N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travels in Malaysia and the idea of creation of a biological station

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s travels in Malaysia and the idea of creation of a biological station


After the first expedition of the outstanding Russian humanist scientist and traveler N.N. Miklouho-Maclay to the jungles of the Malay Peninsula (December 1874-February 1875), his health deteriorated, and he also suffered from malaria and dengue fever.

Because of it, the second expedition deep into Malacca had to be postponed for several months. However, while in Johor Bahru (now the same name and the second most populous city after Kuala Lumpur), the Russian researcher did not waste time and put in order, systematized and made additional records in the materials of his previous trip, and also continued working on the manuscript «The Ethnology of the Papuans of Maclay Coast, New Guinea», which also became world famous and historical.

It was during a trip over the territory of the present-day Malaysia when the Russian scientist decided to establish a zoological (marine biological) station in the southern part of Malacca and put his long-standing idea into practice. Miklouho-Maclay dreamed of a number of biological stations over the world, connected between each other with roads or railways. They were supposed to become a haven for scientists and travelers: here they could conduct experiments and research, collect scientific material, and then move to the next station and so travel around the world. Miklouho-Maclay has revealed this idea in 1869 at the second Congress of Russian Naturalists and Doctors in Moscow. The idea was supported and the Congress decided to establish a biological station on the coast of Crimea, in Sevastopol. In 1871, the Sevastopol biological station was launched, becoming the first one in Russia and Europe and the third in the world. This station exists to this day, having turned into a major scientific institution – the A.O. Kovalevsky Institute of Biology of the South Seas of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Then, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay chose a small hill near Johor Bahru, which forms a promontory in the Johor Strait that separates Singapore from the Malay Peninsula, and asked Abu Bakar to sell it. The Sultan, with his Oriental courtesy, did not refuse the distinguished guest, but no papers they signed. Taking advantage of the postponed expedition, the traveler sketched the rules for using the station, drew a sketch of its building, and even gave a name to the station «Tempat Senang» (in Malay – «a place of rest»). The scientist was so prudent that he took care of the future of his creation. He even intended to put in his will that the heirs should not sell Tempat Senang, should preserve it as a scientific station and not cut down the surrounding trees.

Two months later, Abu Bakar informed the traveler that he could not sell the land, but only agreed to lease it for several years, which was not suitable for implementation of the plans of the Russian humanist scientist. Regardless of the result, the establishment of a biological station was an important goal in the life of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay. The station would later be established in Watsons Bay, Australia, in 1881. Noteworthy, it was N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s idea to establish the first biological station in the southern hemisphere and he actively participated in its construction. The Russian scientist have lived on the Fifth Continent for about 7 years and first arrived in Sydney in July 1878. This Australian city, because of its geographical location and many other circumstances, to the Russian researcher seemed convenient for a biological station. According to Miklouho-Maclay’s diary records, «It was a small cottage consisting of four workrooms where naturalists of all nationalities could work without embarrassing each other». Already in 1883, after returning from Russia, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay worked for two years at the biological station in Watsons Bay, where, in particular, he studied the coastal waters of the Australian Continent. The Russian scientist considered it as «an example of a completely international scientific institution that will have great significance for the biological sciences and their progress».

Now the district, where the station is located, is one of the most prestigious in Sydney. But the station is not used for its intended purpose – the building is rented out, but the memory of the Russian scientist is preserved. The station retains the monogram of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay.

Almost a century and a half has passed since the first expeditions of Miklouho-Maclay to Southeast Asia, as well as to the distant Island of New Guinea. During this time, the world has undergone huge changes, but the scientific and social feat of the Russian scientist and his rich heritage still serve for the benefit of friendship and cooperation around the world. The material collected by Miklouho-Maclay is still relevant to science and everyday life, and the Russian traveler’s accurate data of the inhabitants of Southeast Asia and Oceania has become the first true evidence of the population of this region. Moreover, the works and humanistic principle of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay in relation to international cultural and scientific cooperation were ahead of their time and are still relevant in the modern world.


The article is based on the book of an outstanding Russian ethnographer and leader of the Soviet ethnographic expeditions to the northeastern coast of New Guinea in 1971 and 1977, Daniil Tumarkin, “Miklouho-Maclay: dve zhizni “Belogo Papuasa””, and on the materials of the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation.