I ARRIVED at Sarawak on November 1st, 1854, and left it on January 25th, 1856. In the interval I resided at many different localities, and saw a good deal of the Dyak tribes as well as of the Bornean Malays. I was hospitably entertained by Sir James Brooke, and lived in his house whenever I was at the town of Sarawak in the intervals of my journeys. But so many books have been written about this part of Borneo since I was there, that I shall avoid going into details of what I saw and heard and thought of Sarawak and its ruler, confining myself chiefly to my experiences as a naturalist in search of shells, insects, birds and the Orangutan, and to an account of a journey through a part of the interior seldom visited by Europeans.
The first four months of my visit were spent in various parts of the Sarawak River, from Santubong at its mouth up to the picturesque limestone mountains and Chinese gold-fields of Bow and Bede. This part of the country has been so frequently described that I shall pass it over, especially as, owing to its being the height of the wet season, my collections were comparatively poor and insignificant.
In March 1865 I determined to go to the coalworks which were being opened near the Simunjon River, a small branch of the Sadong, a river east of Sarawak and between it and the Batang–Lupar. The Simunjon enters the Sadong River about twenty miles up. It is very narrow and very winding, and much overshadowed by the lofty forest, which sometimes almost meets over it. The whole country between it and the sea is a perfectly level forest-covered swamp, out of which rise a few isolated hills, at the foot of one of which the works are situated. From the landing-place to the hill a Dyak road had been formed, which consisted solely of tree-trunks laid end to end. Along these the barefooted natives walk and carry heavy burdens with the greatest ease, but to a booted European it is very slippery work, and when one’s attention is constantly attracted by the various objects of interest around, a few tumbles into the bog are almost inevitable. During my first walk along this road I saw few insects or birds, but noticed some very handsome orchids in flower, of the genus Coelogyne, a group which I afterwards found to be very abundant, and characteristic of the district. On the slope of the hill near its foot a patch of forest had been cleared away, and several rule houses erected, in which were residing Mr. Coulson the engineer, and a number of Chinese workmen. I was at first kindly accommodated in Mr. Coulson’s house, but finding the spot very suitable for me and offering great facilities for collecting, I had a small house of two rooms and a verandah built for myself. Here I remained nearly nine months, and made an immense collection of insects, to which class of animals I devoted my chief attention, owing to the circumstances being especially favourable.
In the tropics a large proportion of the insects of all orders, and especially of the large and favourite group of beetles, are more or less dependent on vegetation, and particularly on timber, bark, and leaves in various stages of decay. In the untouched virgin forest, the insects which frequent such situations are scattered over an immense extent of country, at spots where trees have fallen through decay and old age, or have succumbed to the fury of the tempest; and twenty square miles of country may not contain so many fallen and decayed trees as are to be found in any small clearing. The quantity and the variety of beetles and of many other insects that can be collected at a given time in any tropical locality, will depend, first upon the immediate vicinity of a great extent of virgin forest, and secondly upon the quantity of trees that for some months past have been, and which are still being cut down, and left to dry and decay upon the ground.
Now, during my whole twelve years’ collecting in the western and eastern tropics, I never enjoyed such advantages in this respect as at the Simunjon coalworks. For several months from twenty to fifty Chinamen and Dyaks were employed almost exclusively in clearing a large space in the forest, and in making a wide opening for a railroad to the Sadong River, two miles distant. Besides this, sawpits were established at various points in the jungle, and large trees were felled to be cut up into beams and planks. For hundreds of miles in every direction a magnificent forest extended over plain and mountain, rock and morass, and I arrived at the spot just as the rains began to diminish and the daily sunshine to increase; a time which I have always found the most favourable season for collecting. The number of openings, sunny places, and pathways were also an attraction to wasps and butterflies; and by paying a cent each for all insects that were brought me, I obtained from the Dyaks and the Chinamen many fine locusts and Phasmidae, as well as numbers of handsome beetles.
When I arrived at the mines, on the 14th of March, I had collected in the four preceding months, 320 different kinds of beetles. In less than a fortnight I had doubled this number, an average of about 24 new species every day. On one day I collected 76 different kinds, of which 34 were new to me. By the end of April I had more than a thousand species, and they then went on increasing at a slower rate, so that I obtained altogether in Borneo about two thousand distinct kinds, of which all but about a hundred were collected at this place, and on scarcely more than a square mile of ground. The most numerous and most interesting groups of beetles were the Longicorns and Rhynchophora, both pre-eminently wood-feeders. The former, characterised by their graceful forms and long antenna, were especially numerous, amounting to nearly three hundred species, nine-tenths of which were entirely new, and many of them remarkable for their large size, strange forms, and beautiful colouring. The latter correspond to our weevils and allied groups, and in the tropics are exceedingly numerous and varied, often swarming upon dead timber, so that I sometimes obtained fifty or sixty different kinds in a day. My Bornean collections of this group exceeded five hundred species.
My collection of butterflies was not large; but I obtained some rare and very handsome insects, the most remarkable being the Ornithoptera Brookeana, one of the most elegant species known. This beautiful creature has very long and pointed wings, almost resembling a sphinx moth in shape. It is deep velvety black, with a curved band of spots of a brilliant metallic-green colour extending across the wings from tip to tip, each spot being shaped exactly like a small triangular feather, and having very much the effect of a row of the wing coverts of the Mexican trogon, laid upon black velvet. The only other marks are a broad neck-collar of vivid crimson, and a few delicate white touches on the outer margins of the hind wings. This species, which was then quite new and which I named after Sir James Brooke, was very rare. It was seen occasionally flying swiftly in the clearings, and now and then settling for an instant at puddles and muddy places, so that I only succeeded in capturing two or three specimens. In some other parts of the country I was assured it was abundant, and a good many specimens have been sent to England; but as yet all have been males, and we are quite unable to conjecture what the female may be like, owing to the extreme isolation of the species, and its want of close affinity to any other known insect.
