Bates, Henry Walter (DNB01)
|←Bates, Harry||Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement
Bates, Henry Walter
|Bates, Thomas (1775-1849)→|
BATES, HENRY WALTER (1825–1892), naturalist on the Amazons, born at Leicester on 8 Feb. 1825, was grandson of Robert Bates, a dyer of hosiery in Leicester, and eldest son of Henry Bates (d. 1870), a small hosiery manufacturer in the same town. After some education at Creaton's boarding-school at Billesden, a large village about nine miles from Leicester, he was apprenticed in 1838 to Alderman Gregory, a hosier of Halford Street in his native town, his duties comprising the opening and sweeping-up of the warehouse between seven and eight in the morning. His scanty leisure he devoted to self-improvement at the liberally managed Mechanics' Institute of the town. His holidays when possible were spent in scouring Charnwood Forest for specimens with his brothers, for he was already an enthusiastic entomologist and collector. The first contribution he made to entomological literature was a short paper 'On Coleopterous Insects frequenting Damp Places,' dated Queen Street, 3 Jan. 1843, and printed in the first number of the 'Zoologist,' to which he became a not infrequent contributor. About 1845 he obtained a situation as clerk in Allsopp's offices at Burton-on-Trent, under the conditions of whicli be fretted a good deal. In the meantime, however, he had made the acquaintance of Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, then English master at the collegiate school, Leicester. The works of Humboldt and Lyell, and Darwin's recently published 'Journal' (1839), proved a bond of communion between them. They were both also enthusiastic entomologists, and were alike growing dissatisfied with their restricted collecting area. The friends began to discuss schemes for going abroad to explore some unharvested region, and these at length took definite shape, mainly owing to the interest excited by a little book by William H. Edwards on 'A Voyage up the River Amazon, including a residence at Pará' (New York, 1847). This led Mr. Wallace to propose to Bates a joint expedition to the Amazons, the plan being to collect largely and dispose of duplicates in London in order to defray expenses, while gathering facts towards solving the problem of the origin of species. They embarked at Liverpool in a small trading vessel of 192 tons on 26 April 1848, and arrived off Pará on 27 May. Bates made Pará his headquarters until 6 Nov. 1851, when he started on his long voyage to the Tapajos and the Upper Amazons, which occupied a period of seven years and a half. It was from Pará that he and Mr. Wallace in August 1848 made an excursion up the river Tocantins, the third in rank among the streams which make up the Amazons system, of the grandeur and peculiarities of which he wrote a striking account. In September 1849 he started on his first voyage up the main stream in a small sailing vessel (a service of steamers was not established until 1853), and reached Santarem, which he subsequently made his headquarters for a period of three years; but on this journey he pushed on to Obydos, about fifty miles further on. Here he secured a passage in a cuberta or small vessel proceeding with merchandise up the Rio Negro. The destination of the boat was Manaos on the Barra of the Rio Negro, a spot rendered memorable by the visit of the Dutch naturalists, Spix and Martins, in 1820. Here, some thousand miles from Pará, in March 1850 Bates and Wallace parted company, 'finding it more convenient to explore separate districts and collect independently.' Wallace took the northern parts and tributaries of the Amazons, and Bates kept to the main stream, which, from the direction it seems to take at the fork of the Rio Negro, is called the Upper Amazons, or the Solimoens. After sailing three hundred and seventy miles up the Solimoens, through 'one uniform, lofty, impervious, and humid forest,' Bates arrived on May-day 1850 at Ega. Here he spent nearly twelve months before returning to Pará, and thus finished what may be considered as his preliminary survey of the vast collecting ground which will always be associated with his name. In November 1851 he again arrived at Santarem, where, after a residence of six months, he commenced arrangements for an excursion up the little-known Tapajos river, which in magnitude stands sixth among the tributaries of the Amazons. A stay was made at the small settlement of Aveyros, and from this spot an expedition was made up the Cupari, a branch river which enters the Tapajos about eight miles above it. At this time he was thrown into contact with Mundurucii Indians, and was able to acquire much valuable ethnological information. The furthest point up the Amazons system that he visited (in Sept. 1857) was St. Paulo, a few leagues north east of Tabatinga and the Peruvian frontier.
From June 1864 until February 1859 Bates made his head-quarters 1,400 miles above Pará, at Ega, a place which he made familiar by name to every European naturalist as the home of entomological discoveries of the highest interest. At Ega he found five hundred and fifty new and distinct species of butterflies alone (the outside total of English species being no more than sixty-six). On the wings of these insects he wrote in a memorable passage, 'Nature writes as on a tablet the story of the modifications of species.' During the whole of his sojourn amid the Brazilian forests his speculations were approximating to the theory of natural selection, and upon the publication of the 'Origin of Species' (November 1859) he became a staunch and thoroughgoing adherent of the Darwinian hypothesis.
