Norwegian interest for the islands as a place for migration. August Christensen organizes a colonization enterprise that becomes established on Floreana. Failure of the project. Captain Bruun and his fishing project. Bruun's death. Dr. Ritter and Dore Strauch. Arrival of the Wittmer family in 1932. Arrival of Baroness Wagner and her companions the same year. Problems among the settlers. Disappearance of the Baroness and her partner Philipson in 1934. Ritter's death. The shipwreck of Lorenz and Nuggerud.
Though the smallest (171 kms2) and the lowest (640 m.) of the six larger islands, Floreana, Charles or Santa María is, as we have seen, the one with the longest history of colonization. This is most likely because access from Black Beach to the interior is relatively easy, and there are several springs in the fertile plateau at its center that were known from the earliest days. The largest of these is also a fairly reliable source of fresh water.
It was also on Floreana that the first Norwegian settlement in the Galápagos was established, at Post Office Bay, on the north coast. These settlers arrived on August 10, 1925, on their three-masted schooner Floreana. However, the background story leading up to this settlement goes back many years, to a time when the Galápagos were more or less unknown to the world in general. However, it had long been a popular subject with Norwegian journalists. There had also been a much earlier project that, though it appeared very promising at the time, had never quite got off the ground.
In fact, as early as on August 8, 1884, an agreement was signed between the Compañía Suizo-Escandinava para la Colonización de Galápagos and the Government of Ecuador, in which the former company states its purpose of recruiting Swiss and Scandinavian settlers, who would establish themselves on the islands. This agreement was the most important reason behind the creation of the Ley Especial de Galápagos, a law that was signed about a year later.
In this Special Law for the Galápagos, the whole administration of the islands was reorganized under a Jefe Territorial, whose several duties included seeing to it that law and order prevailed, and that the colonization of the islands was given top priority. In this law it is stated, in the section relating to grants of land to the settlers, that such grants are not to be given if they come into conflict with the rights of the Compañía Suizo-Escandinava. (Ley Especial de Galápagos of 1885, Chapter II, Section VI, Article 11).
In 1886, don Adolfo Beck, acting for the company, presented to the Ecuadorian Government a list of prospective Norwegian settlers. However, the project seems to have gone no further than this, for it was demanded that the new settlers become Ecuadorian citizens at a fairly early stage. (Hoff, 1985). The prospective colonists seem to have found this condition unreasonable, as they saw no advantage in severing their ties to their mother country before knowing for certain if they could succeed in the Galápagos.
This citizenship condition seems rather unusual, as the law of 1885 specifies no restrictions on the nationality of settlers. In fact, it is a later law, signed in 1913, that sets a limit to nationality; but it is by far more liberal and more in tune with the spirit of tolerance so characteristic of Ecuadorians. It states only that two-thirds of the settlers on the Galápagos must have Ecuadorian citizenship. Such a condition is however unusual for laws prior to the 1940's, when Ecuadorian legislation began a more restrictive trend towards foreign residents. The law of 1913 is called Ley de Colonización del Archipiélago de Colón and was signed on October 16 of that year. The islands had by then (in 1892) been renamed.
As far as we can find, the Compañía Suizo-Escandinava did not stir up an undue amount of publicity for the islands in Norway. It was in 1907 that the Norwegian press became really interested in Galápagos. This was due to the Norwegian bark Alexandra, which had been abandoned near the islands, after drifting helplessly for three months, on her way from Australia to Panama. One of her two lifeboats, commanded by her chief mate, made it to Floreana. Later, these survivors arrived safely to Guayaquil, by way of San Cristóbal. Their adventures received much press cover in Norway, as did the speculations about the possible fate of the second boat, commanded by the master of the abandoned vessel. (Harbitz, 1915; Hoff, 1985).
It must be said that the Norwegian press did an excellent job while handling the story of the Alexandra and its denouement, of which we shall tell more in the next chapter. They not only described the barren lowlands, where the castaways experienced thirst and other hardships. They also wrote about the fertile highlands, the giant tortoises and much else that had no actual bearing on the story.
Later, in 1915, came Alf Harbitz' book about the Alexandra and her crew, but Galápagos had by then, for another reason, become a subject of interest to the Norwegian public. During the previous year, August F. Christensen had written a series of articles about the islands, which were well received. Whether Christensen had actually visited Galápagos or not at that time is not clear. It has been argued that had he been there, he would have mentioned the fact. (Hoff, 1985).
Christensen was the son of a leading whaler, and had been involved in his father's activities since his youth. He had made his first voyage to the Antarctic on one of his father's ships at the age of seventeen. He had also been in charge of the family's operations in the South Shetlands and Chile from 1907 to 1914. Before returning to Norway, he secured whaling concessions along the coasts of Ecuador and Perú, and permission to set up a whaling station on Floreana. (Hoff, 1985).
In 1918 Christensen was appointed consul of Ecuador, a suitable position for someone as interested as he was in the colonization of Galápagos. He claimed to have obtained for all prospective Norwegian settlers on the islands the possibility of receiving twenty hectares each of free land, the right to maintain their Norwegian citizenship for as long as they wished, freedom from taxation for the first ten years in Galápagos, and the right to hunt and fish freely on all the uninhabited islands where they might settle.
Whether all these generous concessions were “made” by some Ecuadorian official, eager to attract foreign settlers is hard to say at this stage. Still, the fact remains that all these “concessions” already existed in the laws of Ecuador. Twenty hectares of land were already available to all prospective colonists—regardless of nationality—according to the law of 1885 which has been mentioned earlier. This law also leaves open the possibility of acquiring larger grants under special circumstances. As far as foreign citizenship was concerned, there was no law in Ecuador limiting the time a foreign resident could keep his original nationality. The law limiting foreign citizens to owning property at least fifty kilometers away from international borders and from the seashore was not created until the 1940's. However, this relatively recent limitation has, to our knowledge, seldom if ever been enforced, even by officials who were aware of its existence.
As for the exemption from taxes, this was already granted by the law of 1913, where it is stated that settlers in the Galápagos will be free from taxes and military service for a total of fifteen years. There is no mention of nationality. Both the law of 1885 and that of 1913 were still in force at the time Christensen was writing about Norwegian migration to the islands. As for hunting and fishing, no restrictions existed at the time, and endemic animals were not yet protected by law. On the other hand, local officials had no means for enforcing them, had they existed.
At the beginning of the 1920's, Christensen's project of settling Floreana was still somewhat vague, but things were happening that would help him further his project, when the time became ripe. Three young Norwegian journalists set out for Ecuador in January of 1922. They were Per Bang, Jens Aschehoug and Finn Støren. While the first two continued on to the Galápagos, Støren remained on the mainland. (Hoff, 1985).
After spending a few pleasant days as the guests of don Manuel Augusto Cobos, at the sugar plantation on San Cristóbal, the two journalists continued on their way to the then uninhabited Floreana. Here, they set up household in the largest cave in the vicinity of the main spring. The abundance of wild oranges and limes, the large number of wild animals—pigs, goats and cattle—the clear spring water, and the cave with its shelves, benches and fireplace cut into the soft tuffaceous rock, were their boyhood dreams come true, the stuff of romance.
When the schooner César—the ship that had brought them out—returned in March, Finn Støren was aboard. He was no less impressed by this paradise on earth. However, Støren would be cheated of his stay in this insular Eden. Since the César was on her way to Isabela and her master was willing to stop again at Floreana on his return voyage, the three Norwegians decided to visit the larger island.
All went well until they were on their way back, when wind conditions deteriorated. For a fortnight, they alternated between tacking against a contrary breeze and drifting helplessly in prolonged calms. The master of the César gave up, and tried sailing up the west coast of Isabela, rounding the island by the north and then following its east coast. It did not work. On her twenty-fifth day out of Puerto Villamil, the César was drifting north of Isabela. Food and water were becoming scarce, and they were in an area where water was unobtainable, and the only food they could hope to get was the occasional turtle and some fish. It was decided that their only alternative was to attempt sailing to the mainland. Ten days after leaving the north of Isabela, they arrived at Esmeraldas (Hoff, 1985). The old schooner would suffer a worse fate a few years later, when she was shipwrecked on the coast of Santiago, in 1926.
Back in Norway, Bang and Støren wrote some highly enthusiastic accounts of Galápagos. Støren, who had actually spent little time in the Galápagos, became an eager advocate for establishing Norwegian settlements there. In one of his articles, he sets up a list of the many activities that could be of profit to the settlers. It was also during this time, in early 1923, that Christensen published an invitation to all “honest Norwegians” to settle in the islands. However, nothing much happened until about a year and a half later. It was then that Captain Olaf Eilertsen told Christensen of the enormous interest for the islands that existed among a group of his friends in Larvik, a small port near the entrance to the Oslo Fjord. This group would gather to have a few beers and a pipe or two, while discussing the possibilities of seeking new challenges outside Norway. To these men Galápagos seemed more and more like the place to go.
Captain Eilertsen had been interested in the Galápagos for many years. Since the loss of the bark Alexandra, he had been collecting every scrap of information he could get on the islands. Before World War I, while he was the master of the Fiery Cross, he had hired one Herman Karlsen as carpenter on the ship. Chance would have it that this Karlsen had been among the crew of the Alexandra when she was abandoned. He had been in the captain's boat, ending up on the northwest coast of Santa Cruz. Karlsen found an interested audience in Captain Eilertsen, who never seemed to tire of listening to the carpenter's experiences in Galápagos.
In the meantime, both Støren and Christensen kept alive public interest in the islands with their articles. Both promoted Floreana as the ideal site for a Norwegian settlement. Støren wrote about the possibilities of exporting dried fish, catching sperm whales, hunting fur seals (nearly extinct at the time), catching spiny lobster, exploiting the wild cattle and growing tropical fruits. Most of these possibilities were also named by Christensen, who added to them tourism based on seaside resorts, hunting and fishing for sport, providing bunkering and supplies to ships using the Panama Canal, exploiting tortoises for meat and oil (an activity by then largely abandoned as unprofitable by the local people), and collecting orchil (which had long since lost much of its demand).
When Christensen finally launched his colonization project, he received an overwhelming response, without having to spend anything much on publicity. In fact, the latter had already been provided by the newspapers for several years, by publishing his articles and those penned by Støren. Christensen and Eilertsen, who initially headed the project jointly, had merely to pick and choose from among all sorts of qualified people, mostly young, many with higher education. A company was organized, its shareholders being, besides the future settlers, friends and relatives of Christensen. A three-masted schooner was purchased in Sweden and renamed Floreana (Hoff, 1985).
The Floreana was thoroughly reconditioned and overhauled at a shipyard in Sandefjord. The best possible work was done at the most reasonable price, since the yard was one of the Christensen enterprises. While this was being done, a renowned Norwegian zoologist and traveler, Professor Alf Wollebaek, made arrangements to join the settlers in Guayaquil, to accompany them to the islands. Wollebaek and Erling Hansen, his assistant, then departed for Ecuador, to collect on the mainland, while awaiting the arrival of the Floreana. Christensen had similar plans, but work on the schooner took longer than expected. She finally sailed on May 15, 1925.
After a stay of several days in Guayaquil and an uneventful passage, the Norwegian colonists were heartily welcomed at San Cristóbal by the governor and the owners of the sugar plantation. The lowlands must have seemed disappointing, as the vegetation was mostly leafless. However, enthusiasm was regained when the settlers visited the highlands, where they could admire the extensive cane fields, coffee plantings and other cultivated plants that thrived amidst the luxuriant vegetation. Manuel Augusto Cobos and his brother-in-law, don Rogelio Alvarado, tried their best to persuade the Norwegians to settle on their island, but Christensen as well as the would-be settlers insisted on continuing to Floreana.
After their arrival at Post Office Bay, the Norwegians and the six men they had hired in Guayaquil proceeded to unload three hundred tons of supplies and equipment. Rails were laid from the beach to the site of their main building so as to facilitate the transportation of their cargo, including the huge steel tanks for collecting rain water, the steam engine, the generator and the building materials.
The Floreana project had been carefully and sensibly planned. All along, Christensen had tried to earn money for the group. On the ship's voyage from Sweden she had stopped on her way to Norway to load limestone at Gotland, delivering it to Sarpsborg. On her voyage to Ecuador the free space in her hold was used for carrying cement to Guayaquil.
The settlers had been divided into two groups. One was to work as crew on the Floreana, the others were to work on the island. It was thought, with good reason, that the schooner was too large and expensive to maintain for it to be used exclusively for the settlers, at least at this early stage, when there was hardly any cargo for her, so she was to engage in a cargo run along the mainland coast. A smaller vessel had been purchased in Norway for the use of the colony, and she was to come down as far as Panama on the deck of a larger ship. From here, she would sail to the Galápagos. This vessel, the Isabela, would take care of the colony's transportation needs (Hoff, 1985).
It took the settlers a fortnight of hard work to get everything ashore and begin the construction of the main building and the shed for the power plant. The concrete posts on which the former was built are still scattered in the area, except for a few that have been used for supporting the wooden post on which the mail barrel stands. These have been decorated with the names of a number of visiting yachts. Inland a distance, can be seen the rusting remains of the steel tanks for the rain water, and a little beyond them the concrete slab where the steam engine and the generator were mounted. The houses no longer exist.
It is in connection with the Floreana project that Captain Thomas Levick again crosses our path. He accompanied the Norwegians from San Cristóbal, remaining with them for a while at Post Office Bay. Soon after his return to San Cristóbal, he pined away, dying about a month later at the age of eighty-three, after spending a lifetime in the Galápagos.
In the beginning things looked promising. On her return voyage to Guayaquil, the Floreana had with her ninety-one passengers from Isabela—the guards and convicts of a short-lived penal colony. There were also sixty-four head of cattle embarked on San Cristóbal. However, on arrival to Guayaquil, Christensen found that the government had been ousted by a recent coup, and the still unsettled situation under a new regime caused difficulties in collecting the money for the passage of the ninety-one people taken aboard at Isabela.
Christensen and Håkon Bryhn, the Norwegian consul, got this settled after considerable effort and much frustration. They also managed to get a government contract for carrying troops along the coast. However, the regular freight run that had been hoped for proved to be only wishful thinking. There were already well established competitors taking care of that activity. There were also other things that were not going according to plan. The two whaling ships that were to be the main economic foundation of the colony and the Isabela were much delayed.
In the meantime, construction work went ahead in Post Office Bay, and two men moved inland to begin farming in the area below the main spring. Here, they found an abandoned bamboo shack, erected by some men in the employ of a Chilean captain. These men had been hunting cattle for hides and jerked beef. They had abandoned the island shortly before the arrival of the Norwegians. The shack was repaired and made habitable. Despite the general good spirits, the lack of news, the lack of mail and the uncertainty of receiving supplies began to tell after five months had passed. Another disappointment came when the house was finished and electricity installed. It was then discovered that their wireless equipment did not work, as a few important parts were missing (Hoff, 1985).
Finally, on December 20, the Floreana entered Post Office Bay. As the Isabela had not yet left Norway, Christensen came out with supplies and mail on the larger vessel. He felt he could not let down his partners, and certainly not at Christmas time. He even brought beer and aquavit, two indispensable ingredients for celebrating a proper Norwegian Yuletide. Cobos and Alvarado had also sent their gifts to the colony—two oxen, two horses, four donkeys, three pigs and a cow with a calf (Hoff, 1985). It is obvious that the plantation owners were aware of how difficult it would be for the Norwegians to capture and domesticate the wild animals on Floreana.
That Christmas there was much good food and drink at Post Office Bay. At the head of the table sat Christensen with the governor, Colonel Enrique Rivadeneira, near them were Captain Anton Stub of the Floreana, Captain Axel Seeberg (head of the settlement) and Alf Wollebaek, who was still collecting in the Galápagos. The most important event of the Christmas Eve came when Christensen handed out the deeds to the settlers' land claims, duly signed by the Ecuadorian officials. Then, he informed them that he still held the exclusive rights on whaling in the Galápagos. He expected two whaling ships down from Norway for the season, which would last from February to June.
