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Record number: WCP1703

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Samuel Stevens
21 August 1856

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Ampanam, Lombock Island, [Indonesia] to Samuel Stevens [none given] on 21 August 1856.

Record created:
21 October 2011 by Catchpole, Caroline
Verified by:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


Mentions lack of insects to be found in the area in the dry season and attributes this to the cultivation of this area. Has had more success in collecting birds. The birds in this area "throw great light on the laws of Geographical distribution of Animals in the East". He is preparing a short account of his theory for publication. His bird collection amounts to 68 species of which about 20 are not found to the west of the island. Goes on to describe the land and its cultivation. Details some specimens he is sending to Singapore for shipping home (includes birds for sale, butterflies, beetles and land and fresh water shells). Offers the domestic duck to Darwin as well as the jungle cock.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • publication (1)

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LETTER (WCP1703.1585)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Cambridge University Library
Finding number:
Add 7339/234
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information





August. 21st. 1856

My dear Mr Stevens3

Another month has passed since I wrote to you & there is still no chance of a passage to Macassar. Having missed one opportunity by being away from the village I am afraid to go out in the country any more & here there are nothing but dusty roads, & paddy fields for miles around producing no insects or birds worth collecting. It is really astonishing & will be almost incredible to many persons at home that a tropical country when cultivated, should produce so little for the collector. The worst collecting ground in England would produce ten times as many species of beetles as can be found here and even our common English butterflies are finer & more numerous than those of Ampanam in the present dry season. A walk of seven hours with my net will produce perhaps 2 - 3 species of Chrysomela4 & Coccinella5, & a Cicindela6, and two or three Hemiptera7 & flies; and every day the same species will occur. In an uncultivated district which I have visited in the South part of the Island I did ind<eed> find insects rather more numerous, but two months assiduous collecting have only produced me 80 species of Coleoptera ! Why there is not a spot in England where the same number could not be obtained in a few days in spring. Butterflies were rather better for I obtained 38 species the majority however being Pieridae8. Of the others, Papilio Peranthus9 is the most beautiful. The

The Birds have however interested me much more than the insects, they are proportionally much more numerous, and throw great light o<n> the laws of Geographical distribution of Animals in the East. The Islands of Baly10[sic] & Lombock for instance, though of nearly the same [[2]] age, of the same soil aspect elevation & character and within sight of each other, yet differ considerably in their productions, and in fact belong to two quite distinct Zoological provinces, of which they form the extreme limits. As an instance I may mention the cockatoos, a group of birds confined to Australia & the Moluccas, but quite unknown in Java Borneo Sumatra & Malacca. One species however (Plyctolophus sulphureus11) is abundant in Lombock but is unknown in Baly, the island of Lombock forming the extreme eastern limit of its range & that of the whole family. Many other species illustrate the same fact & I am preparing a short account of them for publication. My collection here consist of 68 species of Birds, about 20 of which are probably not found west of the island being species wither found in Timor & Sumbawa12 or quite hitherto undescribed. I have here for the first time met with many interesting birds whose structure & habits it has been a great pleasure to study; such as the Artamidae13 and the genera Ptilotis14, Tropidorhynchus15, Plyctolophus & Megapodius16.