On 11 Feb. 1859 Bates left Ega for England, having spent eleven of the best years of his life within four degrees of the equator, among many discouragements, and to the detriment of his health, but to the permanent enrichment of our knowledge of one of the most interesting regions of the globe. During his stay in the Amazons he had learned German and Portuguese, had discovered over eight thousand species new to science, and by the sale of specimens had made a profit of about 800l. He sailed from Pará on 2 June 1859, and upon his arrival set to work at once upon his collections. His philosophic insight was first fully exhibited in his celebrated paper, read before the Linnean Society on 21 June 1861, 'Contri- butions to an Insect Fauna of the Amazon Valley. Lepidoptera : KeViconidæ' (Linnean Soc. Trans, vol. xxiii. 1862), described by Darwin as 'one of the most remarkable and admirable papers I ever read in my life.' It was this paper which first gave a due prominence before the scientific world to the phenomenon of mimicry, and with it a philosophic explanation which at once received Darwin's unconditional acceptance. 'I rejoice,' wrote the latter with characteristic sincerity, 'that I passed over the whole subject in the "Origin," for I should have made a precious mess of it ' (cf. Poulton, Colours of Aniynals, pp. 217 sq. ; Beddaed, Animal Coloration, passim ; Grant Allen on 'Mimicry,' Encyel. Brit. 9th ed.) Darwin strongly recommended Bates to publish a narrative of his travels, and with this object introduced him to the publisher, John Murray, who proved an invaluable friend. In January 1863 Murray issued Bates's 'Naturalist on the Amazons', which has been described as 'the best work of natural history travels published in England.' Apart from the personal charm of the narrative. Bates as a describer of the tropical forest is second only to Humboldt. His breadth of view saved him from the narrowness of specialism, and he was as far removed as possible from what Darwin called 'the mob of naturalists without souls.' The book was highly praised in the 'Revue des Deux Mondes' for August 1863, but the highest compliment it received was the remark of John Gould (whose greatest ambition had been to see the great river) to the author : 'Bates, I have read your book — I've seen the Amazons.' In April 1862, by the advice of numerous friends. Bates applied for a post in the zoological department at the British Museum, but the post was given to the poet Arthur William Edgar 0'Shaughnessy [q.v.], whose mind was a tabula rasa as far as zoological knowledge was concerned.
Early in 1864, upon the strong recommendation of Murray, Bates was chosen assistant secretary to the Royal Geographical Society. He would have preferred a scientific appointment, but he devoted himself assiduously to the work, and showed great administrative capacity, especially in connection with the removal of the society's premises in 1870 from Whitehall Place to 1 Savile Row. His services were referred to in the highest terms by Sir Roderick Murchison, and by his successors in the direction of the society's affairs. In addition to editing the 'Transactions,' he edited or supervised and prepared for the press a number of interesting volumes, among them Mrs. Somerville's 'Physical Geography' (1870), Belt's 'Naturalist in Nicaragua' (1873), Humbert's 'Japan and the Japanese' (translated by Mrs. Cashel Hoey, 1874), Warburton's 'Journey across the Western Interior of Australia' (1875), and Cassell's 'Illustrated Travels' (in 6 vols. 4to, 1875-6). He also wrote an introduction to the appendix volume of Whymper's 'Travels among the Great Andes.' He became F.L.S. in 1871, and was elected F.R.S. in 1881. He was elected president of the Entomological Society in 1869, and again in 1878. He was also a chevalier of the Brazilian order of the Rose. He published numerous papers in the Entomological Society's 'Journal,' in the 'Entomologist,' and in the 'Annals and Magazine of Natural History.' Large portions of his lepidoptera and other collections passed into the British Museum. Latterly, however, he appropriated his cabinets mainly to the coleoptera, and at his death his magnificent collection was sold intact to Mr. Oberthur of Rennes. The main results of his labours as a coleopterist are embodied in Godman and Salvin's 'Biologia Centrali-Americana.' Like Huxley and like Darwin, after returning from a long residence abroad. Bates was troubled by Carlyle's 'accursed hag,' dyspepsia. He died of bronchitis on 16 Feb. 1892, after having just completed twenty-eight years' valuable service as assistant secretary of the Royal Geographical Society. He married, in January 1861, Sarah Ann Mason of Leicester, who survived him with one daughter and three sons, the second of these an electrical engineer, the remaining two farmers in New Zealand. The Callithea Batesii and other entomological species commemorate his discoveries in the Amazons valley.
Bates was an assiduous student of the best literature. The selections from his letters (mainly to Darwin and Hooker), and a fragment of an incomplete diary, in the memoir by Mr. Edward Clodd, reveal an unmistakable literary gift. But he published only the one volume, 'The Naturalist on the Amazons,' from which, by Darwin's advice, he carefully removed all the 'fine' passages previous to publication. Stripped thus of superfluous ornament, the book takes a place between Darwin's 'Journal' and Wallace's 'Malay Archipelago' as one of the durable monuments of English travel literature. The narrative grips the reader at once and inspires him with an intense desire to visit the regions described, while the concluding meditation upon the exchange of a tropical for an English climate (with the countervail- ing advantages and disadvantages) merits a place of high honour among English prose extracts.
Photographic portraits are in the Royal Geographical Society's 'Transactions,' 1892 (p. 245), and in Edward Clodd's short memoir of Bates prefixed to the 1892 reprint (from the first edition) of 'The Naturalist on the Amazons' (frontispiece).
[Memoir of H. W. Bates by Edward Clodd, 1892; Royal Geogr. Soc. Trans. 1892, pp. 177, 190, 245 sq.; Times, 17 Feb. 1892; lllustr. London News, 27 Feb. 1892 (portrait); Clodd's Pioneers of Evolution, 1897, 124-7; Grande Encyclopédie, v. 755; A. R. Wallace's Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, and Darwinism; Darwin's Life and Letters, ii. 243 sq.]