Unfortunately, this new optimism would not last long. The colony went back to its former isolation, and no whalers showed up. Finally, the Floreana returned in April, bringing bad news. She had been tied up in Guayaquil the previous two months without getting any cargo. On board came a gang of cowhands from San Cristóbal, who had been hired in a desperate attempt at capturing some wild cattle for shipment to the mainland. Some sort of income was urgently needed, before the funds were used up.
But the capture of wild cattle was as difficult as it was dangerous. Once caught, it proved impossible to keep the animals fenced in. Not being familiar with barbed wire, the cattle had no respect for it, breaking through, regardless of the number of strands or the pain. The project was given up after two of the hands were badly hurt and Captain Seeberg was wounded in an arm. The Floreana set course for the mainland, taking with her the two first colonists to give up. Captain Seeberg also went along, to find out what had happened with the whaling vessels and to get parts for the wireless station.
From Guayaquil, Captain Seeberg sent a number of telegrams to Christensen, who had returned to Norway. Finally, he got news of a dispute going on between Christensen and a whaling company that also had obtained “exclusive” rights on whaling in the Galápagos.
One of the whaling ships that was supposed to come down had been sent elsewhere at the last moment. The second ship, which Christensen was supposed to bring from Mexico, had been shipwrecked. What Captain Seeberg was not told was that Christensen was having difficulties with arranging for other ships, as several whaling operations in South America had recently gone bankrupt or otherwise folded up. However, there was at least one seemingly good bit of news. The thirty-nine-foot Isabela was finally on her way. She had left Norway entirely on her own, under a capable master mariner from Bergen, Captain Paul Bruun, accompanied by two other men. There were also news about two Norwegian colonization groups that were headed for Santa Cruz.
The Isabela took much longer to arrive than expected. She was not only sailing most of the way, due to her limited fuel capacity, but also met with very foul weather in the Bay of Biscay and in the Caribbean. She had left Norway on May 22, 1926, arriving at Post Office Bay on October 11, after a brief stop in Guayaquil, to pick up supplies and a great number of mail bags for the colony.
Captain Bruun and his crew found a greatly demoralized colony on Floreana. After a year of abundant rains (1925 had been a “Niño year”) they were now suffering from a severe drought. They had spent long months in virtual isolation. The project of setting up a whaling station seemed to come to nothing. The cargo run they had hoped the Floreana would get had not materialized.
The news brought by Captain Bruun and what came in the mail gave no reasons for optimism. The Floreana had been sold to a Colombian firm, and Captain Stub and his crew were already on their way to Norway. What the settlers did not yet know was that their company's liquid assets had already been spent, the only thing remaining being a fund that had been set aside for the colonists' return tickets, should things—against all expectations—go wrong. Regardless of their ignorance of the company's finances, everybody except Captain Seeberg was for giving up. The latter managed however to talk three of the men into remaining—Morten Wegger, Oscar Kjøle and Eric Johanson (Hoff, 1985). It was obvious that the Floreana had arrived too late to make any difference to the survival of the colony. In January 1927, even those three who had stayed left, after celebrating New Year's Eve on Santa Cruz, with the new Norwegian group that had settled there.
Captain Axel Seeberg remained in Ecuador, trying unsuccessfully to sell what was left on Floreana. He also tried to raise capital to buy the cannery that had been built on Santa Cruz, after the Norwegian group there gave up. In this too he failed. Captain Seeberg also tried to get hold of the Isabela, which he claimed belonged to the Floreana colony. Captain Bruun, who was making a cargo run with her between the islands and Guayaquil, maintained that the vessel was now his, as he had not been refunded for the expenses of sailing her down from Norway.
The dispute ended in court, the vessel was impounded, and Captain Bruun found himself stranded in Guayaquil. He won in court, the case was appealed, going to the provincial court (corte superior), where Captain Bruun won again. A final appeal went to the supreme court in Quito, where Captain Seeberg lost for the third time. Unfortunately, the shipworms are very active along the Guayaquil water front, and the hull of the Isabela was no longer seaworthy when Captain Bruun finally recovered her. He signed on as master of the old Manuel J. Cobos, the ancient plantation schooner from San Cristóbal.
The unusual part of this story is that the two master mariners remained good friends throughout their legal dispute. Their good personal relations lasted until Captain Seeberg died in an unfortunate accident outside Quito, towards the end of 1928.
In the meantime, Floreana had remained uninhabited, except for the more or less regular visits by the very few Santa Cruz Norwegians who still remained. These used to take up periodic residence in the house at Post Office Bay, while fishing and/or hunting wild cattle inland. In 1929, a German couple, Dr. Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch settled in the little oasis above Black Beach, where Valdizán's house had stood, naming the place “Friedo” by joining the first syllables of their names.
Dr. Ritter was, according to himself, a philosopher and a vegetarian, who wished to live in close contact with nature. He was both a dentist and a physician, and his companion had originally been one of his patients, who later became his disciple. She had left her own husband to accompany Dr. Ritter on this great adventure. Dr. Ritter must have been very persuasive, for he had talked his own wife into moving in with Dore's husband, taking the latter's place. However, this arrangement did not work out as hoped; but, by then, Dr. Ritter and Dore had settled in their little island paradise and it was too late to undo the exchange.
In 1930, Captain Bruun got a small motor sailor built in Guayaquil. He formed a partnership with Knud Arends, a young Dane, and with the Norwegian vice-consul, Arthur Worm-Müller. The latter had originally come to Galápagos as a member of the Norwegian colony that attempted to settle on San Cristóbal. The three set up headquarters in the big wooden house in Post Office Bay, where Worm-Müller was left in charge. When not working with his partners, Arends took care of the Guayaquil end of their fishing venture, while Captain Bruun spent most of his time out fishing with his Ecuadorian crew.
Though Dr. Ritter seems to have resented the presence of new settlers on the island at a later date, he appears to have been on excellent terms with the Dane and the two Norwegians, as well as with those who came visiting from Santa Cruz. He often came over to visit Worm-Müller, a man with an excellent education, who had traveled widely and spoke fluent German and English.
Captain Bruun's fishing enterprise showed some promise, but ended abruptly with his death, in 1931, on the exposed south coast of Isabela, while he was rowing a heavily loaded boat into the lagoon at San Pedro, near Cape Rose. The boat was swamped by a huge wave, then overturned by a second one. Bruun was a good swimmer, but must have been stunned by a blow, for he was later found drowned among the rocks by Dr. Temple Utley, who had gone out to rescue him.
Dr. Utley, a British physician who was on a cruise around the world, had left his yacht at Post Office Bay, while he accompanied Captain Bruun. The tragedy and the events that followed are described in detail in his book, A Modern Sea Beggar (Davies, London, 1938). Dr. Stein Hoff, also a physician, gives a complete account of the accident in his history of the Norwegian settlements in Galápagos (Hoff, 1985).
Knud Arends made an attempt at keeping the operation going, but gave up towards the end of the year, handing over the Norge, Bruun's motor sailor, to Emilio Hansen, a Danish businessman in Guayaquil, as payment for a debt the partners had with him. Worm-Müller tried in vain to talk some of the Santa Cruz Norwegians into moving over to Post Office Bay. Finally, he joined them himself at Academy Bay, where he moved into the upper floor of the Norwegian cannery with his wife Hilda, who came out from Guayaquil.
Dr. Ritter and his Dore were left alone on Floreana, but not for long. In July of 1932 a German family arrived to the island, starting a farm near the main spring. They named the place “Asilo de la Paz”, thus perpetuating the name of the Villamil settlement. At first, they lived in the cave that had been occupied by Bang and Aschehoug. This family, the Wittmers, consisted of Heinz, his wife Margret and Harry, a half blind teenage son that Wittmer had from a previous marriage.
The Wittmers minded their own business, and were much too busy trying to get a farm going, while fighting off the wild cattle and pigs, in order to keep them out of their plantings. At the same time, they were attempting to build themselves a house before the arrival of their expected baby. The house, like the farming, was very hard work, as they were using local building materials—stone and mortar made of lime, which was produced by burning coral, collected along the shore. Dr. Ritter seems to have resented their presence at first, then ended up reluctantly accepting them (Wittmer, 1959).
The Wittmers were city people. He had been an officer in the German cavalry during the war. Later, he had worked for a while as secretary to Konrad Adenauer, when the latter was mayor of Cologne, the Wittmers' native city. Before leaving for the Galápagos, the family had owned a stationery shop. It is doubtful that people used to physical work would have set themselves such ambitious goals for their first year on Floreana; but, surprisingly, they managed to accomplish most of them.
Before the year was over, another German-speaking group arrived to the island. They were the Baroness Eloïse von Wagner, Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Philipson. Many claim that the Baroness had no right to her title, though nobody, as far as we know, ever bothered to produce evidence against her claim to nobility. It has also been rumored that she had been a dancer in Istanbul during the war, operating there as a spy. This latter may have been one of Philipson's fantasies, perhaps inspired in the story of Mata Hari. In any case, there seems to be no information as to whom she spied for—the Allies, Germany or her native Austria.
It is known however that the lady had a fashion shop in Paris, which she had set up with Rudolf Lorenz, who is supposed to have provided the capital. The world economy was in the midst of a depression at the beginning of the 1930's and business must have been very slow. It is also likely that the Baroness was finding life a bit boring, and the future looked unpromising. After all, she had rounded her fortieth birthday with no husband in sight. The appearance of Robert Philipson in her life came like a bright sunray, with his lively fantasy and his dreams of sunny beaches shaded by rustling palms, swaying in the trade wind. In any case, Philipson made the Baroness and Lorenz restless with the desire for a milder climate.
At the time, there had been some publicity about Dr. Friedrich Ritter and his Robinson Crusoe existence on uninhabited Floreana. It all sounded delightful and exciting. More so in a Europe where the memory of war was still fresh, socio-economic changes enormous and the economy in a disastrous condition. This situation doubtlessly explains the popularity travel books were enjoying at the time. One that sold rather well in its German translation was William Beebe's Galápagos: World's End.
The three decided to share Dr. Ritter's paradise. But it is said that there was more on the Baroness' mind than just that. She had noticed that a number of millionaires visited Dr. Ritter, invariably bringing gifts. She might manage to talk one of them into financing her new dream—an exclusive hotel in the Galápagos. Perhaps she even might be so lucky as to capture herself a millionaire husband, a far better catch than the penniless Philipson.
Some time later, on the Guayaquil waterfront, on her way aboard the ship that would take her to Galápagos, Baroness von Wagner held a press conference. With the aid of Felipe Valdivieso, an Ecuadorian who had joined the trio in Paris, she talked about her hotel project. She got excellent press the following day, so it is obvious that she had made a good impression on the reporters, who praised both the lady and her project.
October of 1932 was another typical cool season month in the Galápagos. The first impression the three Europeans received of Galápagos must have been very disappointing. (Valdivieso, who is said to have worked as a laborer on Isabela, a few years earlier, would have known better). Under the leafless trees, the rocky ground showed no signs of life. There was a stiff, chilly breeze blowing, the sky was low and leaden. There were no palms swaying in the trade wind.
However, they received a hearty welcome from the governor, and things began to look much better when they were invited to Progreso by Norwegian-born Karin Guldberg Cobos and her charming husband, don Manuel Augusto Cobos, whose cultured French must have sounded like music to the Baroness and her friends. The highlands lay green and luxuriant, in great contrast to the barren-looking lowlands below. Don Manuel and his wife not only made the visitors welcome in their home, but helped them with the purchase of a few cows, donkeys and chickens to take along to Floreana.
When the schooner finally anchored at Post Office Bay, the Baroness had more or less planned to take over the island. Her first action was to take possession of the Norwegian house in the bay. She knew that the Wittmers were living near the main spring towards the center of the island. The Wittmers would not be in her way. They were far too busy trying to get started, and Mrs. Wittmer would soon be down with her baby. Her main problem was Dr. Ritter. It was him the millionaires came to visit. It was he who was the center of everybody's attention. It was him she must neutralize.
The Baroness decided it was to her advantage to create enmity between the Wittmers and Dr. Ritter, isolating the latter. On the other hand, she must get a great quantity of publicity for herself. Not only in the Guayaquil newspapers, but, far more important, outside the country, especially in the United States. Relying on Philipson's vivid fantasy, she set him to write sensationalist articles under different pseudonyms. This he did, creating for the public the “Mad Empress of the Galápagos” and the “Pirate Queen of Floreana”. This demented European noblewoman had, in some of his stories, a harem of young, beautiful men who did her bidding, and blindly satisfied her every whim.
For a short time, the Baroness became the main center of attraction on Floreana, though Dr. Ritter's millionaire friends continued visiting him. However, this new situation seems to have worried him. His little oasis in the dry country had a very limited potential for supporting him and Dore, and it is believed that they could not have survived without outside help. At best, they would have been forced to leave the island or move up to the moist region, the climate of which did not appeal to them at all.
When she had arrived, the Baroness rode into the settlers' everyday life seated on a donkey that was led by the ailing Rudolf Lorenz. Their first stop was outside the cave where the Wittmers were still living. She did not greet the young woman who stood outside. She demanded peremptorily, “Where's the spring?”
Mrs. Wittmer was so taken aback by this unusual behavior, that she merely pointed. The Baroness continued on her way without a word of thanks. From the cave's entrance, young Mrs. Wittmer watched in shocked astonishment while Lorenz helped the Baroness to dismount, took off her boots, and washed her feet in the spring—the Wittmers' only source of drinking water (Wittmer, 1959).
Later that day, the Baroness talked Heinz Wittmer into taking a package of mail that she had brought for Dr. Ritter. “I have to return to Post Office Bay at once. I won't have time to bring it to him myself,” she explained.
Despite his good will, Wittmer was too busy that day, and went to see Dr. Ritter the following morning. Here, he found out to his great surprise that the Baroness had spent the night at Friedo. However, the two men's puzzlement did not last very long. There were clear indications that all the letters had been opened. The two men understood that she was trying to cause bad feelings between them, besides prying into Dr. Ritter's affairs (Wittmer, 1959).
It did not take very long before there was a series of unpleasant incidents between the other inhabitants of the island and the Baroness, especially with Dr. Ritter. However, there were also some peaceful periods. One day, she came to visit Mrs. Wittmer, soon after the latter had given birth to Rolf, a healthy baby boy. The Baroness was very pleasant and friendly. She had even left her revolver at home, which had never happened before. She brought gifts for the newborn child—baby clothes and a can of powdered milk.
It was discovered later that Captain Irving Johnson and his wife Electa, owners of the brigantine Yankee, had left a whole case of powdered milk cans and a package of baby clothes, which the Baroness had helpfully offered to deliver to the Wittmers, as the Johnsons were in a hurry to sail (Wittmer, 1959).
A short time before her visit to Mrs. Wittmer, the Baroness had had a serious incident with Kristian Stampa, one of the Santa Cruz Norwegians. Stampa and an Austrian visitor sailed one day into Post Office Bay. After visiting some of the inhabitants of the island, they shot a bull calf on their way back to the shore. It was an old custom among the Santa Cruz Norwegians to supply themselves with beef whenever they visited Floreana or Isabela.
As they approached the beach with the intention of paddling out to the Falcon, Stampa's motor sailor, the Baroness came out from the Norwegian house. She was furious. Drawing her gun and pointing it at them, she accused, “You've killed one of my animals!” Then, she screamed hysterically, “Valdivieso! Philipson!”
The two came out. While the woman held her gun on Stampa and the Austrian, she ordered Valdivieso and Philipson to destroy the little raft that Stampa used for coming ashore. Then, she let them go. Stampa went at once to see Dr. Ritter, while the Austrian went to the Wittmers, who had a small canvas boat hidden in the thickets near Black Beach. After Stampa came to the Wittmers with a letter Dr. Ritter had written to the governor, Wittmer braved the rough seas to take the two visitors aboard the Falcon.
