Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP467

Sent by:
Sydney Barber Josiah Skertchly
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
24 October 1909

Sent by Sydney Barber Josiah Skertchly, Corinda, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia to Alfred Russel Wallace Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset on 24 October 1909.

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


No summary available at this time.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)
  • envelope (1)

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LETTER (WCP467.467)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/7/2(1)
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Sydney Barber Josiah Skertchly Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information




Corinda, Brisbane, Qls.

21st. Oct. 1909.

My dear D. Wallace,

It was not telepathy: it was only fast. I was comparing your "Australia" with Gregorys, and has "Island Life", and the "Ersq.[?] Dirt", at my elbow, where the really glorious covant of your letter materialized. I went right off to Brisbaur (only 4 miles) to Major Sanbey[?], (the head of the firm of Flavelle, Roberts & Saukey, the oldest gem people in Australia) and he promptly and joyfully said "Let me send Wallace the opals", and I hope you get News by this mail. Saukey, I used hardly say is a scientist.

Not a day passes but what you and your work are in my mind or in my life, and but few days when I am in the house but what I consult you. But I must confer I never got a sight of your book about the Earth being a central Point: one cant get what one wants from libraries here, and even admiration wont allow a poor man to buy all his friends books.

I am delighted to hear that your eyes are better. I am still more delighted to see by your handwriting that time has not imparted a tremor to it. I compared the signature with the one you work in "Island Life" for use in 1880, and I dont think you are a day older!

My wife, who like myself, is grey now, sends all kinds of good wishes and the kindest of remembrances to you and yours. I cant imagine what the "boy and girl" are like after all these years! do they remember tree-climbing with my Esh and Dash at God [1 word illeg.]? Poor Eth! he "passed over" two years ago--the East held him too long, Sudak pulang ka zahmat Allah! He was a fine oriental scholar & an ardent naturalist. He and Dr Nielville had been working for years on a book upon the Rhopalocera of E and S. Asia: both are yours! Ruby has been worried [[2]] about a year. Her husband, E. J. Cooper, is a sugar planter & farmer, a very good man, and the family all all[sic] tinged with science. So the wife and I are alone with our poor boy "Birn", who tho 28, is still a child. We have a small house with ½ acre ground, and the roses are miracles, and our Caladiums a joy, and some of our wondrous Proteacras are of course quite at home. Yes I know Dory [1 word illeg.], but strangely they havnt it in the Bot. Gardens. It doesnt grow about here or I would try and elicit the reason for its putting points on its opears[?]!

Your new book on Evolution, may it NOT be your last, I shall certainly get, and this leads me to say I am sending you a copy of my article on "The Origin of Australia", and another thing or two. Now it was in this paper I had been trying to make up my mind about writing to you. I shall have to produce a little book on the subject and wanted to dedicate it to you. My paper is truly a bare outline and recent be extended. It is curious how my life has come in affront with yours in lines of thought! Here am I again compelled to work in the same groove, and from personal observation come to somewhat similar conclusions. The weak spot in both of us is that along the southern coast of Aust. from S.A. through Vic. to N.S.W. no cretaceous rocks are known, so the barrier would cut off my opal sea from the S. ocean, and leave a bridge from W. to E. Still I think the sea must have had a clean passage. In no other way can our amount for the complete difference between Mt. Eucalyptus & of W.A. and the E. The great Tertiary basin of N.S.W. and Vic. is physically continuous with the Cretaceous basin to the N. You could stroll from the mouth of the Murray to the Gulf of Carpentaria[?] and hardly have to climb a hill. At any rate our Marsupials are Australian and not the objecta membra of elsewhere: but we made [1 word illeg.] in a hurry. However, youll perhaps read the paper, and the book when finished.

I am sending to London this week another book, that will get your back up, I am pretty sure. It will be called "A White Australia: Is it a Possibility?". I find that if instead of reading history politically we work it out anthropologically, it appears that no race has permanently established itself on alien soil since neolithic times! This is a big heresy: but a true. I find that what happens when I say the white race colonise a new country, even a submissive and congenial one, is that [[3]] first there is rapidly enhanced fertility and the pop. rises by half and bound: in a few generations the birth rate slows down till it is below normal and finally below the death rate. Second that improved hygiene or. does not increase the birth-rate, it only lowers the death-rate: it lets people live longer, but it does not get them born. I find this true of all European races and of the Chinese. The U.S. are ceasing to be Anglo-Saxon: Australia is worse off than the U.S. even in this short time. I almost expected to be expected for saying this.

When I have got these two books off I want to cork[?] out another big idea: one very like one you have suggested. I believe that the mid-Tertiary saw a total revolution of things, and that practically all the fervent destruction of animals and plants has arisen since then. It is the result of working out your idea that as now the earths safety-valve is screwed down, volcanic and other disturbing forces are greater, not less, than I doubt of there since ever such high mountain ranges as now.

I have now been wandering nearly 30 years in Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia--always trying to work at these problems -- always hating to write, for in the art of writing I find before I write this[?] I either know a lot more, or want to get off somewhere to look at something that hasnt been seen with proper eyes. But now I have given up professional work, and am going to put my lifes work on record. I have a very small income, fewer wants, us hankering after dollars, and an insatiable hunger for truth. I see science getting so specialized, especially in biology and petrology, that it is growing contemptible, and I intend one man at any rate to put record down some big ideas.

I have been president of the Roy. Soc. here, founded and President of the field Nat. Club. Presided over the Anthrop. & Section of the Ant. Ass. Ado. Sci., where I gave 16 papers this year & didnt write one!! One was on the Northerly extrusion of Wallaces Time[?] (in wh. I still believe, pace the grubbers) & showed how it was fearfully marked between Barnes & Slul, and faded away at Palawau.

This letter is full of self, but I flattered myself youd care to know. I am a stronger evolutionist than ever, but not so much a Nat. Selectionist, and I dont believe in Westmans Qeru. [1 word illeg.] or any other home-made myth. Your work on the Hist. of Life as illustrated by config. of land & sea is the greatest of all facts: but of course one knows more about it since you first saw the great light in our beloved Malaya.

Believe us, my dear Dr Wallace | Yours faithfully, gratefully, & may I say it, affectionately | Sydney B. J. Skertchly [signature]

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