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Record number: WCP361

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
25 December 1855

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Sarawak to Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell) 7 Conduit Street, Regent Street, London on 25 December 1855.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.
Verified by:
20/06/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


Re. Christmas day with the Rajah (Sir James Brooke); admirable character of Brooke; expedition into interior with Dyaks; character and customs of Dyak people; the Malays; fears plants sent to England dead, plans to collect in Celebes; Miss Woodford recommended as wife for Alfred Russel Wallace by G S (George Silk); possible trip to California.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • publication (2)

View item:

LETTER (WCP361.361)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/36
Copyright owner:
©A. R. Wallace Literary Estate
Record scrutiny:
20/06/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information




Xmas day, 1855. Sarawak1

My dear Mother

I have just received yours of Sept[embe]r. 18th (why do you always write in the middle of the month when the post day is the 4th.) and Fannys of the 30th. You will see I am spending a second Christmas day with the Rajah and may probably not return to Singapore for near a month. I wrote hastily about 2 months ago acknowledging the receipt of the box with bacon &c. The Bacon turned out more eatable than I expected and was very useful as by frying a little it formed fat to cook fowl in. Since then I have lived a month with the Dyaks & have been a journey about 60 miles into the interior. I have been very much pleased with the Dyaks. They are a very kind simple & hospitable people and I do not wonder at the great interest Sir J[ames]. Brooke takes in them. They are more communicative & lively than the American indians and it is therefore more agreeable to live with them. In moral character they are far superior to either Malays or Chinese for though head-taking has been a custom among them it is only as a trophy of war. In their own villages crimes are very rare. Ever since Sir. J.[ames Brooke] has been here more than 12 years in a large population there has been but one case of murder in a Dyak tribe & that one was committed by a stranger who had been adopted [[2]] into the tribe. One wet day I got a piece of string to show them how to play "scratch cradle"2 & was quite astonished to find that they knew it better than I did & could make all sorts of new figures I had never seen. They were also very clever at tricks with string on their fingers which seemed to be a favourite amusement. Many of the distant tribes think the Rajah cannot be a man. They ask all sorts of curious questions about him, Whether he is not as old as the mountains, whether he cannot bring the dead to life, and I have no doubt for many years after his death, he will be looked upon as a deity & expected to come back again.

I have now seen a good deal of Sir James & the more I see of him the more I admire him. With the highest talents for government he combines the greatest goodness of heart & gentleness of manner. At the same time he has such confidence & determination, that he has put down with the greatest ease some conspiracies of one or two Malay chiefs against him. It is a unique case in the history of the world, for a European Gentleman to rule over two conflicting races of semi-savages with their own consent, without any means of coercion, & depending solely upon [[3]] them for protection & support, and at the same time to introduce the benefits of civilization & check all crime & semibarbarous practices. Under his government "running a muck" so frequent in all other Malay countries has never taken place, & with a population of 30,000 Malays all of whom carry their "Cruse" & revenge an insult by a stab, murders do not occur more than once in 5 or 6 years. The people are never taxed but with their own consent & Sir J[ame].s private fortune has been spent in the government & improvement of the Country, yet this is the man who has been accused of injuring other parties for his own private interests, & of wholesale murder & butchery to secure his government!

I am afraid my plants will arrive all dead, if so I shall send a few more overland. I have done very well in Borneo altogether but hope to do better in Celebes. I hope to hear good news of Conduit St. during the fine weather of the winter & spring when London will be full again. G.S. mentions a young lady "Miss Woodford" whom you know in higher terms than I ever heard him speak of any young lady before, & then concludes by recommending her to me! if still single when I return. I am glad John is so busy & getting plenty of Dollars. When I go over I shall perhaps [[4]] do a little Surveying with him if it pays well. Of course it is nearer to go to California across the Pacific than by Europe & far less expensive.

I will write more fully when I return to Singapore. In haste now I remain

Your ever affectionate Son | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Mrs Wallace

Via Southampton3

Mrs Wallace

7 Conduit St.

Regent St.



1. Underneath the date line "Sarawak" is written a second time in heavier black ink -- apparently in a different hand.

2. Cats cradle.

3. Text from here to the end of the recipients address is written at ninety degrees to the main text to show when folded. Two postmarks but largely illegible -- one in black ink appears "S[ingapore?] P.O."; second in brown ink. Also on p.4 in blue pencil in another hand "Xmas 1855".

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