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Record number: WCP1718

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Philip Lutley Sclater
? September 1861

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Sourabaya [Surabaya], Java Island, [Indonesia] to Philip Lutley Sclater [none given] on ? September 1861.

Record created:
27 October 2011 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP1718.1601)

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

Held by:
Zoological Society of London
Finding number:
GB 0814 BADW
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information





Sept[embe]r 1861

My1 dear Dr. Sclater

"Better late than never" is a much to be admired proverb, & in accordance with its precept I now beg to thank you for the honour of my election to the "British Ornithologists Union", I really dont know how long ago.

My excuses for this long forgetfulness are twofold;-- 1st.. I received a printed notice of my election as Hon[orary]. Memb[er]. of the B.O.U. without the slightest clue as to what the B.O.U. was. It was only some months afterwards on receipt of the 4th. no.[number] of the "Ibis" that I discovered the mystery:- 2nd. For the last four or five years I have received my correspondence in lumps, six to 12 months at a time, on my return from some land to which the beneficient agency of the Post Office does not extend. I have at such times generally had so much to do, in cleaning sorting studying & packing my collections,-- & so much anxiety & trouble in preparing at the same time for a fresh voyage,-- hunting up men, fitting up boats, laying in stores &c &c that I have often been obliged to defer the calm perusal of my home news till again under weigh[sic] or till again located in some barbarous solitude.

Having begun a letter I will give you a few notes about Bouru where I staid two months after leaving Timor. From the existence of Babirusa2 in the island 3I had been somewhat doubtful whether its fauna would not prove more Celebesian than Moluccan. I was soon [[2]] however satisfied that it is a true Moluccan island, though a very poor one. Most of the common Amboyna & Ceram forms occurred, some absolutely identical others sufficiently modified to be characterised as distinct species. The[?] Tanygnathus4, Polychlorus4, Eclectus4, Geoffroyus4, Eos4 & Trichoglossus4 as well as the Aprosmictus4 occur as in Ceram, the Tanygnathus being the only one which varies from the type, wanting the black markings in the wings. Lorius5 is altogether absent as well as Corvus6, Buceros7, & Cacatua8 genera which are present in every other island from Celebes eastwards. This deficiency does not rest alone on the fact of my not having met with them, though that would be pretty good proof, they being all ubiquitous & noisy birds,-- but on the universal testimony of the natives many of whom know all these birds from their visits to other islands but are quite sure their own country is destitute of them.

The flycatchers (3 -- 4 sp[ecies].) seem new as well as a very common Mimeta9 near M. forsteni of Ceram, & a Tropidorhynchus10 I suppose the T. buruensis Q&G. though in "Bonapartes Conspectus" that species is given to Celebes where I never found the genus. The pigeons are mostly known species except a fine Treron with very brilliant yellow marked wings, & I heard of other species of the same group occasionally met with. A single specimen of Tanysiptera11 seems different from the Ceram sp[ecies]., & a Pitta12 near macklotti[?] & celebensis but sufficiently distinct, is also unique. I was much surprised to find, besides the Ptilonopus viridis13 of Amboyna, the beautiful P. prasinorrhous. G.B.G.13 which I had just discovered in , then found in Goram, afterwards in Waigiou & I think there can be no doubt it is also found in Ceram but birds seem so thinly scattered over that large island that it would take years to acquire a proper knowledge of its ornithology. At Bouru I shot a Glareola14 the first time I have met with the genus. I found coleoptera15 & grubs in its stomach. Its sternum shows it to be a true wader though a most curious & abnormal form.16

