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Record number: WCP464

Sent by:
Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
14 July 1910

Sent by Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch, Theophilo Ottoni, Brazil to Alfred Russel Wallace Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset on 14 July 1910.

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


Letter from "that wretched T.O.", with thanks for letters and three copies of "The New Age", other copies failed to arrive, presumed stolen, hopes promised copy of Sir Arthur Cotton's tract on agriculture will arrive safely, no news of Velox photographic paper ordered via Mr May; belated news of King's death through local Germans; Paulhan's flight from London to Manchester, speculation on when public air travel will be possible and its effects; hopes for the arrival of Socialism; detailed descriptions of the appearance and behaviour of birds and animals visiting the garden including parakeets, orioles, toucans and callistes, many eating oranges, wrens attacking a snake, woodpeckers apparently eating pawpaws or insects within them; opossums, bats taking food from the table and cooking stove, fruit scarce in forest; night temperatures below freezing, large variation of day and night temperature; cannot consider joining Captain Boynton at the Orinoco because considering move to British Guiana or Victoria (Brazil); has practiced dentistry on Mary [wife] and filled several cavities; good view of Halley's comet; Postscript on a smaller sheet of paper asking cost of land in Hampshire, Devonshire and Somerset and whether peaches can be grown there; where filberts will grow successfully (in Britain); Windermere; asks for news of any land available on the Warwickshire Avon.; Green paper envelope with stamp removed, postmarked Theophilo-Ottoni 17 Jul 1910, addressed to Alfred Russel Wallace at Broadstone; annotated in [Alfred Russel Wallace's or William Greenell Wallace's hand] "Dated - July, 1910".; Birch, Frederick R, fl 1897-1910; Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1823-1913; Cotton, Sir Arthur, knight; Albert Edward Wettin, Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Great Steward of Scotland, 1841-1910; Edward VII, King of Great Britain and Ireland 1901-1910.; Paulhan, Louis, fl 1910; Halley, Edmund 1656-1742; New Age, The, 1907-1922

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LETTER (WCP464.464)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/6/5(1)
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch Literary Estate.

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"That wretched T.D."

July 14. 1910.

We had a grand view of Halleys Comet for a long time & towards the end of its period of visibility I got a few rough sketches of its position amongst the stars. It was high our heads towards the north.

Dear Dr Wallace,

We were very glad to get your last letter & the 3 New Ages[?] (wrapped lengthwise). They came last Friday. The copy of "Intensive Agriculture" which your letter says you were sending did not come between & if it doesnt come this week I shall have to mourn one more loss. I am heartily sick of enriching Brazilians at my & my friends expense. The three N. A.s are for May 12th to May 26th. The batches March & April nos. you write of have not reached us. We have no regular weekly paper from home. My folks sent us two at the time of the election but they did not give the final result -- that came out afterwards.

I thank you very much for getting & sending me Sir Arthur Collows tract on Agriculture. I look for it eagerly & shall be sad if it never reaches us.

Why, we didnt know of the Kings death until we heard of it thro the Germans here! My sister sent me a Manchester Guardian describing Paulhams flight from London to Manchester. What a daring feat! What a splendid courage, triumphing over fear, the man must possess! Why! To take ones life in ones hand is safe [[2]] compared to trusting it in an aeroplane almost at the mercy of every wind that flows!

Wonderful wonderful man to have at last conquered the fields of air & made the ancient dream an actuality! Honour be to the scores of busy brains & skilled hands which have been at work during the last 50 years to bring about this result! They have achieved something the race may well be proud of. How soon do you think the public will be arrived thro the air? I hope you may have that marvellous glorious sensation! I can form some idea of what it must be like from my recollections of the vivid dreams I used to have of flying downstairs, but perhaps it isnt as pleasant as that! Who knows; some day men may be able to soar with as little apparent effort as the vulture, & so gracefully.

