Wallace on Singapore


Been reading the letters of Alfred Russell Wallace in the new online archive, Wallace Letters Online by the Natural History Museum. What interested me was his view on Singapore and the wildlife. While I believe many others have done this, its fun to do this yourself and go through the original letters. The first letter dates back to 1854….


Here are a few excerpts and quotes;

The greater part of the Inhabitants of Singapore are Chinese many of whom are very rich, & all the villages about are almost entirely of Chinese who cultivate pepper & Gambir.

We are now at the mission of Bukit Tima. The missionary speaks English Malay & Chinese as well as French and is a very pleasant man. He has built a pretty church here & has about three hundred Chinese converts.

Singapore is a very curious & interesting place. The Chinese do all this work, they are a most industrious people, & the place could hardly exist without them.

Singapore is very rich in beetles & before I leave I think I shall have a most beautiful collection

I quite enjoy being a few days at Singapore now. The scene is at once so familiar & strange. The half naked chinese coolies, the neat shop keepers, the clean feet and long tailed merchants, all as busy & full of business as any Londoners. Then the handsome Klings[?] who always ask double what they take & with whom it is most amusing to Bargain. The crowd of boatmen at the Ferry, a dozen begging & disputing for a farthing fare, the Americans[,] the Malays & the Portuguese make up a scene doubly interesting to me now that I know something about them & can talk to them in the general language of the place. The streets of Singapore on a fine day are as crowded & busy as Tottenham Court road, & from the variety of nations & occupations far more interesting. I am more convinced than ever that no one can appreciate a new country in a short visit. After 2 years in the country I only now begin to understandSingapore & to marvel at the life & bustle[,] the varied occupations & strange population,which on a spot which so short a time ago was an uninhabited jungle. A volume might be written on Singapore without exhausting its singularities

My friend, the missionary, said to me the other day, "Singapore is a very strange place; I never did see one like it. It belongs to the English, who bought it from the Malays, but now the Chinese have it quite for themselves. They take what ground they like, and make plantations, and then sell them for a great deal of money, and nobody says anything to them. It is really a very strange place." The Chinese, no doubt, think so, and therefore flock here in great abundance, as places where they can have land for nothing, and are perfectly free to come and go, and to do as they please, are not to be found everywhere. The results of this over-liberal policy have been lately evident in the difficulty there was in putting down the recent insurrection. The Chinese have settled in such a miscellaneous manner, in places which can only be reached by paths scarcely known but to themselves, that they are almost out of reach of all law and police, and can commit murders, when so inclined, almost with impunity. This would not have happened had the lands been regularly settled by purchase at even a nominal rate from the Government, and all squatting in the more remote and uncleared tracts prohibited.

Singapore is entirely dependent for its supplies of provisions on the neighbouring island.Neither rice, coffee, nor sugar, are grown here; meat and vegetables are brought fromMalacca, and other places.

Curculionidae altogether do not bear quite so large a proportion to the other families as at Singapore, neither are the Anthribidae so numerous among them, but there is still a great number of fine things.

And here is the road named after him in Singapore



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