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Record number: WCP4899

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Sent by:
Richard Spruce
Sent to:
William Jackson Hooker
3 August 1849

Sent by Richard Spruce, Pará, Brazil to William Jackson Hooker, [Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew] on 3 August 1849.

Record created:
29 November 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP4899.5298)

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

Held by:
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Finding number:
DC 28 English Letters K-Z (1849) f.259
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Richard Spruce Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information




Para2. [sic]

3. Aug[ust]. 1849.

My dear Sir

I seize the opportunity of the Britannia sailing for London to tell you how I am getting on, but I have no time to write a journal or anything that will be fit for publication3. In two or three days after our arrival here we set seriously to work on our dried collection and we have now several hundred specimens dried & drying. In the way of living plants I have made a beginning. I have sowed the seeds of two palms & hope shortly to get the ripe fruit of some others. I have also flowers & fruit of three species hanging up to dry. I have met with 5 or 6 Orchidaceae, the larger ones out of flower, but two small ones in flower, one a pretty Fernandezia4, most likely F. [species unidentified], the other with small yellow sweet-scented yellow [sic] flowers; neither of these w[oul]d Mr. Pince5 care for, but I have transported all to Mr. Campbell's6 Rosinha, where I have them hanging up in the orange-trees, by ways of experiment. As a Mr. Yates7 has been engaged for years in searching the neighbouring forests for Orchises, he may safely be supposed to have exhausted them of everything handsome, as he says he has done. For this reason8 I am anxious at once to get to new ground, & I w[oul]d go up the river at once, but this is such slow work that I sh[oul]d be unable to get down again with my collections in time to despatch them so as to reach England before the setting in of winter. In consequence [[2]] of this I have decided to accept Mr. Arch[ibal]d Campbell's invitation to visit two of the islands in the river, where he has some property, & wh[ic]h. have been explored by no botanist. These are Caripé[?] & Tanau[?]9. In the former a deposit of fossil shells has been found quite recently which I am anxious to see. Some time in the month of September I hope to send off my collections to England & immediately after to set off up the river for Mont' Alegre10 [sic], on the north bank, which is spoken of as a good station from which excursions can be made up the country. The hills too about Mont Alegre [sic] itself are seen from the Amazon at a distance of 20 miles. Had I been alone I might have started at once& have run the risk of not being able to send anything to England before spring, but it is essential that my funds have some replenishing after coming down from the hills & this I hope will be secured by what I send off before I start11. I should like to devote the remainder of the year to Montalegre [sic] & the north shores of the Amazon, or even to prolong my stay there a little way into the rainy season, & then return to Parà [sic] to remain until dry weather again commences. I mentioned in my former letter that several forest-trees were in flower -- I derived this impression through sundry glances through the ship's glass at the shores of the river as we ascended, & I certainly saw many trees completely crowned with blossom -- blossom as now I see, not their own, but that of various Bignonias12 & other parasites. There are13 [[3]] however a few in flower, which I am securing, but the great mass is not in flower until the rainy season. There are also many things which will have to be put off until the commencement of the rainy season, such as the procuring [of] specimens of woods &c14.

The ferns around here interest one much especially the minutes[t] epiphytal15 [sic] ones, & I gather all I find in good state, at the risk of having them accounted "common tropical trash"16 But of all the Cryptogamous17 tribes Hepaticae18 seem most to flourish here, covering the trunks branches & even leaves of the trees in the dense virgin forests. The mosses and lichens too are numerous & beautiful. These are some of them overlooked, as you may well suppose, knowing my previous propensities, but they are mostly laid down to dry in the lump, & await a season of more leisure for their being examined & positioned into specimens.

I write to Mr. Bentham19 by this opportunity, & if I can I will write also to Mr. Wilson20, but if not you may perhaps mention to him when you write that21 I have met with an abundance of the Drepanophyllum22, though hitherto only in a barren state, and with both the Octoblepharums23 in copious fruit.

I cannot specify the phanerogamic24 families in which I have done most – Leguminoseae25, Melastomaceae26, Clusiaceae27, &c. [[4]]28 will include the most interesting of my exogenous collection. The islands are said to possess a more varied & untouched vegetation than the mainland, & I hope when I return from them, which will be some time in September, to have several living plants & a larger lot of dried spec[imen]s to send home. Peppers & Arums29 abound here, but the latter are such monstrous things that I scarcely know how I shall send them alive. There are several sorts of Mandiocca30 [sic] cultivated here but & I propose sending you plants of each". but the plant which was shown to me at Kew31 as the Mandiocca-plant is one which grows everywhere about the streets of Parà [sic], as a weed, & is not at all cultivated for the sake of its root.

I enclose a note for Mr. Smith32, touching the state of the plants entrusted to my care from Kew. I write also to Mr. Pince & to Mr. Jos[eph] Woods33.

