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Alfred Russel Wallace

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12 January 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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Manuscript entitled "On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago" written by Alfred Russel Wallace.

Handwritten by author in English.

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Royal Geographical Society
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ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago

The Malay or Indian Archipelago is that extensive group of islands, which occupies the space between South Eastern Asia and Australia and divides the Indian from the Pacific Ocean. From whatever point of view we regard survey this portion of the Earths surface, whether as regards its superficial extent, - or the immense number of islands with which it is overspread, - or the individual size of those islands; - whether we examine their peculiarities of climate, or their geological structure, - their rich & varied vegetation, their wonderful animal productions or the strongly contrasted races of mankind that inhabit them; - or if lastly we look at them in from a commercial & political point of view, noting the varied products which they furnish to supply the necessities & luxuries of mankind, trace the struggles of the chief nations of Europe for a share in their fertile soil, and watch the interesting moral & political problems now [[2]]3 being worked out there, - we shall be convinced that no portionart of the world can offer a greater variety number of interesting facts for our contemplation, or furnish us with more extensive & varied materials for speculation, in almost every great department of human knowledge.

On the present occasion I propose to bring before you the give a sketch of what is morest interesting facts of in the Physical Geography of this region, including in that term the general relations of the Organic world to the present & past conditions of the earths surface.

1. Definition of the Archipelago, Position, Extent & magnitude of the chief islands.

It first becomes necessary to define accurately the limits of the Archipelago pointing out exactly what islands we include within it, - for though "All the islands between S[outh]. E[ast]. Asia [[3]]4 and Australia "seems pretty definite, yet to the eastwards descend to this regions blends insensibly into the vast extent of the Pacific Islands. According to my views the Malay, or as I should prefer to name it, the Indo-Australian Archipelago extends from the Nicobar Islands on the N[orth]. West to St. Cristoval, one of the Solomon Islands on the S[outh]. East, and from Luzon on the N[orth]. to Rotti near Timor on the S[outh]. The eastern boundary is drawn at this particular point for reasons which will be explained further on. Though not geographically correct to include any part of a continent in an Archipelago, it is necessary for our purpose to consider the Malay peninsula as not only almost but quite an island, since it cannot be physically separated from the region of which we are now treating.

Thus limited the Archipelago is of a somewhat triangular form with an extreme length of about 5000 and breadth of rather more than 2000 English miles. But we shall give a


The mere statement of these dimensions however will give but an imperfect idea of the extent & geographical importance of this region, which owing to its peculiar position is worse represented on maps than any other on the globe. In many atlases of great pretension there is no map of the whole Archipelago. A small portion of it generally comes in with Asia, and another piece with the Pacific Islands, but in order to ascertain its form & extent as a whole we are almost always obliged to turn to the map of the Eastern Hemisphere. It thus happens that never seldom seeing this region except on a diminutive scale, its real form, dimensions, & the size situations & names of its component islands are perhaps less familiar to educated persons than those of any other countries of equal importance. They can hardly bring themselves to imagine that this sea of islands is really in many respects comparable with the great continents of the earth. The traveller however [[5]]6 soon acquires different ideas. He finds himself sailing for days or even for weeks along the shores of one of these great islands, often so great that the inhabitants believe it to be a boundless continent. He finds that voyages among these islands are commonly reckoned by weeks & months, and that the inhabitants of the Eastern & Western portions of the Archipelago are as mutually unknown to each other as were are the native races of North & South America. On visiting the coasts of one of the larger islands, he hears of the distinct kingdoms which lay along the its shores, of the remote north or East or South of which he can obtain little definite information, & of the wild & inaccessible interior inhabited by cannibals & demons, the haunt of the charmed deer which hes bears a previous jewel in its forehead, & of the primeaval[sic] men who have not yet lost their tails.

The traveller therefore soon looks upon this region as one altogether apart, he finds it possesses its own races of men [[6]]7 and its own aspects of nature. It is an island world with insular ideas & feelings, customs & modes of speech, altogether cut off from the great continents into which we are accustomed to divide the globe, and quite incapable of being classed with any of them. Its dimensions too are continental. You may travel as many thousand miles across it in various directions, occupying as many weeks or months, as would be necessary to be explore any of the so-called quarters of the globe. It contains as much variety in its climate in its physical phenomena, its animate & inanimate life, as those and its races of mankind as any some of those regions exhibit. If therefore thise claim of Australia to be a fifth division of the globe be admitted I would ask for this great Archipelago (at least on thise present occasion) to be considered a sixth.

