Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP4798

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Edmund Major Wilson
[not recorded]

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, [5 Westbourne Grove Terrace, London, W.] to Edmund Major Wilson [none given] on  .

Record created:
24 October 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP4798.5190)

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

Held by:
John Greenell Wilson
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




If you write your via Marseilles, & decide on going, having chased away the preliminary difficulties, I will send you a lot of Entomological pins & a few knives & scissors. I suppose almost everything else can be had in Sydney. I use myself common penknives for skinning & a short strong pair of scissors.

As to what means there are of communicating with the natives I cannot tell. I have no doubt the sailors who are accustomed to go there have learnt enough of their language to be understood & it would therefore be important to get such a man as servant & interpreter. As many of these small traders are very jealous & suspect everybody of wishing to interfere with their trade, it would be well to get a good introduction from some such person as Dr. Bennet2 who would satisfy them you had no such object.

Your collection of Buprestidae must be very fine. You will find Coleoptera much less abundant in the tropical islands. The only way to obtain [[2]] them in any quantity is to get to some place where a great quantity of timber has been cut down, -- if one such is to be found men must be employed to make clearings in the forest, the more extensive the better, -- (a few good axes must therefore be taken;) & among the fallen trees on the trunks & branches as they dry & decay & under the cracking & rotting bark, great numbers of fine species are to be obtained -- If any vessels load timber at those islands, or if the natives make annual clearings as they generally do for their plantations, you must seize every opportunity of visiting such places or even if possible having your hut put up in the midst of them. It is in such places that I have always obtained my finest collections, whereas in the unbroken forest little or nothing is to be found.

The 2nd growth woods also, except in the vicinity of virgin forest produces very little. 3 to 6 months collecting in one spot would generally produce me about 1000 species of Coleoptera, 150 of butterflies and 80 to 100 of birds, besides few mammals [[3]] Land shells &c. the market value of which would vary from £100 to £1000 according to the number of fine & rare species obtained. In the Island of Batchian one of the Moluccas, for instance where I obtained a new bird of Paradise specimen of which sold at £10 each, a fine new Ornithoptera producing £2 to £3, a pair and many other fine & interesting insects & birds the gross produce of 6 months collecting was over £1000.

In the islands you propose visiting there are sure to be numbers of rare & interesting species of every group. A new bird of Paradise is not improbable, new & beautiful pigeons & parrots are almost certain; -- the splendid Ornithoptera urvilliana3, from New Ireland4 could be very valuable & other new species may be found in the other islands so I think there is every possible prospect of doing well.

I enclose a better photograph of myself than the one sent before. Please hand it to your brother Algernon5. I will endeavour to [[4]] send him a few Nat. Hist. papers by the next mail.

With kind regards to my uncle & to all your brothers & sisters

I remain My dear Cousin | Yours very affectionately | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

E. M. Wilson Esq.

N.B. Note the address, -- your letter was directed near "Westbourne Terrace" & I might never have got it ARW. [signature]


1. Letter is to Edmund Major Wilson, Wallace's cousin

2. Dr. George Bennett (1804-1893), naturalist

3. Ornithoptera urvilleanus, a birdwing butterfly.

4. New Ireland is a large island in Papua New Guinea

5. Algernon Wilson, Wallace's cousin

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