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The following extract of a letter from James Motley, Esq., will be read with much interest:-1 Kalanyan2 Banjermassing, S. Borneo, Jan. 10, 1857. Press of business only has prevented my writing to you; for I have been at this place quite alone, except my pupil (now my assistant), Mr. Van Heckeren 3; and having to combine the functions of engineer, overlooker, doctor, head carpenter, and cashier, and to snatch occasional days for surveying also when I could, my hands have been pretty full of work. Mr. Wynmalen, the administrator of the Company, is now however on the spot; the doctor is also here; and have a European assistant to superintend the carpenters and smiths; so I shall be able to go about exploring and surveying a little more, and this is not only the pleasantest part of my work, but the most productive in plants. Before I write anything else, I must thank you for the very valuable books you have been so kind as to send me: they were a treasure indeed. Also the microscope, which Mitten 4 has procured for me; it is a very good little instrument, and very manageable. With the Introduction to the 'Flora Indica'5 I was very much delighted, and above all with that most excellent chapter on variation of species. If a sort of Botanical Tract Society would only print it in a broad-sheet, and circulate it widely among the sect of hair-splitters, it might work some excellent conversions. It is there indeed well said, that a long course of observations in the Tropics must convince anybody of the inconvenience, almost even the absurdity, of hair-splitting. What magnificent sport would a true species-maker find here, among the Scitaminae, the smaller Scrophularineae, and even the Palms! to say nothing of the Ferns. Melastoma Malabathrica6 is good, I think, for twenty species at least, and some one or two Mephitidiae for nearly as many. I have, at this particular station, some beautiful opportunities of studying these variations, from the great varieties of soil, from saltmarshes, through freshwater-marshes, gravel, coal-rocks, green-stone, and metamorphosed coalrocks, up to the great range of serpentine hills which bound our coal-field. I have particularly observed the marked effect of this last soil (serpentine) upon the colour of flowers: a very great number of plants, having red or purple flowers, become pale or white on the serpentine. This is so marked with some species that I have never seen them white on other soils or red on the serpentine. Such is the case with a little Impatiens, an Ardisia, and a minute papilionaceous plant, whose name I do not know, but of all which you will receive specimens. Of Melastoma Malabathrica I send you specimens, in its serpentine state; it is strangely altered, if indeed it be the same, which I believe, because I have seen some intermediate states; it is reduced from a tall shrub to what gardeners call an alpine, of five or six inches high, with smaller leaves and much larger flowers; and the fruit, instead of being purple, is greenish-yellow: you will receive specimens of it. Among the Cruciatae also I believe you will find several of my plants, which belong to one species only but I have not been very willing to admit them into my collection as yet, because I should like to have the true species first. I am now very fast filling up the twelfth hundred, and I hope soon to send them off to you. From No. 1000 to No. 1100 you will find imperfect, but up to 1000 the series is perfect. One or more specimens are for you, numbered to correspond with what I retain here, so that I shall be able to identify them by the numbers whenever you have time enough to give me a list of the names. The eleventh hundred I kept as a receptacle for unique or imperfect specimens, until I could get others; so, many of the numbers I cannot fill up for you at present. Of nearly all the Orchideae, Fici, Hoyaceae, and many others, you will also receive little bits in spirits. I believe I have hit at last upon the right way of drying succulent plants7, and such as are apt to
come to pieces; and if nobody has thought of it before, it is really worth telling you. I had previously tried hot water, but that made the specimens mouldy; then a hot iron, but that is tedious, and it spoils the flowers; pricking the leaves all over with a penknife or a fork, so as to let the water escape, is a great assistance to the drying of Orchideae and Hoyas, but the specimens look unsightly after it; and chloride-of-calcium paper is too much trouble, except for an occasional pet specimen. I now simply put the plants into a large bottle with weak spirit for one or two nights; this effectually kills them, and an endosmosis goes on in the tissues, which breaks them up, and makes them dry almost as quickly as other plants. You will see whereabouts, in my collection, I began this system, by the much better preserved state of the Orchideae. I suppose that to have collected, in so small a space of country, nearly 1200 species, is to have been so far pretty successful; and yet I do not think I have much more than half yet, even in the region I have explored. The larger timber-trees I can get, of course, only accidentally, from time to time, the large climbers still more rarely, and the parasitical plants are hardly to be caught, except by cultivating them, which I do as far as I can. The marshes I have not half done with, and of the Salt-water Flora I have hardly one plant yet. To the mountains, properly speaking, I have only been for one or two days, and have not been much more than 1000 feet high, so there is enough still before me. What I could effect if I had nothing else to do I know