I will now endeavour to give you a [[7]]8 clearer idea of its extent & magnitude by comparing it with some regions nearer home. If first, we bring the Malay archipelago to Europe keeping the meridians parallel, & place the western extremity of the island of Sumatra upon the Lands End, New Guinea will then spread over Turkey & a good deal of Persia, and the Salomon[sic] Is[lands]. Will reach to the borders of the Punjaube, while the northern extremity of Luzon will be in Thailand near the White sea and the islands of Timor & Rotti will be in Syria. The area of the whole archipelago is however much less than its dimensions would seem to imply being on a fair calculation about equal to that portion of Europe which lies south of St. Petersburgh[sic] & the Shetland Islands./

Again if we compare it with equatorial America we shall find f its extent to in Longitude to exceed the width of that great continent, Sumatra stretching out into the Pacific, to the west [[8]]9 of Panama while New Guinea would be washed by the Atlantic to the East of Pernambuco.

This great region of mingled land & water is then as a whole comparable in its dimensions with the primary divisions of the Earth, - while its component parts are on an equally extended scale, two of the islands, Borneo & New Guinea, being the largest on the globe. They are nearly equal in extent, & the only other island which approaches them is Madagascar. 10Borneo would contain within its vast area the whole of Great Britain & Ireland, with all their islets from Scilly to Shetlands in their true relative positions, & still leave boundless forests stretching out beyond like an ocean beyond them. Then comes Sumatra about equal to Great Britain, after which follow Java Luzon & Celebes, either of which may compare in size with Ireland or one of the larger N[ew]. Zealand Islands. After these follow at least 20 succeed 18 Islands which average as large as Jamaica, more than 100 about the size of the Isles of Wight & Man with many thousands of isles & islets below these and which are practically innumerable. 11


In their physical constitution & attendant phenomena the islands of the Archipelago offer us many some remarkable & instructive contrasts. Active & extinct volcanoes are abundant in many of the islands, - in others they are altogether absent. The former as a general rule are subject to frequent earthquakes, & which in the others are quite unknown. In the greater part of the archipelago one vast ever verdant forest covers hill & valley, plain & mountain, up to the very loftiest summits; - whereas in another & much smaller portion such dense & gloomy forests are altogether unknown, the country consisting of arid hills & plains with a comparatively scanty covering of shrubs & trees.

Again over some extensive districts, the monsoons or periodical winds with their attendant rains or drought divide the year into a well defined and regularly recurring wet and dry season. Over other [[10]]13 scarcely less extensive districts no such regularity exists, the inhabitants themselves can hardly tell you when their rainy or dry season usually begins, and the traveller soon finds the climate to be almost as variable and the skies as inconstant as in our own much-abused island. Even in districts where the season is regular there are no less striking contrasts, one portion of an island having its wet season weather, while the remainder is parched up, and islands within sight of each other having very different seasons.

There is yet another contrasting aspect in which the Archipelago may be viewed, less obvious but leading to far more important results than any I have yet mentioned; it is namely,, that one large portion of it is connected by a very shallow sea to the Continent of Asia, another part if similarly joined to Australia, while the remaining islands are surrounded by a practically unfathomable ocean.


We shall consider the chief islands of the archipelago therefore under the heads of, 1st. Volcanic, & Non-volcanic; 2nd Forest country & open country; 3rd. Well marked seasons, & undefined seasons; & 4th the western or Indo-Malayan Region, & the Eastern or Austro-Malayan Region.

15 Looking at a map on which the volcanic regions of the archipelago are marked out, - those which are subject to earthquakes, which are of volcanic origin, & which abound more or less in extinct as well as actives volcanoes, - we see at a glance that the great islands of Borneo and Celebes, form the central mass around which the volcanic islands are distributed, so as rudely to follow their outline & embrace them on every side but one in a vast fiery girdle. Along this great [[12]]16 volcanic band (about five thousand miles in length) about at least fifty mountains are continually active, visibly emitting smoke or vapour, a much larger number are known to have been in eruption during the last 300 years, while the number which are so decidedly of volcanic origin that they may at any moment burst forth again, must be reckoned by hundreds.

In the whole region occupied by this volcanic belt, & for a considerable breadth on each side of it, eart[h]quakes are of continual occurrence, slight shocks occurring being felt at intervals of every few weeks or months, while more severe ones, shaking down whole villages & doing more or less injury to life & property are sure to happen in one part or another of this belt district almost every year. In many of the islands the years of the great eart[h]quakes from the chronological [[13]]17 epochs of the native inhabitants, by the aid of which the ages of their children are ascertained remembered and the dates of many important events are remembered. determined.

