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

Comments on Water Availability on Small Islands
in the Malay Archipelago (S105: 1864)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Comments Wallace offered after the presentation of a paper by John Cameron at the Royal Geographical Society meeting of 12 December 1864. Later printed in Volume 9 of the Society's Proceedings series. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with:

     [[p. 31]] Mr. Wallace said he had never visited any island in the Indian Archipelago in which water was not to be had. In fact, one of the most remarkable things is the abundance of water in places where there appears to be not the [[p. 32]] slightest probability of finding any. He mentioned one or two cases. One is a small island at the east end of Ceram, called Kilwaru, about a quarter of a mile long and fifty yards wide, consisting entirely of coral-rock and sand, almost perfectly level, the highest part being only four feet above high-water mark. The island is thickly inhabited, and in the middle of the main street, as it were, there are three or four wells of most excellent water. He stopped there himself a day, and got water from the wells, and drank it. The circumstance could hardly be accounted for except on the supposition that the coral-rock had some filtering power, by which the salt was separated from the water. On another occasion, he lost by accident two of his men upon a small uninhabited island. The boat, a native prow, broke her anchor while the men were ashore, and drifted away, the wind and the current preventing her return. It was a perfectly flat island, about a mile in diameter, not more than 4 or 5 feet above the sea, and consisting entirely of coral-rock. He sent a party in a boat to search for the missing men, but, owing to the stormy weather, they were not able to reach the island until a month afterwards. The men were found alive and in good health; for, by digging down through the rock with a hatchet until they got to the level of the sea, they obtained abundance of water, and thus, with the aid of shell-fish, they supported life. He had no doubt, if Mr. Cameron had dug down through the solid rock until he reached the sea-level, he would have found water. With regard to the other island, Puloweh, which he described as having a clay soil, no doubt an abundance of water existed there; the luxuriant vegetation that he spoke of must have been supported by an abundance of fresh water.

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