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Record number: WCP2024

Sent by:
James Motley
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
22 May 1858

Sent by James Motley, Kalangan, Banjermassing [Banjarmasin], [Indonesia] to Alfred Russel Wallace Ternate Island, Moluccas, [Indonesia] on 22 May 1858.

Record created:
30 November 2011 by Mayer, Anna


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LETTER (WCP2024.1914)

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

Held by:
British Library, The
Finding number:
BL Add. 46435 ff. 2-3
Copyright owner:
©Will Motley

Physical description

Transcription information




Kalangan, Banjermassing1

May. 22. 1858

Alfred R.Wallace Esq.

My dear Sir,

I have received only a few days ago your letter from Ternate dated Jan 4th.2 I have naturally heard of your wanderings in these countries, & I have long hoped to meet with you, a good fortune to which it appears I am not destined. I believe indeed that it is very unfortunate that you have not visited Banjermassing. There is no spot in Borneo which off[ers] such easy access to the interior, from its enormous rivers & the very friendly character of the Dyak tribes. & though I have only within two or three months commenced collecting thence, I have reason to suppose that the country is exceedingly rich in insects. I have just despatched to Mr Dillwyn3 a collection in other branches of natural history, among which are some rare if not new species it consists of between 500 & 600 specimens comprising 185 species of birds4 35 mammalia & about 50 reptilia the generality of which are very beautiful specimens, but my time is so fully employed here, that I have col[lected] but few of them myself. I have in my service a C[hinese?][Corner missing] [[2]] collector, but I have not yet brought him into the way of collecting insects, he is however a clever & enterprising fellow afraid of nothing, & well acquainted with the interior, & should it fall in your way to come here I shall with pleasure send him with you into the heart of Borneo, & I really believe we should both profit by such an arrangement. I have lately commenced a collection of coleoptera, hemiptera &c &c in conjunction with one of my mining pupils here Mr van Heekeren, this collection is destined for Leyden, but we shall doubtless have many duplicates which I shall be most happy to exchange with you however you must not expect to receive them very soon, as we have yet perhaps less than 1500 specimens, but as we have very little time, & have been at work about 2 months only I consider that we go on pretty well. For the lepidoptera we have also good intentions, but we wait for more boxes, & as you by this time very well know, this is a horribly slow country [.] we are also terribly at a loss for pins, & if you could give me a hint about the best way of procuring them & the terms in which to order them, as to numbers or sizes you would do me a great favour.

Among the specimens sent to Mr Dillwyn are two sculls[sic] and one skin of the great orang Hutan of very uncommonly large size5. I am pretty sure such specimens have not been seen in Europe, the animal from which the skin was taken [[3]] measured 11 feet6 over the outstretched anus, unhappily he received a ball in the mouth & the canines on one side are shattered. While in the Far East should you hear any tidings of an animal which seems some what[sic] apocryphal, I should be very much obliged for them[.] I mean a species of alligator of which I have had reports from the native traders to the Aru Islands & new Guinea, they call it buaya Kodok or toad alligator & it is reported to have a tail less than half the length of the body7. I am much interested in the saurians, & of this species either a young one in spirits or an adult scull would be exceedingly acceptable, if indeed the species exists. A saurian with a carapace or a tortoise with a sauroid tail & head, whichever it may be, is also said to exist in New Guinea.

I am not yet altogether without hopes of seeing you in this part of the world; & hoping to have the pleasure of an occasional letter from you.

I remain | my dear Sir | Yours | James Motley [signature]

P.S. I omitted to tell you that we have here an acquaintance of yours, from whom I have frequently heard of you, Mr van der Tak of the Handel Maatschappij.8 he is well I believe but stationed too far from me to be asked if he has any message for you.


Alfred R. Wallace Esq

[c/o] Messrs Duivenboden


James Motley10


1. Banjermassing (now spelt Banjarmasin) is the main town of S.E.Borneo. Motley was developing the Julia Hermina coal mine some 50 km to the south east.

2. In the Malay Archipelago, ARW says he arrived at Ternate on 8th January, so the letter must have been written on his voyage from Amboyna.

3. Lewis Llwelyn Dillwyn (1814-1892) had been M.P. fo Swansea since 1855. He was a Fellow of the Geological and Linnean Societies but, it seems, principally a collector. Motley had known him and his father when he lived in the Swansea area before leaving for Borneo in 1849. Dillwyn arranged the publication of a jointly authored, illustrated journal, Contributions to the Natural History of Labuan, and the Adjacent Coasts of Borneo, of which only Part I appeared, in 1855.

4. The word birds has been circled later and a question mark added. He probably meant 185 in all i.e. 100 birds, plus the 35 mammals and 50 reptilia. In 1863, P.L.Sclater published a paper on the birds sent by Motley to Dillwyn which totalled 134 species (Proc.Zool.Soc., XIV, pp.206-224) and there is evidence for a few more in other collections, but nowhere near 185.

5. These are probably part of the collection presented to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society by Dillwyn, as recorded in their 41st Report of Council for 1860-61: "A valuable series of 141 specimens from Borneo ¡K Two fine skulls and Skin of a very large Orang Outan ...". Motley had separately presented many other birds, animals, and "A series of Fossils, from the Tertiary Coal Field of South Borneo".

6. ARW annotated "11 feet" in top margin of page with "my longest 7.8!"

7. Buaya Kokok is not an entirely apopcryphal name (e.g. Muin. A & W. Ramano (1994) Preliminary survey of Buaya Sumpit (Tomistoma schlegelli) and Buaya Kokok (Crocodylus siamensis) in East Kalimantan) but the animals referred to were. The range of Crocodylus siamensis , which doesn’t have a particularly short tail, is not thought to have extended east of Borneo, and neither the new Guinea Crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae), nor the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) fit either of the reports described.

8. Handel Maatschappij = [Netherlands] Trading Society (successor to Dutch East India Company)

9. ONGERFRANKEERD BANJARMASSING ZEE BRIEE = Unfranked Banjarmassing Sea (ZEE) BRIEE is marked on the cover of the letter [mail ship's name?]

10. James Motley (1822-1859) was born in Leeds, educated in York and at St.John’s College, Cambridge, and spent part of his youth and the first part of his working life in South Wales where his father had investments in iron and, later, tin works. He was an ardent naturalist, being particularly interested in botany. He worked as a mineral surveyor and mine manager and moved to Labuan in 1849 in that capacity. He left for Singapore in 1853 and spent part of 1854 travelling, partly in search of work, in Sumatra and Java until he obtained his final job with a Dutch firm S.E. of Banjarmasin. He corresponded with, and sent specimens to, the Hookers at Kew Gardens (botany and artefacts), William Mitten (bryophytes), and others besides Dillwyn (birds, mammals, and reptiles). He also corresponded with De la Beche and others on geology, especially about coal and its origin.

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