Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP732

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch
March 1905

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset to Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch [none given] on March 1905.

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


Mainly concerning business dealings with Janson and Druce.

Record notes

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP732.904)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418723
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Broadstone, Wimborne

March 27th. 1905

My dear Fred

Thanks for your last long letter enclosing Janson’s3, & copy of your reply, which latter I return as you may want it. To deal with this first. It was most impolitic of you to mention that you expected £10 for the collection when you sent it to Janson! Whether he’s honest or not it precludes you from complaining of the price sold at when it has brought you or will bring you, nearly twice as much. In all that they say about prices of Trinidad things (and the same will apply to B[ritish]. Guiana) [MS damaged] they are quite right. Of course, after Mr. Druce[‘s]4 large set, all the best things ar[e] [MS damaged] gone, and I quite see that sets of what remain might be refused at even 3d . But still, the same persons might give 1/- for the butts, and 6d for moths to pick what they want. What you have a right to complain of is the secrecy as to buyers and actual prices paid, and al[so] [MS damaged] not a word as to the beetles.

Again, what you say about the sale [MS damaged] bringing less than ½d each, and [MS damaged] being so much better [MS damaged] [[2]]5

You do get six times as much, and the reason you do not get 12 or 20 times as much is, that these lots render all the common things worthless, and even the rarer things of small value, because resident collectors do get a lot of the rare things in time. Also your reference to Eng[lish]. insects is beside the question as there are 100 English collectors & buyers to one of trop[ical]. species. Still on the whole your letter to them is reasonable, and if they refuse to state what Mr. Druce paid per spec[ima]n. & the number he bought, it will, in my opinion, be a proof that they are not dealing fairly with you. If they do give it, and also the prices they have sold first pick of beetles at please let me know at once and I will refer to it in a letter to Druce, without expressing any doubt, but merely to say that of course you cannot sell Upper Orinoco things at any thing like [MS damaged] [tha]t price. Then we shall perhaps [MS damaged] truth[?]. You P.S. is the best part[?] [[3]]6

Now for you future work. I wonder after such a letter for Janson you could go on collecting in Trinidad , because even in the S[south]. E[astern] corner the giant bulk of the species will be the same, and ten or a dozen rare or new species will not make it pay -- unless you got a good beetle ground. I suppose you are there now. Afterwards, decidedly do not go to a bad mosquito place. Why leave your collections? Could you not ship them at the office to go by next ship?

Santa Catalina seems the only likely place, if it is good high forest, if not try the new place opp[osite]. P[ort]. of Spain.

I think I saw Wickham’s7 book when I was preparing the cheap ed[ition] of my Ama[zon][?]8 [MS damaged] & got one of the new illustrations for it, but I will get it again. No doubt S[an]. Fernando de Atabapo seems the best spot in Venezuela if high forest is quite near, and being an old & rather populous place there should be roads[,] paths &c. & indian villages all round. Being so remote it should be fairly safe from [word illeg.] [MS damaged] I presume there is some regular [MS damaged] or traders’ communication[?] [MS damaged]

The map is very interesting.9 [[4]]10

Try and get information as to that, and if when there, you can send your collections safely to Trinidad or elsewhere to be shipped home. Before you leave Trinidad, enquire about getting a Foreign Office Passport, which will take you all over S[outh]. America. You must apply by letter to the Consul General at Caracas, I think, and by sending your letter of Recommendation to the Gov[ernor]. Of B[ritish]. Guiana, with reasons for going into Venezuela, & enclosing the fee which is in England only 2/- & I suppose the same there, it will be sent to you. Then all Brit[ish]. representatives, will help you, and the native officials pay more respect to it than to a local passport. It is [word illeg.] & signed by them at each place. Of course if there is a forest near [the] falls of the Orinoco you might stay there first for a few months as on the margin of the forest & campo country you shall get many rare[?] things & perhaps beetles in abundance. [MS damaged] It is about 30-40 miles from the lower to the [MS damaged] <upper> cataract (Apure to Maypure) and I believe [MS damaged] <goods> have to be carried this distance so [MS damaged] journey will be costly. But [MS damaged] (white paper next) [[5]]11,12 (5)13 up to there in a native traders [sic] boat or [MS damaged] perhaps a steamer, ought to be cheap. Still you must have money & you ought to have £50. Have you ever inquired if you cannot earn money in any of the towns, Bolivar for instance, by fine joiners, or cabinet makers, or carriage work? You would probably get high wages for anything special! And that would make you quite independent!

I presume as there are no roads, on the Map to Guayaguare [sic], you will have to go there by steamer. That will enable you to take all necessary comforts & stores without fatigue. Notwithstanding your failure in the “clearing” I hope you will try again & cut down a lot of trees at different places. Very likely only some kinds of trees attract beetles at certain seasons. And when you are there do not go wandering off somewhere else -- to a river [MS damaged] mountain, but just [MS damaged] [[6]]14 at the forest around you, n every direction and along all the available roads, paths, streams &c. Till that is done you never know how productive a place really is.

