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THE MALAY ARCHIPELAGO—SINGAPORE, MALACCA,
In order not to omit so important a portion of my life as my eight years in the far East, I propose to give a general sketch of my various journeys and their results, told as far as possible in quotations from the few of my letters home that have been preserved, with such connecting facts as may serve to render them intelligible.
Ten days after my arrival at Singapore I wrote home as follows :-"After being a week in a hotel here, I at last got permission to stay with a French Roman Catholic missionary, who lives about eight miles out of town, in the centre of the island, and close to the jungle. The greater part of the inhabitants of Singapore are Chinese, many of whom are very rich, and almost all the villages around are wholly Chinese, who cultivate pepper and gambier, or cut timber. Some of the English merchants have fine country houses. I dined with one, to whom I brought an introduction. His house was spacious, and full of magnificent China and Japan furniture. We are now staying at the mission of Bukit Tima. The missionary (a French Jesuit) speaks English, Malay, and Chinese, and is a very pleasant man. He has built a pretty church here, and has about three hundred Chinese converts.”
A month later (May 28th) I wrote—“I am very comfortable here with the missionary. I and Charles go into the jungle every day for insects. The forest here is very similar VOL. I.
to that of South America. Palms are very numerous, but they are generally small, and very spiny. There are none of the large majestic species so common on the Amazon. I am so busy with insects now that I have no time for anything else. I send now about a thousand beetles to Mr. Stevens, and I have as many other insects still on hand, which will form part of my next and principal consignment. Singapore is rich in beetles, and before I leave I think I shall have a beautiful collection of them. I will tell you how my day is now occupied. Get up at half-past five, bath, and coffee. Sit down to arrange and put away my insects of the day before, and set them in a safe place to dry. Charles mends our insect-nets, fills our pin-cushions, and gets ready for the day. Breakfast at eight; out to the jungle at nine. We have to walk about a quarter mile up a steep hill to reach it, and arrive dripping with perspiration. Then we wander about in the delightful shade along paths made by the Chinese wood-cutters till two or three in the afternoon, generally returning with fifty or sixty beetles, some very rare or beautiful, and perhaps a few butterflies. Change clothes and sit down to kill and pin insects, Charles doing the flies, wasps, and bugs; I do not trust him yet with beetles. Dinner at four, then at work again till six: coffee. Then read or talk, or, if insects very numerous, work again till eight or nine. Then to bed.”
In July I wrote from “The Jungle, near Malacca :” “We have been here a week, living in a Chinese house or shed, which reminds me of some of my old Rio Negro habitations. We came from Singapore in a small trading schooner, with about fifty Chinese, Hindoos, and Portuguese passengers, and were two days on the voyage with nothing but rice and curry to eat, not having made any special provision, it being our first experience of the country vessels. Malacca is a very old Dutch city, but the Portuguese have left the clearest marks of their possession of it in the common language of the place being still theirs. I have now two Portuguese servants, a cook and a hunter, and find myself almost back in Brazil, owing to the similarity of the language, the people,
and the general aspect of the forest. In Malacca we stayed only two days, being anxious to get into the country as soon as possible. I stayed with a Roman Catholic missionary; there are several here, each devoted to a particular portion of the population-Portuguese, Chinese, and wild Malays of the jungle. The gentleman we were with is building a large church, of which he is architect himself, and superintends the laying of every brick and the cutting of every piece of timber. Money enough could not be raised here, so he took a voyage round the world, and in the United States, California, and India got enough subscribed to finish it. It is a curious and not very creditable thing, that in the English possessions of Singapore and Malacca, there is not a single Protestant missionary; while the conversion, education, and physical and moral improvement of the non-European inhabitants is left entirely to these French missionaries, who, without the slightest assistance from our Government, devote their lives to christianizing and civilizing the varied population under our rule.