One of the most curious and interesting reptiles which I met with in Borneo was a large tree-frog, which was brought me by one of the Chinese workmen. He assured me that he had seen it come down in a slanting direction from a high tree, as if it flew. On examining it, I found the toes very long and fully webbed to their very extremity, so that when expanded they offered a surface much larger than the body. The forelegs were also bordered by a membrane, and the body was capable of considerable inflation. The back and limbs were of a very deep shining green colour, the undersurface and the inner toes yellow, while the webs were black, rayed with yellow. The body was about four inches long, while the webs of each hind foot, when fully expanded, covered a surface of four square inches, and the webs of all the feet together about twelve square inches. As the extremities of the toes have dilated discs for adhesion, showing the creature to be a true tree frog, it is difficult to imagine that this immense membrane of the toes can be for the purpose of swimming only, and the account of the Chinaman, that it flew down from the tree, becomes more credible. This is, I believe, the first instance known of a “flying frog,” and it is very interesting to Darwinians as showing that the variability of the toes which have been already modified for purposes of swimming and adhesive climbing, have been taken advantage of to enable an allied species to pass through the air like the flying lizard. It would appear to be a new species of the genus Rhacophorus, which consists of several frogs of a much smaller size than this, and having the webs of the toes less developed.
During my stay in Borneo I had no hunter to shoot for me regularly, and, being myself fully occupied with insects, I did not succeed in obtaining a very good collection of the birds or Mammalia, many of which, however, are well known, being identical with species found in Malacca. Among the Mammalia were five squirrels,and two tigercats — the Gymnurus Rafesii, which looks like a cross between a pig and a polecat, and the Cynogale Bennetti — a rare, otter-like animal, with very broad muzzle clothed with long bristles.
One of my chief objects in coming to stay at Simunjon was to see the Orangutan (or great man-like ape of Borneo) in his native haunts, to study his habits, and obtain good specimens of the different varieties and species of both sexes, and of the adult and young animals. In all these objects I succeeded beyond my expectations, and will now give some account of my experience in hunting the Orangutan, or “Mias,” as it is called by the natives; and as this name is short, and easily pronounced, I shall generally use it in preference to Simia satyrus, or Orangutan.
Just a week after my arrival at the mines, I first saw a Mias. I was out collecting insects, not more than a quarter of a mile from the house, when I heard a rustling in a tree near, and, looking up, saw a large red-haired animal moving slowly along, hanging from the branches by its arms. It passed on from tree to tree until it was lost in the jungle, which was so swampy that I could not follow it. This mode of progression was, however, very unusual, and is more characteristic of the Hylobates than of the Orang. I suppose there was some individual peculiarity in this animal, or the nature of the trees just in this place rendered it the most easy mode of progression.
About a fortnight afterwards I heard that one was feeding in a tree in the swamp just below the house, and, taking my gun, was fortunate enough to find it in the same place. As soon as I approached, it tried to conceal itself among the foliage; but, I got a shot at it, and the second barrel caused it to fall down almost dead, the two balls having entered the body. This was a male, about half-grown, being scarcely three feet high. On April 26th, I was out shooting with two Dyaks, when we found another about the same size. It fell at the first shot, but did not seem much hurt, and immediately climbed up the nearest tree, when I fired, and it again fell, with a broken arm and a wound in the body. The two Dyaks now ran up to it, and each seized hold of a hand, telling me to cut a pole, and they would secure it. But although one arm was broken and it was only a half-grown animal, it was too strong for these young savages, drawing them up towards its mouth notwithstanding all their efforts, so that they were again obliged to leave go, or they would have been seriously bitten. It now began climbing up the tree again; and, to avoid trouble, I shot it through the heart.
On May 2nd, I again found one on a very high tree, when I had only a small 80-bore gun with me. However, I fired at it, and on seeing me it began howling in a strange voice like a cough, and seemed in a great rage, breaking off branches with its hands and throwing them down, and then soon made off over the tree-tops. I did not care to follow it, as it was swampy, and in parts dangerous, and I might easily have lost myself in the eagerness of pursuit.
On the 12th of May I found another, which behaved in a very similar manner, howling and hooting with rage, and throwing down branches. I shot at it five times, and it remained dead on the top of the tree, supported in a fork in such a manner that it would evidently not fall. I therefore returned home, and luckily found some Dyaks, who came back with me, and climbed up the tree for the animal. This was the first full-grown specimen I had obtained; but it was a female, and not nearly so large or remarkable as the full-grown males. It was, however, 3 ft. 6 in. high, and its arms stretched out to a width of 6 ft. 6 in. I preserved the skin of this specimen in a cask of arrack, andprepared a perfect skeleton, which was afterwards purchased for the Derby Museum.
Only four days afterwards some Dyaks saw another Mias near the same place, and came to tell me. We found it to be a rather large one, very high up on a tall tree. At the second shot it fell rolling over, but almost immediately got up again and began to climb. At a third shot it fell dead. This was also a full-grown female, and while preparing to carry it home, we found a young one face downwards in the bog. This little creature was only about a foot long, and had evidently been hanging to its mother when she first fell. Luckily it did not appear to have been wounded, and after we had cleaned the mud out of its mouth it began to cry out, and seemed quite strong and active. While carrying it home it got its hands in my beard, and grasped so tightly that I had great difficulty in getting free, for the fingers are habitually bent inwards at the last joint so as to form complete hooks. At this time it had not a single tooth, but a few days afterwards it cut its two lower front teeth. Unfortunately, I had no milk to give it, as neither Malays–Chinese nor Dyaks ever use the article, and I in vain inquired for any female animal that could suckle my little infant. I was therefore obliged to give it rice-water from a bottle with a quill in the cork, which after a few trials it learned to suck very well. This was very meagre diet, and the little creature did not thrive well on it, although I added sugar and cocoa-nut milk occasionally, to make it more nourishing. WhenI put my finger in its mouth it sucked with great vigour, drawing in its cheeks with all its might in the vain effort to extract some milk, and only after persevering a long time would it give up in disgust, and set up a scream very like that of a baby in similar circumstances.