A few weeks later, the governor arrived to investigate the incident. He had an escort of eight fully armed soldiers. With him, he brought the Dane Knud Arends as an interpreter. Dr. Ritter was furious after the inquiry was over, and the Baroness and Philipson left with the governor, to spend some time on San Cristóbal as his guests. However, he had to agree with Wittmer that they would at least have a period of peace while she was away (Wittmer, 1959).
When the Baroness returned, she brought with her Knud Arends, whom she had employed as her gamekeeper. Arends had spent long periods on Floreana during his association with Captain Bruun and Worm-Müller, and had often hunted cattle and pigs in the interior, being thus competent for the job.
Soon after this, a German journalist, Werner Boeckmann, arrived with his brother-in-law, a Mr. Linde. Both politely refused an invitation to stay with the Baroness, setting up a camp near Dr. Ritter's house. They had with them an armed Ecuadorian soldier, who accompanied them everywhere. This caused considerable curiosity among the settlers. However, it does not seem that anyone considered the possibility that the governor may have had second thoughts about his favorable first impression of the Baroness. It is also likely that Valdivieso had expressed his opinion of the lady while on San Cristóbal, on his way to the mainland. When he had left Floreana, shortly before Boeckmann's arrival, he had stated, “I have to get away from here before something happens. This woman is completely out of her mind!” (Wittmer, 1959). Boeckmann's and Linde's repeated refusals to her invitations must have been a painful humiliation to the Baroness. More so as it was only two months since an American millionaire, Vincent Astor, had visited the island without calling on her. He had even returned a written invitation without opening it. This is surprising in the case of Astor, who was known for his kindness and good manners. It is likely that he had heard about the incident with Stampa, whom he had befriended a number of years earlier.
However, the Baroness would not give up. She invited the two Germans to go hunting with her. Having refused all her previous invitations, the two visitors felt that they had to go. They would later regret this act of politeness. During the hunt, Knud Arends was shot in the stomach. It was rumored that the Baroness had intended to hit Linde in a leg, so she could take him home with her and nurse him. According to this version, Arends had moved suddenly, coming in the way as the Baroness was squeezing the trigger (Wittmer, 1959). Arends own version, as told to the author's mother while he was recovering from the wound in Guayaquil, was that she had missed when firing on a wild pig, the bullet ricocheting against a rock.
Philipson and Lorenz tried at first to blame the Ecuadorian soldier, claiming that he had shot at the same time as the Baroness, missing the pig and hitting Arends instead. However, Dr. Ritter, who attended the wounded Dane, claimed that the wound was made by a weapon of a much smaller caliber than the soldier's Mauser (Wittmer, 1959). This claim was later confirmed by the physicians who treated Arends and by the latter.
Knud Arends—and for that matter also the Baroness—was incredibly lucky. The plantation schooner arrived five days after the shooting and took about a fortnight to reach Guayaquil. That Arends did not die from an infection proves that Dr. Ritter did an excellent job with the limited means at his disposal. On the other hand, Robert Philipson looked well after Arends on the voyage to the mainland. It should be remembered that there were no antibiotics and sulpha drugs in those days. Arends, young and healthy as he was, recovered without complications, and was definitely cured of his “Galápagos fever.” He swore he would never return to the islands, and though he lived the rest of his life in Ecuador, he kept his promise.
It was a new and unexpected experience for the inhabitants of Floreana to see a quiet and worried Baroness, after the schooner had sailed with the wounded Arends aboard her. It was not long before she started talking about leaving the islands for good. One day, she told Mrs. Wittmer, “I want to get away from here. I can't stand any more of this bickering with Dr. Ritter.”
And the problems were indeed piling up. It was not only the human relations that were bad. The warm season of 1932-33 had been part of a “Niño year” so the following year brought a severe drought. Being lower and smaller than the other inhabited islands, Floreana is always the one that suffers the most at such times. Fresh water became scarce. Even the largest spring, near the Wittmers, became much reduced. Both tame and wild animals were dying of thirst and starvation in the woodlands. When Philipson came back, things were going from bad to worse. He and the Baroness began to take their frustrations out on the peaceful Lorenz, who not only had to take constant abuse from them, but was also beaten up occasionally by Philipson.
Lorenz, who was in very bad health, decided to return to Germany. When Captain Herman H. Lundh visited Post Office Bay, in February 1934, he was invited to the Baroness' “Hacienda Paradiso” for a weekend. There, Lorenz asked him if he would take him along on his vessel, the Santa Inez. At sailing time, Lorenz did not show up, but the Baroness informed the Norwegian that he had changed his mind about leaving.
After an unusually brutal thrashing by Philipson, Lorenz fled to the Wittmers. The latter wanted to avoid trouble with the Baroness, but felt they could not deny him shelter under the circumstances. Strangely, the Baroness did not react with the expected anger. Instead, she called Lorenz from the trail, making her voice as sweet as possible. Lorenz would go down to her every time, but returned invariably to the Wittmers. On such occasions, he would sit for a long time by himself, weeping like a child (Wittmer, 1959).
One day in March, when Mrs. Wittmer was alone, the Baroness came to visit. She wanted to talk to Lorenz, but both he and Wittmer had gone into the woods. She was in a hurry, and could not wait for them to return. She informed Mrs. Wittmer, “Robert and I are leaving with some English friends, who have a yacht. We'll look for a better place to live, on one of the South Sea islands. I only wanted to ask Rudy to look after the property and the animals, until I can send him word on what to do with everything.” (Wittmer, 1959).
Neither Wittmer nor Lorenz believed the Baroness' story. Lorenz took his time to eat, calmly enjoying his meal, before going to see the Baroness. When he finally got there, he cautiously approached the house. The story could have been put together to lure him there. Philipson had, after all, threatened more than once to kill Lorenz. But there was nobody in the house. Lorenz went to the caves, in the hill behind it. There was nobody there either. A closer inspection inside the house showed that the personal belongings of the Baroness and Philipson were gone. Down at Post Office Bay, Lorenz only found some footprints on the beach, below the Norwegian house (Blomberg, 1936; Wittmer, 1959).
Nobody in the Galápagos had seen the British yacht. In fact, a well known American yachtsman, William Albert Robinson, investigated the matter later, finding to his surprise that the only yacht that had been in the Galápagos at the time was his own vessel, the Svaap. And the Svaap never left the islands. While at Tagus Cove, Robinson had trouble with his appendix, being incredibly lucky in that a tuna clipper happened to be in the vicinity. The fishing vessel radioed the Canal Zone, and a sea plane was sent out with personnel and equipment to operate on Robinson. At the same time, a ship was sent with fuel for the plane's return flight to the Canal Zone, where both Robinson and his wife were flown. The Svaap was later towed to San Cristóbal, where she broke her anchor chain one night, ending up on the rocks at Wreck Bay, with her bottom smashed in (Robinson, 1936).
Those living on Floreana came up with several explanations as to what could have happened to the Baroness and Philipson, but nobody actually believed they had left the island. The Wittmers speculated about the possibility of Lorenz shooting the couple, hiding their bodies and disposing of their personal belongings. They also considered the possibility that Dr. Ritter could have done this. Or both he and Lorenz together.
Dr. Ritter expressed early his belief that Philipson and the Baroness could have committed suicide, since they had failed in practically all their projects and had no money left. Despite this, he and Dore Strauch also spread the rumor that they had heard shots and a woman's scream coming from the direction of the Baroness' property. This of course pointed at the Wittmers and Lorenz as the assassins, especially since none of them admitted to hearing anything, despite the fact that they lived much closer to the Baroness than did Dr. Ritter.
However, if one is familiar with Floreana and takes into account the relative positions of the properties and the topography of the island, Dr. Ritter's story becomes, to put it mildly, rather improbable. It gives the impression that, being rid of the Baroness and Philipson, and with Lorenz about to leave the island, the good doctor could not resist the temptation of getting rid of the Wittmers as well. He was not likely to get such a good opportunity again in his lifetime. He and Dore could once more have the island to themselves.
Ritter's oasis is about halfway between Black Beach and Cerro de la Paja, Floreana's highest volcano (640 m.) Cerro de la Paja has high ridges on both sides, which form, together with the mountain itself, a barrier between the dry lowlands to the west (where the oasis is located) and the fertile plateau at the center of the island. The Baroness had her house almost halfway across this plateau.
As can be seen, we have here some distance to consider, besides a mountainous barrier that would effectively obstruct any sound, in addition to the sound-dampening effect of the woodland on both sides of the mountains. Then, the Baroness and the Wittmers had been living some time without any friction to speak of. This last fact eliminates any motive powerful enough to induce peace loving and law abiding people like the Wittmers to commit murder.
If Lorenz knew more than he told, he took this information with him to his grave. He left Floreana in July, 1934, with the Norwegian Trygve Nuggerud. The latter had come over with the Swedish travel writer Rolf Blomberg, who had read about the Baroness and wanted to interview her. With them was also Arthur Worm-Müller, who came along to visit his old friend Dr. Ritter. Lorenz sailed with the visitors when they returned to Santa Cruz (Blomberg, 1936).
On the trip over, they sighted the plantation schooner on her way to Isabela. Knowing that she would call at San Cristóbal on her return voyage to Guayaquil, Lorenz did his best to talk Nuggerud into taking him to San Cristóbal. The Norwegian was reluctant to do so, but finally accepted, despite the warnings of Gordon Wold, another Norwegian, whom Nuggerud asked to come along.
Wold would not sail with them. “It's Friday, it's the thirteenth, and you have a German aboard. Any one of these reasons is enough by itself to keep any sensible person from going to sea.” World's third reason was a superstition common among the Galápagos Norwegians, who were convinced that sailing with a German invariably brought bad luck.
Nuggerud and Lorenz never reached San Cristóbal. It is obvious that Nuggerud's old, unreliable engine gave up and they drifted to the dreaded northern islands. It seems that they may have anchored off Marchena, where the two Europeans landed in a dinghy. The motor boat probably broke the rope that held her to the heavy rock Nuggerud used for an anchor. In any case, she was never seen again, nor was Pazmiño, the Ecuadorian boy who sailed with them. The dinghy was found above the beach, as were the mummified remains of Nuggerud and Lorenz, by the crew of the Santo Amaro, a tuna clipper from California.
If Dr. Ritter knew anything, he kept it to himself, also taking it with him to his grave. He died of food poisoning in November of the same fatal year. It was with his death that the series of tragic events that took place in Galápagos in 1934 came to an end.
The Baroness loved publicity. Had she and Philipson been alive, it is most likely that they would have reappeared somewhere, to bask in the considerable publicity that the world press gave their disappearance. It is very hard to believe otherwise.
But what did actually happen on Floreana? Nobody really knows. Nobody can. One may speculate and arrive at one, two or three possible answers. Then, it is also possible that Dr. Ritter's first assumption of suicide may have been correct. The Baroness had once said, “When it's all over, we'll smoke our last cigarette and take our last drink. Then, we'll walk down the beach, hand in hand, out into the endless ocean.”
Both the current and the wind stand offshore at Post Office Bay. Everything that comes into the water there will drift out to sea, never to return.
Earliest known inhabitants. Capt. Olaf Eilertsen organizes a canning cooperative, which settles on Santa Cruz. The schooner Alatga and her adventures. Reduction of the Santa Cruz settlement to four bachelors in 1929. Increase of the population from 1931. The project of Captain Lundh and Gordon Wold. Arrival of new Norwegians in 1935. Increase of the Ecuadorian population in 1937.
Santa Cruz is the second largest of the Galápagos, with a surface of about a thousand square kilometers. At its highest point, Mount Crocker, it reaches an altitude of 864 meters. Though its soil is the best in the Galápagos and it has a relatively large arable area, it was settled late. However, a few people had attempted to establish themselves in the highlands from time to time, before a really permanent population was formed.
It has already been mentioned that pre-Columbian pottery sherds were found by Thor Heyerdahl's Norwegian Archaeological Expedition, in 1953 (at Whale Bay, in the northwest of the island). Similar remains were also found at Cerro Colorado, on the northeast side, by the Walt Disney Expedition, about a year later. Here, as elsewhere in the Galápagos, everything seems to indicate that the visiting mainland aborigines made no attempt at settling. No remains of graves, ceremonial vessels and constructions have ever been found (Lundh, 1995).
At the time of General Villamil there were two or three huts at the foot of the conspicuous hill that rises above the beach at Whale Bay. Henri Louns, Compte de Gueydon, commanding the French vessel Le Genie, remained at this anchorage four days in 1846 (Slevin, 1959). He mentions a trail leading inland to a spring. The only spring in this area is that at Santa Rosa. He writes nothing about farming of any sort, the few people on the island living at the beach. They were engaged in tortoise hunting, probably for oil extraction, though some live tortoises were most likely kept for trading with visiting ships. It is quite possible that these people may also have collected orchil. They were all in the service of Generals Villamil and Mena (Lundh, 1995).
As has been mentioned earlier, the Swedish botanist Nils Johan Andersson and his companions from the frigate Eugenie found a small group of men and a woman living at Whale Bay in 1852 (Andersson, 1854). Whether these had been left here by the authorities or had escaped from Floreana is not known. On San Cristóbal it was told that these people were criminals and the woman was their leader.
The Norwegian zoologist Alf Wollebaek (1934) reports that an American and an Englishman had spent fifteen years on Santa Cruz. They were supposed to have lived in the highlands, but he gives no information as to whether they had settled at Santa Rosa or in the southern part of the highlands, which became the main farming area in later years. Nor does he give any clue as to when they had been on the island. They were no longer there in 1925, when Wollebaek visited the Galápagos.
The first Norwegian settlers on Santa Cruz, who arrived in 1926, were told about two small abandoned farms in the highlands, inland from Whale Bay, near a range of hills known as Sierra de las Chacras—Range of the Farms. The one nearest Whale Bay, in the lower part of the moist region, was known as Salazaca, while the one farther inland, near the spring, was called Santa Rosa. It was mainly at Santa Rosa that a great variety of foods grew, such as oranges, limes, bananas, plantains, cassava, sugar cane, taro and sweet potatoes.
The early Norwegian settlers, especially those who arrived at the beginning of the 1930's, came here occasionally for supplies. The two or three small established farms in the southern highlands could not always meet all the needs of the growing colony. The overland journey to Sierra de las Chacras was a tough one. Since the trail was not in constant use, it kept growing over and every trip meant much machete work. When approaching Santa Rosa, there was also a tangled barrier formed by thickets with hooked thorns that ripped the clothes and lacerated the skin. This plant called “mora” (Caesalpinia bonduc) by the Ecuadorian settlers, was found nowhere else on the island. The other place we have met with it in the Galápagos is a little distance inland from Puerto Villamil, on Isabela. Both these locations are unusual for a plant that normally grows on beaches, its pods spreading with the help of marine currents. It has so far never been seen along the Galápagos sea shore, which together with the above facts makes it likely that the species has been introduced, perhaps accidentally, by the tortoise hunters.
The Norwegians and later settlers often called the farms at Santa Rosa and Salazaca “the pirates' farms”, believing they had been started by the buccaneers. San Cristóbal tradition however maintains that both farms were planted on orders from don Manuel Julián Cobos, so that his orchil collectors and tortoise hunters could have fresh food while working in that part of the archipelago.
The two farms survived until the early 1940's, being eventually destroyed by introduced animals. This had not happened earlier because the donkeys introduced by the tortoise hunters kept mostly to the dry lowlands, while cattle, goats and pigs took their time to spread from the southern part of the island, where they had been introduced in the second half of the 1920's.
The brackish water hole at Academy Bay seems to have been in use from an early time, the name “Aguada de Chávez” being much older than that of Academy Bay, the name given to this anchorage by the California Academy of Sciences Expedition of 1905-06. (Aguada means watering place and Chávez is one of the names of the island.) The water hole is a fissure in a rocky outcropping, inside a grove of manchineel trees, most of which have been cut down through the years. It is located a few paces above the tiny white beach at the head of the bay, in the place that was named “Pelican Bay” by the first Norwegian settlers.
