« EelmineJätka »
the Royal Geographical Society, and one of the most accessible and kindly of men of science. On calling upon him and stating my wishes, he at once agreed to make an application on my behalf for a passage to some Malayan port, and as he was personally known to many members of the Government and had great influence with them, a passage was promised me on the first ship going to those seas. This was, I think, near the end of the year 1853, when I had published my two books, and had spent much of my spare time at the British Museum, examining the collections, and making notes and sketches, of the rarer and more valuable species of birds, butterflies, and beetles of the various Malay islands.
Among the greatest wants of a collector who wishes to know what he is doing, and how many of his captures are new or rare, are books containing a compact summary with brief descriptions of all the more important known species ; and, speaking broadly, such books did not then nor do now exist. Having found by my experience when beginning botany how useful are even the shortest characters in determining a great number of species, I endeavoured to do the same thing in this case. I purchased the “Conspectus Generum Avium” of Prince Lucien Bonaparte, a large octavo volume of 800 pages, containing a well-arranged catalogue of all the known species of birds up to 1850, with references to descriptions and figures, and the native country and distribution of each species. Besides this, in a very large number-I should think nearly half—a short but excellent Latin description was given, by which the species could be easily determined. In many families (the cuckoos and woodpeckers, for example) every species was thus described, in others a large proportion. As the book had very wide margins I consulted all the books referred to for the Malayan species, and copied out in abbreviated form such of the characters as I thought would enable me to determine each, the result being that during my whole eight years' collecting in the East, I could almost always identify every bird already described, and if I could not do so, was pretty sure that it was a new or undescribed species.
No one who is not a naturalist and collector can imagine the value of this book to me. It was my constant companion on all my journeys, and as I had also noted in it the species not in the British Museum, I was able every evening to satisfy myself whether among my day's captures there was anything either new or rare. Now, such a book is equally valuable to the amateur collector at home in naming and arranging his collections, but to answer the purpose thoroughly it must, of course, be complete—that is, every species must be shortly characterized. During the last fifty years it is probable that the described species of birds have doubled in number, yet with slight alteration the whole of these might be included in a volume no larger than that I am referring to. This could be effected by giving only one name to each species (that in most general use), whereas Prince Bonaparte has usually given several synonyms and references to figures, so that these occupy fully as much space as the descriptions. These are quite unnecessary for the collector abroad or at home. What he requires is to have a compact and cheap volume by which he can name, if not all, at least all wellmarked species. A series of volumes of this character should be issued by the various national museums of the world (each one taking certain groups) and be kept up to date by annual or quinquennial supplements, as in the case of the admirable “List of Plants introduced to Cultivation during the twentyone years, 1876–1896, issued by the Director of Kew Gardens." In this very compact volume of 420 pages, 7600 species of plants are sufficiently described for identification, while by the use of double columns and thin paper, the volume is only about half the weight of Bonaparte's “Conspectus," in which about the same number of birds are catalogued, but only half of them described. By a division of labour such as is here suggested, the mammals, reptiles, and freshwater fishes might be issued in this form without difficulty. The land and freshwater shells might have separate volumes dealing with the eastern and western hemispheres, or with the separate continents, as might the Diurnal Lepidoptera. The other orders of insects are too extensive to be treated in this way, but the more attractive families—as the Geodephaga, the Lamellicornes, the Longicornes, and the Buprestidæ among beetles, the bees and wasps among Hysuoptera, might have volumes devoted to them. As these volumes would, if compact and cheap, have a very large sale in every civilized country, they might be issued at a very low price, and would be an immense boon to all amateur collectors, travellers, and residents abroad; and if the chief genera were illustrated by a careful selection of photographic prints, now so easily and economically produced, they would constitute one of the greatest incentives to the study of nature.
The only other book of much use to me was the volume by Boisduval, describing all the known species of the two families of butterflies, the Papilionida and Pieridæ. The descriptions by this French author are so clear and precise that every species can be easily determined, and the volume, though dealing with so limited a group, was of immense interest to me. For other families of butterflies and for some of the beetles I made notes and sketches at the British Museum, which enabled me to recognize some of the larger and best known species; but I soon found that so many of the species I collected were new or very rare, that in the less known groups I could safely collect all as of equal importance.