It is not now my object to describe the many fearful eruptions that have taken place in this region. In the amount of injury to life & property, and in the magnitude of their effects, they have not been surpassed by any upon record -- Forty villages were destroyed by eruption of Papaudayang in Java, when the whole mountain was blown up by repeated explosions and a large lake left in its place. By the great eruption of Toruboro in Sumbawa 12,000 people were destroyed, and the ashes darkened the air & fell & thick upon the ground earth & sea for 300 miles round. Even quite recently since I quitted the country, a mountain which had been quiescent for more than 200 years suddenly [[14]]18 burst into activity. The island of Makian one of the Moluccas was burst rent open in 1646 by a violent eruption which left a huge chasm of on one side extending into the heart of the mountain. It was, when I last visited it, clothed with vegetation to the summit & contained 12 populous Malay villages. On the 29th of last December (1862) after 215 years of perfect inaction it again suddenly burst forth, blowing up & completely altering the appearance of the mountain, destroying the greater part of the inhabitants and sending forth such volumes of ashes as to darken the air at Ternate forty miles off & almost entirely to destroy the growing crops on that & the surrounding islands --

The island of Java contains more volcanoes, active and extinct, than any other known district of equal [[15]]19 extent. They are about 45 in number and many of them exhibit most beautiful examples of the volcanic cone on a large scale, 20single or double, perfect with entire or truncated summits, and averaging 10,000 feet high.

It is now well ascertained that almost all volcanoes have been slowly built up by the accumulation of the matter, - mud ashes & lava, - ejected by themselves. The openings or craters however frequently shift their position so that a country may be covered with a more or less irregular series of hills in chains & masses only here & there rising with lofty cones, & yet the whole may be formed produced by the true volcanic products action.

In this manner the greater part of Java has been formed. There has been some elevation, especially on the south coast where are extensive cliffs of raised coral limestone; & there may be a substratum of older stratified rocks, but still essentially Java is [[16]]21 the volcanic; and that noble & fertile island with its glorious vegetation lofty central plateaux its rich vegetation & fertile the very garden of the East, & perhaps upon the whole the richest the best cultivated & the best governed tropical island in the world, owes its very existence to thate same intense volcanic activity which still occasionally devastates its surface.

The great island of Sumatra exhibits in proportion to its extent &a much smaller number of volcanoes, & a considerable portion of it has had probably a non-volcanic origin --

To the Eastward the long string of islands from Java passing by the north of Timor & away to Banda are probably all due to volcanic action. Timor itself consists of ancient stratified rocks but is said to have one volcanoe[sic] near its centre.


Going northward Amboyna, & a part of Bouru & the west end of Ceram, the north part of Gilolo & all the small islands around it, the northern extremity of Celebes & the islands of Siau & Sanguir are wholly volcanic. The Philippine Archipelago contains many active & extinct volcanoes & has probably been reduced to its present fragmentary condition by subsidences attending on volcanic action.

All along this great line of volcanoes, are to be found more or less palpable signs of great upheaval & depression of land -- The range of islands south of Sumatra, a part of the S[outh]. coast of Java, & of the islands east of it, the west & east end of Timor, portions of all the Moluccass[sic], the Ke & Aru Islands, & Waigiou & the whole South & East of Gilolo consist in a great measure of upraised coral rock, - exactly corresponding to that [[18]]23 now growing forming in the adjacent seas, - In many places I have observed the very surfaces of the upraised reefs, with the great masses of coral standing up in their natural position and hundreds of shells, so fresh looking that it was hard to believe that had been more than a few years out of the water; and in fact it is very probably that such changes have occurred within a few centuries.

In striking contrast with this region of subterranean fires, the Island of Celebes in all its southern peninsulas, the great Mass of Borneo and the Malay peninsula are not known to contain a single volcano, active or extinct. To the East of the volcanic band is another quiescent area of 1000 miles wide, the great island of New Guinea being free from volcanoes & earthquakes. Towards its eastern extremity however these reappear in some small islands off its coast & in New Britain New Ireland & the Saloman[sic] Is[lands]. which contain active volcanoes.


The difference between the aspect of the volcanic & the non-volcanic regions I by no means so striking as might be imagined. Where active volcanoes or true volcanic peaks exist, a peculiar character is at once given to the islands, which are also in almost every case characterised by excessive fertility. I many of the adjoining regions districts however, though volcanic products may be everywhere visible the general aspect of the country, the outline of the hills, & the character of the vegetation does not differ materially from those of many parts of Borneo & New Guinea. The island of Amboyna for instance consists principally of raised coral rock almost every where covered with deep red volcanic clays & gravels, & in places capped with basalt & lavas, yet the soil is by no means fertile & when the native forest vegetation is cleared off, the ground bears only a scanty covering of dwarf shrubs & rigid herbage. [[20]]25 The chief characteristic of the non-volcanic regions appears to me to consist in the great flat swampy valleys that line the coasts & penetrate far inland between the mountain ranges, - the result of a the long & uninterrupted course action of rivers & tropical rains (combined probably with a slow elevation of the land) in filling up the gulfs that once intervened between the mountain ranges -- An elevation subsidence of a few hundred feet would reduce Borneo into a shape very similar to that of Celebes, which island may be considered to be now in the state that Borneo has just passed out of, & to be still engaged in filling up & converting into swampy plains the deep gulfs that now fill up occupy the spaces between her radiating lines of mountains.

