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Record number: WCP352

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
George Silk
19 March 1854

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Euxine steamer to George Silk [none given] on 19 March 1854.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.


Re. journey to Alexandria; life on board ship, fellow travellers, anti-cholera precautions at Gibraltar, Cairo, the desert, Alexandria, donkey drivers.

Record notes

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • publication (1)

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LETTER (WCP352.352)

A typical letter handwritten by other in English.

Copy of letter possibly in hand of Wallace's mother, Mary Ann Wallace.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/27
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information




Copy of Alfred[]s letter from Euxine P O C[?] Steamer Mediterranean to G. Silk

March 19. 1854

All right so far -- We have had beautiful weather. I was sick only one day qualmish two or three more -- This ship is crowded we have four births[sic] in our cabin 3 occupied and there is not room for two to dress in it at once. I am in the lower tier[.] They are luckily well ventilated and so are pretty comfortable. We sit down 60 to dinner, everything is generally cold & the only way to get a good dinner is to seize on the nearest dish to you and stick to it till exhausted nature is replenished. Our hours are Breakfast 9 Lunch 12 -- Soda water Ale[?] & bread and cheese wine & Spirits ad lib.. Dinner at 4 Claret Port & Sherry with Champagne twice a week -- Tea at 7. [1 word illeg.] 8 to 9 Lights extinguished at ½ past 10 -- Our company consists of a few officers and about 20 cadets for India 3 ~ 4 Scotch clerks for Calcutta -- same number of business men for Australia - a chinese interpreter and two or three others for China/Frenchmen -- [1 word deleted illeg.] Portuguese officer for Goa with whom I converse. 3 Spaniards going to the Phillip Philippines (very grave) a Gentleman and two Ladies (Dutch) going to Batavia and some offices & miscellania for Alexandria and others we have left at Malta -- There are two or three chess players & I am hear/now[?] so much improved that I think I should have some chance with you -- At Gibraltar we lay 24 hours in Lenamantane[?] -- a boat came alongside with a health officer in the stern, selling fruit, cigars &c all [[2]] handed up with tongs and payment received in a basin of water, all for fear of Cholera[.]

We reached Malta at night & left at 10 the next morning I went on shore from 6 to 9 saw the streets and the market, heard Maltese spoken, admired the beggar boys and Girls and walked through the Cathedral of St John gorgeous with gold and marble and the tombs of the Knights of Malta. We have had lovely weather but the boat is slow going generally only 9 Knots so we are two days behind time, but we hope to make it up on the other side of the Isthmus in the "Bengal" which is a fast boat and much more commodious having 2200 tons & the cabins much larger. Tomorrow morning we are to reach Alexandria & then for Cairo and the desert with a glimpse at the Pyramids I hope -- a parson came on board at Malta going to Jerusalem a Mr Hayward, my namesake also came on board there, he goes to Bombay where he has been before. He is a neat figure, sharp face and very respectable, not at all like me!

I have found no acquaintance on board who exactly suits me so shall have less to regret at parting with them. One of my cabin mates is going to Australia reads "How to make money" seems to be always thinking of it and is very dull and unsociable, the other is a young Cadet, very aristocratic -- great in Dressing Case & Jewellery, Takes an hour to dress & reads the Hindostany [sic] Grammar. The Frenchman, the Portuguese & the Scotchman I find the most amusing, there is a little fat navy Lieut. who is very amusing [[3]] tries practical jokes and has set up a "monte" table. If you have no more than this it will go from Alexandria. If not I will continue it --

