The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 34

New Guinea. — Dorey,


AFTER my return from Gilolo to Ternate, in March 1858, I made arrangements for my long-wished-for voyage to the mainland of New Guinea, where I anticipated that my collections would surpass those which I had formed at the Aru Islands. The poverty of Ternate in articles used by Europeans was shown, by my searching in vain through all the stores for such common things as flour, metal spoons, wide-mouthed phials, beeswax, a penknife, and a stone or metal pestle and mortar. I took with me four servants: my head man Ali, and a Ternate lad named Jumaat (Friday), to shoot; Lahagi, a steady middle-aged man, to cut timber and assist me in insect-collecting; and Loisa, a Javanese cook. As I knew I should have to build a house at Dorey, where I was going, I took with me eighty cadjans, or waterproof mats, made of pandanus leaves, to cover over my baggage on first landing, and to help to roof my house afterwards.

We started on the 25th of March in the schooner Hester Helena, belonging to my friend Mr. Duivenboden, and bound on a trading voyage along the north coast of New Guinea. Having calms and light airs, we were three days reaching Gane, near the south end of Gilolo, where we stayed to fill. up our water-casks and buy a few provisions. We obtained fowls, eggs, sago, plantains, sweet potatoes, yellow pumpkins, chilies, fish, and dried deer’s meat; and on the afternoon of the 29th proceeded on our voyage to Dorey harbour. We found it, however, by no means easy to get along; for so near to the equator the monsoons entirely fail of their regularity, and after passing the southern point of Gilolo we had calms, light puffs of wind, and contrary currents, which kept us for five days in sight of the same islands between it and Poppa. A squall them brought us on to the entrance of Dampier’s Straits, where we were again becalmed, and were three more days creeping through them. Several native canoes now came off to us from Waigiou on one side, and Batanta on the other, bringing a few common shells, palm-leaf mats, cocoa-nuts, and pumpkins. They were very extravagant in their demands, being accustomed to sell their trifles to whalers and China ships, whose crews will purchase anything at ten times its value. My only purchases were a float belonging to a turtle-spear, carved to resemble a bird, and a very well made palm-leaf box, for which articles I gave a copper ring and a yard of calico. The canoes were very narrow and furnished with an outrigger, and in some of them there was only one man, who seemed to think nothing of coming out alone eight or ten miles from shore. The people were Papuans, much resembling the natives of Aru.

When we had got out of the Straits, and were fairly in the great Pacific Ocean, we had a steady wind for the first time since leaving Ternate, but unfortunately it was dead ahead, and we had to beat against it, tacking on and off the coast of New Guinea. I looked with intense interest on those rugged mountains, retreating ridge behind ridge into the interior, where the foot of civilized man had never trod. There was the country of the cassowary and the tree-kangaroo, and those dark forests produced the most extraordinary and the most beautiful of the feathered inhabitants of the earth — the varied species of Birds of Paradise. A few days more and I hoped to be in pursuit of these, and of the scarcely less beautiful insects which accompany them. We had still, however, for several days only calms and light head-winds, and it was not till the l0th of April that a fine westerly breeze set in, followed by a squally night, which kept us off the entrance of Dorey harbour. The next morning we entered, and came to anchor off the small island of Mansinam, on which dwelt two German missionaries, Messrs. Otto and Geisler. The former immediately came on board to give us welcome, and invited us to go on shore and breakfast with him. We were then introduced to his companion who was suffering dreadfully from an abscess on the heel, which had confined him to the house for six months — and to his wife, a young German woman, who had been out only three months. Unfortunately she could speak no Malay or English, and had to guess at our compliments on her excellent breakfast by the justice we did to it.

