Wallace Letters Online

Share this:

Record number: WCP1704

Add to My list
Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Samuel Stevens
27 September 1856

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Macassar [Makassar] to Samuel Stevens [none given] on 27 September 1856.

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


Talks of his arrival in Celebes and describes very sparse land. There are some woods (patch of about 6-8 miles) and he has found some birds and butterflies but no beetles. Talks of the difficulties collecting here being similar to that of the Amazon. Good collection of birds, including an abundance of Raptorial birds ? the first place he has found these in the Archipelago. Collected over 40 species of bird, which he believes include some new species. Then talks of local traditions and some administrative matters.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • publication (1)

View item:

LETTER (WCP1704.1586)

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

Held by:
Cambridge University Library
Finding number:
Add 7339/235
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information





Sept[embe]r 27th. 1856

My dear Mr Stevens3

At length I am in Celebes4 ! I have been here about three weeks & as yet gave not done much except explore the nakedness of the land. And it is indeed naked. I have never seen a more uninviting country than the neighbourhood of Macassar. For miles around there is nothing but flat land which for half the year is covered with water & the other half is an expanse of baked mud (its present state) with scarcely an apology for vegetation. Scattered about it are numerous villages which from their being imbedded[sic] in fruit trees have the appearance of woods and forests but which in fact are little more productive to the insect collection than the paddy fields themselves. Insects in fact in all this district there are absolutely none. I have got a bamboo house near one of these villages about two miles from the town which does very well for my head quarters. To get into the Country is difficult as it belongs to native princes & there is no accommodation whatever for Europeans. There is however a patch or two of forest about 6 -- 8 miles off & to it I have made several excursions & got some birds & butterflies but no beetles which at this season seem altogether absent. I cannot help comparing the facilities for the collection on the Amazon with the difficulties here. Whether at Pará5, Santarem6 Barra, Obidos7 or Ega8 or any other town or village you may always find good forest collecting ground within a few minutes or half an hours walk of the places. You can live in the town & collect in the country [illegible word]. In no place in the East that I have yet seen can this be done. Miles of cultivated ground absolutely barren for the Naturalist, extend round every town & village, & to get in the country with any amount of [[2]] necessary luggage is most difficult & expensive. When there too the necessaries of life have all to be brought from the town which renders living very expensive dear. The only way of moving is by means of porters or small carriages the cost of which is about ten times that of boat hire, and in may cases you must expose yourself to risk of life & property being beyond the sphere of any civilized government.

However I hope here soon to make arrangements for a small house near the forest I have spoken of, where I can stay a week at a time & then bring home & store my collections at my house near Macassar. Already I see that I shall get a pretty good collection of birds. Raptorial birds are abundant; (the first place I have found them so in the Archipelago) I have already seven species, one or two of which I have no doubt are new. Of the forty species of Birds I have already collected, some are handsome, but several I think are new. Among them are a Cinnyris9 & a Pigeon. The rare parrot Prioniturus platurus10 is not uncommon here though I have obtained as yet only one specimen. Among my few butterflies are two Pierides handsome & quite new, and two or three Danaidae which I do not remember to have seen. I have as yet got no Papilios but do not despair of soon obtaining some fine ones. The place where I hope to do best is Bontyne about 60 miles from here. There is a road or path overland but it would be very difficult to take all the luggage I require by that route, and by water sea at the present time owing to the winds being contrary the voyage often takes from a fortnight to a month! In about January however the wind will be fair & the trip is then only 24 hours, when I shall probably go there, as I am informed there is plenty of forest & the highest mountains in the island are close by.

The people here have some peculiar practices. "Amok" or as we [[3]] say "running a muck" is common here. There was one last week, a debt of a few dollars was claimed of a man who could not pay it so he murdered his creditor, & then knowing he could be found out & punished he "run a muck" killed four people wounded four more & died what the natives consider an honourable death ! A friend here seeing I has my mattress[sic] on the floor of a bamboo house, which is open beneath, told me it was very dangerous, as there were many bad people about who might come at night & push their spear up through me from below, so he kindly lent me a sofa to sleep on, which however I never use as it is too hot in this country.


I12 told you long ago that you might dispose of all the Orang skins & skeletons as you could to the best advantage. Get Owens advice, & represent the scarcity of good skins in spirits to enhance the prices.

On reading what I have written so far it may perhaps do for Newman. I have received here your letters of May & June. I was astounded to hear that the Custom house would make you pay duty for the orang spirit. My fishes from Para, Bates fishes &c. never paid any duty, & I think that precedent should be urged, as had I known I should have used brine instead of spirit. Surely my character & yours ought to be sufficient, & I have no doubt an application to the Government with recommendations from some scientific men would be sufficient: however you will of course have arranged it some how before this reaches you; & as I see by this mail that the "Water Lily" has arrived. I hope by next mail to hear from you all about the whole lot, what Owen thinks of the new species, &c. &c...&c.

If you have not yet paid another £100 to Harvey Brand & Co. on my account do so now, & send the order to pay me the amount to Hamilton Gray & Co., not to me here. I told you some time since not to send any parcel to me yet [[4]] as I shall probably want more arsenic, plaster of Paris & other things after leaving here which can all come together when anything is sent. The place you mention as the locality for Euchirus13 appears to me to be a village in Amboyna14, there is no stand near of the name. M Pfeiffers account of the mountains &c. in Borneo can not be relied on; by the route she went there are no mountains more than 2 or 3 thousand feet high, & the men who were sent by Captn Brooke to accompany her into the Dutch territories said that she never once got from under the cover of her course all the voyage & could therefore see nothing whatever of the country or the people !

A friend of mine here who has done me many favours, wishes much for an English Rifle, so I promised to get you to order & send it. By this or the next mail you will receive a bill of Exchange for £40 with a note from me, giving the particulars of the Rifle which you can order of Blisset 221 High Holborn if he will do it for the price -- if not London will do it I have no doubt.

The rifle complete is not to be more than £35 with ornaments &c as directed. The other five pounds is for packing case carriage & for your time & expenses. It is to be sent overland directed to

W. Mesman Esq. Macassar

care of A. L. Johnston & Co. Singapore

& to be finished as soon as possible.

15{ any surplus cash to be spent on a riding whip & put in the case.

Tell London to get my small double barrel gun, 80 bore, which I ordered a month since, done as soon as possible, as persons here are waiting to see it to send him further orders. Order two spare ramrods for it of whalebone, & get him to take off a discount for ready money.

I must now remain in haste | Yours very 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. Now more commonly spelled Makassar, a city in Indonesia.

3. Samuel Stevens, ARWs collections agent.

4. Celebes is now known as Sulawesi, one of the Sunda Islands of Indonesia.

5. Pará is a state in northern Brazil.

6. Santarém is a city in Pará, Brazil.

7. Óbidos is a town in Pará, Brazil.

8. Ega is now known as Tefé, a city in Brazil.

9. Cinnyris is a genus of sunbirds.

10. Prioniturus platurus is the Golden-mantled Racket-tail.

11. A line drawn in ink in the left margin separates these two paragraphs.

12. This paragraph is written vertically in the left margin of page 3.

13. Euchirus is a species of beetle.

14. Amboyna is now known as Ambon, a city in Indonesia.

15. This note is bracketed alongside the preceding three lines.

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