When handled or nursed, it was very quiet and contented, but when laid down by itself would invariably cry; and for the first few nights was very restless and noisy. I fitted up a little box for a cradle, with a soft mat for it to lie upon, which was changed and washed everyday; and I soon found it necessary to wash the little Mias as well. After I had done so a few times, it came to like the operation, and as soon as it was dirty would begin crying and not leave off until I took it out and carried it to the spout, when it immediately became quiet, although it would wince a little at the first rush of the cold water and make ridiculously wry faces while the stream was running over its head. It enjoyed the wiping and rubbing dry amazingly, and when I brushed its hair seemed to be perfectly happy, lying quite still with its arms and legs stretched out while I thoroughly brushed the long hair of its back and arms. For the first few days it clung desperately with all four hands to whatever it could lay hold of, and I had to be careful to keep my beard out of its way, as its fingers clutched hold of hair more tenaciously than anything else, and it was impossible to free myself without assistance. When restless, it would struggle about with its hands up in the air trying to find something to take hold of, and, when it had got a bit of stick or rag in two or three of its hands, seemed quite happy. For want of something else, it would often seize its own feet, and after a time it would constantly cross its arms and grasp with each hand the long hair that grew just below the opposite shoulder. The great tenacity of its grasp soon diminished, and I was obliged to invent some means to give it exercise and strengthen its limbs. For this purpose I made a short ladder of three or four rounds, on which I put it to hang for a quarter of an hour at a time. At first it seemed much pleased, but it could not get all four hands in a comfortable position, and, after changing about several times, would leave hold of one hand after the other, and drop onto the floor. Sometimes when hanging only by two hands, it would loose one, and cross it to the opposite shoulder, grasping its own hair; and, as this seemed much more agreeable than the stick, it would then loose the other and tumble down, when it would cross both and lie on its back quite contentedly, never seeming to be hurt by its numerous tumbles. Finding it so fond of hair, I endeavoured to make an artificial mother, by wrapping up a piece of buffalo-skin into a bundle, and suspending it about a foot from the floor. At first this seemed to suit it admirably, as it could sprawl its legs about and always find some hair, which it grasped with the greatest tenacity. I was now in hopes that I had made the little orphan quite happy; and so it seemed for some time, until it began to remember its lost parent, and try to suck. It would pull itself up close to the skin, and try about everywhere for a likely place; but, as it only succeeded in getting mouthfuls of hair and wool, it would be greatly disgusted, and scream violently, and, after two or three attempts, let go altogether. One day it got some wool into its throat, and I thought it would have choked, but after much gasping it recovered, and I was obliged to take the imitation mother to pieces again, and give up this last attempt to exercise the little creature.
After the first week I found I could feed it better with a spoon, and give it a little more varied and more solid food. Well-soaked biscuit mixed with a little egg and sugar, and sometimes sweet potatoes, were readily eaten; and it was a never-failing amusement to observe the curious changes of countenance by which it would express its approval or dislike of what was given to it. The poor little thing would lick its lips, draw in its cheeks, and turn up its eyes with an expression of the most supreme satisfaction when it had a mouthful particularly to its taste. On the other hand, when its food was not sufficiently sweet or palatable, it would turn the mouthful about with its tongue for a moment as if trying to extract what flavour there was, and then push it all out between its lips. If the same food was continued, it would set up a scream and kick about violently, exactly like a baby in a passion.
After I had had the little Mias about three weeks, I fortunately obtained a young hare-lip monkey (Macacus cynomolgus), which, though small, was very active, and could feed itself. I placed it in the same box with the Mias, and they immediately became excellent friends, neither exhibiting the least fear of the other. The little monkey would sit upon the other’s stomach, or even on its face, without the least regard to its feelings. While I was feeding the Mias, the monkey would sit by, picking up all that was spilt, and occasionally putting out its hands to intercept the spoon; and as soon as I had finished would pick off what was left sticking to the Mias’ lips, and then pull open its mouth and see if any still remained inside; afterwards lying down on the poor creature’s stomach as on a comfortable cushion. The little helpless Mias would submit to all these insults with the most exemplary patience, only too glad to have something warm near it, which it could clasp affectionately in its arms. It sometimes, however, had its revenge; for when the monkey wanted to go away, the Mias would hold on as long as it could by the loose skin of its back or head, or by its tail, and it was only after many vigorous jumps that the monkey could make his escape.
It was curious to observe the different actions of these two animals, which could not have differed much in age. The Mias, like a very young baby, lying on its back quite helpless, rolling lazily from side to side, stretching out all four hands into the air, wishing to grasp something, but hardly able to guide its fingers to any definite object; and when dissatisfied, opening wide its almost toothless mouth, and expressing its wants by a most infantine scream. The little monkey, on the other hand, in constant motion, running and jumping about wherever it pleased, examining everything around it, seizing hold of the smallest object with the greatest precision, balancing itself on the edge of the box or running up a post, and helping itself to anything eatable that came in its way. There could hardly be a greater contrast, and the baby Mias looked more baby-like by the comparison.
When I had had it about a month, it began to exhibit some signs of learning to run alone. When laid upon the floor it would push itself along by its legs, or roll itself over, and thus make an unwieldy progression. When lying in the box it would lift itself up to the edge into almost an erect position, and once or twice succeeded in tumbling out. When left dirty, or hungry, or otherwise neglected, it would scream violently until attended to, varied by a kind of coughing or pumping noise very similar to that which is made by the adult animal. If no one was in the house, or its cries were not attended to, it would be quiet after a little while, but the moment it heard a footstep would begin again harder than ever.
After five weeks it cut its two upper front teeth, but in all this time it had not grown the least bit, remaining both in size and weight the same as when I first procured it. This was no doubt owing to the want of milk or other equally nourishing food. Rice-water, rice, and biscuits were but a poor substitute, and the expressed milk of the cocoa-nut which I sometimes gave it did not quite agree with its stomach. To this I imputed an attack of diarrhoea from which the poor little creature suffered greatly, but a small dose of castor-oil operated well, and cured it. A week or two afterwards it was again taken ill, and this time more seriously. The symptoms were exactly those of intermittent fever, accompanied by watery swellings on the feet and head. It lost all appetite for its food, and, after lingering for a week a most pitiable object, died, after being in my possession nearly three months. I much regretted the loss of my little pet, which I had at one time looked forward to bringing up to years of maturity, and taking home to England. For several months it had afforded me daily amusement by its curious ways and the inimitably ludicrous expression of its little countenance. Its weight was three pounds nine ounces, its height fourteen inches, and the spread of its arms twenty-three inches. I preserved its skin and skeleton, and in doing so found that when it fell from the tree it must have broken an arm and a leg, which had, however, united so rapidly that I had only noticed the hard swellings on the limbs where the irregular junction of the bones had taken place.
