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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 1oo 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 Paradiseas. 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. Paradisea papuana, with regia, magnifica, superba, and sexsetacea, Astrapia nigra, Epimachus 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. papuana) was found in the district. This turned out to be the case; for I could get nothing but this species sparingly, a few females of the kingbird and one young male of the twelve-wired bird of paradise, a species Lesson does not mention. Nevertheless, Lesson did undoubtedly obtain all the birds he names at Dorey; but the natives are great traders in a petty way, and are constantly making voyages along the coast and to the neighbouring islands, where they purchase birds of paradise and sell them again to the Bugis praus, Molucca traders, and whale-ships which annually visit Dorey harbour. Lesson must have been there at a good time, when there happened to be an accumulation of bird-skins; I, at a bad one, for I could not buy a single rare bird all the time I was there. I also suffered much by the visit of a Dutch surveying steamer, which, for want of coals, lay in Dorey harbour for a month ; and during that time I got nothing from the natives, every specimen being taken on board the steamer, where the commonest birds and insects were bought at high prices. During this time two skins of the black paradise bird (Astrapia nigra) were brought by a Bugis trader and sold to an amateur ornithologist on board, and I never had another chance of getting a skin of this rare and beautiful bird. The Dorey people all agreed that Amerbaki, about one hundred miles west, was the place for birds of paradise, and that almost all the different sorts were to be found there. Determined to make an effort to secure them, I sent my two best men with ten natives and a large stock of goods to stay there a fortnight, with instructions to shoot and buy all they could. They returned, however, with absolutely nothing. They could not buy any skins but those of the common P. papuana, and could not find any birds but a single specimen of P. regia. They were assured that the birds all came from two or three days’ journey in the interior, over several ridges of mountains, and were never seen near the coast. The coast people never go there themselves, nor do the mountaineers, who kill and preserve them, ever come to the coast, but sell them to the inhabitants of intermediate villages, where the coast people go to buy them. These sell them to the Dorey people, or any other native traders; so that the specimens Lesson purchased had already passed through three or four hands. These disappointments, with a scarcity of food sometimes approaching starvation, and almost constant sickness both of myself and men, one of whom died of dysentery, made me heartily glad when the schooner returned and took me away from Dorey. I had gone there with the most brilliant hopes, which, I think, were fully justified by the facts known before my visit; and yet, as far as my special object (the birds of paradise) was concerned, I had accomplished next to nothing. My ardour for New Guinea voyages being now somewhat abated, for the next year and a half I occupied myself in the Moluccas; but in January, 1860, being joined (when at Amboyna) by my assistant, Mr. Charles Allen, I arranged a plan for the further exploration of the country of the Paradiseas, by sending Mr. Allen to Mysol, while I myself, after making the circuit of the island of Ceram, was to visit him with stores and provisions and proceed to Waigiou, both returning independently to meet at Ternate in the autumn. I had been assured by the Goram and Bugis traders that Mysol was the very best country for the birds of paradise, and that they were finer and more abundant there than anywhere else. For Waigiou I had, besides the authority of the native traders, that of Lesson also, who visited the north coast for a few days, and mentions seven species of paradise birds purchased there by him. These two promising expeditions turned out unfortunately in every respect. On reaching Goram, after much difficulty and delay, I found it impossible to make the voyage I had projected without a vessel of my own. I therefore purchased a small native prau of about eight tons, and after spending a month in strengthening and fitting it up, and having with great difficulty secured a native crew, paid them half their wages in advance, and overcome all the difficulties and objections which every one of them made to starting when all was ready, we at length got away, and I congratulated myself on my favourable prospects. Touching at Ceramlaut, the rendezvous of the New Guinea traders, I invested all my spare cash in goods for barter with the natives, and then proceeded towards Mysol. The very next day, however, being obliged to anchor on the east coast of Ceram on account of bad weather, my crew all ran away during the night, leaving myself and my two Amboyna hunters to get on as we could. With great difficulty I procured other men to take us as far as Wahai, on the north coast of Ceram, opposite to Mysol, and there by a great chance succeeded in picking up a make-shift crew of four men willing to go with me to Mysol, Waigiou, and Ternate. I here found a letter from Mr. Allen, telling me he was much in want of rice and other necessaries, and was waiting my arrival to go to the north coast of Mysol, where alone the Paradiseas could be obtained. On attempting to cross the strait, seventy miles wide, between Ceram and Mysol, a strong east wind blew us out of our course, so that we passed to the westward of that island without any possibility of getting back to it. Mr. Allen, finding it impossible to live without rice, had to return to Wahai, much against his will, and there was kept two months waiting a supply from Amboyna. When at length he was able to return to Mysol, he had only a fortnight at the best place on the north coast, when the last boat of the season left, and he was obliged to take his only chance of getting back to Ternate. Through this unfortunate series of accidents he was only able to get a single specimen of P. papuana, which is there finer than in most other places, a few of the Cicinnurus regius, and of P. magnifica only a native skin, though this beautiful little species is not rare in the island, and during a longer stay might easily have been obtained. My own voyage was beset with misfortunes. After passing Mysol, I lost two of my scanty crew on a little desert island, our anchor breaking