These missionaries were working men, and had been sent out, as being more useful among savages than persons of a higher class. They had been here about two years, and Mr. Otto had already learnt to speak the Papuan language with fluency, and had begun translating some portions of the Bible. The language, however, is so poor that a considerable number of Malay words have to be used; and it is very questionable whether it is possible to convey any idea of such a book, to a people in so low a state of civilization. The only nominal converts yet made are a few of the women; and some few of the children attend school, and are being taught to read, but they make little progress. There is one feature of this mission which I believe will materially interfere with its moral effect. The missionaries are allowed to trade to eke out the very small salaries granted them from Europe, and of course are obliged to carry out the trade principle of buying cheap and selling dear, in order to make a profit. Like all savages the natives are quite careless of the future, and when their small rice crops are gathered they bring a large portion of it to the missionaries, and sell it for knives, beads, axes, tobacco, or any other articles they may require. A few months later, in the wet season, when food is scarce, they come to buy it back again, and give in exchange tortoiseshell, tripang, wild nutmegs, or other produce. Of course the rice is sold at a much higher rate than it was bought, as is perfectly fair and just — and the operation is on the whole thoroughly beneficial to the natives, who would otherwise consume and waste their food when it was abundant, and then starve — yet I cannot imagine that the natives see it in this light. They must look upon the trading missionaries with some suspicion, and cannot feel so sure of their teachings being disinterested, as would be the case if they acted like the Jesuits in Singapore. The first thing to be done by the missionary in attempting to improve savages, is to convince them by his actions that lie comes among them for their benefit only, and not for any private ends of his own. To do this he must act in a different way from other men, not trading and taking advantage of the necessities of those who want to sell, but rather giving to those who are in distress. It would he well if he conformed himself in some degree to native customs, and then endeavoured to show how these customs might be gradually modified, so as to be more healthful and more agreeable. A few energetic and devoted men acting in this way might probably effect a decided moral improvement on the lowest savage tribes, whereas trading missionaries, teaching what Jesus said, but not doing as He did, can scarcely be expected to do more than give them a very little of the superficial varnish of religion.

Dorey harbour is in a fine bay, at one extremity of which an elevated point juts out, and, with two or three small islands, forms a sheltered anchorage. The only vessel it contained when we arrived was a Dutch brig, laden with coals for the use of a war-steamer, which was expected daily, on an exploring expedition along the coasts of New Guinea, for the purpose of fixing on a locality for a colony. In the evening we paid it a visit, and landed at the village of Dorey, to look out for a place where I could build my house. Mr. Otto also made arrangements for me with some of the native chiefs, to send men to cut wood, rattans, and bamboo the next day.

The villages of Mansinam and Dorey presented some features quite new to me. The houses all stand completely in the water, and are reached by long rude bridges. They are very low, with the roof shaped like a large boat, bottom upwards. The posts which support the houses, bridges, and platforms are small crooked sticks, placed without any regularity, and looking as if they were tumbling down. The floors are also formed of sticks, equally irregular, and so loose and far apart that I found it almost impossible to walls on them. The walls consist of bits of boards, old boats, rotten mats, attaps, and palm-leaves, stuck in anyhow here and there, and having altogether the most wretched and dilapidated appearance it is possible to conceive. Under the eaves of many of the houses hang human skulls, the trophies of their battles with the savage Arfaks of the interior, who often come to attack them. A large boat-shaped council-house is supported on larger posts, each of which is grossly carved to represent a naked male or female human figure, and other carvings still more revolting are placed upon the platform before the entrance. The view of an ancient lake-dweller’s village, given as the frontispiece of Sir Charles Lyell’s “Antiquity of Man,” is chiefly founded on a sketch of this very village of Dorey; but the extreme regularity of the structures there depicted has no place in the original, any more than it probably had in the actual lake-villages.

The people who inhabit these miserable huts are very similar to the Ke and Aru islanders, and many of them are very handsome, being tall and well-made, with well-cut features and large aquiline noses. Their colour is a deep brown, often approaching closely to black, and the fine mop-like heads of frizzly hair appear to be more common than elsewhere, and are considered a great ornament, a long six-pronged bamboo fork being kept stuck in them to serve the purpose of a comb; and this is assiduously used at idle moments to keep the densely growing mass from becoming matted and tangled. The majority have short woolly hair, which does not seem capable of an equally luxuriant development. A growth of hair somewhat similar to this, and almost as abundant, is found among the half-breeds between the Indian and Negro in South America. Can this be an indication that the Papuans are a mixed race?

