The Tasman Map – Book Review

Ian Burnet, The Tasman Map – The Biography of a Map: Abel Tasman, the Dutch East India Company and the first Dutch Discoveries of Australia, Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd, 2019

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Having grown up in Sydney, I can remember as a student visiting the Mitchell Library in the 1950s. My memories are of a large and impressive reading room but I must confess that I paid little attention as to how I arrived in the reading room after passing through the front entrance. I now realise that to do so, I had to traverse one of the most remarkable sights in Australia: a mosaic of the Bonaparte Tasman map in the vestibule:

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The marvellous marble mosaic Tasman Map in the vestibule of the Mitchell Library

This map graphically illustrates the voyages of Abel Tasman and how his voyages of discovery produced the first recognisable image of the Australian continent. What is of particular interest to me, given my interest in Indonesia since my student days, is that this pictorial record Tasman’s voyages south from the Dutch East Indies demonstrates how interlinked are the early histories of Europe’s voyages of discovery to Indonesia and Australia.

Ian Burnet in this stunning volume brings alive the many voyages of discovery that linked the exploration and Dutch conquest of Indonesia to a growing awareness on the part of the Dutch of the great, but as yet unknown, land to the south. Burnet, chapter by chapter with stunning illustrations and reproductions of early maps, has managed to document the many voyages from Europe to the “far east” by way of both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn that managed to create in Europe a global awareness of the world. It is a tale of the rise of English and Dutch mercantile capitalism, and the subsequent decline of the Portuguese and Spanish feudal empires, the many ways that the “east” and the “west” interacted, the fortunes that were made, the horrors that many ordinary people experienced, and the way the foundations of the modern world were laid in our part of the globe.

Most of us will have heard of parts of Burnet’s story, whether it is of figures such as Francis Drake, Dirk Hartog or Abel Tasman, or of place names which reflect historical moments in our history, such as the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arnhem Land, Groote Eylandt, Rottnest Island, or Maatsuyker Island. But other parts of his story will be new to many. There is the tale of how the tiny spice island of Rhun, lying to our north and claimed by the English was subsequently “swapped” for Manhattan Island that had been claimed by the Dutch. There is the horror story of the wreck of the Batavia on the Western Australian coast where a mutiny among the survivors led to a massacre and an eventual bringing to horrific justice of the perpetrators. The many voyages in our part of the world, such as that of the Duyfken, a replica of which recently sailed around Australia, are brought to life through Burnet’s judicious use of contemporary chronicles, logbooks, paintings and maps.

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The Duyfken replica ship ready to depart from the Banda Islands during the re-enactment of the voyage leading to the Dutch discovery of Australia. (Robert Garvey)

The book also reminds us that Abel Tasman was the first European to circumnavigate Australia despite the fact that for much of his travels he was not in sight of land. However, his two great voyages managed to piece together the disparate understanding of the relationship of our continent to the islands to our north that had slowly arisen through previous voyages, many of which are documented by Burnet.

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The Tasman Map – 1644

The book contains many surprises. There is the 1647 verbatim detailed description of the appearance and life cycle of wallabies written by the first Europeans to encounter such, to European eyes, strange beasts. There is the fact that the great flowering of Dutch art in the 1600s typified by such figures as Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals, was a direct result of the fabulous fortunes made from the spice islands to our north. There is the more recent amazing tale of how Daisy Bates, while living in the 1920s with remote Aborigines in the Nullarbor Plain, was instrumental in having one of rarest maps in the world, that of the Bonaparte Tasman Map, donated to the Mitchell Library by one of Bonaparte’s descendants.

This is a book to savour and to learn from and which will serve as a reference to many a historical event of relevance to both Indonesia and Australia.