The very extraor[d]inary forms of Celebes & Gilolo have been imputed by some authors to sudden and capricious elevation. Mr. Windsor Earl26 speaks of [[21]]27 of[sic] the volcanic action where it was strongest "throwing the islands into fantastic forms" -- Celebes however is free from volcanoes except at its Northern extremity, and its southern peninsula consists of mountains of basalt & limestone -- From peculiarities in its natural productions from its I believe that is it has recently suffered much the shallowness of some of the gulfs between its peninsulas & the number of coral islets that surround the Southern portion of it, Celebes was once probably much more extensive, perhaps equal to Borneo, at a time when Borneo was just rising above the ocean & having the form perhaps rudely represented on the diagram -- As in every part of the world of which we have accurate Geological knowledge, risings & sinkings of the land to the amount of several hundreds of feet have repeatedly occurred; these two islands may each have passed successively [[22]]28 taken assumed the form of the other without any violent convulsion -- From the vast swampy level plains which stretch into the very heart of Borneo, allowing vessels to ascend into rivers Southern rivers about 300 miles in a straight line, - it has probably been for a long time stationary & thus been enabled to fill up the gulfs that formerly penetrated it -- At a still earlier period it must have been much more deeply submerged, to when the coal extensive coal beds now found in almost every part of it were being formed -- This however was at no very remote period geologically speaking, for the Coal of Borneo is all tertiary. -- Instead of the ferns & lepidodendra & other plants of extinct genera which abound in our coal shales, those, of Borneo contain only impressions of leaves of exogenous trees which can hardly be distinguished from those growing in the surrounding forests.


30The contrasts of vegetation & of climate in the Archipelago may best be considered together, the one being to some extent dependent on the other.

Placed immediately up on the equator & surrounded by extensive oceans, it is not surprising that the various islands of the Archipelago should be almost always clothed with a forest vegetation from the level of the sea to the summits of the loftiest mountains. This is the general rule. Sumatra, New Guinea, Borneo, the Philippines & the Moluccas & all the uncultivated parts of Java and Celebes are all forest countries, except a few small & unimportant tracts due perhaps in some cases to ancient cultivation or accidental fires. To this however there is one important exception in the island of Timor and all the smaller islands opposite, and in which there is absolutely no forest such as are found exists in the other islands, and this character extends in a lesser degree [[24]]31 to Flores, Sumbawa, Lombock & Bali.

In Timor the most common trees are Eucalypti of several species, so characteristic of Australia, with Sandalwood, Accacia[sic] & others sorts in less abundance. These are scattered over the country more or less thickly; but never so much as to deserve the name of a forest. Coarse & scanty grassyes grow beneath them on the more barren hills, & a luxuriant herbage in the moister localities. In the islands between Timor & Java there is often a more thickly wooded country, but thorny & prickly trees abound, and they seldom reach any great height and in during the height force of the dry season they almost completely lose their leaves, allowing the ground to be parched beneath them, & contrasting strongly with the damp, gloomy, ever verdant forests of the other islands. This peculiar character, which extends in a less degree to the Southern peninsulas of Celebes and the E[ast]. end of Java, is most probably owing to the proximity of Australia. The S[outh]. E[ast]. monsoon which lasts for about 2/3 [[25]]32 of the year (from March to November) blowing from over the Northern parts of that country, where the sun is verti produces a degree of heat and dryness which assimilates the vegetation & physical aspect of the adjacent islands to its own. A little further Eastward in Timor Laut & the Ke islands a moister climate prevails, the S[outh]. E[ast]. winds blowing from the Pacific through Torres Straits, and as a consequence every rocky islet is clothed with verdure to its very summit. Further west again, as the same winds blow over a wider & wider extent of ocean, they have time to absorb fresh moisture and we accordingly find the island of Java possessing a less & less arid climate in the dry season, till in the extreme west of the near Batavia rain occurs more or less all the year round, and the mountains are everywhere clothed with forests of unexampled luxuriance.

33The changes of the monsoons & of the wet and dry seasons in some parts of the Archipelago are very puzzling, and an accurate series of observations in numerous localities [[26]]34 is required to elucidate them | -- "Speaking generally", said Mr Wallace "the whole South western part of the Archipelago including the whole range of islands from Sumatra to Timor with the larger half of Borneo & the Southern peninsula of Celebes, have a dry season from April to November with the S[outh]. E[ast]. Monsoon. This same wind however bends round Borneo becoming the S[outh]. W[est]. Monsoon in the China Sea & bringing the rainy season to Northern Borneo & the Philippines.

In the Moluccas & New Guinea the seasons are most uncertain -- In the S[outh]. E[ast]. Monsoon from April to November it is often stormy & wet at Sea while on the islands it is very fine weather -- There is generally not more than two or three months of dry hot weather about August & September. This is the case in the Northern extremity of Celebes & in Bouru, whereas in Amboyna July & August are the worst months in the year. In Ternate where I resided at intervals for three years I never [[27]]35 could find out which was the wet and which the dry season. The same is the case at Banda, and a similar uncertainty prevails in Menado, showing probably that the proximity of active volcanoes has a great disturbing meteorological influence -- In New Guinea a great amount of rain falls more or less all the year round -- On the whole the only general statement we can make seems to be, that the countries within about 3 degrees on each side of the equator have much rain & not very strongly contrasted seasons, - while those with more south or north latitude, have almost all their daily rains during about four months in the year while for five or six months there is almost continually always a cloudless sky and a continual drought.