Then who will want to dig the soil?! Dont think that I fear any universal dissatisfaction with this need of our nature. I remember too well what happiness I have had from the work I have done on the soil. I remember too that the paper said that Paulham "took lunch" or breakfast before leaving Manchester for London. The farmer will always be honoured amongst men. The danger will be that the nations will allow some of their members to own all the land & keep man toiling on it with bent & aching backs & sweating bodies, whilst they do nothing but soar over them & criticize the results of their work & - devour the best of the fruit. May socialism arrive in time to save us from that! I know that just that is actually happening now. The only difference being that the lords of the earth survey the fields from the automobile instead of from the aeroplane. How long will the toilers induce it? [[3]] It is now some 6 weeks I think since I wrote to Mr. May asking him to send me Velox photo paper as quickly as he could enclosing payment for it -- but I havent heard a word from him. I wrote him again 2 weeks ago asking him to send me name & address of a firm who would supply it if it wasnt convenient for him to get it. If he doesnt reply to this I shall have to fear he is a fraud or ill or absent. It is the 2nd time I have had to wait twice as long as I sd have done, if he had replied as soon as he might have done. His last letter asked me to send him one specimen of each of the species of moths & butterflies found here but he doesnt want to take them all, he only wants to select from them the species new to him & to send the rest on to whoever I name. I replied that it wasnt worth my while to paper & pack & send the common species which he wd be sure to have & that the rarer ones were so rare that I needed all I took of them to make the rest of the collection saleable in England. But that I would put aside for him the 4th specimen of each rare species I took whilst we remained here, or if we went to Victoria, he to pay the prices agreed upon. If the paper doesnt come next week I shall write to the English consul in Rio for the name of a firm. who will supply it. How I wish I had had a reliable agent in Rio! But away with complaints. I realize that I might have made you much happier if I had described our pleasures instead of sending you such groans as I have don!

Truly we have a lot to be thankful for. The days afford us a continual feast of bird sights & sounds now that the oranges are ripe. There are two kinds of parroquets, one dark green with yellowship bronze? chest & sides of neck & a deep red patch on the belly with a large white eye with black pupil & rufons[?] feathers in tail. the other a lighter yellower green, wonderful well matching the foliage, & a small black eye. The latter has a shriller note than the former. They both come in flocks of 15 or 20 & scoop out the oranges as fast as they can, chattering together like a school [[4]] of boys in the playhour. & every now & then squabbling over some bit of the luscious fruit. How well they clean out the fruit, leaving nothing but a clear shell with a ragged hole in one side letting the white lining gleam thro! They learned long ago that no gun was ever fired on this place & they & the other birds have made it their sanctuary. We have to shake the long picker amongst the branches of the tree in the yard 30 or 40 times a day to save any fruit for ourselves. The fruit of the yard tree is finer than that of the trees outside. They are so confiding that I have stood under them & scanned them closely within 4 feet of my face! Along with them are the blue birds, very like those of Trinidad but slightly greyer in the body -- head & neck being a dull dark blue. Then there sure to be a pair (or perhaps two pairs) of the boldly marked black & white long tailed bird about the size of our thrush but having the shape & colouring of the magpie & a strong beak like a sparrows. The head & neck are black, abdomen white extending over shoulders behind bottom of neck in a collar; wings black with a white bar of white & black tips & tail the same. it is a very lively energetic bird & one of the most conspicuous Ive ever seen/ Then there are the black orioles or hangnests rather bigger than our blackbirds & having a large red patch above the tail which is only visible in flight but is then very conspicuous. A flock of 10 or 12 of these make a delightful musical whistling for us every specially pleasant day. They are especially fond of the ripe papaws. so bold that they will keep on eating them tho sulphuratus ubiquitous hyrant flycatcher becomes a fruit eater at this season. I have often seen it eating papaw. The grandest birds at the papaws tho are the sontans. We have two species once with clear orange neck bordered with a lighter colour & black & red back & abdomen & an enormous black bill pamph. orist[?]?, the other smaller with yellow & grey white belly crossed by red bars & the upper mandible ivory white & much smaller than that of any other toucan. They have often come to the trees whilst I was working under them & once a flock of nine of the small species came & surrounded me so that I hardly knew which to watch most! They herald their arrival by their loud harsh notes & fly in a string from the forest straight from our little oasis in the midst of its pasture, their huge beaks looking as if they would surely overbalance them! [[5]] A very strange bird which visits us occasionally we call the water bottle because of the queer noise it makes as it sits up on some bare branched small tree 20 ft. or so above the ground. It grips the branch firmly & draws itself up then suddenly dives its head down to its toes & raises its yellow tail, then recovers. All thro this antic it makes a gargling noise like water being poured from a bottle & ends up with a squeak like that of a cork being drawn! It is about the size of a jackdaw, black, or very dark brown, with a yellow tail, & I think it belongs to the hang nests. It has only this season begun to venture into the garden. (All the birds were much shyer when we first came, but now our ground seems to be headquarters for them. so much do they appreciate the absence of cats & boys & guns!)

