Breakfast at 8 Jungle at 9

Breakfast at 8 Jungle at 9 is a phrase from naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace’s 1854 letter to his mother. Wallace wrote the letter describing his daily work schedule when he was in Singapore. Using Singapore as a base he explore the late 19-century Malay Archipelago – which covered the Malaysia peninsula, east Malaysia, Indonesian Sumatra java and stretching all the way east to Papua New Guinea and Timor.

Wallace stayed in the Malay Archipelago for 8 years and collected thousands of specimens of insects, birds and mammals including hundreds of new species. His persistence also led to him to realise the theory of natural selection of which he and Charles Darwin are jointly credited with discovering.

Of all the great books, papers and articles that Wallace has written it is this correspondence he wrote to his mother on May 28, 1854 that resonated the most with the artist – especially the part describing his activity during the times of the day. A schedule he performed repeatly against the vigorous conditions of the tropical jungle in the 19 century.

I will tell you how my day is now occupied. Get up at half past five. Bath and coffee. Sit down to arrange and put away my insects of the day before, and set them safe out to dry. Charles mending nets, filling pincushions, and getting ready for the day. Breakfast at eight. Out to the jungle at nine. We have to walk up a steep hill to get to it, and always arrive dripping with perspiration. Then we wander about till two or three,  generally returning with about 50 or 60 beetles, some very rare and beautiful. Bathe, change clothes, and sit down to kill and pin insects. Charles ditto with flies, bugs and wasps; I do not trust him yet with beetles. Dinner at four. Then to work again till six. Coffee. Read. If very numerous, work at insects till eight or nine. Then to bed”

Specimens from this work were collected as early as 1909 and are archived by Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore. The artist photographed these specimens while working on a 12-metre entrance lobby mural art for the museum’s new building.


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