I fear it has been a mistake to bring an assistant with me from England. My companion, though an exceedingly strong young man, is of rather plethoric habit, & his activity seems to have forsaken him. Indeed in this climate scarcely any white man can bear the fatigue & exposure to heat which the blacks can. They are besides expert at climbing trees by means of a rope, at wading into morasses, & many of them are familiar with the native34 [[5]]35 names of all the more conspicuous & useful plants. One of these men w[oul]d cost one [1 word illeg. struck through] less by half than the assistant I now have, & w[oul]d be far more efficient. There is a black now at Parà [sic] who was several years ion the employ of Dr. Natterer36, & who w[oul]d have been delighted to accompany me, & he is familiar with the country & the people for many hundreds of miles -- Since I began this letter I have been called out to have an interview with a Frenchman who has for many years carried on an extensive bakery business here -- his name is Lartigue37 & he is from Auch38 at the foot of the Pyrenees -- he was a good while in the region I propose visiting, about Obidos39 [sic] & Montalegre [sic], & has been some days journey up the Rio Trombetas40 about which & the dangers of its navigation so many fabulous stories have been told. But there is another Frenchman, now a journeyman shoemaker in Parà [sic], who once ascended the Trombetas nearly to its source in search of gold -- his name is Brandon41, & I intend to get all the information from him I can. He professes to be very willing to accompany me & I am told he is a very courageous trustworthy person, but I fear I could not afford to employ him.

The dry season may be considered to [[6]]42 have fairly commenced, but throughout its duration few days pass without rain, so that vegetation is never at all scorched up. There is some intermittent fever in the town, & I have myself had a good deal of toothache, headache & running at the nose, which may be attributed to the same cause as the fevers, namely the drying up of the waters. But on the whole I hope I shall be able to bear the climate pretty well & I do not shrink from fatigue in the pursuit of objects which so much interest me.

You will I dare say be kind enough to forward the enclosed letter to my father.

I shall be thankful for a line whenever you have any advice or information to impart.

Believe me | My dear Sir William43 | Ever yours faithfully | Rich[ar]d. Spruce44 [signature]

Sir W J Hooker

[[7]]45 I forgot to mention that we have several times seen Mr. Wallace sen[io]r -- when we arrived he had made up his mind to go to the Rio Negro46, but hearing me talk of Monte Alegre put it into his head to go thither & he is preparing to start in a few days. He does not appear to wish for our company either now or at the time when we ourselves propose starting. He & Bates47 quarreled [sic] & separated long ago, & Bates is now at Camétà48 [sic] a town at the mouth of the Tocantins49. There are frequent occasions of getting up the river by means of small brigs which now trade from Parà [sic] to the Barra50, & this is a cheaper mode than buying an entire boat.

This is a bad place for drying plants -- the leaves turn mouldy & drop off if left for 24 hours without a change of paper.

When you write to Sir Everard Home51 I shall be glad to be respectfully remembered to him. His letter of the Mess[ieu]rs. Campbell6 has been of great use to me, & they desire to be most kindly remembered to him. You may tell him that several of the buildings at Pará [sic] still bear traces of his visit to Pará, especially one old church.


1. Page numbered "1." in ink in top RH corner and "284" is written in pencil vertically in bottom LH corner.

2. Pará is a state is in north-central Brazil, the second largest in the country, through which flows the River Amazon and tributaries. No more precise location is given.

3. The passage "..but I have no time….fit for publication" has been enclosed in square brackets in pencil.

4. Fernandezia is a genus of the family Orchidaceae, native to northern South America, Central America and Southern Mexico.

5. Pince, Robert T (no dates available). Nurseryman, great nephew of William Lucombe, who established the nursery at Exeter in 1720.

6. Campbell, Archibald and Campbell, James (no dates available). Brothers, colonists of long standing with extensive possessions in Pará.

7. No information.

8. The passage "..neither of these w[oul]d Mr. Pince care for…. For this reason" has been enclosed in square brackets and struck through with a single line top left to bottom right, drawn in pencil.

9. No information.

10. Monte Alegre is a municipality on the N. bank of the Amazon, in the state of Pará, in the Northern region of Brazil.

11. The passage "..Had I been alone… off before I start" has been enclosed in square brackets and struck through with two crossed lines, drawn in pencil.

12. Bignonia is a genus of flowering plants in the catalpa family, Bignoniaceae.

13. The passage beginning "I mentioned in my former letter…" to the foot of the page and continuing over to page 3 (see Endnote 14) has been enclosed by square brackets and struck through with two crossed lines, drawn in pencil.

14. The first paragraph "…however a few in flower …specimens of woods, &c" continuing from page 2 (see Endnote 13) has been struck through with two crossed lines, drawn in pencil.

15. An epiphytic plant is one that grows harmlessly upon another plant (such as a tree), and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, instead of the structure to which it is fastened.