We have nowext to consider the Malayan Archipelago in its geological & zoological relations to Asia and to Australia, - it being now a well established fact, that one portion of it is almost as much Asiatic in its organic productions as the British Isles are European, while the remainder bears the same relation to Australia that the West India islands do to America.

It was first pointed out by Mr. George Windsor Earl, in a paper read before this Society eighteen years ago, that a shallow sea connected the great islands of Sumatra Borneo & Java to the Asiatic continent, with which they generally agreed in their natural productions; while a similar shallow sea connected New Guinea & some of the adjacent islands to Australia. Owing however to that gentlemans imperfect knowledge of the animals Natural History of the various islands, he did not fully appreciate the [[29]]37 important results of this observation, and in fact at in the same time paper argued in favour of the former connection of Asia & Australia, - a connection to which, the whole of the bearing of the facts in physical geography & natural history is plainly opposed. to.

In order to make this subject intelligible it is necessary to make a few observations on the connection relations of the geographical distribution of animals & plants with geoglogy.

It is now generally admitted that the present distribution of living things on the surface of the earth, is mainly the result of the last series of changes that surface has undergone. Geology teaches us that the surface of the land & the distribution of land & water is everywhere slowly changing -- It also further teaches us that the forms of life which inhabit that surface have, also during every period of which we possess any record, been also slowly changing.


It is not now necessary to say anything about how either of those changes took place; - as to that, opinions may differ; - but as to the fact that the changes themselves have occurred from the earliest geological ages down to the present day, and are still going on, there is no difference of opinion. -- Every successive stratum of sedimentary rock sand or gravel, is a proof that changes of level have taken place, - and the different species of animals & plants whose remains are found in these deposits prove that corresponding changes did occur in the organic world.

Taking therefore these two series of changes for granted, some of their effects are visible in the present peculiarities and anomalies in the distribution of species. In our own islands with a few very trifling exceptions every quadruped bird reptile, & insects & plant, is found also on the [[31]]39 adjacent continent. In the small island of Corsica there are some quadrupeds birds & insects quite peculiar to it; in Ceylon more closely connected to India than Britain is to Europe many animals & plants of all kinds are quite different from those found in India. In the Galapagos Is[lands]. every living thing was peculiar to them though closely resembling other kinds founds in the neighbouring parts of the American continent.

Now in all cases where we have independent geological evidence, we find, that those islands the inhabitants productions of which are identical with those of the adjacent countries, have been joined to them within a comparatively recent period, such recent unity being in most cases indicated by the very shallow sea still dividing them; - while in cases where the natural productions of two adjacent countries is very different, they have been separated [[32]]40 at a more remote epoch, a fact generally indicated by a deeper sea now dividing them. The reason of this is obvious. For example let a subsidence take place cutting off any portion of a continent & forming an island. The organic productions of the two portions are at first identical, but they are not permanent. The changes that have always gone on still go on. Some species slowly die out new ones take their place and thus in time the animals & plants of the island come to differ from those of the country from which it was severed, & if the subsidence goes which first separated them goes on widening the & deepening the sea between them, there will come in time to be such a marked difference in their productions as we see between Madagascar and Africa.

This general principle is of almost universal [[33]]41 application, so that when we find an island whose animals & plants exactly agreeing in its productions with those of an adjoiningacent land, we also look for evidence of its recent separation from that land; while on the other hand any remarkable diversity of animals or plants natural productions forces on us the conclusion that the watery barrier which now exists has existed for a very long geological period, - and when the diversity is almost total, not only in species but in larger groups such as genera families & orders, - we conclude that these countries could never have been connected since our present continents & oceans had assumed their present general outlines.

