Read CHAPTER XI - ANIMAL AND PLANT LIFE of A Visit to Java With an Account of the Founding of Singapore , free online book, by W. Basil Worsfold, on

Mr. Wallace and the Malay Archipelago Animals Birds General characteristics of plants European flora in mountains Darwin’s explanation Fruits History of cinchona introduction Mr. Ledger’s story Indiarubber.

No less than eight years (1854 1862) were employed by Mr. Wallace, the naturalist, in “the study of man and nature” in the Malay Archipelago. During this period he collected a vast number of specimens of animals and plants, and, some years after his return to England, gave the results of his travels to the world in his “Malay Archipelago.” The general conclusions which Mr. Wallace was led to form are of such interest, that I shall endeavour very briefly to lay them before the reader.

In the first place, the evidence supplied by the nature of the distribution of the various plants and animals is such as to point to the belief that the whole Archipelago is composed of fragments of two separate continents. The Malay islands must, therefore, be divided into two groups. Of these groups the first, roughly consisting of Sumatra, Java, Bornéo, and the Philippines, once formed part of the continent of Asia; while in the second, the Celebes, Flores, Timor, the Moluccas, and New Guinea, we have fragments of a great Pacific continent, which has been gradually and irregularly broken up. The inhabitants of the former region, to which Mr. Wallace gives the name Indo-Malayan, are Malays; those of the latter, the Austro-Malayan, are Papuans.

Secondly, the intervening seas, which surround the various islands which have now taken the place of these former continental tracts, have been formed by the subsidence of land from which the foundations have been withdrawn by the continued activity of a long volcanic chain which traverses the Archipelago from end to end. And therefore, strange as it may seem at first sight, the fertile island of Java, with its rich plains and abundant vegetation so unlike the traditional barrenness of a volcanic region is the work of this subterranean energy.

“The island of Java contains more volcanoes, active and extinct, than any other known district of equal extent. They are about forty-five in number, and many of them exhibit most beautiful examples of the volcanic cone on a large scale, single or double, with entire or truncated summits, and averaging 10,000 feet high."

Thirdly, not only did Sumatra, Java, and Bornéo once form part of the continent of Asia, but the subsidence of land which caused their separation from the continent, and from each other, is of very recent date recent, that is, in the scale of geological eras. This is shown by the fact that the separating seas are so shallow that to-day ships can anchor anywhere in them. We shall, therefore, expect a strong similarity, almost amounting to a complete identity, to exist between the animals and plants of Sumatra, Java, and Bornéo and those of Southern India, Burmah, and the Malay Peninsular. Such, according to Mr. Wallace, is the fact.

“The elephant and tapir of Sumatra and Bornéo, the rhinoceros of Sumatra and the allied species of Java, the wild cattle of Bornéo, and the kind long supposed to be peculiar to Java, are now all known to inhabit some part or other of Southern Asia.... Birds and insects illustrate the same view, for every family and almost every genus of these groups found in any of the islands occurs also in the Asiatic continent, and in a great number of cases the species are exactly identical.”

In addition to the rhinoceros and wild cattle mentioned above, the wild animals of Java include the jackal, the tiger, and several species of monkeys. Snakes and alligators are also to be found in the island. There is a good supply of domestic animals with the exception of sheep. This useful animal was so entirely unknown to the natives, that when the Dutch attempted to introduce it into the island it was necessary to find a name for it. It was accordingly called a “Dutch goat;” nor is there at the present time any other term in the Malay language by which the animal can be designated. I have already spoken of the utility of the Javan horses. They are imported in large numbers from the neighbouring island of Sandalwood, and great attention is being paid to the production of country-breds. An attempt is also being made to improve the breed by the importation of English and Australian thoroughbreds. I was also informed that in recent years a number of cattle had been introduced from India. As in most Eastern countries, the ox is used in Java for drawing carts and for other agricultural purposes; but the buffalo is the most valuable of all animals to the natives, by whom it is especially employed in the cultivation of the ricefields. The only dangerous animal is the tiger, and the sport of tiger-hunting still forms one of the recreations of the native princes.