Exactly a week after I had caught this interesting little animal, I succeeded in shooting a full-grown male Orangutan. I had just come home from an entomologising excursion when Charles [Charles Allen, an English lad of sixteen, accompanied me as an assistant] rushed in out of breath with running and excitement, and exclaimed, interrupted by gasps, “Get the gun, sir — be quick — such a large Mias!” “Where is it?” I asked, taking hold of my gun as I spoke, which happened luckily to have one barrel loaded with ball. “Close by, sir — on the path to the mines — he can’t get away.” Two Dyaks chanced to be in the house at the time, so I called them to accompany me, and started off, telling Charley to bring all the ammunition after me as soon as possible. The path from our clearing to the mines led along the side of the hill a little way up its slope, and parallel with it at the foot a wide opening had been made for a road, in which several Chinamen were working, so that the animal could not escape into the swampy forest below without descending to cross the road or ascending to get round the clearings. We walked cautiously along, not making the least noise, and listening attentively for any sound which might betray the presence of the Mias, stopping at intervals to gaze upwards. Charley soon joined us at the place where he had seen the creature, and having taken the ammunition and put a bullet in the other barrel, we dispersed a little, feeling sure that it must be somewhere near, as it had probably descended the hill, and would not be likely to return again.
After a short time I heard a very slight rustling sound overhead, but on gazing up could see nothing. I moved about in every direction to get a full view into every part of the tree under which I had been standing, when I again heard the same noise but louder, and saw the leaves shaking as if caused by the motion of some heavy animal which moved off to an adjoining tree. I immediately shouted for all of them to come up and try and get a view, so as to allow me to have a shot. This was not an easy matter, as the Mias had a knack of selecting places with dense foliage beneath. Very soon, however, one of the Dyaks called me and pointed upwards, and on looking I saw a great red hairy body and a huge black face gazing down from a great height, as if wanting to know what was making such a disturbance below. I instantly fired, and he made off at once, so that I could not then tell whether I had hit him.
He now moved very rapidly and very noiselessly for so large an animal, so I told the Dyaks to follow and keep him in sight while I loaded. The jungle was here full of large angular fragments of rock from the mountain above, and thick with hanging and twisted creepers. Running, climbing, and creeping among these, we came up with the creature on the top of a high tree near the road, where the Chinamen had discovered him, and were shouting their astonishment with open mouths: “Ya Ya, Tuan; Orangutan, Tuan.” Seeing that he could not pass here without descending, he turned up again towards the hill, and I got two shots, and following quickly, had two more by the time he had again reached the path, but he was always more or less concealed by foliage, and protected by the large branch on which he was walking. Once while loading I had a splendid view of him, moving along a large limb of a tree in a semi-erect posture, and showing it to be an animal of the largest size. At the path he got on to one of the loftiest trees in the forest, and we could see one leg hanging down useless, having been broken by a ball. He now fixed himself in a fork, where he was hidden by thick foliage, and seemed disinclined to move. I was afraid he would remain and die in this position, and as it was nearly evening. I could not have got the tree cut down that day. I therefore fired again, and he then moved off, and going up the hill was obliged to get on to some lower trees, on the branches of one of which he fixed himself in such a position that he could not fall, and lay all in a heap as if dead, or dying.
I now wanted the Dyaks to go up and cut off the branch he was resting on, but they were afraid, saying he was not dead, and would come and attack them. We then shook the adjoining tree, pulled the hanging creepers, and did all we could to disturb him, but without effect, so I thought it best to send for two Chinamen with axes to cut down the tree. While the messenger was gone, however, one of the Dyaks took courage and climbed towards him, but the Mias did not wait for him to get near, moving off to another tree, where he got on to a dense mass of branches and creepers which almost completely hid him from our view. The tree was luckily a small one, so when the axes came we soon had it cut through; but it was so held up by jungle ropes and climbers to adjoining trees that it only fell into a sloping position. The Mias did not move, and I began to fear that after all we should not get him, as it was near evening, and half a dozen more trees would have to be cut down before the one he was on would fall. As a last resource we all began pulling at the creepers, which shook the tree very much, and, after a few minutes, when we had almost given up all hope, down he came with a crash and a thud like the fall of a giant. And he was a giant, his head and body being fully as large as a man’s. He was of the kind called by the Dyaks “Mias Chappan,” or “Mias Pappan,” which has the skin of the face broadened out to a ridge or fold at each side. His outstretched arms measured seven feet three inches across, and his height, measuring fairly from the top of the head to the heel was four feet two inches. The body just below the arms was three feet two inches round, and was quite as long as a man’s, the legs being exceedingly short in proportion. On examination we found he had been dreadfully wounded. Both legs were broken, one hip-joint and the root of the spine completely shattered, and two bullets were found flattened in his neck and jaws. Yet he was still alive when he fell. The two Chinamen carried him home tied to a pole, and I was occupied with Charley the whole of the next day preparing the skin and boiling the bones to make a perfect skeleton, which are now preserved in the Museum at Derby.
About ten days after this, on June 4th, some Dyaks came to tell us that the day before a Mias had nearly killed one of their companions. A few miles down the river there is a Dyak house, and the inhabitants saw a large Orang feeding on the young shoots of a palm by the riverside. On being alarmed he retreated towards the jungle which was close by, and a number of the men, armed with spears and choppers, ran out to intercept him. The man who was in front tried to run his spear through the animal’s body, but the Mias seized it in his hands, and in an instant got hold of the man’s arm, which he seized in his mouth, making his teeth meet in the flesh above the elbow, which he tore and lacerated in a dreadful manner. Had not the others been close behind, the man would have keen more seriously injured, if not killed, as he was quite powerless; but they soon destroyed the creature with their spears and choppers. The man remained ill for a long time, and never fully recovered the use of his arm.
They told me the dead Mias was still lying where it had been killed, so I offered them a reward to bring it up to our landing-place immediately, which they promised to do. They did not come, however, until the next day, and then decomposition had commenced, and great patches of the hair came off, so that it was useless to skin it. This I regretted much, as it was a very fine full-grown male. I cut off the head and took it home to clean, while I got my men to make a closed fence about five feet high around the rest of the body, which would soon be devoured by maggots, small lizards, and ants, leaving me the skeleton. There was a great gash in his face, which had cut deep into the bone, but the skull was a very fine one, and the teeth were remarkably large and perfect.
