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LIFE IN LONDON, 1862-1871-SCIENTIFIC AND
On reaching London in the spring of 1862 I went to live with my brother-in-law, Mr. Thomas Sims, and my sister Mrs. Sims, who had a photographic business in Westbourne Grove. Here, in a large empty room at the top of the house, I brought together all the collections which I had reserved for myself and which my agent, Mr. Stevens, had taken care of for me. I found myself surrounded by a quantity of packing-cases and store-boxes, the contents of many of which I had not seen for five or six years, and to the examination and study of which I looked forward with intense interest.
From my first arrival in the East I had determined to keep a complete set of certain groups from every island or distinct locality which I visited for my own study on my return home, as I felt sure they would afford me very valuable materials for working out the geographical distribution of animals in the archipelago, and also throw light on various other problems. These various sets of specimens were sent home regularly with the duplicates for sale, but either packed separately or so distinctly marked "Private” that they could be easily put aside till my return home. The groups thus reserved were the birds, butterflies, beetles, and land-shells, and they amounted roughly to about three thousand bird skins of about a thousand species, and, perhaps, twenty thousand beetles and butterflies of about seven thousand species. VOL. I.
As I reached home in a very weak state of health, and could not work long at a time without rest, my first step was to purchase the largest and most comfortable easy-chair I could find in the neighbourhood, and then engage a carpenter to fit up one side of the room with movable deal shelves, and to make a long deal table, supported on trestles, on which I could unpack and assort my specimens. In order to classify and preserve my bird skins I obtained from a manufacturer about a gross of cardboard boxes of three sizes, which, when duly labelled with the name of the genus or family, and arranged in proper order upon the shelves, enabled me to find any species without difficulty. For the next month I was fully occupied in the unpacking and arranging of my collections, while I usually attended the evening meetings of the Zoological, Entomological, and Linnean Societies, where I met many old friends and made several new ones, and greatly enjoyed the society of people interested in the subjects that now had almost become the business of my life.
As soon as I began to study my birds I had to pay frequent visits to the bird-room of the British Museum, then in charge of Mr. George Robert Gray, who had described many of my discoveries as I sent them home, and also to the library of the Zoological Society to consult the works of the older ornithologists. In this way the time passed rapidly, and I became so interested in my various occupations, and saw so many opportunities for useful and instructive papers on various groups of my birds and insects, that I came to the conclusion to devote myself for some years to this work, and to put off the writing of a book on my travels till I could embody in it all the more generally interesting results derived from the detailed study of certain portions of my collections. This delay turned out very well, as I was thereby enabled to make my book not merely the journal of a traveller, but also a fairly complete sketch of the whole of the great Malayan Archipelago from the point of view of the philosophic naturalist. The result has been that it long continued to be the most popular of my books, and that even now, thirty-six years after its publication, its sale is equal to that of any of the others.
Having, as already described, brought home two living birds of paradise, which were attracting much notice at the Zoological Gardens, I thought it would be of interest to the Fellows of the Society to give an outline of my various journeys in search of these wonderful birds, and of the reasons why I was, comparatively speaking, so unsuccessful. This was the first paper I wrote after my return, and I read it to the society on May II. As it gives an account of how I pursued this special object, and summarizes a number of voyages, the description of which occupies six or seven chapters of my “Malay Archipelago," and as it is not accessible to general readers, I give the larger portion of it here.
NARRATIVE OF SEARCH AFTER BIRDS OF PARADISE.
Having visited most of the islands inhabited by the paradise birds, in the hope of obtaining good specimens of many of the species, and some knowledge of their habits and distribution, I have thought that an outline of my several voyages, with the causes that have led to their only partial success, might not prove uninteresting.
At the close of the year 1856, being then at Macassar, in the island of Celebes, I was introduced to the master of a prau trading to the Aru Islands, who assured me that two sorts of birds of paradise were abundant there—the large yellow and the small red kinds—the Paradisea apoda and P. regia of naturalists.
He seemed to think there was no doubt but I could obtain them either by purchase from the natives or by shooting them myself. Thus encouraged, I agreed with him for a passage there and back (his stay being six months), and made all my preparations to start by the middle of December.
Our vessel was a Malay prau of about 100 tons burthen, but differing widely from anything to be seen in European waters. The deck sloped downwards towards the bows, the two rudders were hung by rattans and ropes on the quarters, the masts were triangles standing on the decks, and the huge mat sail, considerably longer than the vessel, with its yard of bamboos, rose upwards at a great angle, so as to make up for the lowness of the mast. In this strange vessel, which, under very favourable circumstances, plunged along at nearly five miles an hour, and with a Buginese crew, all of whom seemed to have a voice in cases of difficulty or danger, we made the voyage of about a thousand miles in perfect safety, and very agreeably; in fact, of all the sea voyages I have made, this was one of the pleasantest.
On reaching the Bugis trading settlement of Dobbo, I found that the small island on which it is situated does not contain any paradise birds. Just as I was trying to arrange a trip to the larger island, a fleet of Magindano pirates made their appearance, committing great devastations, and putting the whole place in an uproar; and it was only after they had been some time gone that confidence began to be restored, and the natives could be persuaded to take the smallest voyage. This delayed me two months in Dobbo without seeing a paradise bird.
When, however, I at length reached the main island and ascended a small stream to a native village, I soon obtained a specimen of the lovely king bird of paradise, which, when first brought me, excited greater admiration and delight than I have experienced on any similar occasion. The larger species was still not to be seen, and the natives assured me that it would be some months before their plumage arrived at perfection, when they were accustomed to congregate together and could be more easily obtained. This proved to be correct, for it was about four months after my arrival at Dobbo that I obtained my first full-plumaged specimen of the great paradise bird. This was near the centre of the large island of Aru; and there, with the assistance of the natives, I procured the fine series which first arrived in England.
While at Dobbo I had frequent conversations with the Bugis traders and with the Rajah of Goram, who all assured me that in the northern parts of New Guinea I could travel with safety, and that at Mysol, Waigiou, Salwatty, and Dorey I could get all the different sorts of Paradiseæ. Their accounts excited me so much that I could think of nothing else; and after another excursion in Celebes I made my way to Ternate, as the best headquarters for the Moluccas and New Guinea. Finding a schooner about to sail on its annual trading voyage to the north coast of New Guinea, I agreed for a passage to Dorey, and to be called for on the return of the vessel after an interval of three or four months. We arrived there, after a tedious voyage, in April, 1858, and I began my second search after the birds of paradise.
I went to Dorey in full confidence of success, and thought myself extremely fortunate in being able to visit that particular locality; for it was there that Lesson, in the French discovery ship Coquille, purchased from the natives the skins of at least eight spec es, viz. Paradiseа papuana, with regia, magnifica, superba, and sexsetacea, Astrapia nigra, Epima. chus magnus, and Sericulus aureus. Here was a prospect for me! The very anticipation of it made me thrill with expectation.
My disappointment, therefore, may be imagined when, shortly after my arrival, I found all these bright hopes fade away. In vain I inquired for the native bird-hunters ; none were to be found there ; and the inhabitants assured me that not a single bird of paradise of any kind was ever prepared by the Dorey people, and that only the common yellow one (P.