The birds of Java are distinguished for their variety and for the rich plumage with which they are adorned. During a single month passed in Ardjoeno, a mountain situated in the regency of Paseroean, in the east of the island, Mr. Wallace collected ninety-eight species of birds. Among these he mentions the Javan peacock, of which he obtained two specimens more than seven feet long; the jungle fowl (Gallus furcatus); the jungle cock (Gallus bankiva), called by the natives bekeko; various species of woodpeckers and kingfishers; a hornbill (Buceros lunatus) more than four feet long; and a “pretty little lorikeet (Loriculus pusillus) scarcely more than as many inches.” When he visited the west of the island, he found still more valuable specimens in the Preanger regencies, twenty miles south of Buitenzorg. Among the mountains of this neighbourhood, and at an elevation of 4000 feet, he collected in a fortnight forty species of birds, “almost all of which were peculiar to the Javanese fauna.” In these were included the “elegant yellow-and-green trogon (Harpactes Reinwardti); the gorgeous little minivet flycatcher (Pericrocotus miniatus), which looks like a flame of fire as it flutters among the bushes; and the rare and curious black-and-crimson oriole (Analcipus sanguinolentus).” Mr. Wallace also speaks of the rare and beautiful butterflies which he captured here. In particular he secured a specimen of the calliper butterfly, “remarkable for having on each hind wing two curved tails like a pair of callipers.”

It is in this neighbourhood that the large Javan wood-pigeons which I saw at Tji Wangi are to be found. As they are excellent eating, they are shot by the planters, though it is often difficult to get within range of them owing to the height of the rosamala trees in which they settle.

There are certain characteristic developments of plant-life which arrest the attention of the traveller in Java.

In the towns he cannot fail to be impressed with the large-leaved and gorgeously coloured shrubs which surround the houses of the European residents; he will notice, too, that the streets and open spaces are planted with waringin and tamarind trees, and when he travels into the interior he will find that the roads which traverse the island are still lined by the same trees. Of these the former is a species of ficus; the latter, the tamarind, has been introduced from Madagascar. Towards the end of the year it is covered with orange blossoms, which finally develop into a somewhat acid fruit. In the country the dwellings of the Javan peasants are almost universally surrounded by palms, bananas, and bamboos. While the palms and bananas supply the native with fruit, from the bamboo he has learnt to make numberless useful articles, ranging from a house or a boat to a drinking-vessel or a musical instrument. Cooking-utensils, baskets, hats, and all manner of tools are constructed out of the material provided by this useful tree. While I was staying at a friend’s house at Weltevreden I had a singular illustration of the variety of uses to which the bamboo could be put by observing the method of cutting the grass adopted by a native gardener. He was squatting on the ground, and had by his side about half a dozen sections into which he had split some bamboo rods about two feet in length. These he rapidly passed over the grass backwards and forwards with a semicircular sweep, and their sharp edges mowed the grass down as cleanly as the blade of a scythe. In this way he cleared a space around him, and, gradually advancing, eventually trimmed off the whole plot of grass.

The tropical forests, again, are characterized by a remarkable uniformity and sombreness which gives them an aspect quite unlike that of European woods. The vast cylindrical trunks of the great forest trees, rising like pillars from the midst of ferns and lesser growths, support a lofty roof of leaves. Beneath this screen innumerable forms of plant-life develop without let or hindrance, and the whole abundant foliage is bound into an inextricable mass by parasites and creepers. On every side the eye is met by one monotonous tone of verdure, for the supremely favourable conditions for plant-life which obtains tend to produce a total effect, not of variety, but of sameness.

One of the most interesting facts connected with the Javan flora is the appearance of European flowers upon the higher levels of the mountains. The phenomenon is the more remarkable in the face of the consideration that the seeds of such flowers are so heavy, and the distance from their present habitat so great, as to negative the supposition that they have been carried by the wind; nor can their presence be satisfactorily referred to the agency of birds.

At first sight, therefore, the existence of flowers such as the violet, the buttercup, and the honeysuckle in an island south of the equator, and surrounded by vegetation of a totally different order, appeared to be so inexplicable that the hypothesis of a separate and distinct origin was advanced. A more satisfactory explanation has, however, been furnished by Darwin, which is now generally accepted. Very briefly, this is as follows. It is supposed that at the time of the glacial epoch the depression of temperature was so great as to admit of the prevalence in the tropics of forms of plants now peculiar to the temperate regions of the north. As the heat increased, such plants retreated from the tropics, for the most part northwards, but not exclusively. Following the snow-line, they also climbed to the cool heights of the lofty mountains of Central India and of Abyssinia, and even crossed the equator. They now linger upon the summits of the Javan mountains, and furnish by their presence an additional proof of the original union of the western islands of the Archipelago with the continent of Asia.