Dr.Ron Witton —  forthcoming in Inside Indonesia




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The first appearance of the Spice Islands on a world map – the Atlas Miller (1519-1522)

Art and science join forces in the Portuguese atlas known as the Atlas Miller by the cartographers Lopo Homem, Pedro Reinel, Jorge Reinel and the miniaturist António de Holanda, which is one of the wonders of sixteenth-century Portuguese cartography. The Atlas was created for the Portuguese King Manuel and was intended to display the wealth and power that Portugal had derived from its discoveries in Africa, India, South East Asia and the lands it had claimed.

Based on the map by  the Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy from the second century AD of the known world, the planisphere of the Atlas Miller shows the Atlantic and Indian Oceans bounded by land.

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Planisphere of the known world from the Atlas Miller (1519-1522)

This masterpiece of geographic art portrays the known world before the departure of Ferdinand Magellan and his Armada de Moluccas, 500 years ago in 1519. This map of the world changed forever after the Armada de Moluccas found their way through the Strait of Magellan and then across the vast Pacific Ocean before they reached the Spice Islands in 1521.This voyage would become the greatest voyage in maritime history when the vessel Victoria captained by Juan Sebastian Elcano completed the first circumnavigation of the globe in 1522.


The first circumnavigation of the world by Magellan/Elcano  (Battista Agnese 1544)

Alfonso de Albuquerque aided by his Portuguese and Malabari forces had captured the strategic Asian city of Malacca in 1511 and the geographical depiction of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and the Riau Islands south of Singapore from the Atlas Miller are reasonably accurate even though the artistic illuminations by António de Holanda show the fantastic.

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Detail of the map of the Malay Peninsula from the Atlas Miller

Only a few months after the capture of Malacca, three Portuguese ships under the command of Antonio de Abreu sailed eastwards towards the Spice Islands. The small fleet comprised the flagship Santa Caterina, the Sabaia captained by Francisco Serrao and an unamed caravel captained by Alfonso Bisagudo. They were a crew of 120 including 60 Malays and Javanese, their pilot Nhahkoda Ishmael who was familiar with the trading route to the Spice Islands and Francisco Rodrigues the Portuguese pilot who chronicled their voyage. The fleet reached the tiny nutmeg islands of Banda, Api, Lontar, Ai and Run all of which are mere specks in the Banda Sea. It was after being shipwrecked on the return voyage that Francisco Serrao and his comrades were taken north to the clove islands of Ternate, Tidore, Moti, Machian and Bachan.

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The Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java and the islands of Eastern Indonesia from the Atlas Miller


The map of the Spice Islands from the Atlas Miller shows a mass of speculative islands however the one that shows some geographical accuracy are what appear to be the Banda islands as mapped by Francisco Rodrigues and showing the Portuguese flag .

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The Banda islands from the Atlas Miller

The chronicle and maps made by Francisco Rodrigues of the first Portuguese voyage to the Spice Islands in 1512 were lost to history until copies were discovered in 1937 in the archives of the Bibliotheque de l’Assemblee Nationale de France. Below is his more accurate depiction of the Banda islands.

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The Banda islands by Francisco Rodrigues 1512

At the top of the map of the Spice Islands in the Atlas Miller there appears to be a depiction of the clove islands of Ternate, Tidore, Moti, Machian and Bachan off the coast of Halmahera and these are probably derived by the Portuguese from either Francisco Serrao or Malay/Javanese maps of the period.

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Depiction of the clove islands from the Atlas Miller


For the complete story of the European discovery of the Spice Islands and the history, romance and adventure of the spice trade over 2000 years, please order the book Spice Islands from your favorite bookstore or online retailer as a paperback or e-book.

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The site of the Alfred Russel Wallace house on Ternate identified

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Map and View of Ternate showing Fort Oranje. J. Van den Bosch, 1818

NEW EVIDENCE: Site of Alfred Russel Wallace’s House in Ternate Identified

“Wallace’s Ternate house is the most important science history heritage site in Indonesia.”

