RECORD: [Wallace, A. R.] 1856. A new kind of baby. Chambers's Journal (ser. 3) 6 (151): 325-327.

REVISION HISTORY: Body text helpfully provided by Charles H. Smith from his Alfred Russel Wallace Page

[page] 325


Not a newly-born infant, but a really new baby, or, to speak as a naturalist, a new species of baby. How this strange phenomenon came into my possession, I shall presently relate: I now wish to give the public, and particularly the better-half of it, some account of the baby itself, its appearance and habits. I know not the little innocent's age: it may have been a few days, or a few weeks, or even months old when I first obtained it. The only guide to its age is, that it had not a tooth in its head. Two days afterwards, however, it cut its two lower teeth, and it was exactly a month more before the two corresponding upper teeth began to appear. From these dates, no doubt its age may be speculated on by those learned in such matters; but, as I am a bachelor, and am not a doctor, I have not myself the most remote conception. It must always

[page] 326

be remembered, too, that as this is a new baby, it is not to be supposed that it cuts its teeth at the same time, and in the same manner, as common babies.

For the same reason, its size can be no proof of age—I have a suspicion, however, that it is a baby of the smallest size, being not quite a foot and a half long; but then, as it has very short legs, its body is larger in proportion, and its arms are as much too long as its legs are too short. In colour, it is a dirty brown—something of the colour one may imagine to be produced by a mixture of all the races existing upon the earth, which makes me think it must be a descendant of some very primitive people. Its hands and feet, and mouth and eyes, are, however, much paler, and very much like those of any other baby; but its greatest peculiarity is its long red hair, remarkably long for so young an infant, which has a propensity to stand out on end like that of an electrified doll, making the little creature look always frightened, which I am sure it is not, as it is a sweet-tempered baby, and very seldom cries but when it wants to be cleaned or fed. I hardly know how to describe the personal appearance of the infant prodigy, so as to give a proper idea of its numerous peculiarities, without making it appear less pleasing and pretty than it really is; but the attempt must be made. The general appearance of its head is very much the same as that of other infants, except the red hair, which is certainly a rare phenomenon. Its face, however, is remarkable for a very large mouth and a very small nose, rather more depressed than in the little children of the Earthmen tribe now exhibiting in London. Its arms, as before mentioned, are very large; as are also its fingers, which, however, in other respects, present nothing peculiar. Its little short legs have a strange facility of motion; they are either held aloft in the air, or bent back against the sides of the body, or its toes are put into its mouth for want of something else to suck; but I believe other infants besides this do the same thing. Its feet, however, are most remarkable in having very long toes, and a little thumb to them instead of a great toe. The skin of its neck, breast, and stomach is quite smooth; but, strange to say, all its back and the outside of its arms and legs are covered with long soft red hair. 'Why,' exclaims the reader, 'the creature must be a monkey!' But I beg leave entirely to repudiate the suggestion. The baby in question has no sign of a tail; and if you could see its expressive countenance while slowly eating its soft rice, you would scorn the insinuation as much as I do.

Another peculiarity which this interesting infant possesses, is an appearance of extreme old age. To look at it, you can hardly believe that it is only just cutting its teeth, and is quite incapable of going alone, or of eating anything but what is put into its mouth by other people. The little wrinkles about its mouth and eyes give it an air of precocious wisdom, and the workings of its countenance express so many feelings and passions, as seem quite incompatible with a state of helpless infancy. Still more extraordinary in its possession alike of strength and weakness to an unparalleled degree. It cannot turn itself over on the ground; it is incapable of moving an inch; and yet the most active sailor could not hold on to a rope with so much tenacity, and for so long a time. It will sometimes hang so for an hour together, and seem quite contented; and I generally give it some exercise of this sort once a day to keep it in health. Its little, long fingers are bent at the ends, and even its nails turn inwards, as if formed expressly for hanging on to something, which it is always wanting to do. It sleeps with its hands tight clutched, or sometimes grasping its own hair. There is nothing, in fact, it likes to catch hold of so much as hair. It has a very passion for hair; and if, while feeding it, I inadvertently approach too close, it seizes the opportunity, grasps hold of my whiskers as if it would tear them out by the roots; and when, after some difficulty, and many twinges, I have made my escape, it generally sets up a scream, which can only be stopped by immediately administering a mouthful of rice.