For the first three days after our arrival I was fully occupied from morning to night building a house, with the assistance of a dozen Papuans and my own men. It was immense trouble to get our labourers to work, as scarcely one of them could speak a word of Malay; and it was only by the most energetic gesticulations, and going through a regular pantomime of what was wanted, that we could get them to do anything. If we made them understand that a few more poles were required, which two could have easily cut, six or eight would insist upon going together, although we needed their assistance in other things. One morning ten of them came to work, bringing only one chopper between them, although they knew I had none ready for use.

I chose a place about two hundred yards from the beach, on an elevated ground, by the side of the chief path from the village of Dorey to the provision-grounds and the forest. Within twenty yards was a little stream; which furnished us with excellent water and a nice place to bathe. There was only low underwood to clear away, while some fine forest trees stood at a short distance, and we cut down the wood for about twenty yards round to give us light and air. The house, about twenty feet by fifteen; was built entirely of wood, with a bamboo floor, a single door of thatch, and a large window, looking over the sea, at which I fixed my table, and close beside it my bed, within a little partition. I bought a number of very large palm-leaf mats of the natives, which made excellent walls; while the mats I had brought myself were used on the roof, and were covered over with attaps as soon as we could get them made. Outside, and rather behind, was a little hut, used for cooking, and a bench, roofed over, where my men could sit to skin birds and animals. When all was finished, I had my goods and stores brought up, arranged them conveniently inside, and then paid my Papuans with knives and choppers, and sent them away. The next day our schooner left for the more eastern islands, and I found myself fairly established as the only European inhabitant of the vast island of New Guinea.

As we had some doubt about the natives, we slept at first with loaded guns beside us and a watch set; but after a few days, finding the people friendly, and feeling sure that they would not venture to attack five well-armed men, we took no further precautions. We had still a day or two’s work in finishing up the house, stopping leaks, putting up our hanging shelves for drying specimens inside and out, and making the path down to the water, and a clear dry space in front of the horse.

On the 17th, the steamer not having arrived, the coal-ship left, having lain here a month, according to her contract; and on the same day my hunters went out to shoot for the first time, and brought home a magnificent crown pigeon and a few common birds. The next day they were more successful, and I was delighted to see them return with a Bird of Paradise in full plumage, a pair of the fine Papuan lories (Lorius domicella), four other lories and parroquets, a grackle (Gracula dumonti), a king-hunter (Dacelo gaudichaudi), a racquet-tailed kingfisher (Tanysiptera galatea), and two or three other birds of less beauty.

I went myself to visit the native village on the hill behind Dorey, and took with me a small present of cloth, knives, and beads, to secure the good-will of the chief, and get him to send some men to catch or shoot birds for me. The houses were scattered about among rudely cultivated clearings. Two which I visited consisted of a central passage, on each side of which opened short passages, admitting to two rooms, each of which was a house accommodating a separate family. They were elevated at least fifteen feet above the ground, on a complete forest of poles, and were so rude and dilapidated that some of the small passages had openings in the floor of loose sticks, through which a child might fall. The inhabitants seemed rather uglier than those at Dorey village. They are, no doubt, the true indigenes of this part of New Guinea, living in the interior, and subsisting by cultivation and hunting. The Dorey men, on the other hand, are shore-dwellers, fishers and traders in a small way, and have thus the character of a colony who have migrated from another district. These hillmen or “Arfaks “differed much in physical features. They were generally black, but some were brown like Malays. Their hair, though always more or less frizzly, was sometimes short and matted, instead of being long, loose, and woolly; and this seemed to be a constitutional difference, not the effect of care and cultivation. Nearly half of them were afflicted with the scurfy skin-disease. The old chief seemed much pleased with his present, and promised (through an interpreter I brought with me) to protect my men when they came there shooting, and also to procure me some birds and animals. While conversing, they smoked tobacco of their own growing, in pipes cut from a single piece of wood with a long upright handle.