16. The text "at the risk of having them accounted "common tropical trash" " enclosed in square brackets and struck through with a wavy line, drawn in pencil.

17. A cryptogam is a plant that reproduces by spores, without flowers or seeds. The best known groups of cryptogams are algae, lichens, mosses, liverworts and ferns.

18. Class Hepaticae comprises the liverworts. These are small plants, no more than 1 cm high, which can be flat and ribbon-shaped or leafy.

19. Bentham, George (1800-1884). English botanist, author of the standard (1865) Handbook of the British Flora.

20. Wilson, Ernest Henry ("Chinese") (E.H. Wilson) (1876-1930). Notable English plant collector, who introduced about 2000 Asian plant species to the West.

21. The passage "I write to Mr. Bentham …mention to him when you write that" has been enclosed by square brackets and struck through with two crossed lines, drawn in pencil.

22. The genus Drepanophyllum is in the family Phyllodrepaniaceae in the major group Bryophyta (mosses and liverworts)

23. The genus Octoblepharum is in the family Octoblepharaceae in the major group Bryophyta (mosses and liverworts)

24. A phanerogram is a plant having reproductive organs; a flowering plant or seed plant (as opposed to a cryptogram see Endnote 16).

25. The Leguminosae commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is one of the major families of flowering plants.

26. The Melastomaceae (or Melastomataceae) is a family of dicotyledonous flowering plants found mostly in the tropics (two thirds of the genera are from the New World tropics).

27. The Clusiaceae (or Guttiferae) are a family of mainly tropical trees and shrubs, often with a milky sap and fruits or capsules for seeds.

28. Page numbered 4. in ink in top LH corner.

29. Arum is a genus of flowering plants in the family Araceae, native to Europe, Northern Africa, Western and central Asia. Frequently called "arum lilies", to which they are not closely related.

30. Manihot esculenta, with common names cassava, manioc or tapioca, is a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family, native to South America, where it is cultivated for its edible starchy tuberous root as a major source of carbohydrates.

31. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London.

32. Smith, John (1798-1888). English botanist, first curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, starting in 1841.

33. Woods, Joseph (1776-1864) English architect, botanist and geologist.

34. The entire text from "…but the plant which was shown to me at Kew…" indicated by a square bracket, to the bottom of the page has been crossed out with pencilled lines in various directions.

35. The number 285 is written vertically in ink in the bottom LH corner of the page.

36. Natterer, Johann (1787-1843). Austrian naturalist and explorer. He was the zoologist on an 1817 expedition to Brazil, and remained in South America until 1835, returning to Vienna with a large collection of specimens.

37. No information.

38. A commune in the Midi-Pyrénées region of South-Western France and historical capital of Gascony.

39. Óbidos is a town in Pará, Brazil, located at the narrowest and swiftest part of the Amazon River.

40. A northern tributary of the Amazon River. Its confluence with the Amazon is just west of the town of Óbidos in Pará, Brazil (see Endnote 39).

41. No information.

42. The number 259 is written in red ink at the bottom centre of the page.

43. Hooker, William Jackson (1785-1865). English systematic botanist and botanical illustrator. He held the post of Regius Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (1841-1865). (His son, Joseph Dalton Hooker succeeded him to the Directorship).

44. Spruce, Richard (1817-1893). English botanist and explorer. In 1849 he followed ARW and Henry Walter Bates to the Amazon Basin, collecting more than 30,000 plant specimens there and in the Andes during the next 14 years.

45. This page contains a post script, although not indicated as such.

46. "Black River" is the largest N. tributary of the Amazon, rising in the highlands of Colombia and joining the Amazon at Manaus. ARW constructed the map of the Rio Negro and its W. tributary the Uaupés from observations made during ascents and descents of the rivers in 1850, 1851 and 1852.

47. Bates, Henry Walter (1825-1892). English naturalist and explorer, most famous for his expedition to the rainforests of the Amazon with ARW, starting in 1848. ARW returned in 1852, but lost his collection on the return voyage when his ship caught fire. When Bates arrived home in 1859, he had sent back over 14,712 species (mostly of insects) of which 8,000 were new to science.

48. Cametá is a port on the West bank of the Rio Tocantins (see Endnote 48) in the state of Pará, Brazil.

49. The Rio Tocantins in Brazil runs from south to north for about 2,640 km. It is not really a branch of the Amazon River, although usually so considered, since its waters flow into the Atlantic Ocean alongside those of the Amazon.

50. Barra da Tijuca (mostly referenced as "Barra") is a neighborhood in the west of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the Atlantic Ocean.

51. Home, Everard (1756-1832). British surgeon, who published prolifically on human and animal anatomy. He was the first to describe the fossil ichthyosaur discovered near Lyme Regis by Joseph and Mary Anning in 1812.

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