The members of the Academy's expedition found the remains of a grass hut near this water hole. The hut had been built by a Negro, who had been marooned on Cobos' orders. He had later been rescued by a visiting ship and taken to Isabela, where the Academy's scientists saw him in Puerto Villamil (Slevin, 1931).
It is told on San Cristóbal that the elder Cobos had planned to colonize Santa Cruz. This, like his project of growing cotton in the San Cristóbal lowlands, was cut short by his death. Around 1910, Felipe Lastre settled on Santa Cruz, where he worked a small farm near the present site of Bellavista, inland from Academy Bay. This old Mexican, who has been mentioned earlier, had worked as a foreman at the sugar plantation, and is credited by San Cristóbal tradition with the construction of the series of ditches and pipes that brought water from the grasslands to Progreso, where it was collected in two enormous cisterns at the refinery. This water does not come from the crater lake at El Junco, as is so often believed. It originates from two small brooks that join, forming a water course that has been dammed. It is from this place that the water supply of Progreso and Puerto Baquerizo still comes. The relative positions of the lake and the brooks are such that the latter can in no way be attributed to seepage from the former.
Lastre lived for about seven years in a solitude that was only rarely relieved by visits from fishermen who occasionally camped at la Aguada de Chávez. Another settler, an Ecuadorian called Elías Sánchez, came to the island in 1917, starting a farm in the lower part of the moist region, closer to the bay. In 1925, four men and a few head of cattle were brought over from San Cristóbal. A Guayaquil businessman of the Amador Baquerizo family planned to start a cattle ranch on the island. His men settled near Lastre, naming the area “Hacienda Fortuna”, a name that was later used for the whole area, including the flat land where Bellavista is today. This same name was given by a Norwegian settler, Gordon Wold, to his farm above this area, a few years later. When Mr. Amador's project was later abandoned, his cattle was left on the island. Together with two or three cows left by the Horneman family a few years later, these animals formed the ancestry of the wild cattle that roamed the highlands in later years.
In 1925 there were about a dozen men living in a bamboo house near the Pelican Bay water hole. They had a nearby shed that was used for salting and storing grouper, spiny lobster and shark fillets, which were shipped to the mainland. They were employed by an Italian businessman in Guayaquil, who would occasionally send out a ship to take away their production and bring them supplies (Wollebaek, 1934). Their foreman was a Peruvian, Manuel Gutiérrez, who had come to San Cristóbal as a teenager, the year after Cobos' murder. These men spent about half a year on the island.
When the first Norwegian settlers arrived, in 1926, Amador's men were about to leave the island. They had had enough of the loneliness and isolation, and disliked depending on the rain for their fresh water. They also missed the company of their friends and families, and were willing to return to the much harder work they had known at the sugar plantation. However, they and Felipe Lastre, who also was planning to leave, remained a little longer, to see what opportunities could appear with the arrival of the Norwegians.
The interest of the Norwegians for Santa Cruz goes back to the days of the bark Alexandra, for it was on this island that the ship's master and his men had landed. When the bark was abandoned on May 7, 1907, what was left of food and water was divided between the two lifeboats, as was the crew—nine men to each boat, not counting the officer in charge. Captain Emil Petersen and his chief mate managed to keep the boats together the first two days, then lost contact during the second night. On the third day, the mate and his crew arrived to Floreana, supplying themselves with water and whatever else they could find on the island. Then, they continued to San Cristóbal, where they arrived safely, without having sighted the other boat again (Harbitz, 1915; Hoff, 1985).
In the meantime, Captain Petersen's boat had drifted too far to the north, despite the efforts of the crew to reach Floreana. The contrary current was much too strong. After several days, they had to give up, heading for the northwest shore of Santa Cruz. Here, they landed on the twelfth day, utterly exhausted. They came ashore on a small beach, between jagged volcanic rocks, and went at once in search of water. After drinking avidly from some muddy puddles among the thorny shrubbery near the coast, they returned to the beach to find that the incoming tide had taken their boat, smashing it against the rocks. Its remains lay scattered along the shore, most of their supplies and their limited equipment lost (Hoff, 1985).
There followed six months of incredible hardships, during which the castaways managed to reach the south side of the island. During this period, they survived largely on the blood of the animals they killed. Two of the men died, before the survivors were finally rescued. The Ecuadorian authorities had sent out a naval vessel to search for the missing boat and its crew; but all they found was the after part of the Alexandra, sitting on the shore of the exposed southwestern side of Isabela, with its Norwegian flag flying defiantly in the chilly breeze (Hoff,1985).
Apparently, the ship had been thrown ashore here by the breakers, stern first. The front part had broken off, plunging into the sea below. (The shore here goes down almost vertically to a considerable depth.) Near where the Alexandra grounded is a small, steep beach, just by Point Essex, where fairly good water is found between the beach and the trees behind it. Digging an inch or two at the foot of some Cuban hemp trees (Hibiscus tiliaceus), the water seeps from the sandy soil. These trees are quite conspicuous with their large, yellow blossoms and peltate leaves, against the darker vegetation behind them.
Though the official search was given up and the missing seamen assumed to be dead, Captain Petersen's relatives refused to give up hope. One of his cousins, Hans Erichsen, who lived in Chile, where he had made a fortune in the saltpeter mines, chartered the schooner Isadora Jacinta, sending her to the islands. This vessel was small, maneuverable and with a relatively shallow draft that allowed her to get fairly close inshore. Her master, Captain Bohnhoff, was a German who knew the Galápagos well (Hoff, 1985).
Captain Bohnhoff visited three islands before he sailed to Santa Cruz, where he finally located the surviving crew members and their captain. All were in poor condition, but a living example of the incredible lengths to which human endurance can be pushed by the will to survive. One of these castaways was the ship's carpenter, Herman Karlsen, who later sailed on the Fiery Cross, under Captain Olaf Eilertsen (Hoff, 1985).
As we have seen, Captain Eilertsen had been prominent in the Floreana project. However, bad health had prevented him from sailing, as originally intended, as master of the Floreana. It also prevented him from traveling to the islands to take charge of the shore party at Floreana. His lifelong dream of settling in the Galápagos seemed for a while out of reach.
But all was not lost. The enthusiastic accounts published in Norwegian newspapers about the new colony on Floreana, as well as the success Eilertsen and Christensen had had in recruiting people for the project, induced Eilertsen to announce a new one—a settlement on Santa Cruz. He published advertisements in the leading Norwegian newspapers on January 2, 1926, receiving an impressive response—more than one hundred and fifty letters before the end of the month (Hoff, 1985).
Eilertsen's colony differed in a number of points from that of Floreana. Practically all the investors were to become settlers, and the main purpose of the colony was to set up a cannery. As the winter wore on, the enthusiasm for Galápagos reached unexpected heights. It was not only the cold weather and the short days that were behind this reaction. Christensen had returned from the islands, and was greatly satisfied with the initial results of his project. Wollebaek and his assistant Hansen were also back, sorting out their remarkable collections, while the newspapers provided the best possible publicity for the Floreana project.
In the meantime, Captain Alf Gude Due, who had purchased the schooner Alatga, made an agreement with Captain Eilertsen to take over some of the colonists the latter had had to refuse. In fact, the applications to join had by then passed five hundred, and the schooner Ulva, purchased by Eilertsen, could only take a little over forty. It was also agreed that Due's team would become part of the Santa Cruz project, headed by Captain Eilertsen (Hoff, 1985).
By April, work was being carried out on the ships, as much as possible of it being done by the members of the two groups, in order to reduce expenses. The Ulva was not much of a problem, as she had been recently overhauled by her previous owners. The Alatga however was in a deplorable condition. Her sails and rigging were worn out, while her two engines should have been completely replaced. Unfortunately, neither could be done with the available funds. It was decided that the Ulva should sail ahead, while those who were taking along their families would travel later on the Alatga. This would also allow the men on the Ulva to build the cannery and the dwellings so that production could begin at an early date, and the families would have a place to live on arrival.
After a few delays, the Ulva sailed in May, with forty-five people aboard, including Miss Borghild Rorud, who was to collect plants for the University of Oslo. She spent four months in the Galápagos, returning to Norway with a fine collection of specimens. A new species (Acacia rorudiana) was named after her. The voyage itself was marked by high spirits and much activity. Among other things, the timber for the houses was measured, cut and numbered to facilitate construction on arrival.
However, enthusiasm was greatly dampened on arriving to Panama. The ship's funds were low, and upon crossing into the Pacific they met with calms. Worse was yet to come. Reaching Guayaquil, the prospective colonists found that the representatives they had sent ahead to engage an agent and arrange the necessary permits for settling in the Galápagos had done neither. Nor had any money arrived, as expected, from their office in Norway (Hoff, 1985).
Håkon Bryhn, the Norwegian consul, managed to get the group a provisional permit to settle in the islands. With their usual good will, the Ecuadorian authorities allowed them to set up operations in two bays of their own choice, and granted each colonist the right to take for himself the twenty hectares of land that were usually allowed settlers. Two Ecuadorian army officers accompanied the settlers to Santa Cruz, to survey the areas they might wish to occupy. At this point, everything else also seemed to turn once more to their advantage. The expected funds arrived from Norway, allowing them to purchase supplies, fuel and a few other necessities, while the Ecuadorian Navy expressed an interest in acquiring the Ulva. This last was considered especially lucky, as the schooner was much too large for their future needs and too expensive to maintain.
After visiting San Cristóbal and spending several days with their countrymen on Floreana, the new settlers arrived at Academy Bay, in the afternoon of August 7, 1926. Here, they chose the safest anchorage, in the southwest of the bay, close to the cliffs, finding the one outside Pelican Bay exposed and rather unsafe. The old landing on the beach near the water hole was also found inadequate, as it is difficult to use at low tide on account of the soft mud and the sharp rocks that are uncovered below it. Instead, a channel was blasted into the sheltered lagoon in the northwest corner of the bay. Here, a stone jetty was built, just inside the entrance. It is still in use. A fish trap for mullets was built farther in, on the same side as the jetty.
Rails were laid from the jetty to the cannery site, some forty meters inland from the new landing. A pipeline was laid to the water hole in Pelican Bay, concrete walls were erected for the ground floor of the cannery building, and seven wooden houses were constructed, as well as a brick oven for baking. All this work was accomplished in about two months, while fish, turtle meat and spiny lobster were being canned. Also, farming was begun in the highlands, some seven kilometers inland, near the site of Fortuna.
In the meantime, Captain Due and the Alatga had finally left Norway, bringing the married men, the women and the children. The Alatga sailed barely three weeks after the Ulva, but her voyage was haunted from the very beginning by all sorts of problems. The greatest and most persistent was that of engine trouble, as her two ancient motors kept stalling, and had to be constantly repaired and coaxed into action by a long-suffering engineer. To make matters worse, the rather shallow draft of the old schooner made her a poor sailor, which caused her to be overly dependent on her failing engines.
Still, they somehow made it to Panama, where it was found that the people on the Ulva had had to borrow money for the canal and pilot fees, and for refueling. To do this, they had used the Alatga as security. Funds were very low, and no money had been sent, as agreed, by their office in Norway. Much valuable time was lost in waiting, while many telegrams were sent before any funds finally arrived. The money that came was too little, and they could barely pay their bills and obtain limited supplies to continue their voyage. By then, several members had abandoned the group, an action none of them would have reason to regret later.
If things had been bad before, they became rapidly worse after entering the Pacific. Rain, bad weather and unstable wind conditions, constant engine trouble and inadequate food made the voyage a nightmare. The deteriorating rigging and the worn sails began to fall apart, and one of the engines cracked a cylinder, making it totally useless (Hoff, 1985). After a near shipwreck in the Darién, the Alatga miraculously managed to return to Panama, where the group finally broke up, some of its member returning to Norway, others settling in various parts of the New World. Only four attempted reaching the Galápagos on their own, arriving there in January of 1927. One of these, Sigvart Tuset, remained on Santa Cruz for two and a half years, before moving to Colombia.
The cannery at Academy Bay remained in production until November 1927. However, a number of problems had presented themselves. The power source of the cannery was an old gasoline-guzzling tractor that had been brought from Norway. The constant fuel problem caused by this machine was solved with the purchase of the steam engine of the Post Office Bay group. This proved to be an excellent investment, as good dry firewood was then plentiful around Academy Bay.
The colony's supply of fruits and vegetables was good, as Anders Rambech, a horticulturist, had taken over the subsistence farm started by Amador Baquerizo's men at Fortuna. At first, he was helped by two agronomists, who were later replaced by Sigvart Tuset of the Alatga. The little farm was made to produce a great variety of vegetables, from radishes, cabbages and cucumbers to the bananas, plantains, cassava and taro left by the first tenants.
However, the sale of the Ulva to the Ecuadorian Navy gave the settlers little to be happy about. Most of the proceeds went to the manager in Norway, who demanded back pay as well as refunds for expenses he had had on behalf of the company. There was also a considerable commission to someone who had acted as agent. The first shipments of canned goods, sent on the Ulva and on Captain Bruun's Isabela gave no reason for joy either. They were well received on the mainland market, but too much of the proceeds was taken by middlemen, storage costs and other expenses.
The settlers finally had to admit that their head office in Norway had been an expensive and serious mistake. It was decided that the administration of the colony should rest entirely in the hands of those who still remained on Santa Cruz. In the meantime, a shipment of 180 cases, each containing 96 cans, was being made ready to be sent in January 1927. Some canned goods were also set aside for bartering at the plantation on San Cristóbal. The shipment sold well in Guayaquil, leaving a satisfactory profit (Hoff, 1985).
Unfortunately, the colony's only reliable contact with the mainland was now the Isabela, so when she was impounded the colony on Santa Cruz was left rather isolated. Things would have been completely hopeless had it not been for Herman Hansen Vik, a former member of the group, who had become an officer in the Ecuadorian Navy, as chief engineer on the former Ulva, now called Patria. Through his good offices, the ship made occasional calls at Santa Cruz.
The old schooner that belonged to the sugar plantation on San Cristóbal, the Manuel J. Cobos, which was later renamed San Cristóbal, had orders from don Rogelio Alvarado not to call at Academy Bay. The anchorage was considered too exposed, and the old ship's auxiliary engine was too unreliable to be trusted in an emergency. The common belief among the Norwegian settlers was that this was simply an excuse, and that Alvarado resented their dry fish production, which competed against that of his own fishermen. There may be some truth in this, for the Norwegians turned out a much better product.
New problems kept turning up. A drought finished off most of the vegetable garden in the highlands. It proved impossible to get spare parts for the Norwegian engines in the two fishing boats, and it became increasingly difficult to supply the cannery with turtles, fish and lobster. The continuous exploitation of the area around Academy Bay was having a telling effect on the local populations of spiny lobster, mullets, turtles and groupers (these last for producing dry fish). That it should become necessary to go farther afield for their catches when their engines could no longer be properly maintained made the situation increasingly difficult.
As the situation became rapidly worse, so did the relations within the group. Those remaining on the island had frequent disagreements with those sent to Guayaquil to represent them there, as well as among themselves. Finally, it was decided to dissolve the company, selling as much as possible of the assets in Guayaquil (Hoff, 1985). This was a regrettable decision, as this was the Norwegian group that showed the best potential for succeeding, as well as the best ability for adapting to the conditions in Galápagos. Its members had shown on the whole a greater will to accept a life that was very different from that they had been used to, and make the best of it. The cannery could have continued production had they had a little more capital, despite the poor communications with the mainland.
It was decided that operations would end in December 1927. Canning was therefore continued through November. It was then that a frightful accident took place in the cannery, causing Birger Rostrup serious burns. He died three days later, and was buried on the 25th. His grave was dug just inside the stone fence that now exists around the naval garrison.