We had arrived at Dorey about the end of the wet season, when the whole country was soaked with moisture The native paths were so neglected as to be often mere tunnels closed over with vegetation, and in such places there was always a fearful accumulation of mud. To the naked Papuan this is no obstruction. He wades through it, and the next watercourse makes him clean again; but to myself, wearing boots and trousers, it was a most disagreeable thing to have to go up to my knees in a mud-hole every morning. The man I brought with me to cut wood fell ill soon after we arrived, or I would have set him to clear fresh paths in the worst places. For the first ten days it generally rained every afternoon and all night r but by going out every hour of fine weather, I managed to get on tolerably with my collections of birds and insects, finding most of those collected by Lesson during his visit in the Coquille, as well as many new ones. It appears, however, that Dorey is not the place for Birds of Paradise, none of the natives being accustomed to preserve them. Those sold here are all brought from Amberbaki, about a hundred miles west, where the Doreyans go to trade.

The islands in the bay, with the low lands near the coast, seem to have been formed by recently raised coral reef’s, and are much strewn with masses of coral but little altered. The ridge behind my house, which runs out to the point, is also entirely coral rock, although there are signs of a stratified foundation in the ravines, and the rock itself is more compact and crystalline. It is therefore, probably older, a more recent elevation having exposed the low grounds and islands. On the other side of the bay rise the great mass of the Arfak mountains, said by the French navigators to be about ten thousand feet high, and inhabited by savage tribes. These are held in great dread by the Dorey people, who have often been attacked and plundered by them, and have some of their skulls hanging outside their houses. If I was seem going into the forest anywhere in the direction of the mountains, the little boys of the village would shout after me, “Arfaki! Arfaki?” just as they did after Lesson nearly forty years before.

On the 15th of May the Dutch war-steamer Etna arrived; but, as the coals had gone, it was obliged to stay till they came back. The captain knew when the coalship was to arrive, and how long it was chartered to stay at Dorey, and could have been back in time, but supposed it would wait for him, and so did not hurry himself. The steamer lay at anchor just opposite my house, and I had the advantage of hearing the half-hourly bells struck, which was very pleasant after the monotonous silence of the forest. The captain, doctor, engineer, and some other of the officers paid me visits; the servants came to the brook to wash clothes, and the son of the Prince of Tidore, with one or two companions, to bathe; otherwise I saw little of them, and was not disturbed by visitors so much as I had expected to be. About this time the weather set in pretty fine, but neither birds nor insects became much more abundant, and new birds — were very scarce. None of the Birds of Paradise except the common one were ever met with, and we were still searching in vain for several of the fine birds which Lesson had obtained here. Insects were tolerably abundant, but were not on the average so fine as those of Amboyna, and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that Dorey was not a good collecting locality. Butterflies were very scarce, arid were mostly the same as those which I had obtained at Aru.

Among the insects of other orders, the most curious and novel were a group of horned flies, of which I obtained four distinct species, settling on fallen trees and decaying trunks. These remarkable insects, which have been described by Mr. W. W. Saunders as a new genus, under the name of Elaphomia or deer-flies, are about half an inch long, slender-bodied, and with very long legs, which they draw together so as to elevate their bodies high above the surface they are standing upon. The front pair of legs are much shorter, and these are often stretched directly forwards, so as to resemble antenna. The horns spring from beneath the eye, and seem to be a prolongation of the lower part of the orbit. In the largest and most singular species, named Elaphomia cervicornis or the stag-horned deer-fly, these horns are nearly as long as the body, having two branches, with two small snags near their bifurcation, so as to resemble the horns of a stag. They are black, with the tips pale, while the body and legs are yellowish brown, and the eyes (when alive) violet and green. The next species (Elaphomia wallacei) is of a dark brown colour, banded and spotted with yellow. The horns are about one-third the length of the insect, broad, flat, and of an elongated triangular foam. They are of a beautiful pink colour, edged with black, and with a pale central stripe. The front part of the head is also pink, and the eyes violet pink, with a green stripe across them, giving the insect a very elegant and singular appearance. The third species (Elaphomia alcicornis, the elk-horned deer-fly) is a little smaller than the two already described, but resembling in colour Elaphomia wallacei. The horns are very remarkable, being suddenly dilated into a flat plate, strongly toothed round the outer margin, and strikingly resembling the horns of the elk, after which it has been named. They are of a yellowish colour, margined with brown, and tipped with black on the three upper teeth. The fourth species (Elaphomia brevicornis, the short-horned deer-fly) differs considerably from the rest. It is stouter in form, of a nearly black colour, with a yellow ring at the base of the abdomen; the wings have dusky stripes, and the head is compressed and dilated laterally, with very small flat horns; which are black with a pale centre, and look exactly like the rudiment of the horns of the two preceding species. None of the females have any trace of the horns, ane Mr. Saunders places in the same genus a species which has no horns in either sex (Elaphomia polita). It is of a shining black colour, and resembles Elaphomia cervicornis in form, size, and general appearance. The figures above given represent these insects of their natural size and in characteristic attitudes.

