“I shall say no more of these Islands, since by what I saw of ‘em they don’t answer the Description that other Men have given us”
Woodes Rogers, British buccaneer
Catching sight of the Galápagos Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean may have been a cause for rejoicing among the seafarers in the days of exploration, but the difficulty of finding fresh water, the harsh conditions and lack of fertile land quickly made them a disappointment. The islands, for the longest time, were nothing other than an extension of the sea, and only people of the sea, people who used the sea to hide and ambush, found an interest in them. For some two hundred years, Britain’s dreaded buccaneers used the islands as a base to explore the South Pacific as well as attack vessels taking Potosi treasures back to Spain.
The earliest known buccaneer, and reputed at that, to reach the Galápagos was Richard Hawkins, who had been successful during the Anglo-Spanish War and had terrorized the Chilean coast before being defeated in the province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, by a Spanish fleet. Hawkins was following in the footsteps of infamous ravagers Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan, and the next hundred years would see an increasing number of buccaneers, otherwise known as pirates, stalking South and Central America’s Pacific Coast. Many used the Galápagos Islands as a brief stopover, without truly noticing the islands’ characteristics. In 1684, however, Captain John Cook took an interest. Members of his crew William Dampier and William Ambrose Cowley wrote of the place as a favorable site to refuel, highlighting the resource of turtle meat for famished seafarers. Dampier, of an observant and scientific mind, documented the islands quite thoroughly, and Cowley even created the Galápagos’ most reliable map of the time. Captain Cook chose today’s “Buccanneer’s Cove” in the island of Santiago to recover from a life-threatening illness, but died that same year at sea.
Up until 1720, privateers continued to visit and hide out on the Galápagos. Once Britain and other European countries made peace with the Spanish Crown and declared open war on the captains and admirals whose mischievous acts they had so adamantly supported in the past, piracy began to die off. Renegade pirates sporadically appeared in the islands all the way into the late 1800s, but it was the whalers who took it upon themselves to terrorize the Galápagos’ seas.
Jack the Hermit
Jacques L’Hermite was perhaps the first and most vicious privateer, a Dutch sea merchant who commanded the 1624 siege on the colonial ports of Callao and Guayaquil. He had eventually been commissioned to create a Dutch colony along the Peruvian coast, but was unable to fulfil his duty, dying of dysentery one month into his raid.
The Spinster’s Fright
Captain Cook and his men had captured a Danish vessel in the Atlantic, infamously re-christened “The Bachelor’s Delight”, which they used to round the Strait of Magellan, and ramshackle Valparaíso. They later head towards the Galápagos Islands, where they hid hundreds of flour sacks (which would eventually bet eaten by birds) and began their reconnaissance of the islands.
Tagus Cove, on the western coast of Isabela, is testimony to the islands’ reputation as a pirate’s hangout. The name is in reference to the warship Tagus, known for its exploration of the South Seas (particularly its voyage to Pitcairn Island), which sought refuge at the Galápagos in 1814. At the site, writing on the rocks by seafarers date back to the early 1800s.