On June 18th I had another great success, and obtained a fine adult male. A Chinaman told me be had seen him feeding by the side of the path to the river, and I found him at the same place as the first individual I had shot. He was feeding on an oval green fruit having a fine red arillus, like the mace which surrounds the nutmeg, and which alone he seemed to eat, biting off the thick outer rind and dropping it in a continual shower. I had found the same fruit in the stomach of some others which I had killed. Two shots caused this animal to loose his hold, but he hung for a considerable time by one hand, and then fell flat on his face and was half buried in the swamp. For several minutes he lay groaning and panting, while we stood close around, expecting every breath to be his last. Suddenly, however, by a violent effort he raised himself up, causing us all to step back a yard or two, when, standing nearly erect, he caught hold of a small tree, and began to ascend it. Another shot through the back caused him to fall down dead. A flattened bullet was found in his tongue, having entered the lower part of the abdomen and completely traversed the body, fracturing the first cervical vertebra. Yet it was after this fearful wound that he had risen, and begun climbing with considerable facility. This also was a full-grown male of almost exactly the same dimensions as the other two I had measured.
On June 21st I shot another adult female, which was eating fruit in a low tree, and was the only one which I ever killed by a single ball.
On June 24th I was called by a Chinaman to shoot a Mias, which, he said, was on a tree close by his house, at the coal-mines. Arriving at the place, we had some difficulty in finding the animal, as he had gone off into the jungle, which was very rocky and difficult to traverse. At last we found him up a very high tree, and could see that he was a male of the largest size. As soon as I had fired, he moved higher up the tree, and while he was doing so I fired again; and we then saw that one arm was broken. He had now reached the very highest part of an immense tree, and immediately began breaking off boughs all around, and laying them across and across to make a nest. It was very interesting to see how well he had chosen his place, and how rapidly he stretched out his unwounded arm in every direction, breaking off good-sized boughs with the greatest ease, and laying them back across each other, so that in a few minutes he had formed a compact mass of foliage, which entirely concealed him from our sight. He was evidently going to pass the night here, and would probably get away early the next morning, if not wounded too severely. I therefore fired again several times, in hopes of making him leave his nest; but, though I felt sure I had hit him, as at each shot he moved a little, he would not go away. At length he raised himself up, so that half his body was visible, and then gradually sank down, his head alone remaining on the edge of the nest. I now felt sure he was dead, and tried to persuade the Chinaman and his companion to cut down the tree; but it was a very large one, and they had been at work all day, and nothing would induce them to attempt it. The next morning, at daybreak, I came to the place, and found that the Mias was evidently dead, as his head was visible in exactly the same position as before. I now offered four Chinamen a day’s wages each to cut the tree down at once, as a few hours of sunshine would cause decomposition on the surface of the skin; but, after looking at it and trying it, they determined that it was very big and very hard, and would not attempt it. Had I doubled my offer, they would probably have accepted it, as it would not have been more than two or three hours’ work; and had I been on a short visit only, I would have done so; but as I was a resident, and intended remaining several months longer, it would not have answered to begin paying too exorbitantly, or I should have got nothing done in the future at a lower rate.
For some weeks after, a cloud of flies could be seen all day, hovering over the body of the dead Mias; but in about a month all was quiet, and the body was evidently drying up under the influence of a vertical sun alternating with tropical rains. Two or three months later two Malays, on the offer of a dollar, climbed the tree and let down the dried remains. The skin was almost entirely enclosing the skeleton, and inside were millions of the pupa-cases of flies and other insects, with thousands of two or three species of small necrophagous beetles. The skull had been much shattered by balls, but the skeleton was perfect, except one small wristbone, which had probably dropped out and been carried away by a lizard.
Three days after I had shot this one and lost it, Charles found three small Orangs feeding together. We had a long chase after them, and had a good opportunity of seeing how they make their way from tree to tree by always choosing those limbs whose branches are intermingled with those of some other tree, and then grasping several of the small twigs together before they venture to swing themselves across. Yet they do this so quickly and certainly, that they make way among the trees at the rate of full five or six miles an hour, as we had continually to run to keep up with them. One of these we shot and killed, but it remained high up in the fork of a tree; and, as young animals are of comparatively little interest, I did not have the tree cut down to get it.
At this time I had the misfortune to slip among some fallen trees, and hurt my ankle; and, not being careful enough at first, it became a severe inflamed ulcer, which would not heal, and kept me a prisoner in the house the whole of July and part of August. When I could get out again, I determined to take a trip up a branch of the Simunjon River to Semabang, where there was said to be a large Dyak house, a mountain with abundance of fruit, and plenty of Orangs and fine birds. As the river was very narrow, and I was obliged to go in a very small boat with little luggage, I only took with me a Chinese boy as a servant. I carried a cask of medicated arrack to put Mias skins in, and stores and ammunition for a fortnight. After a few miles, the stream became very narrow and winding, and the whole country on each side was flooded. On the banks were an abundance of monkeys — the common Macacus cynomolgus, a black Semnopithecus, and the extraordinary long-nosed monkey (Nasalis larvatus), which is as large as a three-year old child, has a very long tail, and a fleshy nose longer than that of the biggest-nosed man. The further we went on the narrower and more winding the stream became; fallen trees sometimes blocked up our passage, and sometimes tangled branches and creepers met completely across it, and had to be cut away before we could get on. It took us two days to reach Semabang, and we hardly saw a bit of dry land all the way. In the latter part of the journey I could touch the bushes on each side for miles; and we were often delayed by the screw-pines (Pandanus), which grow abundantly in the water, falling across the stream. In other places dense rafts of floating grass completely filled up the channel, making our journey a constant succession of difficulties.
Near the landing-place we found a fine house, 250 feet long, raised high above the ground on posts, with a wide verandah and still wider platform of bamboo in front of it. Almost all the people, however, were away on some excursion after edible birds’- nests or bees’-wax, and there only remained in the house two or three old men and women with a lot of children. The mountain or hill was close by, covered with a complete forest of fruit-trees, among which the Durian and Mangusteen were very abundant; but the fruit was not yet quite ripe, except a little here and there. I spent a week at this place, going out everyday in various directions about the mountain, accompanied by a Malay, who had stayed with me while the other boatmen returned. For three days we found no Orangs, but shot a deer and several monkeys. On the fourth day, however, we found a Mias feeding on a very lofty Durian tree, and succeeded in killing it, after eight shots. Unfortunately it remained in the tree, hanging by its hands, and we were obliged to leave it and return home, as it was several miles off. As I felt pretty sure it would fall during the night, I returned to the place early the next morning, and found it on the ground beneath the tree. To my astonishment and pleasure, it appeared to be a different kind from any I had yet seen; for although a full-grown male, by its fully developed teeth and very large canines, it had no sign of the lateral protuberance on the face, and was about one-tenth smaller in all its dimensions than the other adult males. The upper incisors, however, appeared to be broader than in the larger species, a character distinguishing the Simia morio of Professor Owen, which he had described from the cranium of a female specimen. As it was too far to carry the animal home, I set to work and skinned the body on the spot, leaving the head, hands, and feet attached, to be finished at home. This specimen is now in the British Museum.