The natives seldom brought me anything. They are poor creatures, and, rarely shoot a bird, pig, or kangaroo, or even the sluggish opossum-like Cuscus. The tree-kangaroos are found here, but must be very scarce, as my hunters, although out daily in the forest, never once saw them. Cockatoos, lories, and parroquets were really the only common birds. Even pigeons were scarce, and in little variety, although we occasionally got the fine crown pigeon, which was always welcome as an addition to our scantily furnished larder.

Just before the steamer arrived I had wounded my ankle by clambering among the trunks and branches of fallen trees (which formed my best hunting grounds for insects), and, as usual with foot wounds in this climate, it turned into an obstinate ulcer, keeping me in the house for several days. When it healed up it was followed by an internal inflammation of the foot, which by the doctor’s advice I poulticed incessantly for four or five days, bringing out a severe inflamed swelling on the tendon above the heel. This had to be leeched, and lanced, and doctored with ointments and poultices for several weeks, till I was almost driven to despair — for the weather was at length fine, and I was tantalized by seeing grand butterflies flying past my door, and thinking of the twenty or thirty new species of insects that I ought to be getting every day. And this, too, in New Guinea — a country which I might never visit again — a country which no naturalist had ever resided in before — a country which contained more strange and new and beautiful natural objects than any other part of the globe. The naturalist will be able to appreciate my feelings, sitting from morning to night in my little hut, unable to move without a crutch, and my only solace the birds my hunters brought in every afternoon, and the few insects caught by my Ternate man, Lahagi, who now went out daily in my place, but who of course did not get a fourth part of what I should have obtained. To add to my troubles all my men were more or less ill, some with fever, others with dysentery or ague; at one time there were three of them besides myself all helpless, the coon alone being well, and having enough to do to wait upon us. The Prince of Tidore and the Resident of Panda were both on board the steamer, and were seeking Birds of Paradise, sending men round in every direction, so that there was no chance of my getting even native skins of the rarer kinds; and any birds, insects, or animals the Dorey people had to sell were taken on board the steamer, where purchasers were found for everything, and where a larger variety of articles were offered in exchange than I had to show.

After a month’s close confinement in the house I was at length able to go out a little, and about the same time I succeeded in getting a boat and six natives to take Ali and Lahagi to Amberbaki, and to bring them back at the end of a month. Ali was charged to buy all the Birds of Paradise he could get, and to shoot and skin all other rare or new birds; and Lahagi was to collect insects, which I hoped might be more abundant than at Dorey. When I recommenced my daily walks in search of insects, I found a great change in the neighbourhood, and one very agreeable to me. All the time I had been laid up the ship’s crew and the Javanese soldiers who had been brought in a tender (a sailing ship which had arrived soon after the Etna), had been employed cutting down, sawing, and splitting large trees for firewood, to enable the steamer to get back to Amboyna if the coal-ship did not return; and they had also cleared a number of wide, straight paths through the forest in various directions, greatly to the astonishment of the natives, who could not make out what it all meant. I had now a variety of walks, and a good deal of dead wood on which to search for insects; but notwithstanding these advantages, they were not nearly so plentiful as I had found them at Sarawak, or Amboyna, or Batchian, confirming my opinion that Dorey was not a good locality. It is quite probable, however, that at a station a few miles in the interior, away from the recently elevated coralline rocks and the influence of the sea air, a much more abundant harvest might be obtained.