It was, I think, in the latter part of January, 1854, that I received a notification from the Government that a passage had been granted me to Singapore in the brig Frolic, shortly sailing for that port, and that I was to communicate with the captain-Commander Nolloth—as to when I should go on board. I think it was about the middle of February that I went to Portsmouth with all necessaries for the voyage, my heavy baggage having been sent off by a merchant ship some time previously. The Frolic was anchored at Spithead with a number of other warships. She was about seven hundred tons, and carried, I think, twelve guns. The accommodation was very scanty. I messed with the gun-room officers, and as there was no vacant cabin or berth, the captain very kindly accommodated me in a cot slung in his cabin, which was a large one, and also provided me with a small table in one corner where I could write or read quietly.
The captain was a rather small, nervous man, but very kind and of rather scientific and literary tastes. He wished to take some deep-sea soundings during the voyage, and to bring up good samples of the bottom; and we discussed an apparatus he was having made for the purpose, in which I suggested some improvements, which he adopted. Sailing orders were expected every day, as the ship was quite ready, with the stores she was taking out to the East all on board ; but day after day and week after week passed, signals were exchanged with the admiral, but we seemed no nearer sailing than when I came on board. It was rather dull work, but I consoled myself with getting acquainted with the ship and its ways, the regular routine of which went on, and everybody seemed as fully occupied as if we were at sea. The captain had a nice little library in his cabin, among which the only book I specially remember was a fine Spanish edition of “Don Quixote.” This I intended to read through during the voyage, as my familiarity with Portuguese and the small experience of Spanish conversation while in Venezuela enabled me to understand a good deal of it. But this was not to be.
Having read almost all Marryat's novels, I was especially interested in the characters and manners of the various officers, in whom I found several of Marryat's types reproduced. The captain, as I have said, was nervous, and especially on everything connected with official etiquette, One day signals were being made from the admiral's ship, and there seemed to be some doubt as to what ships it was intended for. The first-lieutenant asked what they were to do about it, and the captain was quite excited for fear of a reprimand, and at last said, “We can only do what the others do. Watch them and repeat the signals they make." Whether it was right or not I don't remember. One officer, I think it was the purser, was the great authority on naval history. His small cabin had a complete set of the Navy List for fifty years or more, and every matter in dispute as to what ship was at
a certain station in a given year, or where any particular officer was stationed, was always referred to him, and if he could not say off hand, he retired to his cabin for a few minutes, and then produced the authority, which settled the question. The others were nothing remarkable, except the doctor, who was of the jolly, talkative sort, and seemed especially to pride himself on his knowledge of seamanship. One day I remember the captain was summoned by signal to go on shore to the admiral's office. It was a cold day with a strong wind, and there was a very choppy sea on, as there often is at Spithead. When the captain's gig came alongside it was difficult to keep it clear of the ship, it was so tossed about in sudden and unexpected ways; and when the captain had got in, there was a difficulty in getting away, and for a few moments the boat seemed quite out of command and in danger of upsetting. The officers were all looking on with anxiety, and as soon as the boat had got clear away, it was the doctor that spoke, and declared that he never saw such bad seamanship. They were very near losing the captain ! They were a set of lubbers ! etc. etc.
Finding that I was a bad sailor, I was assured that before we got to Singapore I should be thoroughly seasoned, for the brig was what they called a Simonite, a class of ships named after the designer, which, though stable, were very uncomfortable in bad weather, having a quick jumping motion, which often made old sailors seasick. I hoped this was exaggerated, but looked forward to the ordeal with some dread. But one day the captain informed me that he had received fresh orders to carry stores to the Crimea, where the great war with Russia was about to commence. He said that he regretted the change, because he much preferred the voyage to Singapore and China, and that he also regretted the loss of my company; but as it was, I had better leave the next morning, and that no doubt the Government would provide me a passage in some other vessel. So I bade farewell to him and his officers, none of whom I ever met again.
On returning to London, I at once call on Sir Roderick Murchison, and through his representations I received in a