42Returning now to the Malay Archipelago we see that the whole of the seas connecting Java Sumatra & Borneo with Malacca & Siam are under 50 fathoms deeper, so that an elevation of only 300 feet would add this [[34]]43 immense district to the Asiatic continent. The 100 fathom line will also include the Philippine Islands and the island of Bali East of Java. From this we should be inclined to think naturally conclude that the subsidence breaking up this portion of Asia had recently taken place, and we have a very suffic[i]ent cause for such subsidence in the vast range of volcanoes in Sumatra and Java whose elevatory action must be have been counterbalanced by some adjacent depression. On examining the zoology of these countries this opinion is confirmed, for we find the most overwhelming evidence that these great islands must have once formed a part of the continent, and could only have been separated at a very recent geological epoch. The Elephant & Tapir of Sumatra & Borneo, the rhinoceros of Sumatra & the allied species of Java, the wild cattle of Borneo & the kind long supposed to be peculiar [[35]]44 to Java are now known all to inhabit some part or other of Southern Asia. None of these large animals could possibly have passed over the arms of the sea which now separate these countries, and therefore plainly indicate that a land communication must have existed since the origin of the species. Among the smaller mammals a considerable portion are common to each island and the continent, but the vast physical changes that must have occurred during the breaking up & subsidence of such extensive regions have led to the extinction of some in one of more of the islands, and in some cases there h seems also to have been time for a change of species to have taken place. Birds & insects illustrate the same view, for every family & almost every genus of birds & insects found in any of the islands, occur also in the Asiatic continent, and in a great number of cases the species are exactly [[36]]45 identical -- Birds offer us one of the best means of determining the laws of distribution, for though at first sight it would appear that the watery boundaries which keep out the land quadrupeds could be easily passed over by birds, yet practically it is not so; for if we fu leave out the aquatic tribes which are preeminently[sic] wanderers, it is found that the others, (& especially the Passeres or true perching birds which form the vast majority), are generally as [word crossed out illeg.] strictly limited by straits and arms of the sea as are quadrupeds themselves. As an instance among the islands of which I am now speaking, it is a remarkable fact that Java possesses numerous birds which never pass over to Sumatra though they are separated by a strait only 15 miles wide and with islands in mid-channel.

Java in fact possesses more birds & insects peculiar to itself than either Sumatra or Borneo, and this [[37]]46 would indicate that it was earliest separated from the continent, - next in organic individuality is Borneo, while Sumatra is so nearly identical with the peninsula of Malacca in all its animal forms, that we may safely conclude it to have been the last most recently forms dismembered island.

The general result therefore at which we arrive is, - that the great islands of Java Sumatra & Borneo resemble in their natural productions the adjacent parts of the continent, almost as much as they re such widely separated districts could be expected to do even if they still formed a part of Asia, - and this close resemblance joined with the fact of the wide extent of sea which separates them being so uniformly & remarkably shallow, - and lastly the existence of the extensive range of volcanoes in Sumatra & Java, which have poured out such [[38]]47 vast quantities of subterranean matter and have built up extensive plateaux & lofty mountain ranges, - and thus furnishing a "vera causa" for a parallel line of subsidence, - all lead us irresistibly to the conclusion that at a very recent geological epoch the continent of Asia extended far beyond its present limits in a South Easterly direction, including the islands of Java Sumatra & Borneo & probably reaching as far as the present 100 fathom line of soundings.

The Philippine Islands are agree in many respects with Asia & the other islands but present some anomalies which seem to indicate that they were separated at an earlier period, & have since been subject to many revolutions in their Physical Geography.

Turning our attention now to the remaining portion of the Archipelago we shall find that all All the other islands of the Archipelago from [[39]]48 Celebes & Lombock Eastward, exhibit almost as close a resemblance to Australia & New Guinea as the Western Islands do to Asia -- It is well known that the natural productions of Australia differ from those of Asia more than those of any of the four ancient quarter 49 of the world do [ from Each other. Australia in fact stands along -- It possesses no Apes or Monkeys, no cats or tigers wolves bears or hyenas, no deer or sheep or oxen, no elephant horse squirrel or rabbit, none in short of those familiar types of quadruped which are met with in every other part of the world. Instead of these it possesses has Marsupials only, Kangaroos & opossums; wombats & the platy duck-billed platypus.

In birds it is almost as peculiar. It has no woodpeckers & no pheasants, families which exist in every other part of the world; but instead of them


Chief islands of the Malay Archipelago.

Sq. miles sq. miles Sq. miles



New Guinea


Comp. with.

German states

Christian Empire





Spanish peninsula

Prussia & German states…..












Great Britain























Sardinia Is[lands]




N. Britain




















N. Ireland..




[[41]] Borneo & Celebes Comp[are]d.

Borneo with Britain in it

Large map showing Volcanoes, Earthquake Regions

Forests & Indo Malayan

Austro Malayan Regions

100 fathom lines

21 32 ½

42 65

7 11



Characteristic Birds.


Characteristic Birds.


Ringnecked Parroquets



Brush tongued Parroquets




Broad tailed Parrots



----------------- CELEBES only.






Fruit thrushes


Paradise Flycatchers


Green birds


Honey suckers

Edolites --

Paradise shrikes.


Paradise Birds




Crow shrikes


Blue drongo


Pheasants & Jungle fowl.


Brush Turkeys.


Cassowary & Emu.


Indian Region


Australian Regions.



Apes & Monkeys.


in Celebes only. 1 sp.


Eastern Lemur


Flying Lemur.


Cats Tigers &c.


Dogs Wolves &c.


Civets, Ichneumons &c.


in Celebes & Moluccas only 1 sp.


Polecats, Otters &c.






in Celebes & Moluccas only 1 sp.