One afternoon I went on board the steamer to return the captain’s visit, and was shown some very nice sketches (by one of the lieutenants), made on the south coast, and also at the Arfak mountain, to which they had made an excursion. From these and the captain’s description, it appeared that the people of Arfak were similar to those of Dorey, and I could hear nothing of the straight-haired race which Lesson says inhabits the interior, but which no one has ever seen, and the account of which I suspect has originated in some mistake. The captain told me he had made a detailed survey of part of the south coast, and if the coal arrived should go away at once to Humboldt Pay, in longitude 141° east, which is the line up to which the Dutch claim New Guinea. On board the tender I found a brother naturalist, a German named Rosenberg, who was draughtsman to the surveying staff. He had brought two men with him to shoot and skin birds, and had been able to purchase a few rare skins from the natives. Among these was a pair of the superb Paradise Pie (Astrapia nigra) in tolerable preservation. They were brought from the island of Jobie, which may be its native country, as it certainly is of the rarer species of crown pigeon (Goura steursii), one of which was brought alive and sold on board. Jobie, however, is a very dangerous place, and sailors are often murdered there when on shore; sometimes the vessels themselves being attacked. Wandammen, on the mainland opposite Jobie, inhere there are said to be plenty of birds, is even worse, and at either of these places my life would not have been worth a week’s purchase had I ventured to live alone and unprotected as at Dorey. On board the steamer they had a pair of tree kangaroos alive. They differ chiefly from the ground-kangaroo in having a more hairy tail, not thickened at the base, and not used as a prop; and by the powerful claws on the fore-feet, by which they grasp the bark and branches, and seize the leaves on which they feed. They move along by short jumps on their hind-feet, which do not seem particularly well adapted for climbing trees. It has been supposed that these tree-kangaroos are a special adaptation to the swampy, half-drowned forests of, New Guinea, in place of the usual form of the group, which is adapted only to dry ground. Mr. Windsor Earl makes much of this theory, but, unfortunately for it, the tree-kangaroos are chiefly found in the northern peninsula of New Guinea, which is entirely composed of hills and mountains with very little flat land, while the kangaroo of the low flat Aru Islands (Dorcopsis asiaticus) is a ground species. A more probable supposition seems to lie, that the tree-kangaroo has been modified to enable it to feed on foliage in the vast forests of New Guinea, as these form the great natural feature which distinguishes that country from Australia.

On June 5th, the coal-ship arrived, having been sent back from Amboyna, with the addition of some fresh stores for the steamer. The wood, which had been almost all taken on board, was now unladen again, the coal taken in, and on the 17th both steamer and tender left for Humboldt Bay. We were then a little quiet again, and got something to eat; for while the vessels were here every bit of fish or vegetable was taken on board, and I had often to make a small parroquet serve for two meals. My men now returned from Amberbaki, but, alas brought me almost nothing. They had visited several villages, and even went two days’ journey into the interior, but could find no skins of Birds of Paradise to purchase, except the common kind, and very few even of those. The birds found were the same as at Dorey, but were still scarcer. None of the natives anywhere near the coast shoot or prepare Birds of Paradise, which come from far in the interior over two or three ranges of mountains, passing by barter from village to village till they reach the sea. There the natives of Dorey buy them, and on their return home sell them .to the Bugis or Ternate traders. It is therefore hopeless for a traveller to go to any particular place on the coast of New Guinea where rare Paradise birds may have been bought, in hopes of obtaining freshly killed specimens from the natives; and it also shows the scarcity of these birds in any one locality, since from the Amberbaki district, a celebrated place, where at least five or six species have been procured, not one of the rarer ones has been obtained this year. The Prince of Tidore, who would certainly have got them if any were to be had, was obliged to put up with a few of the common yellow ones. I think it probable that a longer residence at Dorey, a little farther in the interior, might show that several of the rarer kinds were found there, as I obtained a single female of the fine scale-breasted Ptiloris magnificus. I was told at Ternate of a bird that is certainly not yet known in Europe, a black King Paradise Bird, with the curled tail and beautiful side plumes of the common species, but all the rest of the plumage glossy black. The people of Dorey knew nothing about this, although they recognised by description most of the otter species.

