never been free from two months at a time for the last two years before; and I may therefore hope to get my health well established for my next journey to New Guinea.

    "The butterflies will make a show-box which will, I think, be admired almost as much as the birds of Paradise."

    Mr. Westwood observed that he had little doubt the male Ornithoptera of which Mr. Wallace had given such a glowing description, in the letter just read, was the Ornithoptera Tithonus of De Haan, figured on the first plate of his fine work on the [[p. 71]] 'Insects of the Dutch Settlements,' the hitherto unique specimen of which is in the Leyden Museum, and was seen by Mr. Westwood on his visit last year; he had also little doubt that the female would prove to be the O. Victoria of G. R. Gray, figured, some time since, in the 'Proceedings of the Linnean Society,' from a specimen taken by Mr. M'Gillivray in one of the islands of the Eastern Archipelago, and now in the British Museum collection.

    Mr. Shepherd thought, with Mr. Westwood, that Mr. Wallace's description agreed with O. Tithonus, but considered it hardly possible that Mr. Wallace was not acquainted with De Haan's figure. Previous to leaving this country for the East, Mr. Wallace had carefully investigated the works containing descriptions and figures of the entomological productions of the countries he was about to visit; and it seemed almost incredible that he could have overlooked or forgotten this fine insect.

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