Ternate, Tuesday 3 September 2019 – Rinto Taib, Head of History and Cultural Heritage, Department of Culture, Ternate, announced today that the most likely site of the Alfred Russel Wallace house in Ternate has been identified. Rinto was speaking during the Indonesian Creative Cities Conference and Festival being held in Ternate 2 -7 September 2019.

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Rinto Taib speaking at the press conference, together with Paul Spencer Sochaczawski, Paul Whincup and Nicholas Hughes.

Wallace’s house in Ternate has become legendary. It was from here that Wallace sent his famous Ternate Letter to Charles Darwin, in March 1858, outlining his Theory of Evolution. Historians, academics and Wallace enthusiasts have attempted to locate Wallace’s house site since many years.

Wallace provides tantalising clues as to the location of his house in his book, The Malay Archipelago (1869). Two of the most important clues were that the house had “a deep well (that) supplied me with pure cold water” and that “just below my house is the fort”.

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First edition of the Malay Archipelago

Prof. Sangkot Marzuki, Past President, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, and Syamsir Andili, Mayor of Ternate, 2000-2010, made a preliminary identification of a site that matched most of Wallace’s description, in a paper presented to a Wallace event in Makassar in 2008. This first credible site was named the Santiong House.

George Beccaloni, UK Wallace historian, was the first to question the authenticity of the Santiong House as it failed to meet one critical clue described by Wallace, namely, that the fort was just below his house. Paul Whincup, a hydrogeologist based in Jakarta, subsequently collaborated with George Beccaloni, reasoning that evidence of old deep wells should still remain.

In early 2019, Ternate residents, Fiffy Sahib and Mudhi Aziz, conducted a survey of wells in the general area described by Wallace at the request of Whincup and Beccaloni. They identified seven old deep wells, one of which was located on a site that matched Wallace’s description exactly. The original house, made of wood and sago palm, had of course long since disappeared.

It is now agreed that this site, located on the intersection of Jalan Pipit and Jalan Merdeka facing the south-west bastion of Fort Oranje, is the most likely site of where Wallace lived and from where he despatched his famous ‘Letter from Ternate’.

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Map of Ternate showing the presumed location of the ARW house.  (Paul Whincup)

Wallace’s house has enormous historical significance internationally and for Indonesia. And it has great potential for promoting tourism in Ternate. It is hoped that the land can be purchased and a replica of the original house is built on the site.

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Photo of Ternate showing the presumed location of the ARW house at 1. (Paul Whincup)


A replica of the Wallace House would complement the Spice Museum in Fort Oranje, showcasing Wallace’s explorations and scientific discoveries, and the intellectual achievements that Wallace made in documenting the biodiversity of Eastern Indonesia. It could also become an education centre to encourage much-needed biodiversity conservation efforts in the Maluku islands.

This year, 2019, is the 150th anniversary of Wallace’s publication, The Malay Archipelago (1869). It is appropriate that the search for his house has at last been realised.




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Soekarno, his exile in Ende and Pancasila

It was here in the Dutch Landraad courthouse in Bandung in 1930 that Soekarno gave his famous speech against colonialism, ‘Indonesia Menggugat’ or ‘Indonesia Accuses’ in the Dutch courtroom.


The Dutch Landraan courthouse in Bandung   photo – Ian Burnet

Here he is along with his fellow accused and their lawyers. Soekarno was never allowed to complete his statement to the court, proceedings were abandoned, and he was ultimately sentenced to four years in prison.


Soekarno with his co-accused and their lawyers

The building has since been restored as a museum dedicated to the memory of Soekarno and the three other leaders who were sentenced with him. In a beautiful touch of irony the restored building was officially opened by his daughter President Megawati Soekarno in 2002.

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photo – Ian Burnet

Still a determined republican, Soekarno was subsequently sent into internal exile in the town of Ende on the south coast of Central Flores where he and his family lived from 1934 until 1938. This photo shows a family group in front of his house in Ende with Soekarno standing on the right behind his wife Inggit.