not, but I believe that this island is verily the Brazil of the East. I have not found a Rhododendron yet; there must be some among the fine mountains I see before me where I write. I found one near Brune at about 700 feet; I think you have specimens of it; it was a weak, decumbent, radicant plant, beautiful enough, but not remarkable in its genus. Podostemaceae too I have not seen, but I fancy our brooks here are hardly rocky enough I may get some among the mountains. The Rafflesia8 eludes me, like a “Will o' the wisp;" I cannot but believe it is here, the natives have so accurately described it to me; and I have been shown three localities, all abounding in one large species of Cissus9, but I have not yet found it. Once indeed a friend sent me what he supposed was a Rafflesia, but it was a great Amorphophallus10, just as livid and as stinking as the real Simon Pure 11, and moreover very welcome to me, because I had not before seen it; but the a Rafflesia remains introuvable. If you have not heard of it before, it will interest you read a passage from a letter I received from Mr. Binnendijk12, the sub-curator of the Buitenzorg Garden 13 (a good friend of mine, and believe an excellent botanist), about the Rafflesia Arnoldi. It is dated August 9. “In the month of November of the past year, we have received from Bencoolen rotten female flowers of R. Arnoldi. I cut the flowers, and found the seeds just as Dr. Robert Brown 14 has drawn them in his book on the female flower and fruit of R. Arnoldi, 1844. I put these seeds under the bark of the Cissus scariosa, and now we have many buds of the Rafflesia, I believe fifty; three of these are as large as a goose's egg, and the reticular covering is burst in such a manner that you can see the whole laciniae of the perianthium. When we know more I shall write you. We now cultivate the Cissus in pots and tubs; and when they grow, we shall put the ripe seeds under the bark, and send them to Holland." This is very interesting, for if it can be done with the Rafflesia, it is probably practicable with the rest of the Rhizantheae; and I think I remember to have heard that even the Sicilian species is not well understood. I suppose I shall have much that is new in my Borneo collections, being nearly the first in the field; and I certainly mean you to have them first. I should be very much obliged if you could quickly send me the names, so far as possible; for I should like to send the living plants to the Gardens, and by letting the hortulanus15 mark off his desiderata on your list, I can do so very conveniently, and without waste of time or space. I send you drawings and descriptions as well as I could make them, of two plants which must be new. One is probably a Barclaya16, of which genus one only species is known, and that is not my plant. The other is an Aroideous plant; it will not come into any genus except Cryptocoryne, nor into that without a modification of the generic character, therefore I hope it is new. In a walk the other day I got two very interesting plants, One an aphyllous Burmanniacea17 (Gonyanthus, I think, but not the one described by Blume 18, as this has the flowers tipped with
yellow, and the root of one little egg-shaped tuber): I found very few plants, which were growing in loam on the side of a brook, in a dense wood. The other plant, which I believe is also new, was the Kayu Oulin, or Iron-wood (the Balean19 of Sarawak), in flower. The flowers are very curious; they seem to me something between Myristicaceae and Anonaceae, being trifaciate and hermaphrodite on the one hand, and on the other having a single one-seeded ovarium. Of the fruit I have seen only a decayed seed; it was a hard testa, about the size and shape of a turkey's egg, furrowed outside like the testa of a nutmeg. What remained of the albumen was black and rotten, but appeared to have been ruminated. I send you a scrap in this letter, as I believe no botanist has seen it before, and it is one of the celebrities of Borneo. I had not time to make a drawing while fresh, and from the dried plant you can easily get a better one than I could make when you receive the specimens. The wood is perhaps the strongest in the world. I tested a piece of it, one inch square, and forty-two inches between the supports, and it bore, suspended from the centre, 338 lbs. before it gave way: its deflection was then about eight inches. I believe this is the greatest strength recorded of any wood. The wood, when fresh cut, is light-brown, but becomes of a deep reddish-black, and finally quite black when old. It is used here by the natives almost universally for boats and houses, though very heavy. It is now becoming scarce, and difficult to procure in large pieces, except from the interior of the country where it must exist in vast forests. The trees are large and majestic, the trunk very straight and the bark thin and scaly. This wood appears to be almost indestructible. A sort of paling or stockade which surrounds the Sultan's house at Martapora, is known by undoubted evidence to have been standing a hundred and thirty years, without even the protection of paint, and it shows no signs of decay and the old Kraton, or palace, is still older. It is built entirely of Oulin, and the enormous posts and beams are all over elaborately carved, and have been formerly painted and gilt in arabesque; but this magnificent room is now neglected and disused, except on great occasions. All over the padangs or great grassy plains of this country the Oulin clumps stand up, white and ghastly mementos of the vast forests which once covered the whole district, and of which the oldest natives have no recollection; the stumps were there when they