Galápagos Colonization & Ecuadorian Annexation (1807-1892) | Galapagos Unbound

Marooned in Paradise: Where Did the Rum Go?

Patrick Watkins ended up as the first resident of the Galápagos by accident and completely unwillingly. Watkins, an Irishman on a British ship, found himself marooned by his shipmates on Floreana in 1807—a story lost to history.

Watkins fended for himself by growing a garden and making friends with passing whalers. He eventually set up an exchange program in which he traded vegetables for rum (island survivor priorities).

Wiley Watkins, however, soon found Floreana too confining, and stole aboard and seized the whaling ship, the Black Prince, while the crew were herding up tortoises on shore. Watkins set sale with five sailors he had commandeered as “slaves,” though peculiarly(ish), Watkins alone was alive when the Black Prince landed in Guayaquil.

FUN FACT: Watkins, and his tale of subterfuge and drunken island hermitage, was the inspiration for the chapter “Hood’s Isle and the Hermit Oberlus” in Herman Melville’s Las Encantadas.

Who Let the Goats Out?

When the War of 1812 was going on, American Captain Porter, commanding the USS Essex, found his way to the Galápagos in 1813 to halt British privateers. Porter not only flushed his fleet by capturing British whalers, but he started using the mail housed in the post office barrel in Post Office Bay to gain intelligence about the nearby British fleet.

Porter’s action-filled presence in the Galápagos Islands accomplished several things: whaling operations shifted to an American endeavor over a British one; Herman Melville found inspiration for his seminal work Moby Dick, in which another Essex found its fate entangled with a sperm whale; Porter began to account for the different species of tortoises across the islands; and Porter introduced goats to Santiago Island.

Of all of Porter’s legacies, it’s his introduction of goats into the Galápagos that has had the most impact, as the invasive species went on to devastate many endemic Galápagos species.

Joining Up with Ecuador

No longer islands bereft at sea, Galápagos found itself annexed by Ecuador from Spain in 1832. The transfer also shifted their name to Archipiélago del Ecuador.

The Galápagos’ annexation brought in a wave of colonization attempts, the first of which was sponsored by Ecuadorian General José Villamil. The settlers—mostly political prisoners, convicts, and other societal outcasts—largely brought in invasive species while simultaneously eating all Galápagos tortoises in sight.

The Galápagos Islands were later renamed Archipiélago de Colón in 1892, though the name has never quite stuck.