The First Inhabitant?
One of the first documented mortals to have come to live on the Galapagos Archipelago was Patrick Watkins, exactly 86 years after Robinson Crusoe lay stranded on other uncharted shores for thousands of marveled readers across Europe. Crusoe was the prototypical colonizer, a man, steadfast in character, who appropriated the unknown without looking back, whose intelligence was measured by how he took advantage of a given situation (such as being stranded on an island for several decades), no matter how difficult it presented itself. Robinson Crusoe’s adventures are an undeniable metaphor of adaptation as a means of treading through the challenges of estrangement and seclusion in order to make them beneficial to one’s survival. We might find the seeds of evolutionary thought planted here, in fictional terms, a ways before the advent of Charles Darwin… although the concept remains rudimentary. In more practical terms, colonization, the obvious end result of the Age of Exploration, certainly became quite an exciting “dream” for the Western mind, and Daniel Defoe’s novel became the world’s most popular read.
Patrick Watkins was Galapagos’ Crusoe (see next page). The disheveled Irish redhead dominated the wilds of Floreana like a crazed, drunken lunatic, proclaiming himself an emperor and adopting the nickname of The Fatherless Oberlus (due to his physical aspect, however, people opted to refer to him as “The Iguana”). He remained on the island from 1805 to 1807 and traded produce he was able to farm near Floreana’s Black Beach with visiting whalers, in exchange for rum and cash. He had enough fish in the sea and tortoise meat on land to last one man a good 20 years of Galapagos reclusion. But, in the end, the situation got the better of him. Patrick Watkins fled the Encantadas, unable to successfully adapt to their hostility, just as no other human being had succeeded before.
From the time Tomás de Berlanga discovered the Galapagos for the West in 1534 until Watkins’ sojourn in 1805, nobody had made these islands their rightful home. Berlanga himself found not a soul on them but monstrous iguanas and reptilian mastodons whose “saddlebacks” would be the inspiration behind the name “Galapagos” (or The Saddles, in English) on late XVI century maps. View Galapagos maps
Colonial history here is a surprisingly recent affair. The islands have lived in isolation from humanity for millennia. They are perhaps the closest thing to Neverland in our geographical reality: a place that existed beyond our knowledge and as close to imagination as was physically possible for the majority of our reign on Earth.
Patrick Watkins finally made it out of the islands by coyly duping the crew of a visiting ship. Legend has it he was unable to adapt to the mainland, and wished to return to the islands. He decided to steal a boat in Peru and head back to his farm, but was caught red-handed. He was sent to prison, where he eventually died.
In 1904, Barrie’s Peter Pan hit theaters in London. 1904 also marked the end of entrepreneur Manuel Cobos’s 40-year possession of Isla San Cristóbal upon his gruesome death. We could call this time not only the birth of Neverland, but also the dawn of a new beginning for the Galapagos.
Defoe’s inspiration. .?
Alexander Selkirk’s memoirs of his four-year nightmare on Juan Fernández Island, off of the coast of Chile, inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which would become a bestseller (Selkirk died in poverty). He was rescued from the island in 1709 by pirates who found him in a calamitous state, and actually visited the Galapagos shortly after.
When Charles Darwin met the first Galapagos colonists he wrote:
“Although complaining of poverty, they obtain without much trouble the means of subsistence. In the woods, there are many wild pigs and goats; but the staple article of animal food is supplied by the tortoises”.
Keep reading… “A General’s Dream”