“Here the birds are abundant and most beautiful, more so than on the lower Amazon, and I think I shall soon form a fine collection. They are, however, almost all common species, and are of little value, except that I hope they will be better specimens than usually reach England. My guns are both very good, but I find powder and shot actually cheaper in Singapore than in London, so I need not have troubled myself to bring any. So far both I and Charles have had excellent health. He can now shoot pretty well, and is so fond of it that I can hardly get him to do anything else.
"The Chinese here are most industrious. They clear and cultivate the ground with a neatness which I have never seen equalled in the tropics, and they save every particle of manure, both from animals and men, to enrich the ground.
“The country around Malacca is much more beautiful than near Singapore, it being an old settlement with abundance of old fruit and forest trees scattered about. Monkeys of many sorts are abundant; in fact, all animal life seems more abundant than in Brazil. Among the fruits I miss the delicious oranges of Para and the Amazon. Here they are scarce and not good, and there is nothing that can replace them."
I may as well state here that the “ Charles " referred to in the preceding letter was a London boy, the son of a carpenter who had done a little work for my sister, and whose parents were willing for him to go with me to learn to be a collector. He was sixteen years old, but quite undersized for his age, so that no one would have taken him for more than thirteen or fourteen. He remained with me about a year and a half, and learned to shoot and to catch insects pretty well, but not to prepare them properly. He was rather of a religious turn, and when I left Borneo he decided to stay with the bishop and become a teacher. After a year or two, however, he returned to Singapore, and got employment on some plantations. About five years later he joined me in the Moluccas as a collector. He had grown to be a fine young man, over six feet. When I returned home he remained in Singapore, married, and had a family. He died some fifteen years since.
At the end of September I returned to Singapore, whence I wrote home as follows :
“I have now just returned to Singapore after two months' hard work. At Malacca I had a strong touch of fever, with the old 'Rio Negro' symptoms, but the Government doctor made me take large doses of quinine every day for a week, and so killed it, and in less than a fortnight I was quite well, and off to the jungle again. I never took half enough quinine in America to cure me.
"Malacca is a pretty place. Insects are not very abundant there, still, by perseverance, I got a good number, and many rare ones. Of birds, too, I made a good collection. I went to the celebrated Mount Ophir, and ascended to the top, sleeping under a rock. The walk there was hard work, thirty miles through jungle in a succession of mud-holes, and swarming with leeches, which crawled all over us, and sucked
when and where they pleased. We lived a week at the foot of the mountain, in a little hut built by our men, near a beautiful rocky stream. I got some fine new butterflies there, and hundreds of other new or rare insects. Huge centipedes and scorpions, some nearly a foot long, were common, but we none of us got bitten or stung. We only had rice, and a little fish and tea, but came home quite well. The mountain is over four thousand feet high. Near the top are beautiful ferns and pitcher-plants, of which I made a small collection. Elephants and rhinoceroses, as well as tigers, are abundant there, but we had our usual bad luck in seeing only their tracks. On returning to Malacca I found the accumulation of two or three posts-a dozen letters, and about fifty newspapers. . . . I am glad to be safe in Singapore with my collections, as from here they can be insured. I have now a fortnight's work to arrange, examine, and pack them, and four months hence there will be work for Mr. Stevens.1
“Sir James Brooke is here. I have called on him. He received me most cordially, and offered me every assistance at Sarawak. I shall go there next, as the missionary does not go to Cambodia for some months. Besides, I shall have some pleasant society at Sarawak, and shall get on in Malay, which is very easy ; but I have had no practice yet, though I can ask for most common things."
I reached Sarawak early in November, and remained in Borneo fourteen months, seeing a good deal of the country. The first four months was the wet season, during which I made journeys up and down the Sarawak river, but obtained very scanty collections. In March I went to the Sadong river, where coal mines were being opened by an English mining engineer, Mr. Coulson, a Yorkshireman, and I stayed there nearly nine months, it being the best locality for beetles I found during my twelve years' tropical collecting, and very good for other groups. It was also in this place
1 They were sent by sailing ship round the Cape of Good Hope, the overland route being too costly for goods.