Soekarno House Ende

After he became president the house was restored as a memorial, it still includes historic items from this same period and has become the main tourist attraction in Ende. Here is a photo of the house before an ugly statue of Soekarno had been placed in the front garden.

Soekarno House Ende restored



photo – Ian Burnet

About 700 meters from Soekarno’s house, was a breadfruit tree that directly faced Ende Beach. It is known that Soekarno often sat here to contemplate whilst envisioning a united country that would be called Indonesia. Indonesia’s First President claimed that it was on this very spot that the concept of Pancasila, the philosophical foundation of the Republic of Indonesia was conceived. Pancasila is recognized and accepted as the 5 Principles on which the Indonesian State and Nation are founded. Today, the Birth of Pancasila is commemorated every year on 1st of June, which is also a national holiday.


The Soekarno Statue, the  memorial pond and the breadfruit tree       photo – Ian Burnet

A Memorial Pond with a statue of a contemplating Soekarno have been constructed in the public gardens on this site where the five principles of Pancasila were first conceived. Comprising of two ancient Javanese words originally derived from Sanskrit: “pañca” (“five”) and “sīla” (“principles”), Pancasila is composed of five principles that are inter-related and inseparable from one another, these are:

1. Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa (Belief in the One Supreme God)
2. Kemanusiaan Yang Adil dan Beradab (A Just and Civilized Humanity)
3. Persatuan Indonesia (The Unity of Indonesia)
4. Kerakyatan Yang Dipimpin oleh Hikmat Kebijaksanaan, Dalam Permusyawaratan Perwakilan (Democracy led by the inherent wisdom of concensus arising from deliberation among popular representatives)
5. Keadilan Sosial Bagi Seluruh Rakyat Indonesia (Social Justice for all the people of Indonesia.)


“In this town I found five pearls and beneath this breadfruit tree were conceived the five concepts of Pancasila”  –   Soekarno

Indonesia is a multicultural nation, a very diverse country comprised of over 17,000 islands, hundreds of ethnic groups with their different languages, cultures, religions and ways of life. Indonesia’s Founding fathers wisely decided that the State Ideology should encompass and shelter the whole spectrum of Indonesian society, in which consensus for common good must be striven for, and justice is served and met. These principles are enshired in the Pancasila. And also based on these principles, Indonesia’s National Motto became “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, meaning: We are Many but we are One.

Soekarno more than any other leader of the Indonesian Republican movement was aware of the differences in religions and ways of life that a united Indonesia would need to encompass. Although born in East Java and brought up as a Muslim, his mother was Balinese, a Hindu, and he loved Balinese culture. Now for the four years of his internal exile on Flores he had walked, talked and lived in a predominantly Christian community and had also learned to appreciate their values.

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The Tasman Map – Abel Tasman, the Dutch East India Company and the first Dutch Discoveries of Australia

Coming to a bookshop near you – the story of the Tasman Map

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Every visitor who passes through the vestibule of the Mitchell Library stops to admire the magnificent marble mosaic of the Tasman Map which fills the entire vestibule floor.

This story of the first Dutch voyages to discover Australia is set against the background of the struggle of the newly formed Dutch Republic to gain its independence from the Kingdom of Spain and the struggle of the Dutch East India Company for trade supremacy in the East Indies against its Portuguese, Spanish and English rivals.

Over a period of only forty years from 1606 to 1644 and based on sixteen separate discoveries the first map of Australia took shape. The Tasman Map shows a recognizable outline of the north, west and south coasts of Australia that was not to change for another 125 years until the British explorer James Cook charted the east coast in 1770.

It was in 1925 and 1933 that the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia, acquired both the Tasman Huydecoper Journal and the Tasman Bonaparte Map. The story of how the library managed to acquire these treasures of Dutch exploration and cartography will bring new recognition to these icons of both Dutch and Australian history.