The beautiful little Louis dor as it is called in Trinidad is a constant attendant at the oranges. It has a glowing orange breast & belly & forehead & a lovely purple back. but most beautiful of all is the wonderful, the exquisite Calliste! Words fail me to describe the dress of this glorious little bird. A gem in green purple, black, yellow, & brightest gold. Let me try. The males are brighter than the females. Within the bulk of a sparrow it has a black finch like beak with a small patch of black at the base, then its head & upper neck are vivid green, throat black extending in a narrowing collar round lower neck, below this the middle back is yellowish green & yellow & the abdomen green, the wing feathers at the wrist are a fine purple passing to blue & that to black & green in the primaries; below the yellow of back & hidden when the bird is sitting is a large patch of bright golden feathers, & below that again the green & black tail. Surely this must be one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Imagine our delight when, this season, they began to make our yard their headquarters! One morning a fortnight ago when the best papaw tree had 4 ripe fruits ready, I went out to save some of them for ourselves, the birds having already mounted it to the top step & yet one of the callistes remained pecking away at the fruit as if for dear life & only flew when I stretched up my arm to pull the fruit! When I had got down I leaned against the tree & held one of the fruits up & the little flock [1 word illeg.] ferns[?] came round me 6 or 7 or 8 of them, & cocked their heads [[6]] to one side & looked at the fruit as if asking each other "Shall we dare?" & I thought one would have actually settled on it as I held it up, for it came within 3 ft of my hand! But none dared then. (I am hoping they will yet -- then I shall be the proudest man who ever hunted beauty in the tropics!) so I brought one of the fruits to put it on the shingled roof of the outhouse about 3 yards from the kitchen door & window & they came there to it & let us feast our eyes on their beauty all day long. (9 or 10 of them) So did the blue birds a rare species of thrush, not the common Sabia[.] & so did the Louis dor. [Previous sentence inserted below "day long."] Next day one of them actually alighted on the bar which keeps the window shutter open! being attracted by a papaw skin lying on the window ledge which was waiting there for Elsie to take it to her pet cow when she should appear. I have long wanted to put a table for the birds but have not yet found time. I intend to place fruit on the window ledge next time we have it to spare. We have even the shy doves round our door searching every bit of bare hard earth for seeds: The forest rails make a loud resounding oowok, oowok, oowok, every evening of certain seasons now come up & run openly in the pasture in full sight, altho in our first year they always skulked along the brookbed & we could never get a sight of one. Yes, if men would know birds they must let them alone! Such forbearance will be rewarded by an intimacy the gunner does not even dream of!

There is no doubt that the birds are tamer at this season because of the lack of food in the forest. but that isnt the only reason. It is chiefly thro letting them alone. The mention of this lack of fruit in the forest, reminds me of happened a few nights ago & again the night before last last night. About a fortnight ago as we sat at supper by lamplight we were attracted by a bat halting in its flight over a part of the table & wondered what it could want. It did this several times & at last dropped down onto the half of a banana lying there in its skin waiting till Elsie or one of us should be ready for it. We were astonished! The bat ate greedily with quick snappings like a famished dog. & when we stirred flew off only to return again & again. I think it came 5 times. All this happened within 18 inches of the lamp & within 2 ft 3 in. of ourselves! After we exposed a banana where this or other bats could eat it in the storeroom & next morning always found it eaten up. But during the last few days [[7]] bananas have been so scarce with us that we couldnt afford to do this & so scarce that we have had to cook half ripe ones. Well, last night I had two cooking on my plate on the stove, mashed & spread over it & sending out a savoury smell. Turning my back to the stove to speak to Mary for a moment I had just time to see that the shadowy form of a bat was flapping by & thought nothing of it, but a few moments later the bat passed me again & this time my eye followed it & lo, it hovered over the plate for a moment & then actually dropped, with its wings spread flat across, onto the sizzling hot banana & put its mouth down to it!!!

It got up again however in a hurry when it found the delicious stuff so uncomfortable, & I was too much amazed to try & catch it to see if it was injured. Mary saw it just in time too, so you neednt think Im romancing!