At the end of a week, finding no more Orangs, I returned home; and, taking in a few fresh stores, and this time accompanied by Charles, went up another branch of the river, very similar in character, to a place called Menyille, where there were several small Dyak houses and one large one. Here the landing place was a bridge of rickety poles, over a considerable distance of water; and I thought it safer to leave my cask of arrack securely placed in the fork of a tree. To prevent the natives from drinking it, I let several of them see me put in a number of snakes and lizards; but I rather think this did not prevent them from tasting it. We were accommodated here in the verandah of the large house, in which were several great baskets of dried human heads, the trophies of past generations of head-hunters. Here also there was a little mountain covered with fruit-trees, and there were some magnificent Durian trees close by the house, the fruit of which was ripe; and as the Dyaks looked upon me as a benefactor in killing the Mias, which destroys a great deal of their fruit, they let us eat as much as we liked; we revelled in this emperor of fruits in its greatest perfection.
The very day after my arrival in this place, I was so fortunate as to shoot another adult male of the small Orang, the Mias-kassir of the Dyaks. It fell when dead, but caught in a fork of the tree and remained fixed. As I was very anxious to get it, I tried to persuade two young Dyaks who were with me to cut down the tree, which was tall, perfectly straight and smooth-barked, and without a branch for fifty or sixty feet. To my surprise, they said they would prefer climbing up it, but it would be a good deal of trouble, and, after a little talking together, they said they would try. They first went to a clump of bamboo that stood near, and cut down one of the largest stems. From this they chopped off a short piece, and splitting it, made a couple of stout pegs, about a foot long and sharp at one end. Then cutting a thick piece of wood for a mallet, they drove one of the pegs into the tree and hung their weight upon it. It held, and this seemed to satisfy them, for they immediately began making a quantity of pegs of the same kind, while I looked on with great interest, wondering how they could possibly ascend such a lofty tree by merely driving pegs in it, the failure of any one of which at a good height would certainly cause their death. When about two dozen pegs were made, one of them began cutting some very long and slender bamboo from another clump, and also prepared some cord from the hark of a small tree. They now drove in a peg very firmly at about three feet from the ground, and bringing one of the long bamboos, stood it upright close to the tree, and bound it firmly to the two first pegs, by means of the bark cord and small notches near the head of each peg. One of the Dyaks now stood on the first peg and drove in a third, about level with his face, to which he tied the bamboo in the same way, and then mounted another step, standing on one foot, and holding by the bamboo at the peg immediately above him, while he drove in the next one. In this manner he ascended about twenty feet; when the upright bamboo was becoming thin, another was handed up by his companion, and this was joined by tying both bamboos to three or four of the pegs. When this was also nearly ended, a third was added, and shortly after, the lowest branches of the tree were reached, along which the young Dyak scrambled, and soon sent the Mias tumbling down headlong. I was exceedingly struck by the ingenuity of this mode of climbing, and the admirable manner in which the peculiar properties of the bamboo were made available. The ladder itself was perfectly safe, since if any one peg were loose or faulty, and gave way, the strain would be thrown on several others above and below it. I now understood the use of the line of bamboo pegs sticking in trees, which I had often seen, and wondered for what purpose they could have been put there. This animal was almost identical in size and appearance with the one I had obtained at Semabang, and was the only other male specimen of the Simia morio which I obtained. It is now in the Derby Museum.
I afterwards shot two adult females and two young ones of different ages, all of which I preserved. One of the females, with several young ones, was feeding on a Durian tree with unripe fruit; and as soon as she saw us she began breaking off branches and the great spiny fruits with every appearance of rage, causing such a shower of missiles as effectually kept us from approaching too near the tree. This habit of throwing down branches when irritated has been doubted, but I have, as here narrated, observed it myself on at least three separate occasions. It was however always the female Arias who behaved in this way, and it may be that the male, trusting more to his great strength and his powerful canine teeth, is not afraid of any other animal, and does not want to drive them away, while the parental instinct of the female leads her to adopt this mode of defending herself and her young ones.
In preparing the skins and skeletons of these animals, I was much troubled by the Dyak dogs, which, being always kept in a state of semi-starvation, are ravenous for animal food. I had a great iron pan, in which I boiled the bones to make skeletons, and at night I covered this over with boards, and put heavy stones upon it; but the dogs managed to remove these and carried away the greater part of one of my specimens. On another occasion they gnawed away a good deal of the upper leather of my strong boots, and even ate a piece of my mosquito-curtain, where some lamp-oil had been spilt over it some weeks before.
On our return down the stream, we had the fortune to fall in with a very old male Mias, feeding on some low trees growing in the water. The country was flooded for a long distance, but so full of trees and stumps that the laden boat could not be got in among them, and if it could have been we should only have frightened the Mias away. I therefore got into the water, which was nearly up to my waist, and waded on until I was near enough for a shot. The difficulty then was to load my gun again, for I was so deep in the water that I could not hold the gun sloping enough to pour the powder in. I therefore had to search for a shallow place, and after several shots under these trying circumstances, I was delighted to see the monstrous animal roll over into the water. I now towed him after me to the stream, but the Malays objected to having the animal put into the boat, and he was so heavy that I could not do it without their help. I looked about for a place to skin him, but not a bit of dry ground was to be seen, until at last I found a clump of two or three old trees and stumps, between which a few feet of soil had collected just above the water, which was just large enough for us to drag the animal upon it. I first measured him, and found him to be by far the largest I had yet seen, for, though the standing height was the same as the others (4 feet 2 inches), the outstretched arms were 7 feet 9 inches, which was six inches more than the previous one, and the immense broad face was 13 1/2 inches wide, whereas the widest I had hitherto seen was only 11 1/2 inches. The girth of the body was 3 feet 7 1/2 inches. I am inclined to believe, therefore, that the length and strength of the arms, and the width of the face continues increasing to a very great age, while the standing height, from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, rarely if ever exceeds 4 feet 2 inches.