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The magnificent marble mosaic of the Tasman Map in the vestibule of the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia

It is intriguing to speculate that the Tasman Bonaparte Map and the Tasman Huydecoper Journal may have both been compiled in Batavia in late 1644 or early 1645 for the Directors of the Dutch East India Company under Abel Tasman’s personal supervision. According to Paul Brunton, the Curator Emeritus at the Mitchell Library, it is certainly extraordinary that two key documents relating to Tasman’s voyages, the  Tasman Huydecoper Journal and the Tasman Bonaparte Map were acquired by the Mitchell Library from different sources at around the same time. It would be even more extraordinary if these documents had been compiled together in Batavia under Abel Tasman’s watch and are now reunited at the Mitchell Library after almost 400 years of separation.

It’s done, it’s dusted, its gone to the printers. Copies will be available in September and you can pre-order from your favorite bookshop.


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‘Where Australia Collides with Asia’ – The Darwin Earthquake

On June 24, Darwin was jolted by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake, prompting offices in the CBD to be evacuated. The epicentre was some 700 kilometres away to the north in the Banda Sea of Indonesia. But despite the distance, the quake rocked Darwin hard, because it occurred within the same tectonic plate, rather than at the boundary between two neighbouring plates.


Where the Australian Plate collides with Asia some of it has slid (subducted) under the volcanoes of Eastern Indonesia, and is descending into the mantle. This process is driven by buoyancy (the tendency of material to sink or float). Continental crust is more buoyant, and thus resists sinking into the mantle. Ocean crust, meanwhile, is denser and has more of a tendency to sink. As the Australian Plate (which includes New Guinea) travels northward, the front edge is high-density ocean crust, and the part following behind it is lower-density continental crust. The map below shows the plate boundaries and relevant movement within our region.


Plate Boundaries and relevent movement

Where one part of a plate subducts easily and starts to sink and the other wants to float and refuses to subduct, a tear can develop, and this is what is believed is happening north of Darwin. The northern edge of the Australian Plate used to be made up of ocean crust that is now completely subducted. The buoyant Australian continent is refusing to subduct, and as a result the ocean crust is tearing off as it sinks into the mantle.

This NASA image from satellite telemetry maps displays height above and depth below sea level. It shows the edge of the Asian continent at the Wallace Line  and how the Australian continent is impacting on the Indonesian island arc system along the edge of the Banda Sea.

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A useful analogy to visualise this is tearing a piece of cheese – the kind of pre-sliced, soft cheese that you put on your sandwiches. The picture below shows a piece of cheese that is bent around a cylinder (representing the descent of the plate into the mantle), and is torn along one edge.

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The official earthquake record from the US Geological Survey indicates that this earthquake consisted of a combination of lateral displacement and vertical extension (lengthening), which is consistent with the cheese analogy. The vertical extension is caused by the stretching of the crust while lateral displacement, known as strike slip, probably accommodates the eastward movement required by the continuing attachment of the slab east of the earthquake. Earthquakes such as this occur within the Australian plate, and the seismic waves travel through the cold, strong Australian plate quite efficiently. This means that it did not lose much of its energy before reaching Darwin.

This blog is based on an article in ‘The Conversation’ by Brendan Duffy a Lecturer in Applied Geoscience at the University of Melbourne and Mark Quigley an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne.

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Dragon’s Paradise Lost – Varanus komodoensis

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I have always been curious whether the Komodo Dragon found on the island of Komodo, located between Sumbawa and Flores, is a large goanna (lizard) caused by island gigantisism or the last of the Australian megafauna, which we know from fossil evidence used to range over Australia up to 50,000 years ago . Well here is the answer:

Megalania is an extinct giant goanna or monitor lizard that was part of a megafaunal assemblage that inhabited southern Australia during the Pliestocene. The youngest fossil remains date to around 50,000 years ago. It is thought that the first aboriginal settlers of Australia would have encountered them and been a factor in their extinction.