Another thing that would lead one to think it must have come of decent parents, is its love of being clean. If I hear a scream at any time other than eating-time, I am sure the poor creature is dirty, and wants to be washed. And how it enjoys its washing, and being rubbed dry, and having its hair brushed! It never screams or kicks, as do many naughty children under the wholesome operation, but lies perfectly still, however long it may take, and seems rather sorry when it is over.

In my bachelor establishment, I was, of course, put to some shifts to provide for such an unexpected visitor. I contrived a pap-bottle with a wide-mouthed phial, till I found the baby would eat out of a spoon. A small box did duty for a cradle; but as I was obliged to be out a good deal in the day, and the nights were rather chilly, I purchased a little monkey, to be a companion to my abnormal infant, and to keep it warm at night. It might not have been quite proper, but necessity has no law, and I am glad to say the baby was much pleased with little Jacko, and they became excellent friends. The baby, however, was a little exacting, and would try to keep Jacko always with it, seizing hold of his hair and grasping his tail; and when all was of no avail, and the monkey, by desperate efforts, succeeded in escaping, screaming violently with rage. Still, however, they got on very well together; and after the baby had been fed, Jacko would always come and sit upon its stomach, and pick off any little bits of rice that were left about its mouth, or even put in his hand and pull out whatever baby had not quite swallowed.

But, alas! milk was not to be procured, and a diet of rice and water was not sufficiently nourishing for so small an infant. It pined away, and suffered from a complication of diseases—from diarrhœa or dropsy. I once gave it a little castor-oil, after which it recovered for a time; but a relapse again occurred, and, after lingering some weeks, death terminated its sufferings.

I had indulged hopes of sending this infant prodigy to England, where it might have rivalled in popularity the ape-like Aztecs, and the public would have been enabled to judge of the accuracy of my statements. Such hopes, however, being now entirely frustrated, and it being highly probable that neither I nor any one else will ever look upon its like again, I shall simply narrate the circumstances of its discovery, and leave every one to form his own opinion.

I was walking in search of game in one of those vast primeval forests which clothe so large a portion of the tropics; no human habitation or sign of culture was near; parasitical plants swarmed upon the trees, and twisted climbers hung in festoons from their loftiest branches, or, trailing on the ground, helped, with prickly canes, to form impenetrable barriers. All was sombre and silent. No birds fluttered on the branches, and but rarely an insect's wing glittered in a stray gleam of sunshine. Suddenly I heard a rustling in the topmost branches of a lofty tree. I gazed upward, and for some time could not discover its cause; but after moving right and left, so as to see in succession every part of the tree, I discovered a large red animal walking along a branch, in a semi-erect posture. Without losing a moment, I fired a ball, which apparently only served to make the creature move more rapidly. It passed along till the branch became so slender as to bend beneath its weight, when its long arms enabled it to seize the adjacent bough of another tree. This with great strength it pulled towards it, till it had hold of a portion sufficiently thick to bear its weight, when it swung itself across with surprising

[page] 327

agility, and continued its journey to the opposite branches, where it succeeded in passing on to a third tree in the same manner. I now fired again, and with decisive effect, for in a sudden attempt to escape more rapidly, it lost its hold, and fell with a crash to the earth. I of course imagined that it was dead; but what was my surprise, before I could reach it, to see it rise from the ground, and grasping with its large hands a small tree close to it, begin to ascend again with great rapidity. It had reached a considerable height before I could fire again, when it again fell to the ground, this time mortally wounded, and soon breathed its last. It was then that I discovered, close to where it had first fallen, the singular infant whose eventful history I have here recorded, lying half buried in a sand-hole, to which my attention was drawn by a half-stifled little scream. Some water being near, I washed the mud out of its mouth and eyes, and discovered a marvellously baby-like and innocent-looking little creature, apparently quite unhurt by its fall, and which clung to me with a most amazing tenacity. I had killed the mother, so I determined, if possible, to save her offspring; with what success has been already seen.

Some natives of the country brought the dead body to the place where I was living. It was three feet six inches high, and its outstretched arms were six feet across. The natives called it a 'mias,' but the Malays say it is an 'orang-outang,' which means 'man of the forest.'

This document has been accessed 4047 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2012-. Wallace Online. (

File last updated 19 August, 2014