As this was the last Mias I shot, and the last time I saw an adult living animal, I will give a sketch of its general habits, and any other facts connected with it. The Orangutan is known to inhabit Sumatra and Borneo, and there is every reason to believe that it is confined to these two great islands, in the former of which, however, it seems to be much more rare. In Borneo it has a wide range, inhabiting many districts on the southwest, southeast, northeast, and northwest coasts, but appears to be chiefly confined to the low and swampy forests. It seems, at first sight, very inexplicable that the Mias should be quite unknown in the Sarawak valley, while it is abundant in Sambas, on the west, and Sadong, on the east. But when we know the habits and mode of life of the animal, we see a sufficient reason for this apparent anomaly in the physical features of the Sarawak district. In the Sadong, where I observed it, the Mias is only found when the country is low level and swampy, and at the same time covered with a lofty virgin forest. From these swamps rise many isolated mountains, on some of which the Dyaks have settled and covered with plantations of fruit trees. These are a great attraction to the Mias, which comes to feed on the unripe fruits, but always retires to the swamp at night. Where the country becomes slightly elevated, and the soil dry, the Mias is no longer to be found. For example, in all the lower part of the Sadong valley it abounds, but as soon as we ascend above the limits of the tides, where the country, though still flat, is high enough to be dry, it disappears. Now the Sarawak valley has this peculiarity — the lower portion though swampy, is not covered with a continuous lofty forest, but is principally occupied by the Nipa palm; and near the town of Sarawak where the country becomes dry, it is greatly undulated in many parts, and covered with small patches of virgin forest, and much second-growth jungle on the ground, which has once been cultivated by the Malays or Dyaks.
Now it seems probable to me that a wide extent of unbroken and equally lofty virgin forest is necessary to the comfortable existence of these animals. Such forests form their open country, where they can roam in every direction with as much facility as the Indian on the prairie, or the Arab on the desert, passing from tree-top to tree-top without ever being obliged to descend upon the earth. The elevated and the drier districts are more frequented by man, more cut up by clearings and low second-growth jungle — not adapted to its peculiar mode of progression, and where it would therefore be more exposed to danger, and more frequently obliged to descend upon the earth. There is probably also a greater variety of fruit in the Mias district, the small mountains which rise like islands out of it serving as gardens or plantations of a sort, where the trees of the uplands are to be found in the very midst of the swampy plains.
It is a singular and very interesting sight to watch a Mias making his way leisurely through the forest. He walks deliberately along some of the larger branches in the semi-erect attitude which the great length of his arms and the shortness of his legs cause him naturally to assume; and the disproportion between these limbs is increased by his walking on his knuckles, not on the palm of the hand, as we should do. He seems always to choose those branches which intermingle with an adjoining tree, on approaching which he stretches out his long arms, and seizing the opposing boughs, grasps them together with both hands, seems to try their strength, and then deliberately swings himself across to the next branch, on which he walks along as before. He never jumps or springs, or even appears to hurry himself, and yet manages to get along almost as quickly as a person can run through the forest beneath. The long and powerful arms are of the greatest use to the animal, enabling it to climb easily up the loftiest trees, to seize fruits and young leaves from slender boughs which will not bear its weight, and to gather leaves and branches with which to form its nest. I have already described how it forms a nest when wounded, but it uses a similar one to sleep on almost every night. This is placed low down, however, on a small tree not more than from twenty to fifty feet from the ground, probably because it is warmer and less exposed to wind than higher up. Each Mias is said to make a fresh one for himself every night; but I should think that is hardly probable, or their remains would be much more abundant; for though I saw several about the coal-mines, there must have been many Orangs about every day, and in a year their deserted nests would become very numerous. The Dyaks say that, when it is very wet, the Mias covers himself over with leaves of pandanus, or large ferns, which has perhaps led to the story of his making a hut in the trees.
The Orang does not leave his bed until the sun has well risen and has dried up the dew upon the leaves. He feeds all through the middle of the day, but seldom returns to the same tree two days running. They do not seem much alarmed at man, as they often stared down upon me for several minutes, and then only moved away slowly to an adjacent tree. After seeing one, I have often had to go half a mile or more to fetch my gun, and in nearly every case have found it on the same tree, or within a hundred yards, when I returned. I never saw two full-grown animals together, but both males and females are sometimes accompanied by half-grown young ones, while, at other times, three or four young ones were seen in company. Their food consists almost exclusively of fruit, with occasionally leaves, buds, and young shoots. They seem to prefer unripe fruits, some of which were very sour, others intensely bitter, particularly the large red, fleshy arillus of one which seemed an especial favourite. In other cases they eat only the small seed of a large fruit, and they almost always waste and destroy more than they eat, so that there is a continual rain of rejected portions below the tree they are feeding on. The Durian is an especial favourite, and quantities of this delicious fruit are destroyed wherever it grows surrounded by forest, but they will not cross clearings to get at them. It seems wonderful how the animal can tear open this fruit, the outer covering of which is so thick and tough, and closely covered with strong conical spines. It probably bites off a few of these first, and then, making a small hole, tears open the fruit with its powerful fingers.
The Mias rarely descends to the ground, except when pressed by hunger, it seeks succulent shoots by the riverside; or, in very dry weather, has to search after water, of which it generally finds sufficient in the hollows of leaves. Only once I saw two half-grown Orangs on the ground in a dry hollow at the foot of the Simunjon hill. They were playing together, standing erect, and grasping each other by the arms. It may be safely stated, however, that the Orang never walks erect, unless when using its hands to support itself by branches overhead or when attacked. Representations of its walking with a stick are entirely imaginary.
The Dyaks all declare that the Mias is never attacked by any animal in the forest, with two rare exceptions; and the accounts I received of these are so curious that I give them nearly in the words of my informants, old Dyak chiefs, who had lived all their lives in the places where the animal is most abundant. The first of whom I inquired said: “No animal is strong enough to hurt the Mias, and the only creature he ever fights with is the crocodile. When there is no fruit in the jungle, he goes to seek food on the banks of the river where there are plenty of young shoots that he likes, and fruits that grow close to the water. Then the crocodile sometimes tries to seize him, but the Mias gets upon him, and beats him with his hands and feet, and tears him and kills him.” He added that he had once seen such a fight, and that he believes that the Mias is always the victor.