[[3]] The Cassowary is absent from Bouru & from every Moluccan island except Ceram yet I had been positively assured it was common in Bouru. The error has arisen thus. The people of the little island of Bouru at the W[est]. end of Ceram often get young Cassowaries from the main island to bring up. The traders of Cajeli in Bouru buy these & then take them to Amboyna for sale, often in company with young Babirusas. This happened when I was there. Of course the Amboyna merchants purchasing these animals from Bouru residents & having no reason for hunting up their pedigree take it for granted that Cassawaries & Babirusas are found wild in Bouru.17 I will give you another example. 18In the Papuan island of Mysol the Cassawary does not exist, but last year the Rajah possessed a live Ceram Cassowary which he had bought from Wahai in Ceram. Now Mysol is known among the Bugis traders as a district of Papua, & if one of these men had bought & taken this bird to Singapore or Macassar he would declare it came from Papua. It thus becomes most difficult to ascertain the true locality of the Psittaci19 & Paradiseas20 which are articles of trade, & are carried about by the traders from place to place often passing through several hands before they are sold to a European. In this [the former word replaces a deleted and illeg. word] manner Lorius domicella21 has come into our lists as a Papuan bird. Lesson[?] I have no doubt bought at Dorey as you may often buy Celebes & Ternate birds in any of the trading ports of New Guinea. To Cacatua citrinocristata22 which you have given to Timor on your list, on the authority I suppose of the Paris Museum, does not belong there, as you will see by my specimens which are the same as those from Lombock called by you C. aquatorialis22. Here in Java I have [[4]] purchased a specimen of C. citrinocristata but can get no indication of its locality. I suspect however it may be Timor laut to which the beautiful Eos cyanostriata undoubtedly belongs, and prahuws23 from Macassar to that island often touch at Timor. Eos reticulata21 & squamata21 I do not know, but they certainly do not belong to Amboyna or Ceram. In fact Muller [,] Fusten[?] & the other naturalists of the Dutch Scientific Commission seem to have been most careless in investigating localities, or even in noting accurately the species actually shot in the several islands, so that the authority of the Leyden Museum can not de be depended upon for locality in any doubtful cases.

Batavia Sept[ember]. 20. I have just received yours of July 22. I know Rozenberg[sic] well: he is a most lucky fellow. In one trip of a few weeks on N[orth] W[est]. coast of N[ew]. Guinea he fell in with lots of rarer things wh[ich]. it took me years to find.. He showed me the head of the Cassowary -- my assistant Allen visited the same spot & staid 3 days but could not get it & in three months in Salwatty & the main land could never get a specimen. Young ones are however often brought to the Moluccas & Macassar & it must some day come 24to Europe. I am still doubtfull about the Aru species, but it must surely be one of the new sp[ecies]. lately described, as the young birds are brought thence annually by dozens! In Allens last coll[ectio]n. Are many rarities & some novelties, wh[ich]. I hope to have the pleasure of showing you myself next spring. He is now at Sula (Sula bessi on the Maps) an island of the Celebes group from which I expect many new things; I have seen a new Loriculus25 from it. I have only just received G. R. Grays list of Molucca birds [.] He makes plenty of n.[?] s.[?] but I think is only perpetuating error by admitting in any form such birds as Buceros lunatus26[,] Megalaima australis27[,] Goura coronata28 & a host of others. I note upwards of 20 wh[ich]. are palpable errors either of locality or identification.

Please do not print this gossiping letter, except an extract or two.

With best wishes | I remain | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

P. L. Sclater M.A.


1. "A. R. Wallace" is written vertically (upward) in the left margin with "Sept 1861" written similarly in parallel and below. "My" of the original letter is over-written. The hand-writing does not appear to be that of ARW.

2. Members (genus = Babyrousa) of the Pig family (Suidae).

3. A cross is inserted before the "I".

4. Group of Parrots.

5. Genus of Lorikeet in the Parrot family.

6. Genus made up of Crows.

7. Genus of Hornbills.

8. Genus of Cockatoos.

9. Forms, with other birds, a superspecies of Orioles.

10. Group of Friarbirds.

11. Group of Kingfishers.

12. Family of medium-sized passerine birds.

13. A species within the Pigeon family.

14. Genus of birds made up by the Pratincoles.

15. Order of insects commonly called Beetles.

16. Two crosses appear in the bottom right hand corner of the page.

17. A cross is inserted before the "I".

18. A cross is inserted in the left margin.

19. A term used for Parrots.

20. A term used for Birds of Paradise.

21. A species of Lory.

22. A species of Cockatoo.

23. Prahuw or prahu is a type of sailing boat.

24. "I never heard of this new Chalcopsitta & doubt it" is written vertically (upward) in the left margin. Chalcopsitta is a genus of parrots.

25. Genus of Parrot.

26. A species of hornbill.

27. A species of barbet.

28. A species of pigeon.

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