That same year, a new Norwegian settler had arrived to the island. Jacob Hersleb Horneman, a mining engineer, arrived with his wife Anna, purchased one of the cannery's buildings and had it reassembled on a rise inland from Fortuna. Here, the couple started their farm. When most of the Norwegians left in December, the Hornemans, Sigvart Tuset and Elías Sánchez were the only people remaining in the highlands. At Academy Bay, there were only Kristian Stampa, Gordon Wold and Gunnar Larsen, the last from the Alatga. Amador's employees, Felipe Lastre and most of the Norwegians left on the Patria on December 22.
The following year there was a modest increase in the island's population. Mrs. Horneman returned from San Cristóbal with Robert, a healthy baby boy. Two Norwegian families who had been living at Wreck Bay also came to Santa Cruz—Emil and Olga Larsen (no relations of Gunnar) with their daughter, and Arnulf and Eugenie Greiner with their two sons. These two families owned a fine motor boat, with which the men continued fishing, as they had done at the other island.
The little colony seemed after all destined to survive, especially now that Captain Bruun had become master of the Manuel J. Cobos and regularly defied Alvarado's orders, calling at Academy Bay to bring mail and supplies and take away the dry fish produced by the settlers. Things began to look promising again, until tragedy struck.
On October 9, 1928, Emil and Gunnar Larsen went to Tortuga Bay, a lagoon to the west of Academy Bay, where the settlers often supplied themselves with sea turtles for meat and oil. The sea was rough that day, and Stampa and Wold, who were familiar with local conditions, warned them to wait until the sea calmed down, as the entrance to the lagoon would be dangerous on account of the large breakers and the reefs.
But the two went anyway. They even managed to get into the lagoon, where they made a very good catch. However, when they attempted to get out with a heavily loaded boat, they did not make it. Later, when the other men in Academy Bay went to search for them, a quantity of battered, dead sea turtles were found scattered along the shore with the splintered planking of the boat. The remains of the two Larsens were carried back to the little settlement and buried next to Rostrup. The three graves with their white wooden crosses on piles of black lava, against a background of white shell sand, formed a sad little grouping until they were removed ten years later by the military garrison. The Larsens and the Greiners left Galápagos at the first opportunity, returning to Norway. They had had enough of the islands.
At the beginning of 1929, a new Norwegian settler arrived. He had been a member of one of several colonization groups that had been organized in Norway and never got beyond the preliminary planning stage. This gentleman has gone down in history as “Grise-Johansen”—Johansen of the Pigs—because he has the doubtful merit of having released the first pigs on Santa Cruz. He purchased Tuset's farm, when the latter decided to try his luck in Colombia.
In June of that year, Tuset and the Hornemans left on the Manuel J. Cobos. Mrs. Horneman expected her second child, and was not willing to go through another birth in the primitive conditions that then existed on San Cristóbal. This time, she would have her baby in Norway; but she also held the secret hope that her husband would give up Galápagos for good. The permanent population of Santa Cruz was now reduced to four bachelors—Sánchez, Stampa, Wold and Johansen, the last remaining only a little longer on the island.
Things were much the same until 1931, when Hilda and Arthur Worm-Müller moved to Academy Bay. Since the latter could not talk the Norwegians into joining him on Floreana, he decided to join them on Santa Cruz. A Danish engineer, R.H. Raeder and his wife, and their Icelandic associate, Walter Finsen, also arrived that year. Raeder, who had some capital, built himself a very fine bungalow, a short distance from the Norwegian graves. He also had two smaller houses built for his workmen in the vicinity. Raeder and Finsen later started a small farm next to Sánchez, in the lower part of the moist region, calling the place “El Rancho.” The Dane had first considered starting a cannery, but instead sent his motor boat out to fish grouper, joining the dry fish production. Aside from Finsen, he had the assistance of Ewald Formo, one of the San Cristóbal Norwegians. Formo remained on Santa Cruz only about a year. Raeder's activities and the fishing of Stampa and Wold brought a small, more or less seasonal Ecuadorian population to Academy Bay, mainly from San Cristóbal.
The Hornemans returned in 1932, bringing along their eldest son. During the following months, Horneman was busy clearing land and planting coffee. That year, another Norwegian came over from San Cristóbal, Trygve Nuggerud, bringing along his Ecuadorian wife, María. With his motor boat, he increased the dry fish production of the island. Between then and the war, a few independent settlers, some with their families, arrived; but there were no more organized groups in that period. Also, there were a number of would-be settlers who remained for more or less short periods, giving up even before they had made a real attempt at making a living on the island. In early 1932, Captain Herman H. Lundh arrived, being joined later in the year by his wife Helga and their son Jacob. Captain Lundh, who had been skeptical of the “Galápagos fever” that had aroused such enthusiasm in Norway, had originally intended to settle in South Africa, but decided to look at the possibilities that Ecuador and the Galápagos had to offer. At the time, the communications between the mainland and Santa Cruz had nearly broken down, and it seemed like a good idea to do something about it. It was generally believed that Captain Bruun had done well with the Isabela, despite her small size. The local Norwegians were convinced that a small sailing vessel, somewhat larger than the Isabela, could be a good investment, but none of them had the necessary capital.
Captain Lundh had arrived at the time when the partnership between Wold and Stampa had broken up. Stampa bought Wold's share of their boat, the Falcon, and they divided their property and the house they had in the highlands, the same that had belonged to Rambech and Tuset, later to Johansen. Thus, Captain Lundh got himself a partner, Gordon Wold, who knew his way around the islands. The two went to Guayaquil to find a suitable ship. On a visit to Puná, Captain Lundh discovered a cutter-rigged vessel sitting on the beach, falling at once in love with her beautiful lines, which told the experienced seaman that she was an excellent sailor.
The Santa Inez, as she was called, was duly purchased and taken to Guayaquil to make her ready for the voyage to Galápagos. She was larger than the Isabela, having a greater cargo capacity and a spacious after cabin. Things started well, as they even got cargo for the sugar plantation, the schooner being up for repairs. With the vessels that fished out of Academy Bay and her own catches, they would have enough cargo during the fishing season. During this period there was also a large amount of cargo to be had in Guayaquil, as the Ecuadorians who came over from San Cristóbal to fish from Academy Bay increased the population there at least threefold, which meant more supplies from the mainland. In a very few years, there would also be a production of coffee. Then, there was the possibility of cargo from Isabela. However, it seems that no serious thought had been given to the slack season, and that selling fish outside the Easter period had been very much overrated.
At this stage there was very little happening in the highlands. We have mentioned the two small farms in the lower moist region—Raeder's “El Rancho” with its modest area of three and a half hectares (less than nine acres) and that of Sánchez with only one hectare (about 2.5 acres). Some distance above them, a Colombian fisherman called Córdova had a two-hectare property, which he abandoned a couple of years later. Above this, near today's Bellavista, was Abraham Bedoya's “La Victoria” of twenty hectares. Bedoya, who arrived around the middle of the 1930's, lived on Santa Cruz until his death, in the 1980's, when he was well over one hundred years old. Not far from Bedoya, and higher up the mountain, were the properties of Wold (“Fortuna”) and Stampa with twenty hectares each. To the east of the latter was Horneman's “Progreso,” then only five hectares. The extent of this latter property was increased in later years and renamed “Vilnis”—Norwegian for wilderness—by his third wife, who had a sense for reality.
The growth of the permanent population was slow. In 1933, Stampa had his fiancée, Alvhild Holand, come down from Norway, and they were married in Guayaquil. They had not seen each other for seven years, which did not prevent them from having a long and happy marriage. The following year, their daughter Anne was born, the first birth recorded for Santa Cruz. 1933 also brought out the German don Carlos Kübler, with his wife Marga and his daughter Carmen. This family had lived a number of years in Spain and were fluent in Spanish, a fact that led to don Carlos being appointed comisario. As such, he took up residence in the cannery building, after evicting the Worm-Müllers.
The government had claimed all the remaining property belonging to the cannery, on the basis of some obscure paragraph in the company's concession. In fact, both Stampa and Wold lost their houses in Academy Bay because of this, the latter being evicted to make room for the soldier who came with Kübler. Stampa was allowed to keep his house until 1937, when a garrison was established on the island. Wold took his loss in stride as he spent much of his time on the mainland and sailing as mate of the Santa Inez. Later, he went to live on his farm, where he grew coffee for shipment to Guayaquil.
Two former members of the cannery group also returned to the island—Jens Moe in 1934, and Anders Rambech the following year. The latter had recently married a charming redhead from Oslo, Solveig Hansen. Both men started farms in the highlands, Moe above Stampa's property and Rambech above the former. Both held claims of twenty hectares each.
In the meantime, the Santa Inez was proving unprofitable. There was too little cargo outside the fishing season to make ends meet. There were also other problems, which led Gordon Wold to believe that the ship was jinxed. On her first voyage, while fishing in the Sulivan Bay area (Santiago), she was caught in a calm, drifting north with the strong current to be saved miraculously from shipwreck on waterless Marchena, where Nuggerud and Lorenz would die of thirst less than two years later. However, financially, this trip was fairly good.
The second voyage of the Santa Inez was a total disaster. The near shipwreck on Marchena induced Captain Lundh to buy an engine in Guayaquil. Though supposedly checked by an expert, this engine turned out to be little more than unnecessary ballast. In addition to constant engine trouble, the voyage from Guayaquil was beset by calms, unstable wind conditions, and nearly constant rain. The warm season of 1932-33 was a “Niño” year. With the sky overcast all the time, it was impossible to take an altitude of the sun or any other heavenly body, to determine a reliable position. Soon after leaving the mainland, Captain Lundh became ill with symptoms that strongly suggest he had yellow fever. As he became worse, he collapsed into a fever that disconnected him from reality. Wold decided to return to the mainland, to which Mrs. Lundh and the three passengers heartily agreed.
Captain Lundh recovered after a long convalescence, and a third voyage was prepared. Since Mrs. Lundh was expecting, she and the couple's son remained in Guayaquil, where the second boy, Eric, was born. By then, the Santa Inez was in the Galápagos on what promised to be a good voyage. However, while fishing around Santiago, the engine gave up for good, despite the capable efforts of Hansen, the new Danish engineer. Nuggerud was fishing together with the Santa Inez, but his engine was too small and unreliable for him to tow the larger vessel back to Academy Bay.
Captain Lundh decided to attempt returning to the mainland with the aid of a fickle and weak breeze. He had already seen the results of trying to sail back to Santa Cruz under similar conditions. The water supply was low, so he could not take along all his men. Asking for volunteers, he was left with two of his Ecuadorian seamen and the Dane Hansen. Wold and the rest of the fishermen returned to Academy Bay with Nuggerud. In the meantime, firewood had been taken aboard in quantity, and Hansen had rigged up a still from the fuel lines of the now useless engine, so that sea water could be distilled to supplement their low fresh water supply.
While the Guayaquil press worked feverishly with the story of Baroness von Wagner, whose disappearance had become known on the mainland, they also had an article or two about the Santa Inez, which they claimed had disappeared with all hands in a great storm, vividly described by an imaginative journalist, who blithely ignored the fact that real storms are unknown in the area. In the meantime, the Santa Inez made it to the coast of Esmeraldas, where she was sold to a local trader, after she had broken her anchor chain and ended up on a beach. She had suffered no damage, and could easily have been set afloat again; but Captain Lundh had had enough. He felt he had spent far too much effort and money beyond his initial investment. Buying some mules, he headed south with his three faithful companions, along the seemingly endless, palm-fringed beach of Atacames. When the little band finally reached Guayaquil, they were amazed to learn of their shipwreck and death.
In 1935, some more Norwegians came out—Thorvald Kastdalen, his wife Marie, their son Alf and their partner Amanda Christoffersen. With them came also the Graffer family—Sigurd, his wife Solveig, with their sons Arne and Erling. The same year saw also the arrival of a Swedish family, the Lundbergs—Saimy and John, with their daughter Gloria. Another Swedish family who came with them were so disappointed that they left with the next ship. The Kastdalens and Miss Christoffersen worked up one of the finest farms in the Galápagos. The Lundbergs also had a very fine property. Graffer however neglected his as he became increasingly engaged in construction work, as the settlement in Academy Bay slowly began to grow in later years, and his skills as a builder came increasingly into demand.
When Captain Lundh and his family returned from Guayaquil in 1936, they found a thriving little Norwegian colony. It began to look as if this time the Norwegians would succeed, especially since there was still a certain interest in the islands in Norway, and more people might arrive from there. The Lundhs rented Raeder's bungalow, the owners moving up to “El Rancho” in the highlands. They had given up fishing, and hoped to sell their boat and the house in the bay. It had all been a pleasant experience, but quite unprofitable. However, finding a buyer was very difficult. At the time, the only likely one was Captain Lundh, but it was still uncertain if he and his family would stay on the island.
The opportunity to sell appeared from a quite unexpected quarter. When Colonel Carlos Puente, the governor, established a garrison on Santa Cruz, the officers were lodged in the former cannery. It was now Kübler's turn to move out. Luckily for the old Alsatian, he had already purchased Nuggerud's house from the latter's widow, a few years earlier. However, the officers did not long enjoy the beautiful view over the bay and beyond. One evening, the tinder dry second floor, which had been built of timber, caught fire. It was the most spectacular sight against the dark sky, and the sound effects that soon followed, after the first flames, were equally impressive, for it did not take long before the ammunition in the ground floor went up in a series of loud explosions.
Fortunately, nobody got hurt, except for a boy servant, who got some minor burns. The garrison's supplies had however gone up in smoke, and a ship was not expected for some time—a month, two or three, anybody's guess was good in those days. Captain Lundh had recently received supplies that were expected to last for six months or so, thus making it possible for the head of the garrison, Lt. Gonzalo Villacís, to borrow sugar, rice, flour and other food for his staff and soldiers, until supplies could be received from San Cristóbal. Other settlers pitched in with whatever they could, and Stampa, who had recently been kicked out from his house by the military, took one of them over to San Cristóbal, so the news of the fire could be duly reported.
When Colonel Puente came over in his yacht with supplies for the garrison, he made a deal with the Raeders to buy their house in Academy Bay, making it possible for them to leave the islands. Finsen kept “El Rancho.” Soon after, Mrs. Lundh and her sons left for Quito, so the boys could go to school, while Captain Lundh, who had taken up twenty hectares in the highlands, next to Wold, moved in with the latter.
The presence of the Norwegians and the still pristine condition of Santa Cruz made it attractive to European settlers. In 1937, the four Angermeyer brothers arrived—Gusch, Hans, Karl and Fritz. Hans brought along his first wife, Lizzie, a beautiful Dutch girl, who came from a wealthy family. Her background and interests made it difficult for her to adapt to the primitive conditions she had to live in while working on a pioneer farm in the Galápagos highlands. She worked hard both indoors and out, and did her best to adapt; but she missed the cultural life of the great European cities to such a degree that she eventually gave up and left. This is not to say that her case was unique, but different people will as a rule react differently to the same situation.
Hans Angermeyer, Lizzie's husband, suffered from poor health, which also made it difficult for him to live on the island he loved so much. He also left, returning once or twice in the following years, before he died on the mainland. Though his three brothers kept the farm, they eventually moved down to the bay, giving up farming for fishing.
In those years there were still few Ecuadorians living permanently on Santa Cruz. We have mentioned Sánchez and Bedoya, who were bachelors. Two other bachelors, both fishermen, who lived on the island were Enrique Salas and Carmelo Triviño. There was also the Colombian Córdova, whom we have mentioned earlier, who was married to one of the Zavala girls from Isabela, all of whom were admired for their good looks. It was the arrival of the garrison that brought the Ecuadorians back to their majority status, though the margin was a small one until, later in 1937, when Captain Rafael Castro and his large family, which included a widowed sister and her two children, landed in Academy Bay. A retired master mariner, he became a neighbor to his colleague Captain Lundh and to Gordon Wold with a hundred-hectare claim. Captain Castro became a good friend to his two neighbors as well as to the other Norwegians on the island.