Oxen Cattle & Sheep


in Celebes only 1 sp.




Rhinoceros -----

-- Sus. -----

as far as N. Guinea






Marsupial flying squirrel




Eastern Opossums


Scaly Ant Eater

Dendrolagus &c.



it has the mound making brush-turkeys, the honeysuckers the cockatoos & the brush tongued lories which exist in no other part of the world are found no-where else upon the globe.

54Now all these peculiarities exist also in the Australian portion of the Indian Malay Archipelago, as may be seen by the tables of characteristic mammals & birds of the two regions. It The contrast is nowhere so strangely abruptly exhibited as on passing from the island of Bali to that of Lombock where the two regions are in closest proximity. In Bali we have barbets, fruit thrushes & woodpeckers, - on passing over to Lombock these are seen no more, but be we have abundance of Cockatoos honeysuckers & brush turkeys which are equally unknown in Bali & every island further west. The strait is here 15 miles wide so that we may pass in two hours from one great division of the earth to another, differing as essentially in their animal life as [[45]]55 Europe does from America! If we pass travel from Java or Borneo, to Celebes or the Moluccas, the difference is still more striking -- In the first, the forests abound in Monkeys of many kinds, wild cats, deer, civets & otters & whe numerous varieties of squirrels are constantly met with. In the latter none of these occur, but the prehensile tailed opossum is almost the only terrestrial animal seen except wild pigs, which are found in all the islands, & deer, (which have probably been recently introduced), in Celebes & the Moluccas. The birds which are most abundant U in the Western islands are Woodpeckers, Barbets, Trogons, fruit thrushes, & green birds leaf-thrushes; - they are seen daily, & form the great ornithological features of the country. -- In the Eastern islands these are absolutely unknown, honeysuckers and small lories being the most common birds; - so that the Naturalist feels [[46]]56 himself in a new world, and can hardly realise that he has passed from the one region to the other in a few days without ever being out of sight of land.

The inference that we must draw from these facts is undoubtedly, that the whole of the islands eastwards from Java & Borneo, do essentially form a part of a former Australian or Pacific Continent, from which they were separate not only before the western islands were separate from Asia, but probably before the whole of that extreme south-eastern portion of Asia was raised above the waters of the ocean; - for a great part of the land of Borneo & Java is known to be geologically of very quite recent formation, while the very great difference of species & in many cases of genera also between the productions of the Eastern Malay islands & Australia, [[47]]57 as well as the great depth of the sea now separating them, points to a comparatively long isolation & an early epoch of separation -- It is interesting to observe among the islands themselves how a shallow sea always intimates a recent land-connection. A The Aru Islands Mysol & Waigiou as well as Jobie agree with New Guinea in their Mammalia & Birds much more closely than they do with the Moluccas, & we find that they are all united to New Guinea by a shallow sea -- In fact the 100 fathom line round Australia New Guinea marks out accurately the range of the true Paradise birds.

The existence of a Pacific continent was long ago indicated by Mr. Darwin58s researches on the structure & origin of Coral reefs, - fr the numerous atolls & barrier reefs in the whole of this district are being shown to depend upon [[48]]59 the subsidence of land for long periods. This so exactly agrees with the singular unity now existing among the organic productions of a vast number of islands, which at the same time are very different from those of any other part of the world, that there seems little we must accept it as a fair deduction from the only evidence we can ever hope to obtain of this class of changes.

The nature of the contrast between the two great divisions of the Malay Archipelago will best be understood by comparing it with what would take place if two other primary divisions of the earth were brought into equally close contact. Africa & South America differ very greatly in all their animals though not so much as Asia & Australia.


I would particularly call attention to the fact, that the division of the Archipelago here pointed out, with two regions characterised by a striking diversity in their natural productions, - does not correspond to any of the physical or climatal divisions of the surface. The great volcanic chain runs through both parts; - Borneo closely resembles New Guinea not only in its vast size but in its climate & the general aspect of its vegetation; - the Moluccas are the counterpart of the Philippines, in their volcanic origin, their extreme fertility, their luxuriant forests & their [word crossed out illeg.] frequent earthquakes; - and the East end of Java has a climate almost as dry as that of Timor. -- Yet between these corresponding groups of islands, constructed as it were after the same pattern, there is the greatest possible contrast in their animal productions. Nowhere does the ancient doctrine, [[50]]61 -- that the peculiar animal & vegetable productions of the various countries of the globe, were are directly dependent on the physical conditions of those countries (such as climate soil elevation &c.), - meet with a more direct & palpable contradiction. Borneo & New Guinea, as physically alike as two distinct countries can be, are zoologically wide as the poles asunder, - while Australia, with its dry climate, winds its open plains, stony deserts & temperate climate, closely agrees in many of its forms yet produces the of quadrupeds & birds, which are most nearly allied to those inhabiting the hot damp forests which every where clothe the plains & mountains of New Guinea.