My next informant was the Orang Kaya, or chief of the Balow Dyaks, on the Simunjon River. He said: “The Mias has no enemies; no animals dare attack it but the crocodile and the python. He always kills the crocodile by main strength, standing upon it, pulling open its jaws, and ripping up its throat. If a python attacks a Mias, he seizes it with his hands, and then bites it, and soon kills it. The Mias is very strong; there is no animal in the jungle so strong as he.”
It is very remarkable that an animal so large, so peculiar, and of such a high type of form as the Orangutan, should be confined to so limited a district — to two islands, and those almost the last inhabited by the higher Mammalia; for, east of Borneo and Java, the Quadrumania, Ruminants, Carnivora, and many other groups of Mammalla diminish rapidly, and soon entirely disappear. When we consider, further, that almost all other animals have in earlier ages been represented by allied yet distinct forms — that, in the latter part of the tertiary period, Europe was inhabited by bears, deer, wolves, and cats; Australia by kangaroos and other marsupials; South America by gigantic sloths and ant-eaters; all different from any now existing, though intimately allied to them — we have every reason to believe that the Orangutan, the Chimpanzee, and the Gorilla have also had their forerunners. With what interest must every naturalist look forward to the time when the caves and tertiary deposits of the tropics may be thoroughly examined, and the past history and earliest appearance of the great man-like apes be made known at length.
I will now say a few words as to the supposed existence of a Bornean Orang as large as the Gorilla. I have myself examined the bodies of seventeen freshly-killed Orangs, all of which were carefully measured; and of seven of them, I preserved the skeleton. I also obtained two skeletons killed by other persons. Of this extensive series, sixteen were fully adult, nine being males, and seven females. The adult males of the large Orangs only varied from 4 feet 1 inch to 4 feet 2 inches in height, measured fairly to the heel, so as to give the height of the animal if it stood perfectly erect; the extent of the outstretched arms, from 7 feet 2 inches to 7 feet 8 inches; and the width of the face, from 10 inches to 13 1/2 inches. The dimensions given by other naturalists closely agree with mine. The largest Orang measured by Temminck was 4 feet high. Of twenty-five specimens collected by Schlegel and Muller, the largest old male was 4 feet 1 inch; and the largest skeleton in the Calcutta Museum was, according to Mr. Blyth, 4 feet 1 1/2 inch. My specimens were all from the northwest coast of Borneo; those of the Dutch from the west and south coasts; and no specimen has yet reached Europe exceeding these dimensions, although the total number of skins and skeletons must amount to over a hundred.
Strange to say, however, several persons declare that they have measured Orangs of a much larger size. Temminck, in his Monograph of the Orang, says that he has just received news of the capture of a specimen 5 feet 3 inches high. Unfortunately, it never seems to have a reached Holland, for nothing has since been heard of any such animal. Mr. St. John, in his “Life in the Forests of the Far East,” vol. ii. p. 237, tells us of an Orang shot by a friend of his, which was 5 feet 2 inches from the heel to the top of the head, the arm 17 inches in girth, and the wrist 12 inches! The head alone was brought to Sarawak, and Mr. St. John tells us that he assisted to measure this, and that it was 15 inches broad by 14 long. Unfortunately, even this skull appears not to have been preserved, for no specimen corresponding to these dimensions has yet reached England.
In a letter from Sir James Brooke, dated October 1857 in which he acknowledges the receipt of my Papers on the Orang, published in the “Annals and Magazine of Natural History,” he sends me the measurements of a specimen killed by his nephew, which I will give exactly as I received it: “September 3rd, 1867, killed female Orangutan. Height, from head to heel, 4 feet 6 inches. Stretch from fingers to fingers across body, 6 feet 1 inch. Breadth of face, including callosities, 11 inches.” Now, in these dimensions, there is palpably one error; for in every Orang yet measured by any naturalist, an expanse of arms of 6 feet 1 inch corresponds to a height of about 3 feet 6 inches, while the largest specimens of 4 feet to 4 feet 2 inches high, always have the extended arms as much as 7 feet 3 inches to 7 feet 8 inches. It is, in fact, one of the characters of the genus to have the arms so long that an animal standing nearly erect can rest its fingers on the ground. A height of 4 feet 6 inches would therefore require a stretch of arms of at least 8 feet! If it were only 6 feet to that height, as given in the dimensions quoted, the animal would not be an Orang at all, but a new genus of apes, differing materially in habits and mode of progression. But Mr. Johnson, who shot this animal, and who knows Orangs well, evidently considered it to be one; and we have therefore to judge whether it is more probable that he made a mistake of two feet in the stretch of the arms, or of one foot in the height. The latter error is certainly the easiest to make, and it will bring his animal into agreement, as to proportions and size, with all those which exist in Europe. How easy it is to be deceived as to the height of these animals is well shown in the case of the Sumatran Orang, the skin of which was described by Dr. Clarke Abel. The captain and crew who killed this animal declared that when alive he exceeded the tallest man, and looked so gigantic that they thought he was 7 feet high; but that, when he was killed and lay upon the ground, they found he was only about 6 feet. Now it will hardly be credited that the skin of this identical animal exists in the Calcutta Museum, and Mr. Blyth, the late curator, states “that it is by no means one of the largest size”; which means that it is about 4 feet high!
Having these undoubted examples of error in the dimensions of Orangs, it is not too much to conclude that Mr. St. John’s friend made a similar error of measurement, or rather, perhaps, of memory; for we are not told that the dimensions were noted down at the time they were made. The only figures given by Mr. St. John on his own authority are that “the head was 15 inches broad by 14 inches long.” As my largest male was 13 1/2 broad across the face, measured as soon as the animal was killed, I can quite understand that when the head arrived at Sarawak from the Batang Lupar, after two or three days’ voyage, it was so swollen by decomposition as to measure an inch more than when it was fresh. On the whole, therefore, I think it will be allowed, that up to this time we have not the least reliable evidence of the existence of Orangs in Borneo more than 4 feet 2 inches high.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14