A Wallace biography

2 The Malay Archipelago

Not to be deterred (and after vowing never to go on the ocean again), Wallace returned to London, put together some of his notes, and after just over a year boarded a steamer bound for the Malay Archipelago. As Wallace noted in Chapter XI of My Life (p.169):

“During my constant attendance at the meetings of the Zoological and Entomological Societies, and visits to the insect and bird departments of the British Museum, I had obtained sufficient information to satisfy me that the very finest field for an exploring and collecting naturalist was to be found in the great Malayan Archipelago, of which just sufficient was known to prove its wonderful richness, while no part of it, with the one exception of the island of Java, has been well explored as regards its natural history.”

Wallace would spend eight years (1854 to 1862) in South-east Asia. Wallace travelled amongst the various islands and visited Java, Bali, Lombok, Celebes, Timor, New Guinea, and several islands in the Moluccas. Wallace journeyed through the region sometimes by mail packet ship, sometimes in a trading vessel or a small outrigger canoe, and also on a native prau on an adventure to Aru. He employed a young Malay assistant, Ali, and periodically sent specimens back to his agent (Samuel Stevens) in London. He collected and sold beetles, butterflies, shells and stuffed bird specimens and also collected numerous mammals and reptiles. On his return to England Wallace met Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley and other naturalists of renown in the scientific circles of the day.

Obtain a PDF of Wallace’s book The Malay Archipelago or read the text online at Wallace Online.

The natural divisions of the Malay Archipelago

Note that although Wallace travelled back and forth through the archipelago, the book (The Malay Archipelago) proceeds from west to east in its description of the region and its inhabitants.
Wallace divided the archipelago into five groups of islands (natural divisions), viz.
  1. The Indo-Malay Islands: comprising the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, Borneo, Java, and Sumatra.
  2. The Timor Group: comprising the islands of Timor, Flores, Sumbawa, and Lombok, with several smaller ones.
  3. Celebes: comprising Celebes (Sulawesi) plus the Sula Islands and Bouton.
  4. The Moluccas: comprising Bouru, Ceram, Batchian, Gilolo, and Morty; with the smaller islands of Ternate, Tidore, Makian, Kaióa, Amboyna, Banda, Goram, and Matabello.
  5. The Papuan Group: comprising the great island of New Guinea, with the Aru Islands, Mysol, Salwatty, Waigiou, and several others.
Wallace's travels through the Malay Archipelago. (PD-US) From: Wallace, A.R. The Malay Archipelago.
Wallace’s travels through the Malay Archipelago.

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  • Malay Archipelago © A.R. Wallace is licensed under a Public Domain license


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