63We can now give the reason for limiting the Malay Archipelago on the East by the Solomon Islands in the Pacific ocean. Certain groups of birds which have their metropolis in New Guinea & extend over the Moluccas to the westward are found also as far as the Solomon Islands to the Eastward but do not extend to New Caledonia, which is much more Australian in its productions, or to the Fejee[sic] Is[lands]. whichere the peculiar Pacific fauna commences. These groups are the scarlet lories & the white cockatoos, and the occurrence of a new species of Cassowary in New Britain is a further indication of these islands being as closely allied to New Guinea on the one hand as are the Moluccas on the other.

The nature of the contrast between these two great divisions of the Malay Archipelago will be best [[52]]64 understood by considering what would take place if any two of the primary divisions of the earth were brought into equally close contact. Africa & South America for for[sic] example differ very greatly in all their animal forms. On the one side we have Baboons, Lions, Elephants, Buffaloes, & Giraffes, - on the other Spider monkeys, Pumas, Tapirs, Anteaters & Sloths; - while among birds, the Hornbills, Turacos, Orioles, & Honeysuckers of Africa, contrast strongly with the Toucans Macaws Chatterers & Humming birds of America.

But let us endeavour to imagine, (what it is very probable may occur in future ages) that a slow upheaval of the bed of the atlantic near both the African & American coasts should take place, while at the same time earthquake shocks & volcanic action on the land should cause increased volumes of sediment to be poured down by the rivers, so that the two continents should gradually [[53]]65 spread out by the addition of newly formed lands so as to reduce the atlantic which now separates them to an area of the sea a few hundred miles wide -- At the same time we may suppose islands to be upheaved in midchannel, and as the subterranean forces varied in intensity & shifted their points of greatest action, these islands would sometimes become connected with the land on one side or other of the strait, & at other times again be separated from it. Several islands would at one time be joined together, at another would be broken up again, till at last after many long ages of such intermittent action we might have an irregular archipelago of islands filling up the ocean channel of the Atlantic, and we could might have nothing in their in whose appearance & arrangement we could discover nothing to tell us which had been connected with Africa & which with America.


The Animals & plants inhabiting these islands would however certainly U reveal this portion of their former history. On those islands which had ever formed a portionart of the S[outh]. American continent we should cert be sure to find such common birds as chatterers & toucans & honey suckers humming birds, and some of the peculiar American quadrupeds; - while on those islands which had been separated from Africa, - Hornbills Orioles & Honeysuckers would as certainly be found. there -- Some portions of the upraised land might at different times have had a temporary connection with both continents, & would then contain a certain amount of mixture in its living inhabitants. Such seems to have been the case with the islands of Celebes & the Philippines. Other islands again, though in such proximity as Bali and Lombock, might each exhibit an almost unmixed [[55]]67 sample of the productions of the continents of which they had directly or indirectly, once formed a part.

In the Malayan Archipelago we have I believe a case exactly parallel to that which I have here supposed. We have indications of a vast continent with a peculiar fauna & flora, having been gradually & irregularly broken up; - the island of Celebes probably marking its furthest westward extension, beyond which was a wide ocean -- At the same time Asia appears to have been extending its limits in a S[outh]. E[ast]. direction, first in an unbroken mass of land, then separated into islands as we now see it; and almost coming into actual contact with the great Australasian continent broken up scattered fragments of the great Southern continent land.


In dwelling upon this subject, which I trust I have succeeded in making intelligible, my object has been to show the important bearing of researches into the natural history of every part of the world, upon the study of its past history. An accurate knowledge of the any group of birds or of insects and of their range [word crossed out illeg.] & given district geographical distribution may assist us to map out the islands & continents of a former epoch; - and the amount of difference that exists between the animals of adjacent district is being closely dependent upon preceeding[sic] geological changes. By the collection of such minute facts alone can we hope to fill up a great gap in the past history of the earth as revealed by geology, - and obtaining some indications of the existence of those ancient lands which now lie buried beneath the ocean, and have left us nothing but these living records of their former existence.


It is for such enquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials, - it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country the geographical distribution & the amount of variation of any species living thing remains imperfectly known. For it is by

Hee[sic] looks upon every species of animal & plant now living, upon the earth as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our Earths history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of every the numerous forms of life, which the progress of cultivation excessively invariably entails, will necessarily render obscure the invaluable record of the past.

It is therefore an important object, which governments & Scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of Natural History should be made & deposited

[[58]] continents & islands, which now lie buried beneath the ocean, and have left us nothing but these living records of their former existence.


in National Museums, where they may be available for study & interpretation.

If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of creation which we had it in our power to preserve, - and, while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handy-work and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth uncared for & unknown.

[[60]] 71


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26. George Windsor Earl (1813 - 1865), English navigator and author of works on the Indian Archipelago

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58. Charles Robert Darwin (1809 -- 1882), English naturalist

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