On February 12, 1832, Colonel Ignacio Hernández, captain of the frigate Mercedes, took official possession of the Galapagos Islands on behalf of the Republic of Ecuador. He did so on the island known until then as "Charles" and which, from then on, would be called Floreana.
The presence of women among the colonizing population of the Galapagos Islands was evident from the outset, and was documented in a number of texts, especially those written by occasional visitors who contacted the local community and described its features.
On August 31, 1834, the USS Potomac, captained by Commodore John Downes, dropped anchor in Floreana. In the diary of the voyage, the author, J. N. Reynolds, indicates that Downes met José de Villamil, Galapagos' Governor. He commented that in April and June 1832, settlers of both sexes arrived in Floreana, and that in October of the same year more arrived, together with Villamil himself. The latter belonged to a group of soldiers condemned to death for rebellion against the Ecuadorian government.
Four years later, on June 22, 1838, the French captain Abel A. du Petit-Thouars, on board the frigate Vénus, visited Floreana, and on the 26th he was invited by the captain Nicholas O. Lawson —Villamil's trusted man— to visit the colony in the upper part of the island. There they met a man with the surname "Paraqui", who served as governor, and his wife. They led the visitors to the old house of José de Villamil, which was then occupied by a lady and her two sisters; the former was the wife of a Guayaquil officer convicted of attempted rebellion, who had ended up as a settler in Galapagos. The man, at the time of the visit, was on Santiago Island, hunting tortoises to extract oil. Petit-Thouars recounts:
Nous recûmes un gracieux accueil dans la maision de las señoritas, c'est ainsi que toute la population les désigne: elles nous offrirent un très-bon repas, composé des seules productions de la Floriana; au lieu de pain, on nous servit des galettes faites avec de la farine de maïs...
[We received a gracious welcome in the house of las señoritas, as they are known to the locals: they offered us a very good meal, made up exclusively of Floriana produce; instead of bread, we were served pancakes made from corn flour...] (p. 298).
Eight years later, in 1846, the HMS Herald reached the shores of the archipelago. The ship's naturalist, the German Berthold Seeman, was responsible for writing the travel diary. In his text, referring to the visit to the upper part of Floreana, he comments:
A few ruined hovels stood round a level green spot. The houses were small, formed of straight poles placed close together with thatched roofs, but devoid of cleanliness, so easily attained in such a place, a sloping declivity with a brook al the bottom offering every convenience for the comforts and decencies of life. We were soon offered fowls, wood, and potatoes for sale, which however were then not our object. Inquiring for the Governor, we were conducted to a larger house, but more dirty and in worse repair even than the rest, where we found three or four good-looking women, swinging in their hammocks, and not at all interrupted by our entrance, and a Señor Alcé, styling himself temporary governor, and acting for Don Jose Villamil, the person mentioned by Captain Fitzroy as the proprietor of the greater part of the stock then (1835) upon the island. An Englishman named Gurney, who had married a sister of Señor Alcé, gave us a variety of information (p. 56).
Two decades later, the colonization of San Cristobal Island would begin. The stories of the female colonists would move, then, to a different geography. But that would not be the end of the women's experiences in Floreana.
[The photograph that illustrates this text corresponds to a landscape on Floreana Island, and was taken by Edgardo Civallero].
Petit-Thouars, Abel du (1841). Voyage autour du monde sur la frégate La Vénus pendant les anné 1836-1839 publié par ordre du Roi, sous les auspices du Ministre de la Marine. Tome II. Paris: Gide, éditeur.
Reynolds, J. N. (1835). Voyage of the United States Frigate Potomac, under the Command of Commodore John Downes, during the Circumnavigation of the Globe, in the years 1831, 1832, 1833, and 1834. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Seeman, Berthold (1853). Narrative of the voyage of H.M.S. Herald during the years 1845-51, under the command of captain Henry Kellett, R.N., C.B.; being a circumnavigation of the globe, and three cruizes to the arctic regions in search of Sir John Franklin. Vol. I. London: Reeve and Co.
Text & picture: Edgardo Civallero (email@example.com)
Publication date: 1 October 2023
Last update: 1 October 2023