During his stay at Buitenzorg, Mr. Wallace ascended the mountains Pangerango and Gede. He describes this expedition as “by far the most interesting incident” of his visit to Java, and gives a full account of the various European plants which he found growing at different altitudes. In particular he mentions the royal cowslip (Primula imperialis), “which is said to be found nowhere else in the world but on this solitary mountain summit,” and the stem of which he found sometimes growing to a height of over three feet. The list of families of European plants growing upon Pangerango and Gede given by another scientific traveller, Mr. Motley, includes, among others, such familiar names as the violet, the buttercup, the primula, the lily of the valley, the honeysuckle and the wood-sorrel. I have already mentioned the fact that it is found possible to grow all European plants (but not fruits) in the mountain garden which is established on the slopes of Gede, and which forms part of the Government gardens.

Of the tropical fruits in general I am inclined to think that their excellences have been very much over-estimated. There is nothing to equal or approach a fine jargonelle pear, a peach, or hothouse grapes. The orange, cocoanut, banana, and mango are so well known as to need no special description. In addition to these, the commonest fruit are the pomelo, the mangosteen, the duku, the rambutan, and the durian. The pomelo is six or seven inches in diameter, with a smooth green exterior, not unlike that of a water-melon; the fruit is pink in colour, and easily breaks up into sections. It tastes like a very dry and rather acid orange, and the peel makes an excellent bitter in sherry. The rambutan resembles a horse-chestnut in size and appearance, except that its shaggy exterior is red instead of green. The duku and mangosteen, on the other hand, are smooth and green, and in other respects resemble a walnut. All three, rambutan, duku, and mangosteen, provide a gelatinous substance with a delicate acid flavour. The durian is as large as a cocoa-nut, and its exterior is armed with spikes; the fruit is soft and pulpy, tasting like a custard in flavour, but it has a horrible smell, and possesses strong laxative qualities. Mr. Wallace devotes several pages to a description of its various qualities, remarking that “to eat durians is a new sensation, worth a voyage to the East to experience.” Credat Judaeus non ego. There is also a species of green orange, with a very thin skin and fine acid flavour, to be obtained in Java.

A general view of the products of the island has already been given in Junghuhn’s table in Chapter II., and some of the more important have been subsequently described at length. Any account of the plants of Java would, however, be incomplete without a narrative of the introduction of cinchona into the East Indies.

This plant, from the bark of which quinine is obtained, is a native of Peru, and for a long time the Peruvian Government jealously maintained exclusive possession of it. Forty years ago, the Dutch Colonial Government despatched Haskarl, one of the officials of the Buitenzorg gardens, to Peru for the purpose of procuring cinchona seed. He succeeded in obtaining some seed of a very inferior quality, and the plantations produced from it were practically useless. In 1866, however, both the British and Dutch Indian Governments purchased small quantities of seed from Mr. Charles Ledger. From this seed the very valuable plantations of Java and Ceylon have been propagated. I have already described the method of cultivating Cinchona Ledgeriana adopted by the planters, and how advantage is taken of the extreme liability of the cinchona plant to hybridization. The manner in which the seed was secured forms an interesting episode in the history of scientific botany. The story is told by Mr. Ledger in a letter to his brother published in the Field of Fe, 1881, in which it will be seen that these seeds were obtained at the cost of the life of Manuel, the naturalist’s faithful Indian servant.

