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Record number: WCP439

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Violet Isabel Wallace
16 March 1887

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Prospect House, Niagara Falls, USA to Violet Isabel Wallace Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming on 16 March 1887.

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


Letter from Alfred Russel Wallace to his daughter Violet from Niagara Falls (Canada), 16 Mar 1887, describing the partly frozen falls and surrounding area; ferns entirely absent, probably taken by tourists, every rock and stump covered with (carved) names.

Record contains:

  • enclosure (1)
  • letter (1)
  • envelope (1)

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LETTER (WCP439.439)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/5/20(1)
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Item notes

Physical description

Transcription information




Prospect House, Niagara Falls.

March 16th. 1887

My dear Violet1

Here I am looking at Niagara in a snowstorm! I have been giving three or four lectures in Canada at Kingston and Toronto, and am stopping here on my way back in case I should not have another opportunity. I arrived here the day before yesterday in the evening, & have spent most of the time since walking about on this - the Canada side, looking at the falls from various points of view. I meant to go over to the American side today but it is snowing hard. The falls are grand, but not so awfully grand as I had expected. There are some fine masses and hills of the ice below the American falls & fine drapery of icicles near the sides where the water is shallow, and on the American side the trees on goat Luna Island are densely covered with [[2]] the frozen spray and look very beautiful. I enclose a little plan of the shape of the falls. On our side of the Horse shoe fall the water is much the deepest and where it falls over the edge it is deep green till a little way down it breaks into white & then gets lost in the cloud of spray. This spray hides the bottom of the fall all across, and towards the centre where the rock appears to have fallen away most and the rush & fall of the water is most violent the spray cloud rises up far above the falls and even mingles with the clouds in dull weather as we have it now. (4.O. Cl.)[4 oclock] It cleared up and I have been on the American side all the morning. It is much more picturesque and beautiful there as the Islands are all wild natural wood and there are paths and balconies by which you can get close to the edge of the falls in several places. At the points A, [[3]] B. and C. there are splendid views, and on the little islands called "The Three Sisters" to which there are bridges you are in the midst of the most magnificent rapids wh.[ich] would be worth going to see if there were no falls at all. The river here is about a mile wide pouring over tremendous rocks in a series of roaring cataracts five or six feet deep each, the great depth of the water & the rapidity of the stream making it very grand. But the most beautiful sight of all is the little Luna Island where the spray from the falls freezes on the trees and coats every branch and twig with pure white ice till they look like some wonderful fantastic corals. The trees are mostly arbor-vitae, some tall, old, and battered, others small, but all so turned into ice corals that to stand away there & look through them is like a scene in fairy-land. After going all round Goat Island and seeing the [[4]] falls and Rapids from every point of view I came back again to Luna Is.[land] in order to see the wonderful scene again. It is called Luna Is.[land] because from it you see fine lunar rainbows on the spray of the falls at full moon.

I looked all about the islands for ferns but could not see a single specimen of any kind. Yet it is just the place for ferns, rocks, wood, damp air & plenty of moss, so I believe they must have been entirely exterminated by tourists who come here at the rate of 40 or 50 thousand a year. Every smooth tree, every stump, every bench is carved with names, and of course ferns would be a memento not to be revisited.

I have tried to find a really good photo.[graph] of the falls but all are imperfect. I have however chosen one good sized one giving the American side of the Horseshoe fall to be mounted & framed when I come home.

Love to Ma2 & Willie3 | from your affectionate Papa | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

I did not find Canada so very cold though all the country is covered with thick snow[.] Here there is very little snow but it freezes every night. 4


1. Violet Wallace (1869-1945), ARWs daughter

2. Annie Wallace (neé Mitten) (1846-1914), ARWs wife

3. William Greenell Wallace (1871-1951) ARWs son

4. This text is written vertically up the left margin of page 4.

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