Megalania skeletal reconstruction from the Melbourne Museum

Giant varanids were once a ubiquitous part of  Australasian faunas during the Neogene. Extinction played a pivotal role in the reduction of their ranges and diversity throughout the late Quaternary, leaving only Varanus komodoensis in Indonesia as an isolated long-term survivor. The events over the last two millennia now threaten its future survival.


Varanus komodoensis

Dragon’s Paradise Lost: Palaeobiogeography, Evolution and Extinction of the Largest-Ever Terrestrial Lizards (Varanidae)

The conclusion from the above paper published in the Public Library of Science reads:

We conclude that Varanus komodoensis is the last of a clade of giant varanids that was once a ubiquitous part of Australasia, distributed from Australia across Wallacea, as far as Java. There is now only a relict population on Flores and a few small adjacent islands. Komodo dragon distribution has also retracted significantly on Flores itself; being present at Liang Bua in the uplands of West Flores until ∼2 ka, but now only occurring in isolated habitats along the northern and western coastal lowlands. The retraction is likely due to habitat loss and persecution by modern humans over the last few millennia and emphasizes the continuing threat of extinction to this, the last of the giant varanids.

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The armoured body and deadly claws of Varanus komodoensis

The Komodo dragon’s diet is wide-ranging and includes other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalo.The Komodo dragon will attack children and there have been deaths in the few villages on the island but it rarely attacks adults.

The most well-known adult victim is Baron Von Reding Biberegg, a Swiss man who disappeared on Komodo Island in 1974. Walking inland with a group to observe the dragons, the Baron was breathing heavily and stopping frequently. He told the other members to go on ahead while he sat down to rest. He may have fallen asleep or suffered a medical condition for when his party returned all that remained was his hat, his camera and a bloody shoe.

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Who is this idiot?  What could I have been thinking?

My thanks to Oscar Croshaw for directing me to the paper on Dragon’s Paradise Lost

    To read more about Komodo Island and the Komodo Dragon find  the book                    Archipelago: A Journey Across Indonesia, by Ian Burnet




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In Search of the Wallace hut on the island of Waigio

In June and July 1860, Alfred Russel Wallace sailed north from the island of Ceram in Maluku to the island of Mysool and then to the south coast of the island of Waigio near Papua in search of Birds of Paradise.

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Wallace’s Voyages around the Indonesian Archipelago (Ian Burnet)

From Alfred Russel Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago:

‘Leaving the village the next morning (July 1st) with a light wind, it took us all day to reach the entrance to the channel, which resembled a small river, and was concealed by a projecting point, so that it was no wonder that we did not discover it amid the dense forest vegetation which everywhere covers these islands to the water’s edge’.

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Searching for the ‘Wallace Hut’ on Waigio (Ian Burnet)

From Alfred Russel Wallace’s book The Malay Archipelago:

‘This part of Waigiou appears to consist of almost entirely of raised coral. The shores were a range of low limestone cliffs, worn out by water, so that the upper parts generally overhung. At distant intervals were little coves and openings, where small streams came from the interior; and in one of these we landed, pulling our boat up on a patch of white sandy beach. Immediately above was a large newly made plantation of yams and plantains, and a small hut, which the chief said we might have use of if it would do for me’.

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A sketch of Wallace working under his ‘dwarfs house’ from his book The Malay Archipelago

He spent from July to September 1860 in his hut and this is its description from The Malay Archipelago:

‘It was quite a dwarf’s house, just eight feet square, raised on posts so that the floor was four and half feet above the ground, and the highest part of the ridge only five feet above the floor. As I am six feet and an inch in my stockings, I looked at this with some dismay; but finding that the other houses were much further from water, were dreadfully dirty, and were crowded with people, I at once accepted the little one, and determined to make the best of it.

In the lower part I fixed up a small table, arranged my boxes, put up hanging shelves, laid a mat on the groundwith my wicker chair upon it, hung up another mat on the windward side, and then found that, by bending double and carefully creeping in, I could sit on my cahir with my head just clear of the ceiling. Here I lived pretty comfortably for six weeks, taking all my meals and doing all my work at my little table, to and from which I had to creep in a semi-horizontal position a dozen times a day; and after a few severe knocks on the head by suddenly rising from my chair, learned to accomodate myself to circumstances’.