Europeans continued arriving occasionally, but ended up leaving. An exception was Elfriede Engelmann, a German lady who had met and married Jacob Horneman in England. After one wife and two children, and a second wife with none, the Norwegian mining engineer, who had definitely turned his back on civilization, had finally found himself the wife of his dreams. Resourceful and tough, this frail city woman managed to survive with a smile all the hardships of a Galápagos farm, besides bearing him a daughter and a son.
The last European to reach the island before the war was Håvard Henriksen, who arrived just before the beginning of the war. Henriksen would later marry Lundberg's widow, and the two created between them a very fine property in the highlands.
Continuation of the sugar plantation after Cobos' death. Uprising of the convicts in 1924. Harry Randall's Norwegian colony of 1926. Its short life and failure. Sale of the plantation by Cobos' heirs. Decline of the plantation and destruction of the cane fields.
Though San Cristóbal is only the fifth in size of the Galápagos, with its 550 kms2, it remained by far the most populated island for over a century, until tourism flourished, greatly speeding up the colonization of Santa Cruz. However, it is still the administrative center of the Galápagos, being the seat of the governor and the other main officials. All its population is in the southwester area, where the island rises to 715 meters at Cerro San Joaquín. This is the only part of the island with a moist region and sufficient soil for agriculture.
There are two important reasons that have made this island attractive. It is the only one with several good fresh water springs, a few of them larger than the largest spring on Floreana. In fact, several of these springs form brooks that run for some distance from their respective sources. Two of them even reach the coast, at the open roadstead known for this reason as Freshwater Bay, on the southeast side of the island. The other reason is that it is closer to the mainland than the other islands in the archipelago.
After the assassination of Cobos and Reina, peace settled over San Cristóbal. The mutineers and those most discontented with conditions on the plantation had left the island. Those with the greatest resignation or fewer complaints remained, largely numbed and disconcerted by the new situation. A man with the powerful personality of the elder Cobos leaves a great vacuum when he suddenly disappears from among the living. Thus, the new governor and don Rogelio Alvarado, who took over the plantation, had no need to worry about restoring order.
When his father died, don Manuel Augusto Cobos was only six years old. Therefore his sister Josefina's husband, don Rogelio Alvarado, took over after don Manuel Julián. The younger Manuel was sent off to Europe to get the proper education for a gentleman of his station. Don Rogelio on his part was left to divide his time between the family interests in Galápagos and his wife and children, who lived in Guayaquil.
There is little to tell about this rather peaceful period. The plantation continued its production of three hundred sacks of sugar per month—30,000 pounds. Rum was still made from the molasses. Hides, coffee, dry fish and some jerked beef continued to be exported to the mainland, along with the sugar and rum. Alvarado, though he regarded the plantation hands as an integral part of the property, a feudalistic point of view that was usual at the time, seems to have been reasonably lenient with his subjects.
In January of 1918, the Reverend Aurelio Mera of the Company of Jesus came to Galápagos as a visiting missionary. He sailed on the Manuel J. Cobos, whose master was Captain Pedro Campuzano, a very capable seaman, thoroughly familiar with the Galápagos waters. In later years, his son Nelson would show the same talents, as master of several ships, including the Cristóbal Carrier. Another passenger on the schooner was the young don Manuel Augusto Cobos, who had recently returned from Europe.
The good Jesuit remained half a year in the islands, and was quite impressed by life on San Cristóbal and Isabela, then the only inhabited ones. In his report to his superiors he states, among other things, “… I can assure that the culture and morality of those islands has improved immensely, for their meritorious owners, Messrs. Rogerio Alvarado and Antonio Gil Quesada have sent away, and are sending away, to Guayaquil all those persons who have, in previous years, been pointed out for or accused of bad conduct.
“In this part it must be stated that the islands have been cleaned up, and any honest person may come to them assured that he will find more police and public and private order than in any town on the mainland.”
We have no doubts about Father Mera's veracity; but his statements were no longer valid six years later. In 1924, don Manuel Augusto Cobos had to flee for his life to seek safety in the plantation's banana groves. He had been at the refinery, when shots were heard in the direction of the village. A worker came shouting, “The convicts have revolted!”
There was very little that don Manuel could have done. All he had was a revolver, and it appeared as if the convicts had got hold of some firearms. Recalling his father's fate, he mounted his horse and got away. However, he took time to tell a trusted worker where he was going, instructing that he keep him informed on what went on in the village. The man was also to supply him regularly with food and water.
As had happened in 1904, the plantation commissary was sacked. But there was no Elías Puertas to take control of the mob. The convicts went eagerly ahead with the consumption of the fine French wines and cognac that Cobos and Alvarado kept for their own use and that of occasional visitors. These choice beverages were drunk with democratic impartiality along with the locally distilled rum. In their drunkenness, the convicts gave one another the ranks of colonels and generals, no doubt imagining themselves to be revolutionary heroes.
Some vandalism also took place. Machinery was damaged, fire was set to the cane fields, and a large quantity of papers, accounts and documents were burnt. It is not certain whether it was then or in the fire of the plantation house that don Manuel Julián Cobos' diaries were destroyed. That loss is a tragedy for those interested in the history of the islands, as they covered the years that led to the definitive colonization of Galápagos, and might have given an insight into the thoughts of Cobos and what kind of a man he really was.
After their orgy of drinking and destruction, the convicts faced the problem of leaving the island. They knew that the Manuel J. Cobos would be in any day. Someone suggested that it would be useful to take with them the money in the plantation's safe; but they were unable to open it. Nobody had until then worried about don Manuel's whereabouts. Apparently, the convicts held no particular grudge against him, so they had simply forgotten he existed. But now he had suddenly become important—he was the only person who could open the safe.
Someone had noticed that one of the workers made regular visits to the plantation house, leaving it with a basket every day. This person would then head for the countryside. Undoubtedly this must be the man who supplied Cobos with food and information. He was promptly seized and interrogated without success. He knew nothing. The threat of a bullet through the head did not improve his memory at all. Finally, the convicts hung him up by his thumbs to a rafter and began to torture him, using some of the methods they had experienced themselves during police interrogations in a not so distant past. It worked. The poor man told them where they could find his master. Later, he would look back on his weakness with shame and remorse, though don Manuel never berated him for giving him away, fully understanding what the poor fellow had been through.
Cobos was located while he enjoyed a peaceful siesta in the shade of some banana plants. He was seized, his hands were tied behind his back, and he was placed on his horse. Suffering the indignity of having his own gun pointed at him, he was taken to Progreso. Once there, he was ordered to open the safe, something he refused to do. In view of this, he was given the choice of opening it or being shot in the head. There was only one sensible solution to this. He got the key in the usual hiding place, and opened the safe.
The convicts were disappointed. Some of them were even angry and frustrated. There were only a few documents in the safe—no cash. Cobos, fearing the safe would be broken into, had had one of his trusted employees remove all the cash, hiding it elsewhere. For a moment, he must have felt tempted to show them where, for some of the convicts decided to take out their frustration by killing him. However, someone suggested that don Manuel could write out certificates stating that they had completed their sentences and were free to leave. Their logic was that the governor was absent at the time. So was don Rogelio. Thus, the virtual owner of the island must surely have the authority to extend such certificates.
Cobos did not argue these finer legal points, seating himself obligingly in front of his typewriter. Using the plantation's stationery, he wrote the certificates, signed them, and placed the plantation's rubber stamp beneath his signature. To the more or less illiterate convicts, the certificates must have appeared impressive and very official indeed. Don Manuel had saved his life, though he was unable to do anything to save the plantation house, which was set afire. When the flames had destroyed the wooden interior, all that remained were the outer walls.
The convicts captured the plantation schooner without difficulty, forcing her master to take them to the mainland. Here, they arrived at Esmeraldas, in the northwest part of the country, where they were promptly arrested and shipped to Guayaquil. The port officials had become suspicious of them as soon as they arrived. On reading their release certificates, their suspicions were confirmed, seeing that the documents were written on the stationery of a privately owned plantation. Thus, this escape from Galápagos ended in the usual manner.
This would be the last uprising on San Cristóbal. Though conditions were still primitive and the comforts few for the average settler, the island had become more civilized, and what the Reverend Mera had written in 1918 was now fairly close to the truth again, remaining so in the future. When the third group of Norwegian settlers arrived and landed on San Cristóbal in 1926, the island was a rather peaceful place.
The Norwegian San Cristóbal colony was organized differently from the other Norwegian groups. The Floreana and Santa Cruz ventures had been primarily fishing cooperatives, agriculture being seen merely as a source of supplies, not of income. On the other hand, they had consisted of single men or men unaccompanied by their families—if we except the unfortunate people on the Alatga, who did not make it, except for a very few individuals.
In the San Cristóbal group there were a number of families and childless couples, besides some men who were single or left their families in Norway until further notice. In fact, twelve of the members brought along their wives (Hoff, 1985). While the members would live in a small village, they staked separate claims of twenty hectares per family or single man, as the law allowed. In most ways, this was a loosely organized cooperative. Harry Randall, who had organized the venture, was only to lead them to the island, stepping back as soon as they began to establish themselves. This he did with alacrity, as he had become the scapegoat for everything that went wrong. A very few of the members did engage in fishing, but there was no particular emphasis on this activity by the group as a whole.
Harry Randall, like the leaders of the other groups, had a marine background. He had studied navigation and sailed as a deck officer. He never became a master mariner, for he had landed in New York in mid-career, becoming a pianist in a musical show. He was in fact a very good musician, and had studied piano under such distinguished composers as Edvard Grieg and Johan Svendsen (Randall, 1946). Later, he worked as a theatrical agent and a producer, besides organizing public appearances for such celebrities as the explorer Roald Amundsen, and concerts for the violin virtuoso Ole Bull. He continued with similar activities after his return from Galápagos, also giving lectures on his travels, and working as an editor.
When Randall organized the San Cristóbal project, he was a dynamic sixty-eight-year old, who after his arrival to the island went on long, almost daily rides with his host, don Manuel Augusto Cobos, who also was an excellent horseman. Randall had a long, interesting life, which ended in Oslo in 1955, when he was a ripe ninety-seven.
Randall was accused by many of the San Cristóbal group of misleading them into joining the project. The usual story is that “his” book on Galápagos had painted the islands as a paradise. Randall however claimed no first-hand knowledge of the islands, nor did he ever write a description of them. The book in question is divided into three parts, the first one being written by Randall, who had simply put together all the historical facts he had gathered about the Galápagos. The descriptive parts were not his at all. The book's second part was the work of the journalists Støren and Bang, who gave a vivid narrative of their own experiences in the Galápagos. The third and last part was written by Christensen, whose Floreana settlement was still in its successful and promising first stage at that time. It could even be said that Randall himself was misled as much as anybody else, having kept company with three great Galápagos enthusiasts, who had only experienced the islands at their best.
There is every reason to believe that Randall acted in good faith, honestly trying to avoid some of the mistakes made by his predecessors. He was also wise enough to set up committees for everything, thus dividing the responsibilities among the members themselves. One such committee was in charge of finances. Randall never bought shares in the project, and received a free passage in compensation for his services. Still, he is likely to have lost more money on the venture than any of his detractors, having put up the bond demanded by the immigration authorities in Oslo for allowing the group to sail. He also gave personal loans to several of the members on the way down. All this also proves his faith in what he was doing. However, it also shows that this group suffered from the same weakness that had afflicted the others—too little capital.
The book which we have mentioned, in which Randall was one of the authors, was entitled Galápagos—the World's End: the Norwegian Paradise on the West Coast of South America. It was an instant best-seller, as it came out in the spring of 1926, when the “Galápagos fever” in Norway was at its height. However, it was the success Captain Eilertsen was having in recruiting prospective settlers that encouraged Randall to organize his own group.
By then, the immigration officials were becoming stricter in their demands for group emigrations. So were the harbor authorities when it came to enforcing their rules. Besides, Randall was sailing from Oslo, the country's largest port and capital, where the bureaucracy was more numerous than elsewhere along the coast. In fact, officialdom caused considerable delays, even after the ferro-cement ship Albemarle was ready to sail. It was at this stage that Randall had to post a security of seven thousand crowns—a huge amount in those days—for the immigration officials to let them set out on their voyage. This money was never repaid to Randall.
Finally, on September 2, 1926, the Albemarle was free to leave. During the voyage, especially while taking in fuel and water at Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, it was found that they had a core of some eight to ten troublemakers on board. These were not only overly fond of drinking, but could not taste alcohol without starting rows and fights. As long as the colonization group existed, these people were a constant source of trouble (Hoff, 1985).
As had happened before, many of the colonists were bitterly disappointed on seeing Galápagos for the first time. It was a year following a “Niño year” and a drought was on in the Galápagos. A boat was sent over to Floreana to inspect conditions there, which turned out to be worse. Santa Cruz was not even considered, for nobody was willing to depend on catching rain water and otherwise using brackish water. San Cristóbal therefore became their choice, which was no doubt also helped by the luxuriant greenery in the highlands.
Both don Rogelio Alvarado and don Manuel Cobos went out of their way to talk the new settlers into staying on their island. The newcomers were even given individual credit on generous terms at the plantation commissary, as well as the opportunity of hiring men, oxen and wagons at reasonable prices. The settlers proceeded to unload the Albemarle and sent her back to Panama to be sold there.
Each colonist or family received twenty hectares of land in the area that has since been known as “Campo Noruego”—the Norwegian Countryside. It was here that fourteen houses were built, forming a little village. But before this could be done, ten strenuous days had to be spent unloading the ship. The equipment, personal belongings and building materials were stored under canvas above the beach, until it all could be transported inland. The canvas that was used had originally come from a balloon Roald Amundsen had used in the Arctic, which the explorer had sold at a reasonable price to his friend Randall for his Galápagos venture (Hoff, 1985).
Though the transportation inland also was a hard job, it did not take long before people were beginning to move into their houses. However, there was much dissent among the settlers from the very beginning, Randall soon becoming a scapegoat for all that was wrong. He was not only accused of having lied to them, but also of having done so with the purpose of making a profit. The fact that he had lost considerably more money than anyone else did not seem to carry any weight as an argument in his defense. Deeply hurt by these accusations, Randall never moved to Campo Noruego, remaining as Cobos' guest for as long as he stayed on the island. In December, he left disappointed, though he had not quite given up his project of starting a coffee plantation (Randall, 1946).
Things did not work out well for the settlers in Campo Noruego. They blamed their lack of success on the soil, but the fact is that they did not want to try the crops grown by the local people. Their seedlings, from Norwegian vegetable seeds, were eaten by the ants, and they had trouble protecting whatever they managed to grow from the pigs and other animals that wandered in the area. The feeling of hopelessness was increased by the death of Mrs. Kristen Aune, the seventy-four-year old mother of one of the settlers. She had contracted a severe case of dysentery, which without medical attention and proper medication, took her to her grave. However, there was also an addition to the colony. On January 9, 1927, a baby boy, Erik Greiner, was born. (As we have seen, the Greiners later moved to Santa Cruz.)
Of the very few who remained for any length of time on San Cristóbal, only the Guldberg family stayed for good. Thorleiv Guldberg, the head of the family, was born on Madagascar, where his father had been a missionary doctor. Thorleiv had later owned a farm in Norway, and was one of the few in the group who knew anything about farming. He had also the sense to adapt to local conditions and lived the rest of his life in the San Cristóbal highlands, raising chickens and growing coffee. An Estonian engineer, who had fled from Russia during the revolution, moved in with him. This gentleman, Arthur Sem, spoke a number of languages fluently, including a very cultured Norwegian, which he had picked up mainly from reading, as he usually spoke German with Thorleiv Guldberg.
Thorleiv's only son, Frithjof, moved to Argentina, while Snefrid, one of the daughters, returned to Norway. However, she missed the islands so much, that she came back, living there until her death, at eighty-nine, in 1991. She never married. The last Norwegian remaining on the island was her sister Karin, who died at eighty-eight, at the beginning of 1996. She was also the last of the Norwegians in Galápagos.