When the steamer left, I was suffering from a severe attack of fever. In about a week I got over this, but it was followed by such a soreness of the whole inside of the mouth, tongue, and gums, that for many days I could put nothing solid between my lips, but was obliged to subsist entirely on slops, although in other respects very well. At the same time two of my men again fell ill, one with fever, the other with dysentery, and both got very bad. I did what I could for them with my small stock of medicines, but they lingered on for some weeks, till on June 26th poor Jumaat died. He was about eighteen years of age, a native, I believe, of Bouton, and a quiet lad, not very active, but doing his work pretty steadily, and as well as he was able. As my men were all Mahometans, I let them bury him in their own fashion, giving them some new cotton cloth for a shroud.

On July 6th the steamer returned from the eastward. The weather was still terribly wet, when, according to rule, it should have been fine and dry. We had scarcely anything to eat, and were all of us ill. Fevers, colds, and dysentery were continually attacking us, and made me long I-o get away from New Guinea, as much as ever I had longed to come there. The captain of the Etna paid me a visit, and gave me a very interesting account of his trip. They had stayed at Humboldt Bay several days, and found it a much more beautiful and more interesting place than Dorey, as well as a better harbour. The natives were quite unsophisticated, being rarely visited except by stray whalers, and they were superior to the Dorey people, morally and physically. They went quite naked. Their houses were some in the water and some inland, and were all neatly and well built; their fields were well cultivated, and the paths to them kept clear and open, in which respects Dorey is abominable. They were shy at first, and opposed the boats with hostile demonstrations, beading their bows, and intimating that they would shoot if an attempt was made to land. Very judiciously the captain gave way, but threw on shore a few presents, and after two or three trials they were permitted to land, and to go about and see the country, and were supplied with fruits and vegetables. All communication was carried on with them by signs — the Dorey interpreter, who accompanied the steamer, being unable to understand a word of their language. No new birds or animals were obtained, but in their ornaments the feathers of Paradise birds were seen, showing, as might be expected, that these birds range far in this direction, and probably all over New Guinea.

It is curious that a rudimental love of art should co-exist with such a very low state of civilization. The people of Dorey are great carvers and painters. The outsides of the houses, wherever there is a plank, are covered with rude yet characteristic figures. The high-peaked prows of their boats are ornamented with masses of open filagree work, cut out of solid blocks of wood, and often of very tasteful design, As a figurehead, or pinnacle, there is often a human figure, with a head of cassowary feathers to imitate the Papuan “mop.” The floats of their fishing-lines, the wooden beaters used in tempering the clay for their pottery, their tobacco-boxes, and other household articles, are covered with carving of tasteful and often elegant design. Did we not already know that such taste and skill are compatible with utter barbarism, we could hardly believe that the same people are, in other matters, utterly wanting in all sense of order, comfort, or decency. Yet such is the case. They live in the most miserable, crazy, and filthy hovels, which are utterly destitute of anything that can be called furniture; not a stool, or bench, or board is seen in them, no brush seems to be known, and the clothes they wear are often filthy bark, or rags, or sacking. Along the paths where they daily pass to and from their provision grounds, not an overhanging bough or straggling briar ever seems to he cut, so that you have to brush through a rank vegetation, creep under fallen trees and spiny creepers, and wade through pools of mud and mire, which cannot dry up because the sun is not allowed to penetrate. Their food is almost wholly roots and vegetables, with fish or game only as an occasional luxury, and they are consequently very subject to various skin diseases, the children especially being often miserable-looking objects, blotched all over with eruptions and sores. If these people are not savages, where shall we find any? Yet they have all a decided love for the fine arts, and spend their leisure time in executing works whose good taste and elegance would often be admired in our schools of design!