“While engaged in my alpaca enterprise of 1856, a Bolivian Indian, Manuel Tucra Mamami, formerly and afterwards a cinchona bark-cutter, was accompanying me with two of his sons. He accompanied me in almost all my frequent journeys into the interior, and was very useful in examining the large quantities of cinchona bark and alpaca wool I was constantly purchasing. He and his sons were very much attached to me, and I placed every confidence in them. Sitting round our camp-fire one evening, as was our custom after dinner, conversing on all sorts of topics, I mentioned what I had read as to Mr. Clement R. Markham’s mission in search of cinchona seeds. Now, Manuel had been with me in three of my journeys into the cinchona districts of the Yungas of Bolivia, where I had to go looking after laggard contractors for delivery of bark. It was while conversing on the subject of Mr. Markham’s journey, and wondering which route he would take, etc., that Manuel greatly surprised me by saying, ’The gentleman will not leave the Yungas in good health if he really obtains the rogo plants and seeds.’ Manuel was always very taciturn and reserved. I said nothing at the time, there being some thirty more of my Indians sitting round the large fire. The next day he reluctantly told me how every stranger on entering the Yungas was closely watched unobserved by himself; how several seed-collectors had their seed changed; how their germinating power was destroyed by their own guides, servants, etc. He also showed me how all the Indians most implicitly believe, if, by plants or seeds from the Yungas, the cinchonas are successfully propagated in other countries, all their own trees will perish. Such, I assure you, is their superstition. Although there are no laws prohibiting the cinchona seed or plants being taken out of the country, I have seen private instructions from the prefect in La Paz ordering strictest vigilance to prevent any person taking seed or plants out of the country. More than half a dozen times I have had my luggage, bedding, etc., searched when coming out of the valley of the Yungas.

“You are aware how I am looked upon as a doctor by the Indians. Well, one day I said, ’Manuel, I may some day require some seed and flowers of the famous white flower, Rogo cascarrilla, as a remedy; and I shall rely upon you not deceiving me in the way you have told me.’ He merely said, ’Patron, if you ever require such seed and flowers, I will not deceive you. And I thought no more about it.

“Manuel was never aware of my requiring seed and leaves for propagating purposes; he was always told they were wanted to make a special remedy for a special illness. For many years, since 1844, I had felt deeply interested in seeing Europe, and my own dear country in particular, free from being dependent on Peru or Bolivia for its supply of life-giving quinine. Remembering and relying on Manuel’s promise to me in 1856, I resolved to do all in my power to obtain the very best cinchona seed produced in Bolivia.

“His son Santiago went to Australia with me in 1858. In 1861, the day before sending back to South America Santiago and the other Indians who had accompanied me there as shepherds of the alpacas, I bought 200 Spanish dollars, and said to him, ’You will give these to your father. Tell him I count on his keeping his promise to get me forty to fifty pounds of rogo cinchona (white flower) seed. He must get it from trees we had sat under together when trying to reach the Mamore river in 1851: to meet me at Tacna (Peru) by May, 1863. If not bringing pure, ripe rogo seed, flowers, and leaves, never to look for me again.’

“I arrived back in Tacna on the 5th of January, 1865. I at once sent a message to Manuel, informing him of my arrival. At the end of May he arrived with his precious seed. It is only now, some twenty-four years after poor Manuel promised not to deceive me, manifest how faithfully and loyally he kept his promise. I say poor Manuel, because, as you know, he lost his life while trying to get another supply of the same class of seed for me in 1872-3. You are aware, too, how later on I lost another old Indian friend, poor Poli, when bringing seed and flowers in 1877.

“I feel thoroughly convinced in my own mind that such astonishingly rich quinine-yielding trees as those in Java are not known to exist (in any quantity) in Bolivia. These wonderful trees are only to be found in the Caupolican district in Eastern Yungas. The white flower is specially belonging to the cinchona ‘rogo’ of Apolo.

“You will call to mind, no doubt, the very great difficulties you had to get this wonderful ‘seed’ looked at, even; how a part was purchased by Mr. Money for account of our East Indian Government for L50 under condition of 10,000 germinating. Though 60,000 plants were successfully raised from it by the late Mr. McIver, I only received the L50.

“The seed taken by the Netherlands Government cost it barely

“Such, then, is the story attaching to the now famous Cinchona Ledgeriana, the source of untold wealth to Java, Ceylon, and, I hope, to India and elsewhere. I am proud to see my dream of close on forty years ago is realized; Europe is no longer dependent on Peru or Bolivia for its supply of life-giving quinine.”

Before closing this chapter I may mention that there is a considerable plantation of gutta-percha trees in the horticultural garden at Buitenzorg. The best producer of gutta-percha, Pelaguium (isonandra) Gutta, grows nowhere on the island naturally, but seeds were obtained from two specimens of this plant which had been placed in the botanical garden, and the plantation was established some years ago at the suggestion of Dr. Treub. In view of the recent development of electrical engineering and the increased demand for indiarubber generally which has arisen in the last few years, the fact that an unlimited supply of this valuable plant can be obtained in Java is one of some importance to the commercial world.