Alfred Russel Wallace

In chapter X111 of his autobiography "My Life" Alfred Russel Wallace describes his interests and development while staying at Bryncoch Farm for over a year in 1841/42. On his arrival he was 18 years of age. He and his brother came to Neath to partially survey and make a corrected map of the Parish of Cadoxton-juxta-Neath. The following extracts are taken verbatim from this chapter.

We lodged and boarded at a farmhouse called Bryn-coch (Red Hill), situated on a rising ground about two miles north of the town. The farmer, David Rees, a rather rough, stout Welshman, was also bailiff of the Dyffryn Estate..

Here we stayed more than a year, living plainly but very well, and enjoying the luxuries of home-made bread, fresh butter and eggs, unlimited milk and cream, with cheese made from a mixture of cow’s and sheep’s milk, having a special flavour which I soon got very fond of. In this part of Wales it is the custom to milk the ewes chiefly for the purpose of making this cheese, which is very much esteemed.

Another delicacy we first became acquainted with here was the true Welsh flummery, called here "sucan blawd" (steeped meal), in other places "llumruwd" (sour sediment), whence our English word "flummery". It is formed of the husks of the oatmeal roughly sifted out, soaked in water till it becomes sour, then strained and boiled, when it forms a pale brown sub-gelatinous mass, usually eaten with abundance of new milk. It is a very nourishing food, and frequently forms the supper in farmhouses.

A little rocky stream bordered by trees and bushes ran through the farm, and was one of my favourite haunts. There was one little sequestered pool about twenty feet long into which the water fell over a ledge about a foot high. This pool was seven or eight feet deep, but shallowed at the further end, and thus formed a delightful bathing-place. Ever since my early escape from drowning at Hertford, I had been rather shy of the water, and had not learned to swim; but here the distance was so short that I determined to try, and soon got to enjoy it so much that every fine warm day I used to go and plunge head first off my ledge and swim in five or sic strokes to shallow water. (the pool is still used by local youngsters)

During the larger portion of my residence at Neath we had very little to do, and my brother was often away...

I occupied myself with various pursuits in which I had begun to take an interest...

But what occupied me chiefly and became more and more the solace and delight of my lonely rambles among the moors and mountains, was my first introduction to the variety, the beauty, and the mystery of nature as manifested in the vegetable Kingdom.

At length , soon after we came to Neath, David Rees happened to bring in an old number of the Gardeners Chronicle , which I read with much interest, and as I found in it advertisements and reviews of books, I asked him to bring some more copies, which he did and I found in one of them a notice of the fourth edition of Lindley’s "Elements of Botany"....The price of 10s6d rather frightened me ,as I was always very short of cash...I ordered it at Mr. Hayward’s shop.

When at length it arrived, I opened it with great expectations, which were, however, largely disappointed, for although the latter part of the book was devoted to systematic botany, and all the natural orders were well and clearly described, yet there was hardly any reference to British Plants.

I asked Mr. Hayward if he knew of any book that would help me. To my great delight he said he had Loudon’s "Encyclopaedia of Plants" which contained all the British plants, and he would lend it to me, and I could copy the characters of the British species.

I therefore took it home to Bryn-coch, and for some weeks spending all my leisure time in first examining it carefully, finding that I could make out the genus and the species of many plants by the very condensed but clear descriptions..

This also gave me a general interest in plants, and a catalogue published by a great nurseryman in Bristol, which David Rees got from the gardener, was eagerly read..

But I soon found that by merely identifying the plants I found in my walks I lost much time in gathering the same species several times, and even then not being always quite sure that I had found the same plant before. I therefore began to form a herbarium, collecting good specimens and drying them carefully between drying papers and a couple of boards weighted with books or stones....My delight, therefore, was great when I was now able to identify the charming little eyebright, the strange looking cow-wheat and louse-wort, the handsome mullein and the pretty creeping toad flax..

Now, I have some reason to believe that this was the turning point of my life, the tide that carried me on, not to fortune but to whatever reputation I have acquired, and which has certainly been to me a never-failing source of much health of body and supreme mental enjoyment.

For more information about Alfred Russel Wallace, James Williams, has written a short biography, especially for us.

There is also a detailed page on Wikipedia.

Charles Smith, of Western Kentucky University has compiled the definitive site for The Work and Life of Alfred Russel Wallace

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