This & another bat have been so hard pressed for food that the night before last they both worked their way between the folds of Marys skirt which I had pinned with 7 or 8 pins as I thought securely round our bunch of bananas (some green & some ½ ripe) & had eaten out two before we discovered them by the noise of their flappings when trying to find their way out!

We let them go & pinned it up more securely but Mary had to wash her skirt after them next day.

The numbers of fruit eating birds about our house attract birds of prey also & about a week ago we nearly witnessed a tragedy. I heard a bird squeaking distressfully & rushed to look & there in the orange tree I saw a blue bird escape from the claws of a little owl, no bigger than itself in body, & the owl after sitting glaring at me for intruding for ½ a minute flew off. Did I ever tell you of the gallant flight the pair of little wrens who live with us made against a snake last spring? This snake 4 feet in length had approached along a log too near their nest so they both attacked it, pecked it & beat it about the head with their wings & finally sumbled[?] it clean off the log to the ground! It was fun to see them craning their necks to watch it writhing on the ground as they stood, victors, on the edge of the baulk of timber.

Two or three times Ive seen the woodpeckers with the shaggy yellow [[8]] crest pecking away at papaw fruits like any fruit eater & have wondered if they too become fruitarian at this season. But now I think they may only be getting the small Staphylinidae[?] & other beetles which get into the pecked fruits. There are some splendid woodpeckers here in the forest. Today the beautiful ruddy brown long tailed cuckoo has appeared again. The tail is 9 or 10 inches in length & the feathers are hipped black & white. A few nights ago I had a fine sight of an opossum. It was running & halting along a bundle of long slender pines split from palm stems (which are used here to support the tiles of the roof.) which were slung along the wall of the outhouse. & by holding the lamp behind & above my head I was able to get within 3 yards of it & see its queer flesh coloured nose working & its wide nervous ears on the alert & to see how its slender tail was half dark & half light. & watch its eyes flash ruby as they caught the light. A few nights later we both saw it. I fancy I hear it now! It is bitterly cold here onights now. One morning the thermometer dropped to -41! We shiver in our thin clothes & I have had to wear my jack evenings -- a thing I never did at home between April & October. Mary has been using her Jaeger[?] underclothes to enable her to live thro it comfortably! Fancy it! Only 9 degrees above freezing here in the tropics! How do the plants & especially the palms stand it? Last Thursday night after writing till 10:30 p.m. I tried to warm my feet by running in the pasture but the dew was so cold on the grass that it made them colder & I had to pace up & down the kitchen 100 times before they even began to feel warm! The day it was 41 ° the mercury rose to 78 by 11 a.m. -- 37 degrees difference in 4 ½ hours! Isnt that enough to shrivel a mans face up?

About Captain Boynton at the mouth of the Orinoco -- It might be a good plan, but as you might have guessed by my mention of Barbados we have been thinking of going to B. Guiana. I thought I had told you this when I mentioned Barbados. We certainly would not think of going to that tiny overcrowded island to collect! It is only the junction for Georgetown where we change ships. Guiana would be more convenient than SiCatalina the Captains place for news from our homes. I have however written to a young planter living as the place called Cachoeira Santo Leppoldina Victoria & hope to hear from him in a week or two. If his report is unfavourable we shall reckon the last & see whether we have money enough to reach some place up the Demecara or Essequito[?] rivers. Iquitos is quite out of the question.

Yours sincerely | Fred. [signature]

(I have been up 4 ½ hours writing this) Now Im going to hop to warm my feet again! It is 10:25 p.m. & I must be up at 6 to get this to Ps in time.

Ive been practising dentistry on Mary lately! Have filled 3 cavities successfully with cement & have another to do.1

[[9]] Will you please let me know if you can learn it, what land can be bought for in Hampshire on the edge of or within the New Forest? & what it can be bought for in the wildest part of west Devonshire. or near the Quantock woods of Somerset. Also this one other thing -- Can peaches be grown successfully in the open in those countries? Is so I supposed they could be grown even near Windermere. Do you think so? I have always had a great longing to spend my later years near Windermere. I wish I had some small guide to the soils of England such as an old but accurate geological map!

[[10]] Is it absolutely necessary to live in Lent or one of the S. eastern counties in order to grow the large Filberts called Kentish cob nuts? I think of having a plantation of them some day! Which is the fairest river of England to live by the Warwickshire Avon? If you hear of land to be sold by anywhere along its course please let me know the price if you can!


1. This sentence is written vertically in the left hand margin of page 8.

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