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Specimen pieces of bird and marsupial skin

Specimen pieces of bird and marsupial skin

Catalogue number: Drawer 29

Wallace's specimens of bird and marsupial skin collected from Asia and South America.

This rather odd drawer came from Wallace's own specimen collection, along with the other insect drawers. It contains two pieces of skin (with fur) from a small marsupial - possibly a cuscus from New Guinea or the Moluccas, which Wallace visited on his Malay Archipelago expedition (1854-1862).

Also included are two bright green wings from an Amazonian parrot. Their origin is not certain. It is possible that the bird was collected in the Amazon region during Wallace's very first expedition (1848-1852). He collected many thousands of specimens including a number of live animals. Disaster struck in August 1852, when the cargo ship the 'Helen', bound for London with Wallace and much of his collection on board, caught fire and sank. Wallace was able to save himself and only a few drawings and notebooks from four years' worth of study.

Wallace wrote a book about his expedition called Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro (1853) in which he recounts his ordeal, and specifically refers to his animals: 'The decks were now a mass of fire, and the bulwarks partly burnt away. Many of the parrots, monkeys, and other animals we had on board, were already burnt or suffocated; but several had retreated to the bowsprit out of reach of the flames, appearing to wonder what was going on, and quite unconscious of the fate that awaited them. We tried to get some of them into the boats, by going as near as we could venture...only one parrot escaped: he was sitting on a rope hanging from the bowsprit, and this burning above him let him fall into the water, where, after floating a little way, we picked him up.'

Could the wings in this drawer be from the parrot that Wallace rescued? This is certainly possible, but unfortunately no further reference to the bird and its ultimate fate has so far been discovered in any of Wallace's writings.

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Wallace Letters Online

Letter to Alfred Russel Wallace from the Royal Society, about his Darwin Medal award

View high resolution scans and transcripts of Alfred Russel Wallace's correspondence, including all surviving letters between him and Charles Darwin.

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