In the meantime, the sugar plantation was fast becoming an unprofitable venture. The uprising in 1924 had caused considerable losses to the owners, whose economy seems to have been rather frail even at this early stage. It is significant that some of the Norwegian settlers who visited the refinery at the time of their arrival were unfavorably impressed by the state of the machinery and everything else. At least one of them remarked about the great loss of steam caused by defective fittings (Hoff, 1985).
At the beginning of the 1930's, the effects of the world-wide recession was already being felt by Alvarado and Cobos. Their main creditor in Guayaquil, don Lorenzo Tous, had already organized a company, Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos, which held a lease on the plantation and the refinery, controlling their economy. The schooner had been sold and renamed San Cristóbal; but she would continue her rather irregular run on the islands until the early 1940's.
On April 28, 1932, doña Josefina Cobos de Alvarado signed a promise of sale agreement with Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos, in which she agreed to turn over the plantation and the refinery, confirming at the same time that she had received payment for the property. The company thus took over officially what it had already been in possession of for some time. Much of the machinery was removed to Los Alamos, a sugar plantation on the mainland. From then on, the Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos exploited its coffee plantation, produced dry fish for the Easter season, and did little else. The cane fields had been gradually destroyed by the invading guava trees, the cattle, the pigs, donkeys and horses. The fences that had kept most animals out had not been properly maintained for many years, and most of the barbed wire was gone or about to fall apart.
However, it was not until the end of the decade that the ownership of the plantation was properly legalized. By then, Mrs. Alvarado had died. The reason for this delay was that no procedure had existed until then to change Galápagos property from de facto ownership by possession alone to a more permanent form, as was possible in most parts of the mainland. This problem was solved by the decree of December 18, 1936 and those of April 9 and December 3, 1937.
Thus, at the end of 1937, Colonel Guillermo Freile, who was then Minister of Defense, had the authority to give formal ownership of their San Cristóbal lands to Josefina Cobos de Alvarado's heirs—her husband don Rogelio, and their children René, Josefina, Rogelio Edmundo and Manuel Julián. The document confirms the ownership of eleven thousand one hundred and seventy-two hectares, which are later given as eleven thousand one hundred and sixty-two hectares in the survey signed by Major Angel Obdulio Serrano, on December 4, 1937.
The following year, General Alberto Enríquez, who was head of the government, signed a decree authorizing the heirs of doña Josefina Cobos de Alvarado to sell their property on San Cristóbal to Sociedad Nacional de Galápagos. There are however some special conditions attached to this authorization. Its Article 2 states that possession, rights of any kind, or shares or any parts of the property cannot be leased, sold or handed over in any manner to foreign persons, companies or countries. Any such agreement will be legally void, and a violation of these conditions will also cause the loss of ownership to the heirs of doña Josefina Cobos de Alvarado and/or any of their successors.
In Article 4 is stated that the village of Progreso and an area five kilometers around it will not be part of the plantation's property, this additional land being set aside for the growth of the village. In addition, any lands that were at the time being cultivated by settlers within the limits of the plantation are to remain the property of said settlers. (The right of possession is very strong in Ecuador, as long as the squatters have worked the land and are growing something on it.) This article also states that the plantation's ownership does not include the wild cattle or other feral animals.
No mention is made of don Manuel Augusto Cobos in any of these documents. He had already received a part of the plantation's lands at an earlier date. When these documents were being signed, he already owned a choice piece of property just outside Progreso, where he had built his first home, at the time of his marriage to Karin Guldberg, in 1930. He also possessed a considerable property elsewhere in the moist region. On this latter, he gradually worked up a coffee plantation, which eventually reached a size of 126 hectares, with about 160 thousand coffee trees. This is a large coffee plantation by any standard.
It is possible that don Manuel realized what was coming and broke away in time. It is also possible that he decided to begin on his own, since he was starting a family. He never made comments on this matter. However, it must have been a sad experience for him to see how the plantation, the work of so many years, the result of so much sacrifice, human suffering and bloodshed, crumbled to become a mere shadow of what it had been. However, he seemed to end his life in happiness, when he died many years later, at the ripe age of ninety-five, in February 1993, surrounded by his numerous grandchildren.
A brief diplomatic history of the islands. Various proposals for the sale of the islands. The «discovery» of guano on the islands and the motions of several nations to obtain concessions or to prevent exploitation of the guano. Renewed American interest in the islands as a defensive base for the Panama Canal. Interest in the protection of the flora and fauna. Projects for a national park, nature reserves and research laboratories. The war and the American bases on the Santa Elena Peninsula and the Galápagos.
Before the 1850's international interest in the Galápagos had centered around the advantages the islands offered to American and British whalers. As these came and went at will in the area, their respective governments did not worry about who held possession of the islands. A few naturalists had discovered the fascinating flora and fauna of this part of the world, notably Charles Darwin, who, more than anyone else, realized their importance to science. To the general public however the Galápagos were a more or less esoteric subject. It is doubtful that very many had even heard of them.
Spain had never formally taken possession of the Galápagos, probably considering them of no particular value. Despite the lack of this formality, nobody challenged Spanish ownership of the group. Captain David Porter's suggestion that the United States should take possession of Galápagos was firmly rejected by his government at the time it was made. Later, when Ecuador took formal possession of the islands, no nation objected. In fact, even in later years, when several nations became interested in gaining concessions or taking over one or more of the islands, these nations implicitly confirmed Ecuadorian sovereignty over the archipelago by their attempts at negotiating with the Ecuadorian government for whatever concessions they were after.
It has occasionally been claimed that the diplomatic history of the Galápagos begins with the claim for compensation made by the owners of the George Howland against the Ecuadorian government. This is not quite true, as it actually begins a little earlier, in 1851, when Ecuador was considering turning the islands over to the British. At the time, a law was submitted to Congress for approval to give the government authority to hand over the islands to Great Britain as payment for Ecuador's share of the debt Gran Colombia had contracted during the War of Independence.
The Peruvian chargé d'affaires in Quito, don Francisco de Paula Moreyra, learning of this, promptly wrote a note to don José Modesto Larrea, the Minister of Foreign Relations. He pointed out that Perú and other South American nations would consider it dangerous that the British hold a possession so close to their continent. He also mentioned that other friendly European powers with trade interests on the Pacific coast would view the matter with justified alarm.
This mistrust towards European powers at the time can be largely traced to the fact that the Latin American republics had not so long ago won their independence from one of them. Also, European powers were still actively expanding their possessions elsewhere. On the other hand, these same powers were important markets for exports and the main sources of most imports, so it would have been poor policy to alienate any of these important trade partners. Besides, seen from the view of most small nations, the more powerful countries of Europe behaved like unpredictable bullies when sufficiently aroused. It was indeed a dangerous world for the small and weak.
It must be mentioned that Ecuador had been through territorial disputes with Perú, so Peruvian diplomats were not much trusted. However, the chargé d'affaires had convincing arguments, so his note was forwarded to the National Congress. The second round of discussions on the proposed law was dropped, in great part due to Moreyra's arguments (Larrea, 1960).
Though there were many who wanted to trade the islands off to some foreign power or make concessions on them in exchange for loans, cash payments or other such advantages, nothing much happened for some time. Such people have often been viewed as little better than traitors, a judgment that seems exceedingly harsh if taken in its historical context. The islands were actually a liability to Ecuador, something they would continue to be for a very long time. They produced no income to the state, and hardly any other benefits to the country. They were, in those days of sail, too far away to administrate properly, and keeping a presence there, even a small garrison or a penal colony was an almost unaffordable luxury to governments that were perpetually short of money and had to struggle against all sorts of odds to keep things under control on the mainland. Selling the islands would not only rid the country of a liability, but would also provide much needed funds for some of the innumerable improvements that were needed on the mainland.
It was at this point that the George Howland incident came back to haunt the Ecuadorian authorities. The American chargé d'affaires, Cartland Cushing, sent a note from Guayaquil, on March 1st 1853, presenting a claim made by Matthew Howland, owner of the whaler. Howland wanted U. S. $ 40,000.00 to cover the losses he had allegedly suffered from the capture of his ship. At that time, this was a very large amount of money. Cushing must have found the claim somewhat steep, since he advised the U. S. State Department that he would most likely need evidence to justify Howland's claim.
At the same time, he informed his superiors that the Ecuadorian government was in no position to properly look after the islands, and that these produced no income to the country. He suggested that Ecuador might be willing to cede the islands to the United States on reasonable terms. The presentation of the Howland claim, Cushing reasoned, would be a good opportunity to sound out the government officials in Quito about the possibility of making a deal on Galápagos. Cushing also stated that he had seen several private letters in which was mentioned the discovery of rich guano deposits in the islands (Larrea, 1960).
The Howland claim was never settled; but interest in the Galápagos was kept alive several years on account of the supposedly rich guano deposits. The letters mentioned by Cushing may have been part of General Villamil's correspondence. The former governor of the Galápagos had reported the existence of large guano deposits on the islands to General Urbina's government. This report had been submitted by him shortly before he left for Washington, to take up his post as chargé d'affaires for Ecuador, in June of 1853.
For a while, the British government showed much interest in taking over the islands. At the same time, an American citizen called Julius de Brissot claimed to have discovered rich guano deposits in the Galápagos. According to him, these were so rich that they could be compared to those on the islands outside the coast of Perú. This claim led to a letter, dated August 14, 1854, in which the U. S. Secretary of State instructed his new chargé d'affaires in Quito, Philo White, to give his support to de Brissot, when the latter was to negotiate for a concession to exploit the Galápagos guano.
The great importance given to guano at the time may seem exaggerated in our days. However, guano was most important as a fertilizer, being used in agriculture to provide phosphorus and nitrogen to the soil. Perú, by far the largest source, also produced the highest quality, and was in a position to influence the world market to a considerable degree.
Several possibilities of reaching an agreement with Ecuador on the guano exploitation were considered. One of them was that Ecuador should give American citizens access to exploit the guano in exchange for an agreed tax, not to exceed that paid by citizens of other countries. Another was that the United States should take possession of the Galápagos for an agreed number of years, Ecuador receiving in exchange a suitable financial compensation. A third possibility was that the United States should get a concession to exploit guano for an indefinite period, on conditions to be agreed on. It was however stressed that regardless of whichever agreement was decided on, de Brissot's rights must be respected.
In a letter dated September 20, 1854, Philo White confirms to the U. S. Secretary of State that he has been authorized by President Franklin Pierce to enter into negotiations with the Government of Ecuador. However, he also reports that an expedition, headed by an experienced master mariner, Captain Game (the American consul in Guayaquil) has returned from the islands on the Guayas, a small sailing vessel provided by the Ecuadorian government. Captain Game's report states that there are no guano deposits in the Galápagos Islands. One of the members of the expedition, General José Villamil, must have been greatly disappointed, as this had been his most recent hope of developing something in the islands. As we shall see, the former governor did not give up completely. Nor did Philo White, the American chargé d'affaires. He continued negotiations.
It has been speculated on whether Captain Game's report was fully accepted or not. If accepted, the negotiations continued with the guano as a mere excuse for obtaining territorial concessions in the islands. In any case, whatever intentions White may have had, there remains the fact that General Villamil continued hoping for guano deposits in the Galápagos. In fact, he even went so far as to encourage de Brissot into making further explorations with this possibility in mind.
On November 22, 1854, Philo White sent a report from Quito to President Pierce, informing him that an agreement had been signed with the Government of Ecuador. He described the many difficulties that he had encountered before reaching this agreement, stressing that he could not have hoped to gain better terms, as the Ecuadorians were in a position to make similar agreements with a number of European investors, who were keenly interested in the Galápagos guano deposits.
White's agreement led to considerable activity among several foreign diplomats in Quito. The chargés d'affaires of Spain and France, the minister plenipotentiary of Perú, and the British consul went together to see don Marcos Espinel, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Arrogantly ignoring the customary request for an audience, they came to the minister and protested against the proposed treaty with the United States, demanding that it not be submitted to Congress for ratification (Larrea, 1960).
Don Marcos Espinel, though he must have been understandably outraged by the attitude of his visitors, reminded them politely that Ecuador had the right to enter into agreements with any other nation on earth, in order to regulate trade with any or all of the country's products. He also pointed out to them that their own nations had as much right as the United States to enter into agreements with Ecuador regarding the trade of guano or anything else. Then, he demanded to have their protests confirmed in writing.
Though Minister Espinel repeated this request later, none of the foreign representatives ever sent him a satisfactory confirmation, though there was some polite exchange of letters. Obviously, they did not want to provide written evidence of their high-handed attitude. However, M. André Jean Baptiste Willamus, the French chargé d'affaires, stuck to his arrogant behavior, attempting to press Ecuador into renouncing the agreement with the United States. The French diplomat managed to talk the Chilean government into sending a mission to Quito with the purpose of influencing the government there. The mission had no success, and the French Government received a request from Ecuador to recall the chargé d'affaires (Larrea, 1960).
As is often the case, some opposition politicians saw the proposed treaty as an opportunity to further their own interests. Instead of rallying around a government that was defending Ecuador's rights as a sovereign state, they used the situation to agitate public opinion against the government. This campaign went on for about eight months, but finally lost the wind in its sails when it was confirmed that Captain Game had been right all along—there were no guano deposits in the Galápagos.
On December 20, 1854, White reported to his superiors in Washington, analyzing at the same time the reasons behind the protests of the several foreign representatives. His conclusions are undoubtedly correct. Great Britain had seen in the Galápagos a means of collecting Ecuador's share of the debt from the War of Independence. It was the only likely opportunity for collecting it, and with the guano deposits adding a great value to the islands, it was also a most attractive solution. Perú was understandably worried about seeing its dominant position in the guano market threatened. Spain felt entitled to preferential treatment from its former colonies, and was resentful because of Ecuador's refusal, the previous year, to sign a commercial treaty. France, like other contemporary European powers, was in the midst of imperial expansion, and had trouble accepting that an upstart power like the United States should get a foothold in an area the French regarded their sphere of influence.
With a letter dated August 9, 1855, Minister Espinel enclosed a copy of a government resolution that declared the concession granted to de Brissot and General Villamil void. The same resolution declared the agreement with the United States equally void, as the U. S. Congress had failed to ratify it.
Some recent writers have made Philo White the villain of the events of 1853-54, to the point of ignoring the unforgivable arrogance of some of his European colleagues. It was in fact the United States chargé d'affaires who behaved correctly, showing proper respect for Ecuador as a sovereign state. However, it has become increasingly fashionable to criticize the United States even when there is no reasonable cause for doing so, and White has become, as one author puts it, “an agent of American imperialism.” The same author mentions as evidence of American expansionism that the United States took possession at that time of Howland, Jarvis and Baker, three remote and uninhabited islands of doubtful value, except for their guano deposits. These consisted of guano phosphate, which must be treated with sulfuric acid before it can be used as a fertilizer.
Even American scientific expeditions have been accused in latter years of being part of imperialistic plots because they visited the Galápagos. Such reading makes it a relief to know that there are also serious historical sources such as Larrea (1960), who present facts with rigorous objectivity.
During the period of President Francisco Robles, Galápagos again became news. In 1858, negotiations were considered to obtain a three million dollar loan from the United States. The Galápagos Islands were thought of as a likely security. Two opposition senators, don Gabriel García Moreno and don Pedro Moncayo, accused the government of trading off national territory to a foreign power. This was indignantly refuted by President Robles, and the matter of the loan was dropped.
Even long before this time, the French had been active in the Pacific, and several of their war ships had called at the Galápagos. Admiral Abel Aubert du Petit-Thouars, commanding the frigate La Venus, stayed among the islands from June 21 until July 15, 1838. Collections were made of plants and birds. (The admiral was a nephew of the noted botanist Louis Marie Aubert du Petit-Thouars.) Not long after, in 1842, the admiral brought the Marquesas under French rule, and soon after, in 1843, the Island of Tahiti. There is a lovely, tree shaded avenue that follows the top of the beach at Taiohae, on the south coast of Nuku-Hiva Island, in the Marquesas, that bears the admiral's name. A Galápagos cactus, Jasminocereus thouarsii is also named after him.