The male Red Bird of Paradise performing its mating dance on Waigio

‘I began to think that we would not get this magnificent species. At length the fruit ripened on the fig tree close to my house and many birds came to feed on it; and one morning as I was taking my coffee a male paradise bird waa seen to settle on its top … the head back and shoulders are clothed with a rich yellow, the deep metal green colour of the throat extends further over the head, and the feathers are elongated on the forehead into two little erectile crests. The side plumes are shorter, but are of a rich red colour, terminating in delicate white points, and the middle tail feathers  are represented by two long rigid glossy ribbands, which are black, thin, semi-cylindrical and droop gracefully into a spiral curve’.

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The Wallace Hut as rebuilt by Seatrek Sailing Adventure and Flora and Fauna International (Jeffrey Mellefont)

This plaque at the Wallace Hut honours the memory of both Alfred Russel Wallace and of Tony Witten of Flora and Fauna International, who was instrumental in having it built.



Looking somewhat worse for wear (the hut that is) during our 2018 visit with Seatrek Sailing Adventures   (Richard Orr)

Find out more about the Alfred Russel Wallace, the Wallace Line and the region of Wallacea in Ian Burnet’s latest book – Where Australia Collides with Asia.

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Banda Island and the Banda Sea marine gardens

The Banda volcano (Gunung Api or Fire Mountain) is a perfectly conical mountain that rises 656 meters above sea level, and is about 3 kilometres wide. The nutmeg island of Banda has been a key location in the spice trade and historical eruptions have been recorded there since the late 1500s. These have been relatively low-level, although there have been the occasional larger eruptions with the lava flow reaching the coast as can be seen on this photograph.

Flying over Gunung Api

Gunung Api showing the most recent lava flow from 1988

After 97 years of dormancy a violent eruption shook the Banda islands in May 1988 as Gunung Api exploded. A column of ash billowed 3 kilometres into the air and tremors were felt every few minutes. On the day of the eruption, people began moving to further islands, eventually about 10,000 people of the 16,000 population living in the Banda islands were evacuated during the eruption, which finally ended in August 1988. The photograph below shows the Dutch church in Banda with the erupting Gunung Api and the huge ash column in the background.


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The Dutch Church in Banda with Gunung Api erupting in 1988


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The Banda Sea marine gardens

Marine scientists have monitored the coral colonization on 3 locations adjacent to the lava flow and in just 5 short years, the hardened andesitic flow has supported over 120 species of coral. A larger diversity and abundance than the adjacent reef not affected by lava.

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The Banda Sea marine gardens


Now, 30 years later, coral growth around the lava flows from Gunung Api not only matches, but exceeds the development that normally takes coral formations over 70 years to achieve, making it the most rapid growing coral in the world. The reason is probably the heat or mineralization generated by the lava flow.

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The Banda Sea marine gardens


Thanks to Carleen Devine for permission to use her excellent underwater photographs.

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Alfred Russel Wallace’s publication of ‘The Malay Archipelago’

This week we celebrate the 150 year anniversary of the publication of Alfred Russel Wallace’s book, The Malay Archipelago. This wonderful book is an account of the eight years he spent in British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies collecting natural history specimens, including his discovery of the biogeographic boundary between Asia and Australia which came to be called ‘The Wallace Line’, his descriptions of the region between Asia and Australia which came to be known as ‘Wallacea’, and the recognition from his studies of the fauna that Australia had collided with Asia.

The Malay Archipelago is undoubtedly the classic work on the flora, fauna and peoples of the area which is now called Malaysia and Indonesia. Based largely on four field journals which Wallace kept during the eight years he spent there between 1854 and 1862, it ranks as the greatest travel book on the region and for its analysis of the geographic distribution of animals, it is one of the most important natural history books of the nineteenth century.