I do not think it will be advisable for me to write to Mr. Druce or Mr. Scholl till you hear from Janson, but still, I may so merely to tell them of your wish and intention to go to S[an]. F[ernando]. de Atabapo after S[an]ta Catalina, and asking what encouragement hey can give in the way of purchases if they have first pick. I see there is a parcel post to (and from?) Venezuela 4/615 for 11lbs. so that you could send all your collections that way in small lots, if you can get them safe to a Post Office. That will be a great advantage.

Wishing you a good lot of beetles at your next locality.

Yours very truly | Alfred R.Wallace -- [signature] [[7]]16,17

(7)18 P.S. March 28.

I have now got Wickham’s book and read nearly all relating to the Orinoco and Rio Negro. His account of the Lower Orinoco and the Cuara river seem all very impromising [sic], and I am almost afraid that even Santa Catalina may not be really good forest. If you could get good information about it [word illeg.] perhaps the new place opp[osite]. P[ort] of Spain that your naturalist friend recommends may be best. It is no good going to a poor scrubby forest or a palm swamp. Unfortunately he[,] Wickham [,] says very little about the country at the Cataracts, and there seem no good places till you come to S[an]. Fernanado de Atabapo & even if that he gives little description[,] but I presume there is forest close by. The best place is undoubtedly Javi[ta][MS damaged] with its fine 8 mile road. But it <is> [MS damaged] a long way to go to find good collect[ing?] [MS damaged] and I wish something nearer <could> [MS damaged] be found, but there seems [MS damaged] [[8]]19 (8)20 unless perhaps the Serra de Santa Marta.

I hope you are beginning to learn Spanish[.] That is essential.

I have just had a letter from Prof[essor]. Poulton21 in which he says he has had a letter from you which he was much pleased with & showed to Mr. Kaye22 who also liked it and are glad of your determination to go into some good unknown region if possible.

Up the Meta to the foot of the Andes near Bogota might perhaps be even better, and if there is any regular communication there from Bolivar it might even be cheaper than going to S[an]. F[ernando]. de At[abapo]. & Javita. Make enquiries. Surely there must be people in P[ort]. of Spain who know all about the means of communication up all those rivers. I am inclined to think that would probably be the richest & most productive region both in insects of all kinds [MS damaged] [a]nd birds you could go & especially in new species which are what pay. Write to enquire if[?] any of [MS damaged] [2 words illeg.] in P[ort]. of S[pain]. As I have added this [MS damaged] <will> not return copy of Janson’s letter now.



1. There is fire damage to the right-hand and bottom edges of the page.

2. There is a stamp in the top left-hand corner of the page. It reads: Entomology BMNH Library”. Above, and to the left of this, there is a catalogue reference number. It reads: “75”.

3. Possibly Oliver Erichson Janson (1850-1925). English entomologist.


4. Possibly Herbert Druce (1846-1913) or Hamilton Herbert Druce (1869-1922). Both were British entomologists

5. There is fire damage to the left-hand and bottom edges of the page.

6. There is fire damage to the right-hand and bottom edges of the page.

7. Henry Wickham (1846-1928). British explorer. The book to which Wallace refers is probably Rough Notes of a Journey Through The Wilderness to Para, Brazil, by way of the Great Cataracts of the Orinoco, Atabapo and Rio Negro, published by W. H. J. Carter, London, 1872

8. A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro. First published by Reeve and Co., London, in 1853.

9. This sentence is written vertically, in the left-hand margin of the page.

10. There is fire damage to the left-hand and bottom edges of the page.

11. There is fire damage to the top and bottom right-hand corners of the page

12. There is a stamp in the left-hand margin, mid-way down the page. It reads: Entomology BMNH Library”. There is also a catalogue number in the top left corner of the page. It reads: “75”.

13. Wallace has numbered the page.

14. There is fire damage to the top and bottom left-hand corners of the page.

15. Four shillings and sixpence. Equivalent to twenty-two and a half pence today.

16. There is a stamp at the top of the page, right of centre. It reads: Entomology BMNH Library”. To the left of this, there is a catalogue reference number. It reads: “77”.

17. There is fire damage to the top and bottom right-hand corners, and to the right-hand edge of the page

18. Wallace has numbered the page.

19. There is fire damage to the top and bottom left-hand corners, and to the right-hand edge of the page.

20. Wallace has numbered the page.

21. Edward Bagnall Poulton (1856-1943). British evolutionary biologist.

22. William James Kaye (1875-1967). British entomologist.

Please note that work on this transcript is not yet complete. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document, if available.