Charles Darwin visit to the Galapagos Islands
On September 15, 1835, Captain Robert Fitz Roy arrived to the Galapagos on the "Beagle" as part of a trip around the world with the young naturalist Charles Darwin. They first visited Chatham Island (San Cristobal), and later Charles Island (Floreana). They sailed between Narborough and disembarked on Santiago. While the officials on board the Beagle drew a map of the islands, Charles Darwin studied and collected samples of the flora and fauna. His observation of the diversity of species on the islands would be the basis for the later elaboration of the Theory of Evolution. The Galapagos would be seen from under a different light, a virtual laboratory of evolution.
By the time of Darwin's visit in 1935, tortoises were already disappearing from Floreana. He found two to three hundred people living on the island and that:
"the staple article of animal food is supplied by the tortoises. Their numbers have of course been greatly reduced in this island, but the people yet count on two days' hunting giving them food for the rest of the week. It is said that formerly single vessels have taken away as many as seven hundred, and that the ship's company of a frigate some years since brought down in one day two hundred tortoises to the beach."
By 1846, well after Villamil's colony had been abandoned, Berthold Seeman, a naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Pandora, reported there were no tortoises to be found on Floreana, but there were 2000 head of cattle. Wild dogs roamed the island, and they were later reported to attack visitors. The Santa Fe and Rabida tortoise races also became extinct in the nineteenth century.
In the meantime, Darwin made careful observations about both the geology and biology of the islands. Darwin was particularly struck by the "differences between the inhabitants of the different islands":
- "The distribution of tenants of this archipelago", he wrote, "would not be nearly so wonderful, if for instance, one island has a mocking-thrush and a second island some other quite distinct species... But it is the circumstance that several of the islands possess their own species of tortoise, mocking-thrush, finches, and numerous plants, these species having the same general habits, occupying analogous situations, and obviously filling the same place in the natural economy of this archipelago, that strikes me with wonder."