During the latter part of my stay in New Guinea the weather was very wet, my only shooter was ill, and birds became scarce, so that my only resource was insect-hunting. I worked very hard every hour of fine weather, and daily obtained a number of new species. Every dead tree and fallen log was searched and searched again; and among the dry and rotting leaves, which still hung on certain trees which had been cut down, I found an abundant harvest of minute Coleoptera. Although I never afterwards found so many large and handsome beetles as in Borneo, yet I obtained here a great variety of species. For the first two or three weeks, while I was searching out the best localities, I took about 30 different kinds of beetles n day, besides about half that number of butterflies, and a few of the other orders. But afterwards, up to the very last week, I averaged 49 species a day. On the 31st of May, I took 78 distinct sorts, a larger number than I had ever captured before, principally obtained among dead trees and under rotten bark. A good long walk on a fine day up the hill, and to the plantations of the natives, capturing everything not very common that came in my way, would produce about 60 species; but on the last day of June I brought home no less than 95 distinct kinds of beetles, a larger number than I ever obtained in one day before or since. It was a fine hot day, and I devoted it to a search among dead leaves, beating foliage, and hunting under rotten bark, in all the best stations I had discovered during my walks. I was out from ten in the morning till three in the afternoon, and it took me six hours’ work at home to pin and set out all the specimens, and to separate the species. Although T had already been working this shot daily for two months and a half, and had obtained over 800 species of Coleoptera, this day’s work added 32 new ones. Among these were 4 Longicorns, 2 Caribidae, 7 Staphylinidae, 7 Curculionidae, 2 Copridae, 4 Chrysomelidae, 3 Heteromera, 1 Elates, and 1 Buprestis. Even on the last day I went out, I obtained 10 new species; so that although I collected over a thousand distinct sorts of beetles in a space not much exceeding a square mile during the three months of my residence at Dorey, I cannot believe that this represents one half the species really inhabiting the same spot, or a fourth of what might be obtained in an area extending twenty miles in each direction.

On the 22d of July the schooner Hester Helena arrived, and five days afterwards we bade adieu to Dorey, without much regret, for in no place which I have visited have I encountered more privations and annoyances. Continual rain, continual sickness, little wholesome food, with a plague of ants and files, surpassing anything I had before met with, required all a naturalist’s ardour to encounter; and when they were uncompensated by great success in collecting, became all the more insupportable. This long thought-of and much-desired voyage to New Guinea had realized none of my expectations. Instead of being far better than the Aru Islands, it was in almost everything much worse. Instead of producing several of the rarer Paradise birds, I had not even seen one of them, and had not obtained any one superlatively fine bird or insect. I cannot deny, however, that Dorey was very rich in ants. One small black kind was excessively abundant. Almost every shrub and tree was more or less infested with it, and its large papery nests were everywhere to be seen. They immediately took possession of my house, building a large nest in the roof, and forming papery tunnels down almost every post. They swarmed on my table as I was at work setting out my insects, carrying them off from under my very nose, and even tearing them from the cards on which they were gummed if I left them for an instant. They crawled continually over my hands and face, got into my hair, and roamed at will over my whole body, not producing much inconvenience till they began to bite, which they would do on meeting with any obstruction to their passage, and with a sharpness which made me jump again and rush to undress and turn out the offender. They visited my bed also, so that night brought no relief from their persecutions; and I verily believe that during my three and a half months’ residence at Dorey I was never for a single hour entirely free from them. They were not nearly so voracious as many other kinds, but their numbers and ubiquity rendered it necessary to be constantly on guard against them.

The flies that troubled me most were a large kind of blue-bottle or blow-fly. These settled in swarms on my bird skins when first put out to dry, filling their plumage with masses of eggs, which, if neglected, the next day produced maggots. They would get under the wings or under the body where it rested on the drying-board, sometimes actually raising it up half an inch by the mass of eggs deposited in a few hours; and every egg was so firmly glued to the fibres of the feathers, as to make it a work of much time and patience to get them off without injuring the bird. In no other locality have I ever been troubled with such a plague as this.

On the 29th we left Dorey, and expected a quick voyage home, as it was the time of year when we ought to have had steady southerly and easterly winds. Instead of these, however, we had calms and westerly breezes, and it was seventeen days before we reached Ternate, a distance of five hundred miles only, which, with average winds, could have been done in five days. It was a great treat to me to find myself back again in my comfortable house, enjoying milk to my tea and coffee, fresh bread and butter, and fowl and fish daily for dinner. This New Guinea voyage had used us all up, and I determined to stay and recruit before I commenced any fresh expeditions. My succeeding journeys to Gilolo and Batchian have already been narrated, and if; now only remains for me to give an account of my residence in Waigiou, the last Papuan territory I visited in search of Birds of Paradise.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01