In every collection of documents there are materials that stand out: for the quality of their material, for the meaning of their content, for their historical value... In the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) collections, one of these documents is the Galapagos Diary.
The notebook entitled Galapagos Diary - 1938-1939 is currently kept in the Galapagos Special Collection, held at the CDF's Library, Archive and Museum in the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) in Puerto Ayora.
It's a cloth-bound, 20 x 13 cm. commercial notebook with 158 pages of blue-lined white paper, of which 124 are handwritten in the form of a travel diary. They reflect personal experiences collected during the so-called "Galapagos Expedition", starting in London on December 15th, 1938 and finishing in the same city on April 29th, 1939.
On the front cover there is a line with the "title", but no mention of authorship can be found anywhere in the text (except for an almost deleted "R.G.T." on the cover). The document was donated to the CDF on a date that remains undetermined. Among the papers accompanying the Diary there is a note handwritten by several consecutive hands at CDRS, leaving testimony to the story of the little notebook. The first of them, produced in November 1984 by Jan Castle and Chris McFarling, deals with the identity of the writer: using references and context as a guide, and by a process of elimination, they figured out that the mysterious author was Rosamond Georgina Lloyd Taylor, who was the wife of (Sir) Thomas Weston Johns Taylor (1895-1953), a British chemist / botanist participating in the expedition. The second note, written by G. T. Corley Smith on April 24th, 1986, states that the author was, indeed, the by-then Lady Taylor, and that she donated the text to him for research use at the CDRS. Corley Smith declares that there was a cover letter, plus other papers, that were lost by the time he was writing that note. A third and last note, produced by John Simcox (librarian at the CDRS) on September 2nd, 2002, declares the complete name of the author.
Bibliographic sources provide little information about Georgina. It is known, through her husband's biography (written by J. H. Panry based on private information and personal knowledge, and included in the Dictionary of National Biography 1951-1960), that she was born in 1898, the daughter of Colonel Thomas Edward John Lloyd (of Plas Tregayan, isle of Anglesey, Wales) and Rosamund Anna Heygate; that they married in 1932; that they shared wide interests; that they had no children; that there is a portrait of her painted by Hector Whistler in the University of the West Indies (Jamaica); and that it was she who introduced her husband to Botany. David Lack's book Darwin's Finches (1947), presenting the results of his research in Galapagos during that same expedition, includes her in his acknowledgments. Her name appears again (as Lady Taylor) as the author of a book entitled Introduction to the birds of Jamaica (published by MacMillan in 1955), probably compiled during the period her husband was the Principal of the University College of the West Indies in the Caribbean island.
The "Galapagos" or "Lack-Venables Expedition" (winter 1938-1939) "worked on biological problems in the islands of the Galápagos Archipelago ... a stay of two months (February and March) on one of the larger islands, Indefatigable", according to T. W. J. Taylor in his article "Plant pigments in the Galápagos Islands", published to present the results of his work. Taylor used a sabbatical year in 1938 to research plant pigments in the Galapagos. According to Ted R. Anderson's The Life of David Lack, the other members of the expedition besides Georgina and her husband were David Lack, Richard "Ricky" Leacock (film making student at Dartington Hall), L. S. V. "Pat" Venables, and Hugh Thompson (both of them British ornithologists). Lack organized the expedition and enrolled Leacock and Venables, and the latter added Thompson and the Taylors to the team. Julian Huxley helped acquire grants for the expedition from the Royal Society and the Zoological Society of London. In a testimony quoted by Anderson, Lack concluded many years later that "we proved an unwieldy party, and the age range from 17 to 40 was too wide so things did not go happily, except when we were in groups of two or three".
The text of the Galapagos Diary is handwritten in English in black ink, with a few crossed mistakes and added notes, and some spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. It describes Georgina's voyage from London to Guayaquil via the Netherlands, Curaçao and the Panama Canal, her stay in Guayaquil, the trip in the small ship Boyacá from mainland Ecuador to San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz, her stay in the latter island, her travel back in the Deborah from Santa Cruz and Genovesa to Panama, and her return from there all the way to Great Britain. She speaks about characters like the Cobos' family, and of events like the arrival to Galapagos of Lewis' yacht The Stranger, the quarrels between the inhabitants in Indefatigable, or the death of Captain Stampa's baby. There are several references to war in Europe; in fact, some of the ships mentioned in the text were eventually sunk during the conflict.
The text provides a lot of hints about its author's interests and character. From the very beginning there are continuous references to birds and plants, as well as to weather conditions. Georgina kept track of winds and tides, rains and moons. She described phenomena such as the "spit" of marine iguanas, phosphorescence (bio-luminescence) in the ocean, the sexual behavior of frigate birds, and species whose presence in the islands may have been described in her lines for the first time. She seemed to be an accomplished naturalist, curious about the world surrounding her.
In all, the Diary provides a powerful insight on the history of science in Galapagos: many expeditions to the islands were made using professional or even luxury boats and services, but the "Lack-Venables Expedition" was organized by the scientists themselves, and they strongly depended on the local factors and actors for their work — and even for their survival.
Georgina's handwritten diary gives an alternative view of that expedition, from a woman and, especially, from a non-scientific perspective. Besides providing an insight into the natural and social life in Indefatigable / Santa Cruz at that time (first third of the 20th century), including an impressive description of the inhabitants, she leaves a testimony of the hardships inherent in that kind of expedition by collecting most of the details of her daily life, her fears and delights, and all her work during the period she spent in the archipelago.
[A copy of the Galápagos Diary can be downloaded from the section "Books".]
Lloyd Taylor, Rosamond Georgina. Galapagos Diary 1938-1939. [Manuscripts]. [N.d.] : R. G. Lloyd Taylor, [1938-9]. 124 pp. : ill. b/w : 21 cm. DDC 508.092. Well preserved.
Text & picture: Edgardo Civallero (email@example.com).
Publication date: 1 December 2021
Last update: 1 December 2021