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The main purpose of Wallace’s travels, as he states in the preface to his book, was to obtain natural history specimens for his private collection and to sell duplicates to museums and amateur naturalists through his agent in London. Altogether he collected an astonishing 125,660 specimens of natural history, mainly beetles, butterflies and birds from across the archipelago.

The Malay Archipelago was published in London on 9 March 1869 in two volumes of 1500 copies and it quickly sold out. A second edition of 750 copies came out in October that year and edition after edition followed.  A German translation came out in 1869 and a Dutch translation in 1870 and it is believed that the book has never been out of print.

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This is Charles Darwin’s original copy which was donated to the British Museum after his death

The Malay Archipelago was dedicated to Charles Darwin and he must have received an advance copy because he wrote to Wallace on 5 March 1869. ‘ I was delighted at receiving your book this morning. The whole appearance and the illustrations with which it is so profusely ornamented are quite beautiful … As for the dedication, putting quite aside how far I deserve what you say, it seems to me decidedly the best expressed which I have ever met.

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The dedication to Charles Darwin from the frontispiece of The Malay Archipelago

Wallace begins The Malay Archipelago with this evocative description of the region:

If we look at a globe or a map of the eastern hemisphere we shall percieve between Asia and Australia a number of large and small islands, forming a connected group distinct from those great masses of land, and having little connection with either of them. Situated upon the equator, and bathed with the tepid water of the great tropical oceans, this region enjoys a climate more uniformly hot and moist than almost any other part of the globe, and teems with natural productions which are elsewhere unknown. The richest of fruits and the most precious of spices are here indigenous. It produces the the giant flowers of the Rafflesia, the great green-winged Ornithoptera (princes among the butterfly tribes), the man-like orang-utan, and the gorgeous birds of paradise. It is inhabited by a peculiar and interesting race of mankind – the Malay, found nowhere beyond the limits of this insular tract, which has hence been named the Malay Archipelago.

What is interesting is that nowhere in The Malay Archipelago does Wallace mention his famous ‘Letter from Ternate’ or his essay ‘On the Tendency of Species to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type’ which he wrote in three days and sent to Charles Darwin from Ternate in March 1858. Stating that he “hoped the idea was as new to Darwin as it was to himself and that he believed it would supply the missing factor to explain the origin of species”. Of course the idea was not new to Darwin, although he had never published his theory,  and it was Wallace’s letter which precipitated the joint presentation to the Linnean Society in July 1858, while Wallace was still in the Dutch East Indies, of his and Darwin’s common theory on the Origin of Species.

Wallace Darwin Medal

The two sides of the Darwin-Wallace Gold Medal

The 50th Anniversary of this momentous event was celebrated in 1908 when Alfred Russel Wallace was presented the Darwin-Wallace Gold Medal. The President of the Linnean Society, in welcoming the delegates and guests on this occasion, said:—

“We are met together today to celebrate what is without doubt the greatest event in the history of our Society since its foundation. Nor is it easy to conceive the possibility in the future of any second revolution of Biological thought so momentous as that which was started 50 years ago by the reading of the joint papers of Mr. Darwin and Dr. Wallace, ‘On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties’ and on the ‘Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection’ …

Darwin and Wallace not only freed us from the dogma of Special Creation, a dogma which we now find it difficult to conceive of as once seriously held —they afforded a natural explanation of the marvellous indications of Design which had been the great strength of the old doctrine…

Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, We rejoice that we are so happy as to have with us today the survivor of the two great naturalists whose crowning work we are here to commemorate. Your brilliant work, in Natural History and Geography, and as one of the founders of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, is universally honoured and has often received public recognition, as in the awards of the Darwin and Royal Medals of the Royal Society, and our own medal in 1892. Today in asking you to accept the first Darwin-Wallace medal, we are offering you of your own, for it is you, equally with your great colleague, who created the occasion which we celebrate today.”







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