were young and to all appearance will be there for a hundred years longer. In many cases they are hollow, and then a large tree has frequently grown in the centre, and by its gradual increase split the Oulin into three or four pieces. In some places the padangs are covered with trees, which thus look as if they grew in huge flowerpots, and whose roots squeeze themselves in strange shapes through the cracks of their ancient pedestals, which have preserved then when young from the fires which, in the dry season, sweep roaring and crackling across the padangs, destroying every living leaf. The trees chiefly seen in the padangs are Vitex tomentosa, Emblica officinalis20, and some two or three others, whose bark, being very full of sap, resists the fire for a moment or two. That is enough, for the tempest of flame, fed only by grass, is gone in an instant; and when a tree has, by one accident or another, survived three or four years it is safe from such immediate destruction These trees however, after all, are destined to perish by fire. A bit of bark is killed or knocked off: perhaps a dead stick has rested against it, and given the fire time to kill the bark; or a buffalo rubs his horn, or a pig whets his tusk there. Then the verdict has gone forth; next year the bit of bare dead surface burns long enough to kill further the edges of the wound, which is next year, and every year, more and more extended till the tree stands up, as upon a stick, which gives way to the first storm, generally however alive to the last moment. Wherever a group of trees, other than of these few species, is seen on the padangs, it is a pretty sure sign of nearly bare rock, or gravel, too barren to carry Alalang (Imperata Koenigii) sufficiently thick to conduct the fire. The changes in the appearance of these vast grassy plains within a few days is indeed singular. After the long dry weather they are a light greenish-yellow; the fire passes, and leaves them black; in three days more they are the lightest and freshest of green again; and in ten days after the fire they are white as if a snowstorm had fallen upon them, with the waving plumes of flowers, which never appear except after fire, though it be delayed several years. Of course these fires destroy all that is above ground of thousands of sapling trees, but the roots remaining alive throw up fresh shoots; these in their turn are burnt off year after year, and again, year after year, fresh shoots are thrown out from the edge of the stool, which becomes at last a thin distorted disc of wood, fixed to the ground by innumerable
perpendicular fibres, and burnt perfectly smooth on the upper surface. These bare stools, sometimes eighteen inches in diameter, have a strange appearance immediately after the fire, but are soon again hidden by the grass. When next I write to you I hope it will be to announce to you that the specimens are shipped. I enclose in this letter some seeds of the new Barclaya; I have coated them with gum-arabic, and perhaps they may vegetate. I hear that some seeds have lately been sent home so very successfully.
1 This letter to William Jackson.Hooker (1785-1865) was published in Hooker's Journal of Botany & Kew Garden Miscellany (1857) pp 148-153 Transcribed and annotated by Martin Laverty, Feb. 2013 2 Misreading of Kalangan, a village south of Martapura, ESE of Banjarmassin. Thee Julia Hermina coal mine which Motley was developing was at Banjoe Irang V
Motley's location on an 1862 map
3 Misreading of van Heekeren. 4 William Mitten (1819-1906), bryologist 5 'Flora Indica: being a Systematic Account of the Plants of British India together with Observations on the Structure and Affinities of their Natural Orders and Genera' by J.D.Hooker and Thomas Thompson was published in 1855. This was further qualified 'Volume I. Ranunculaceae to Fumariaceae', but no more volumes were published. It referred to 'Mr. Motley's extensive Borneo collections' and 'Mr Lowe's small collection from the same island' as sources of comparative material in Kew's Hookerian Herbarium. (Mr Lowe would be Hugh Low (1824-1905)) 6 Melastoma malabathricum or Straits Rhododendron 7 Cf Floricultural Cabinet and Florists' Magazine (1857) p 169, Drying succulents for the herbarium 8 Rafflesia, giant flower, parasitical on a particular sort of vine root 9 Cissus, a genus of vine (but not the one associated with Rafflesia) 10 Amorphophallus, a type of arum 11 'The real Simon Pure', here, means 'the real thing [Rafflesia]' 12 Simon Binnendijk (1821-1883) was still assistant in 1866 when he and his boss, Teijsmann, published a catalogue of the plants at the Bogor gardens 13 The Buitenzorg Gardens, set up in 1817 at the palace in what is now known as Bogor, in the hills above Jakarta 14 Robert Brown (1773-1858), Scottish botanist and microscopist, discoverer of Brownian motion; Rafflesia arnoldi R.Br. was described by him in 1820 from material sent to the British Museum from Sumatra by Raffles 15 Johannes Elias Teijsmann (1808-1882) had been Curator (hortulanus) of the Buitenzorg Botanic Gardens at Bogor since 1831 16 Barclaya motleyi Hook.f was described to the Linnean Society on 20 th June, 1860, using a detailed botanical drawing and description sent by Motley (originals, at Kew; the Transactions of the Linnean Society carries an engraved version): the name that Motley had suggested, rotundifolia, was replaced by Hooker in honour of Motley 17 i.e. Burmanniaceae 18 K.L.von Blume (1796-1862), German botanist who worked in Java and became director of the Dutch national herbarium at Leiden. 19 Ulin (Indonesia) or bilian (E.Malaysia), is Eusideroxylon_zwageri 20 Emblica officianalis = Phyllanthus emblica or Indian gooseberry