Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP762

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch
19 December 

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset to Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch [none given] on 19 December .

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


Discusses the advantages of collecting in Brazil.

Record notes

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP762.934)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418629
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Broadstone, Wimbo[rne]1

Dec[embe]r 19th. 190[?]

My dear Fred

I am expecting you next w[letters missing] an account of your mountain excursion with great interest. I presume from your taking it [word missing] the rainy season is at last over, though you do not say so. I expect the vegetation at the top will be very peculiar and interesting, and I hop[e] you may have got a few new insects. I hope also that you will have found on the way so[me] good place in the forests, & near some village woodcutters where you can work a month or [two] at a time.-- Now I will tell you of my exp[erience?] [.]

Having read some accounts of the great richness of Paraguay in all animal life, I wrote to Poulto[n] about it. He thought it might do, & advised we [word missing] consult Mr.Karl Jordan at Tring Museum. Tr[ing] told me, there were collectors there, &that it [is] not good enough. He did not think much of Gu[iana] as too many collectors had been there lately, h[e] recommended as the best easily accessible p[art] of S.America the East of Brazil -- Bahia Peruambuco2. To get a second opinion I wrot[e] Mr.Godman, &he agreed that Brazil in th[ose] parts was much better than Guiana; but he [said] you should go to the mountainous interior, as [the] coast was well known. I then got the best [book] I could from the R[oyal].Geog[ological]. [Society] Library -- Hartts Geol. [&] Phys. Geog. of Brazil3, & a Brazilian book on [word missing] from there I have learnt much, and I think <I have> found several very good localites all in [the] State of Bahia. In Peruambuco the [word missing] scanty, and there are enormous areas4 [[2]]5 almost desert. But from Bahia south all the way to beyond Rio, there is a belt of grand forests varying from 100 to 200 miles wide, with abundance of rivers rising in the in the interior plateaux or mountains. Going southward from Bahia I find there are 5 river valleys, with a fair population, & a good deal of trade in sugar, coffee, cocoa, [farinha] [sic]6. vegetables &c., and timber & dye woods. The best of these I think in the farthest 600 miles beyond Bahia. Caravellos at the mouth of the Mucury7, Hartt says that here are the grandest and the most extensive forests he has seen anywhere in Brazil south of the Amazon Valley, and there is the great advantage of a railroad from the port right up the valley for 200 miles into the high plateau of the interior. In the lower parts & lateral valleys he describes the vegetation as being excessively luxuriant, [b]ut as you go up, the climate becomes dryer [sic] and the forest gradually changes in character till you get to the wooded campos8 of the interior which are very dry in the summer, & burnt up, but most luxuriant with foliage &flowers in the winter. This access to such diverse conditions in so short a distance would be most valua[ble] [a]s you could utilise the dry season in the [high]lands &the wet above. But there are [word missing] places one only 50 and the other 120 miles <from> [word missing], where nearly the same conditions [[3]]9 prevail in a somewhat less degree, [and?] you could go first, &others again in [be?] [s]o that I feel sure there are many years [of] work here for a collection like yourself. [If] as I suppose and hope, no really good collecto[rs] has ever resided &worked them. I am trying all I can to get personal information, but it is most difficult. Almost every one going to Brazil south of the Amazon goes to either Peruambuco, Bahia, or Rio, and as there is (or was) some10 virgin forest quite near those cities, the commoner things have been collected again and again till they have been quite overdone, while probably there are as many of the less common things as at Para[?] quite unknown. I am trying all I can to get accurate information & will let you know the result later on. I can[t] find yet whether any good collector ha[s] worked the interior in the wet season, & whether beetles are abundant there. I ob[viously] think they must be, if properly search[ed] for as the whole Brazilian plateau is older geologically than the Andes.

Another advantage of Brazil is, that it is much cheaper living there than in [an] English Colony, which is almost all [of the?] towns, even the smaller ones, there [are?] [[4]]11 English or Americans, who are more [g]lad to see a countryman than in an English Colony. Of course you will have to learn some Portuguese, and if you cannot get any books where you are I will try and get some &send you. Then, it is rather a long journey, but I fancy the coasting steamers will take you cheaply, and I hope your next collection of insects will be far more valuable if you find a good station in the forest.

Of course it would be nearer and cheaper [to] go up the Orinoco and the Apure or Meta12 [of] the forest country near the foot of the Andes -- you can get information as to really good localities there. The Meta is said to be navigable to within 100 miles of Bogata [tha]t then I fear you would be in a very well worked country. However, you can let [m]e know what you think. I see the place our Anglo-Spanish friend told you of. El Callao13, quite a short journey on a Southern tributary, [bu]t among revoloutionists it is hopeless. Brazil is much more settled, and the Brazilians very kind to strangers. Did you get details of the [we]t and dry seasons at Callao. forests &c. [that] the people do there. All such [in]formation is useful, as it is impossible [to tea]ch it from books. Look out for people [who] [ha]ve been to Bahia &c.

[You]rs very sincerely | Alfred R.Wallace [signature]


1. Page 1 is damaged down right side.

2. Northeast Brazil.

3. Geology and physical geography of Brazil by Charles Frederick Hartt was published in 1870.

4. 418629 is written in pencil in the right corner of the page.

5. Page 2 is damaged down the left side.

6. may be farina, a type of cereal.

7. Mucuri is a city in Bahia, Brazil.

8. Spanish for fields.

9. Page 3 is damaged down the right side.

10. some has been added later above the line by same hand.

11. Page 4 is damaged down the left side.

12. Orinoco River, Apure State, and the Meta River are all in Venezuela.

13. A major port in Peru.

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