The islands of Baly[sic] & Lombock are inhabited by Malayan races, closely allied to the Javanese. Baly has several Rajahs who are under the protection of the Dutch; Lombock has one Rajah who governs the whole, & is quite independent. These two islands are wonderfully cultivated, in fact they are probably among the best cultivated in the world. I was perfectly astonished when on riding 30 miles into the interior I beheld the state country cultivated like a garden, the whole being cut into terraces, & every field surrounded by channels, so that ​​[illegible words crossed out] any part can be flooded at pleasure. Sometimes a hollow has the appearance of a vast amphitheatre; on a hill side, a gigantic staircase; & hundreds of [[3]] square miles of an undulating country have been thus rendered capable of irrigation, to effect which almost every stream has been diverted from its channel & its water distributed over the country. The soil is a fine volcanic mould of the richest description and the result of such a mode of cultivation is an astonishing fertility. the ground is scarcely ever unoccupied; crops of tobacco, indian corn, sugar cane, beans, & cucumbers alternate with the rice, & give at every season a green & smiling[?] appearance to the island. It is only on the [illegible word crossed out] summits of the hills & on the tops of the undulations where water can not be brought that the ground is left uncultivated, but in these places a short turf gives food to the cattle & horses which are very abundant, & clumps of bamboo with forest & fruit trees have give all the appearance of an extensive park, & are a pleasing contrast to the more regularly cultivated districts. I have been informed by persons capable of forming a judgement, that in the best cultivated parts of Java so much labour has not been expended on the soil, & even the industrious Chinese can show nothing to surpass it. More than half the Island of Lombock consists of rugged volcanic mountains which are quite incapable of cultivation yet it exports more than 20,000 tons of rice annually besides great quantities of Tobacco, Coffee, Cotton, & Hides. Our manufacturers & Capitalists are on the look out for a new cotton producing district. Here is one to their hands. the islands of Baly[sic] Lombock & Sumbawa can produce from ten to twenty thousand tons of cotton annually. It costs here uncleaned about 1½ cents a pound. The qualities are various, some I believe very good, so it can easily be calculated whether after cleaning it would pay. [[4]] So far will do for Newman I think but first send it to my mother or sister as I have no time to write much to them. Tell Mr Saunders that a Mr Carter with whom I am living has applied for the situation of Lloyds Agent here (100 sq. rigged vessels come here yearly) & I shall be obliged by his using his interest to get it for him. He is just the man, has been 18 years in the East as a commander of vessels & as a merchant, is well educated & would give any information that might be required of him. He would like to enter into the cotton trade if any one would communicate with him as to the expense of cleaning machine &c. & he would send him samples of the cotton. Show Mr Saunders this, perhaps he knows some one interested in it.

I am now sending off to Singapore a case with my collections here.

Birds for sale about 300. Butterflies in papers -- 150

Mammalia --------------------------- 9 Beetles ------------------- 250 } 465

Land and freshwater shells -- 100 Miscellaneous --------- 65

a few sponges for Mr Bowerbank17.

My private collection of Birds are mostly in boxes separate & need not be opened: among the others, all which have a red stripe on the tickets, are private. Select a good series of the butterflies for me. The beetles I have separated.

Among the birds are a fine blue & white red billed kingfisher I think quite new, the pitta18, bee-eater & orioles are also rare or new. Of the Malacca birds I have sent two or three of each for locality specimens. There are also some good specimens of the pigeons & generally the birds are very good specimens & I have taken great care to pack them. The domestic duck var<iety> is for Mr Darwin & he would perhaps also like the jungle cock, which is often domesticated here & is doubtless one of the originals of the domestic breeds of poultry.

You may insure the collection for £60 which I think is the lowest sum it will fetch as no collection of birds has ever been made here before & I am sure there are many new and rare things among them.

Hoping soon to reach Macassar & to find good account from you there

I remain | Yours faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Samuel Stevens Esq.


1. "Add 7339/234" in pencil in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

2. Ampenan, Lombok, Indonesia.

3. Samuel Stevens, ARWs collections agent.

4. Chrysomela is a genus of leaf beetles.

5. Coccinella is a genus of ladybird.

6. Cicindela is a genus of tiger beetle.

7. Hemiptera is an order of insects.

8. Pieridae are a large family of butterflies.

9. Papilio peranthus is a butterfly of the Papilionidae family.

10. Bali.

11. Plyctolophus sulphureus is the lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo.

12. Sumbawa is an Indonesian island.

13. Artamidae are a family of the Passeriforms.

14. Ptilotis is the honey-eater.

15. Tropidorhynchus is a genus of meliphagine birds.

16. Megapodius is the scrubfowl.

17. James Scott Bowerbank (1797-1877), naturalist and paleontologist

18. Pitta is a genus of birds.

Please note that work on this transcript is not yet complete. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document, if available.