Captain Henri Louns, Compte de Gueydon, spent about a month in the Galápagos, in 1846, while commanding the brig Le Genie. He had instructions to look for suitable anchorages and other information that could be useful for shipping. He left a very interesting report, in which he claims that Cartago Bay, on the east side of the Perry Isthmus, on Isabela, is the only good harbor in the Galápagos.
In May 1887, the corvette Decres, commanded by Captain La Guerre, visited the Galápagos. Drawings were made of Wreck Bay (San Cristóbal) and Black Beach (Floreana). La Guerre mentions a Frenchman, M. León de Ituburu, as having bought a part of Floreana, but the French visitors found nobody living on the island. De Ituburu actually rented the island from Villamil's heirs, but abandoned his plans of exploiting it.
It was in the following year, 1888, that a treaty with France was considered. The French were to be allowed to set up a supply depot on one of the islands. There were also to be facilities for servicing their ships in the Pacific, including coaling and repairs. Ecuador agreed also that no other concession would be made to other nations without offering them first to France. On May 12, a treaty was signed in Paris by don Antonio Flores Jijón, Minister Plenipotentiary of Ecuador. In Article 26 of this treaty France explicitly recognizes Ecuador's sovereignty over the islands.
This recognition by a foreign power was of great importance to Ecuador at the time, since there had been an attempt made in the United States Senate to make it appear as if Ecuador had no formal rights over the Galápagos. This attempt was of course absurd, Ecuador having taken formal possession of the islands in 1832, an act that had never been disputed at any time by any nation. On the other hand, the United States had tacitly confirmed Ecuador's sovereignty over the islands by presenting the Howland claim to her government and by entering into negotiations in order to obtain the guano concessions in the 1850's.
The background for this ridiculous claim was a report written by Commissioner George Earl Church, which was presented to the United States Senate on February 15, 1883 by President Chester Alan Arthur. Church attempted to prove that Ecuador's claim to the Galápagos was not valid. Dr. Flores, the Ecuadorian diplomat who would later sign the treaty with France, wrote the New York Herald on May 9, explaining Ecuador's rights and the historical facts they were based on. He also pointed out what a dangerous precedent would be set by disregarding international laws and practice in such matters. Several newspapers took up the subject, fueling an unfavorable public reaction to Church's report. Whatever purposes lay behind this report are not clear, but the matter was promptly dropped.
The treaty of 1888 was not ratified by the French. However, in 1891, both the French and the American governments requested permission to carry out scientific research in the Galápagos. In this particular case, it is reasonable to suspect that the real purpose behind this was to study the islands with their strategic position and geopolitical value in mind. As Larrea (1960) points out, the United States was considering at the time an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua, while the French were already engaged in the construction of the Panama Canal.
Any attempt to sell or lease the Galápagos to a foreign power or other foreign interests is a liability to any Ecuadorian government. The opposition will invariably make the most of the situation, making the government in power appear treacherous, regardless of whether they themselves had been considering the same while running the country. In 1893, the opposition press accused Dr. Luís Cordero, then president of Ecuador, of being involved in talks with a foreign power with the purpose of selling the islands. Dr. Cordero indignantly described the accusation as absurd.
After General Eloy Alfaro had ousted the Cordero government, in 1895, the new government continued its allegations that the previous one had attempted to sell parts of the national territory. After being elected president in 1897, General Alfaro presented a letter in the National Congress, on August 27, 1898. It was dated September 26, 1895, and in it one Gustav Wilczinski proposed to arrange the sale of the Galápagos Islands to the United States. General Alfaro also informed Congress about inquiries made by the French chargé d'affaires regarding the truth of a rumor that Ecuador was selling the islands to a group of foreign powers. If this was the case, the French would be willing to offer one hundred million francs to Ecuador, to be allowed to establish a port in the Galápagos, which would be open to free international trade.
Later, the same year, on October 25, General Alfaro informed Congress that two previous governments (both conservative) had been dealing with France regarding the Galápagos Islands. These two governments were those of José María Plácido Caamaño (1884-88), and of Dr. Antonio Flores Jijón (1888-92). The latter president is the diplomat mentioned earlier, who was a son of General Juan José Flores. General Alfaro further accused General Francisco Javier Salazar of having handled the negotiations with the French, later destroying all incriminating documents that were filed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Guayaquil press, always inclined towards the liberals, took up the matter, alleging that the conservatives had been on the verge of selling Galápagos to France.
How much of the above is true or an exaggeration of facts is hard to tell, but Dr. Antonio Flores, who had prudently removed himself to France when the liberals took power, published two pamphlets in Nice, in 1899, defending the treaty with France that he had signed as a diplomat in 1888, pointing out the benefits that could have come from this agreement, had it been ratified by the French. He also stressed the fact that Ecuador would always have remained in full control of the islands. Flores further challenged anyone to bring forth evidence that he had ever attempted to sell the Galápagos. There is no record of anyone having taken up his challenge.
On September 12, 1904, don Galo Irarrázabal, Minister Plenipotentiary of Chile, proposed a commercial treaty to the Government of Ecuador. This agreement included, among other things, the establishment of port facilities in the Galápagos, for merchant ships as well as for the navies of Ecuador and Chile. The Chileans also promised to support Ecuador's diplomatic efforts to maintain sovereignty over the islands. The treaty was viewed with some favor in Ecuador, as relations between these two countries have always been cordial. There was also considerable distrust of the United States at the time, due to its support to the Panamanian separatists, who wanted to break away from Colombia. Panama's independence had given the United States highly favorable conditions for the construction of the Panama Canal, which had been abandoned by the French. However, despite the favorable circumstances, the treaty with Chile was never signed.
General Eloy Alfaro had been greatly incensed by the alleged conservative efforts to sell Galápagos. Despite this, during his last presidential period, he sent out a proposal to the provincial governors, dated January 16, 1911. In it, he stated that the United States were interested in a ninety-nine year lease on the islands, in return for which Ecuador would receive the then tempting amount of fifteen million dollars. The United States promised to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ecuador.
General Alfaro pointed out that the islands had never been of any profit to Ecuador, causing on the contrary only expenses. The agricultural potential of the Galápagos was very limited, though its fisheries held great possibilities. He stressed that the strategic position of the islands would increase once the Panama Canal opened. He further visualized the archipelago as a port for bunkering and taking in supplies, serving the shipping that was to go through the canal.
Then, he warned that the strategic position of Galápagos could endanger them in a war, and that Ecuador, a small and militarily weak country, risked losing the islands, seeing them seized by some military power, without receiving any gain from their loss, which could be a permanent one. This, he argued, made the lease of the islands to the United States most desirable. It would secure the Galápagos for Ecuador, at the same time providing much needed funds for important public works on the mainland. High priority was given to the sanitation of Guayaquil, the main port of Ecuador, then notorious for yellow fever, malaria and frequent outbreaks of bubonic plague. For this project, the studies for which were already at hand, eight million dollars had been earmarked. The remaining seven million would be used for extending the existing railroad system, opening some of the richest areas of the interior. Here, it should be remembered that General Alfaro had taken much interest in completing the Quito-Guayaquil railroad, which had been inaugurated in 1908.
General Eloy Alfaro stated that he had the necessary authority to go ahead with negotiations with the United States, and that he could count on getting the treaty ratified by Congress. However, he considered the lease of such great national importance, that he felt the need to consult with the people of Ecuador. He proposed therefore that the governors get together the most prominent citizens of their respective provinces, regardless of political affiliations, to discuss with them the proposed treaty. General Alfaro ended by promising that he would bow to the decision of the citizens.
Opposition to the treaty with the United States proved stronger and more widespread than expected. However, true to his word, General Eloy Alfaro stopped negotiations. The minister of Ecuador in Washington, Dr. Rafael María Arízaga, wrote a report later that same year. He pointed out that the establishment of the Canal Zone and the military installations set up by the United States at both ends of the canal and on the offshore islands in Panama Bay provided sufficient defense for the canal. Dr. Arízaga maintained that United States interest in the Galápagos was purely a matter of preventing another power from seizing the islands for hostile purposes.
In 1914, the Germans attempted setting up a clandestine coaling depot on one of the islands. The port captain of Guayaquil was promptly sent out to demand that the Germans respect Ecuadorian neutrality. Whether this demand in itself would have done much good is debatable; but the value of their coaling depot was automatically lost once its existence was known to people other than the members of the German Navy. Furthermore, several British war vessels appeared in the area at the right moment. The battle ship Leipzig and the accompanying freighters, with their coal cargo, prudently sailed away. However, it is known that at least one German used the islands as an occasional refuge during World War One. Count Felix von Lückner called at the Galápagos several times while he operated in the Pacific.
Despite all this, the Galápagos remained a neglected and unimportant corner of the world. Still, their potential as an outpost for the defense of the Panama Canal continued to arouse sporadic interest. Occasionally, American war vessels visited the islands, frequently without the required permission from Ecuador. American tuna clippers began to operate in Galápagos waters, very often without the corresponding fishing permits. Rumors of a sale of the archipelago to the United States kept appearing regularly, most of them, if not all, lacking even a core of truth.
In the meantime, the interest of scientists for the islands had kept increasing. The visiting naturalists of the 19th century had discovered the uniqueness of the Galápagos fauna and much of their flora. As more and more scientists visited the archipelago in the 20th century, it was realized that the flora and fauna of these remarkable islands were in urgent need of protection; but the chances of saving any of the endangered species seemed hopeless under the existing circumstances. This impression kept alive the large scale collecting of specimens—if the animals could not be saved, they could at least be stuffed and placed in museums for coming generations to admire. As the situation was between the turn of the century and World War Two, this seemed quite justified.
A noted Ecuadorian diplomat, don Colón Eloy Alfaro, a son of the liberal leader General Alfaro, took a keen interest in the Galápagos. He reported that several projects were being discussed in the United States, with the intention of establishing protected areas for saving endemic species from extinction. The establishment of a biological research station on one of the islands, as well as a national park were also among the projects considered. It had long been realized in Ecuador too that something must be done. In Part Three of the Regulations for Fisheries and Marine Game, published in the Registro Oficial No. 257 of August 31, 1934, most of the Galápagos fauna is placed under protection, and the islands of Hood, Barrington, Seymour, Daphne, Jervis, Duncan, Santiago, Marchena, Pinta, Tower, Culpepper and Wenman are declared natural reserves, along with the parts of Isabela north of the Perry Isthmus. In 1936 Santa Cruz was also added to this list, though a small human population was living there.
However, the scattered settlements and small garrisons that existed in Galápagos, the lack of means for patrolling the islands, and the total absence of trained personnel for the purpose, made these laws impossible to enforce, except sporadically. Also, conservation was not then by far the important subject it has become in more recent years. Even in Europe and the United States, where conservation and national parks had some support, these were not given the sort of priority they deserved, as the general public had as yet a limited awareness of their importance. It is in fact surprising that these ideas should have appealed to many Ecuadorians at a time when the country still had vast areas of wilderness, the still abundant life forms of which made wildlife appear as inexhaustible to most people. It is equally remarkable that so many foreign scientists became so greatly interested in the conservation of the Galápagos fauna.
An Ecuadorian scientist, Dr. C. A. Castro, was very active in promoting the protection of Galápagos wildlife. He succeeded in arousing the interest of Dr. John Campbell Merriam, a distinguished American paleontologist, who was at the time president of the Carnegie Institution, in Washington DC Dr. Merriam made contacts with the Government of Ecuador in 1937, receiving a very favorable reaction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The same year, the University of Quito had sent out a scientific expedition to Galápagos. Among its members was the noted botanist Dr. Misaël Acosta-Solís, who became very active in promoting the need for conservation and protection in the Galápagos. The University of Guayaquil and the Corporación Científica Nacional were also very active.
However, the problem of funding any project of this sort, be it effective patrolling, a research station or a national park, was beyond what the Ecuadorian government could afford at the time. Schools were being built on the mainland, roads were constructed and the health services were being expanded, while other equally necessary projects were taken care of as fast as a tight budget allowed. In Ecuador, as in any other country, it would have been unthinkable and highly unpopular for any government to channel away urgently needed funds from the more populated areas of the country to finance conservation projects in a remote, sparsely populated region almost one thousand kilometers out in the Pacific. But there was sufficient interest in high places in the United States to give hope of getting funds and the necessary expertise for setting up a research station and/or a national park.
In fact, while Dr. Castro made his contacts in the United States, so was Consul C. M. Egas, who lived in California. While he kept urging his government to do something, he cultivated influential contacts at several institutions. Among these were Harry S. Swarth of the California Academy of Sciences and Robert T. Moore of the California Institute of Technology, as well as Dr. Harold J. Coolidge of the International Wildlife Committee.
There were several Americans of influence who became actively interested in the conservation problems of Galápagos, quite independently of the efforts of those who were now promoting legislation, national parks and research stations. One of these was the Hon. Gifford Pinchot, who was enthusiastic about the national park idea. He was the first professional forester of the United States, had held a number of positions with the government, and a professorship at Yale University, where he and his brother Amos had founded the Pinchot School of Forestry. after his first term as governor of Pennsylvania (1923-27), Pinchot visited the Galápagos in his yacht, in 1929. A keen conservationist, he saw at once the need to protect the islands against further depredations.
In 1935, the Charles Darwin Memorial Expedition was organized thanks to the efforts of Victor Wolfgang von Hagen, to mark the centenary of Darwin's visit to the Galápagos. A bust of Darwin was placed at Wreck Bay, where it still can be seen in the garden of the naval base. The expedition gained favorable publicity in Ecuador, the United States and Europe. Von Hagen later continued his promotion work in the United Kingdom, where Julian Huxley helped towards organizing the London Galápagos Committee. On it were represented such leading scientific bodies as the Royal Society and the British Association. Attempts were made to raise funds for a research station in the Galápagos.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had visited the Galápagos on a presidential cruise, in 1938, was a supporter of the national park project. He was in contact with Dr. Waldo Schmidt of the Smithsonian Institution, who had been with Captain Allan Hancock's expeditions on the Velero III. Dr. Schmidt went to Galápagos in 1941, to visit Baltra, where a laboratory and a meteorological station were planned.
Had the various efforts and projects been coordinated so that they could have been channeled into a single international project, it is quite possible that a research station and even a national park would have been created, at least on a modest scale, before the war. However, the outbreak of war in Europe, in 1939, effectively cut short all the British efforts. Dr. Schmidt's laboratory on Baltra lost precedence to an American base on the same island, when the United States was drawn into the war. The strategic position of Galápagos for the defense of the Panama Canal and the west coast of South America was far more important at the time than the protection of the insular flora and fauna.
Shortly before the war broke out, unidentified submarines had been reported in Galápagos waters. They were believed to be Japanese. As tensions built up in Europe and Asia, new rumors spread about the Galápagos being up for sale. The government of Dr. Aurelio Mosquera Narváez (1938-39) emphatically denied such stories. A letter was sent out to all foreign stations, stating that the government rejected even the thought of leasing the Galápagos Islands. But after Pearl Harbor it was realized that a Japanese attack on South America and the Panama Canal was a distinct possibility. Ecuador, in a gesture of solidarity with the United States and with her neighbors, allowed the construction of an American base in Salinas, on the Santa Elena Peninsula, on the mainland.
Another base, as has been mentioned, was built on Baltra Island, in the central part of the archipelago. Radar stations were set up on Point Albemarle (the north end of Isabela), at Webb Cove, on the west side of the same island, and near Puerto Villamil. Another such station was also placed on the south side of Hood, the southernmost of the Galápagos. On July 15, 1946, the Galápagos bases were formally handed over to Ecuador. The 6th Army Air Force moved out its last men later in the year. During this same period, the Jefe Territorial, the army governor of the Galápagos, was replaced by a Gobernador Marítimo, a naval officer.