"By Aeroplane to Pygmyland" Accounts of the 1926 Smithsonian-Dutch Expedition to New Guinea

Interpretive Essays

Browse Photos and Film

Expedition Source Material

About this Project

expedition source material

Journal of Matthew Stirling
Select a Date:
Select a location/subject:
Current Date and Location/Subject:  

May 1, 1926 : Albatross Camp (Base Camp) ; Mamberamo River

May 1st

We started early this morning and continued upstream safely navigating the rocks around Scholten Island. At 9 o'clock this morning we arrived opposite the old Pioneer camp. It is of course, now all covered with jungle and instead of the 40 foot {p. 43} bank which is normally in front of it, the whole site is now flooded with water in many places and the entire river edge is flush with the river surface. As soon as we arrived, I went in the motor boat with Dr. Hoffman, Mr. le Roux., Lieut. Jordan and six native soldiers. We went up the Otken River by the side of the old camp site and landed on the higher land across the stream from Pioneer Camp. With the soldiers cutting the way with their sabers we made a circle of about a mile in this area, but found it to consist of a couple of knife-edged ridges with low swampy ground between and quite unsuited for a camp site. We then went up the river about a mile to Havik {*} Island but found the island to be inundated. Returning along the west bank of the Mamberamo we found a small tributary stream about half way between Havik {*} Island and Pioneer Camp. We entered this stream in the motor boat and found the south side between the creek and the Mamberamo to be about three or four feet above the water, level, firm and dry. We also saw many signs of wild hogs and cassowary tracks in this vicinity. Leaving here, we again crossed the river and explored the land north of old Pioneer Camp, finding it alternately high and low near the river and a few hundred yards back, rising to a rather high ridge. We then explored the site of old Pioneer Camp. There were here and there low hummocks that were dry and in between swampy sump holes. Relics of the old camp in the shape of ruined drainage ditches, empty bottles and a few rusty tins, could be seen. But one small house was standing {p. 44} completely buried beneath creepers and climbing vines and only discovered by a soldier prying between the vines with his saber. The old camp was obviously not very habitable under present conditions. The current too, is much swifter on the east bank, and it is very difficult to land with boats there. All things considered, we chose the new site by the small creek on the west bank and named it Albatross camp. This being decided upon, at two o'clock this afternoon all of the Dyaks[,] Malays and soldiers were sent ashore and began the work of clearing the jungle from the new camp site. The current of the river is very swift and it is all the motor boat can do to cross, it being necessary to get close to the shore and then work upstream close inshore. The Dyaks and convicts thoroughly enjoy the work of clearing and it was a spirited sight to watch them at work. The Dyaks fell the largest trees with their kampilans {*} or sword-like knives. Two men on a tree on opposite sides make short work of the toughest forest giant. The trees are all bound together by parasite growth, vines and interlacing boughs. A dozen or more trees will be cut through but unable to fall. Finally the key tree, usually some particularly large one, will be cut through. A cracking sound is heard, then cries of Awas! Awas! (look out!) All of the choppers in the vicinity rush scrambling back; the big tree leans over, and then with a rending crash, gathering impetus, falls, carrying with a whole half acre of trees in a thundering roar to the accompaniment of triumphant shouts from the Dyaks and Malays. {p. 45} The men have all observed Dr. Van Leeuwen collect insects and he now has a whole camp full of volunteer assistants as every Dyak and Malay on seeing an interesting looking bug, immediately captures him and brings him to Van Leeuwen. Thus far no mosquitoes have put in their appearance at the embryo camp, but large numbers of very efficient wasps, disturbed by the clearing, make their presence felt at all too frequent intervals. At sunset work was discontinued and the workmen, not without difficulty brought back to the Albatross [V1: interlineated: ","] straining like a dog at leash on her two anchors midstream.

CreditsPermissionsMore Expeditions & Voyages