so adieu

Steamer "Bengal" Red Sea

March 26th

I now go on with my account and hope to give you some idea of the state of Egypt &c &c Of all the eventful days of my life my first in Alexandria was the most striking I imagine my feelings when coming out of the Hotel (whither I had been conveyd in an omnibus) for the purpose of taking a quiet stroll through the City -- I found myself in the midst of a vast crowd of donkeys & their drivers all thoroughly determined to appropriate my person to their own use and interest, without in the least consulting my inclinations, In vain with rapid strides and waving arms I endeavoured to clear a way and move forward, arms and legs were seized upon and were the Christian coat tails were not seized from the profane mohometans -- One would hold together two donkeys by their tails while I was struggling between them -- & another forcing together their heads, would thus compel me to mount upon one or both of them and another forcing One fellow more impudent than the rest I laid flat upon the ground and sending the donkeys staggering after [[4]] him, I escaped a moment midst hideous yells and most unearthly cries. I now beckoned to a fellow more sensible looking than the rest and told him that I wished to walk and would take him for a guide & hoped now to be at rest, but vain thought! I was in the hands of the Philistines, and getting us up against a wall they formed an impenetrable phalanx of men and Beasts[?] thoroughly determined that I should only get away from the spot on the legs of a donkey -- Bethinking myself now that donkey riding was a national institution and seeing a far Yankee (very like my Paris friend) mounted, being like myself hopeless of any other means of escape, I seized upon a bridle in hopes that I should then be left in peace But this was the signal for a more furious onset, for seeing that I would at length ride each one was determined that he alone should profit by the transaction and a dozen animals were forced suddenly upon me & a dozen hands tried to lift me upon their respective beasts But now my patience was exhausted so keeping firm hold of the bridle I had just taken with one hand, I hot right & left with the other and calling upon my guide to do the same we succeeded in clearing a little space around us -- Now then behold your friend [[5]] mounted upon a jackass in the streets of Alexandria, a boy behind holding by his tail and whipping him up. Charles (who had been lost sight of in the crowd) upon another and my guide upon another and off we go among a crowd of Jews and Greeks -- Turks and Arabs and veiled women and yelling donkey boys to see the City -- We saw the Bazars & the slave market when I was again nearly pulled to pieces for "backsheash" (money), the mosques with their elegant minirets, [sic] and then the Pashas new Palace the interior of which is most gorgeous. We have lots of Turkish soldiers in comfortable irregularity, and after feeling ourselves to be dreadful Guys for two hours -- returned to the hotel whence we were to start for the canal boats, you may think this account exaggerated, but it is not, the pertinacity vigour and screams of the Alexandrian donkey drivers no description can do justice to -- on our way we passed Pompeys Pillar & then [1 deleted word illeg.] a day in a small boat in a canal, the next day on the Nile mud villages, Palm trees, Camels and irrigating [[6]] wheels turned by buffaloes form the staple of the Landscape with a perfectly flat country often beautifully green with crops of corn & lentils, numerous boats with immense triangular sails -- Here the Pyramids come in sight looking very large -- then a castellated bridge for the Alexandria & Cairo railway -- and then Cairo -- Grand Cairo! The City of Zomanes[?] which we reached just before sunset, We took a guide & walked in the city, very picturesque and dirty -- got to a quiet English hotel where a mussulman waiter rejoicing in the name of "Ali Baba" gave me some splendid tea, brown bread and fresh butter -- One or two French and English travellers were the only company & I could hardly realize my situation. I longed for you to enjoy it with me. Thackerays first day in the East is admirable, read it again it represents my sentiments exactly, In the morning[?] at 7 we started for Suez in small two wheeled omnibuses 6 in each 4 horses change every 5 miles -- a meal every 3 hours at very comfortable stations, The desert is undulating covered with a coarse volcanic gravel the road is excellent Hundreds of Camels skeletons lay all along vultures & a few [[7]] sand grouse were seen also some small sand larks &c We saw the mirage frequently -- near the middle station the Pasha has a hunting lodge like a palace The Indian and Australian mail about 600 boxes & all the parcels & passengers luggage came over on Camels which we passed on the way -- a few odoriferous plants grew here & there in the hollows I made a small collection in my pocket book and got a few land shells. We enjoyed the ride exceedingly and reached Suez at midnight -- Suez is a miserable little town & the Bazar is extraordinarily small dark and dirty & no water or any green thing exists within 10 miles. In the afternoon we were taken on board the ship, a splendid vessel where the cabins are large & comfortable and everything very superior to the Euxine. It is a perfect colour[?] & at length hot and pleasant I cannot write on board ship or I could have filled sheets with an account of "From Alexandria to Suez" I was much pleased. Take this letter to No 44 Albany Street as I cannot now write home ----

Yours sincerely │ Alfred R Wallace [signature]

G C Silk Esqr

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