Floreana History

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Tue 16 Apr 2013 21:02
The History of Floreana
Floreana Map

Floreana was named after Juan José Flores, the first president of Ecuador, during whose administration the government of Ecuador took possession of the archipelago, having previously been called Charles Island (after King Charles II of England). It is also called Santa Maria after one of the caravels of Columbus.


The island has an area of sixty seven square miles and a maximum elevation of two thousand one hundred feet. It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history and one of the earliest to be inhabited.



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The Post Box Barrel we saw at the Interpretation Centre and as it was.



History: The first permanent residents in the Galapagos Islands settled on Floreana. At Post Office Bay, since the 18th century whalers kept a wooden barrel that served as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their destination, mainly Europe and the United States by ships on their way home. Cards and letters are still placed in the barrel without any postage. Visitors sift through the letters and cards in order to deliver them by hand.


First Resident: Patrick Watkins an Irishman was probably the first settler in the islands. “Irish Pat” lived on Floreana, near Black Beach where he grew vegetables that he bartered with whaling crews and where he, apparently, spent a good deal of time drinking rum. Watkins was marooned or had requested to be left, on Floreana in 1805. He abruptly left in 1809, leaving in his wake a flurry of stories about his voyage to the mainland aboard the Black Prince, as he left the islands accompanied but arrived in Guayaquil alone. Several writers have used this man as inspiration, in Herman Melville’s novella entitled Las Encantadas, the legend of Pat is featured in a chapter called “Hoods Isle and the Hermit Oberlus”.


Due to its relatively flat surface, supply of fresh water as well as plants and animals, Floreana was a favourite stop for whalers and other visitors to the Galapagos. When still known as Charles Island in 1819, the island was set alight by a sailor from the Nantucket whaling ship the Essex and remained a blackened wasteland for many years; "Wherever the fire raged neither trees, shrubbery, nor grass have since appeared". One year later during the same voyage, the Essex was sunk by a massive bull sperm whale.


General Jose Maria de Villamil Joly, of French-Spanish parentage and born in Louisiana when it belonged to Spain, was the first to push for colonisation of the Galapagos Islands. Villamil commissioned a study of financial possibilities in the islands. The researchers suggested that the relatively common lichen orchil, or Dyers Moss, Rocella gracilis, which produces a mauve dye, had economic potential. Consequently, Villamil organised the Sociedad Colonizadora del Archipelago de Galapagos, filed a claim on the land he required, and then worked on persuading the newly formed Ecuadorian Government to annex the islands. General Juan Jose Flores, Ecuadors first president, supported Villamil and on the 12th of February 1832, Colonel Ignacio Hernandez annexed the archipelago as a territory of Republic of Ecuador. Hernandez provided new names for two islands, including Floreana, named in honor of President Flores. Villamil remains a national hero as the first governor of Galapagos, as the father of the Ecuadorian navy and as a high-ranking minister in the Ecuadorian government.


The first colonists on Floreana were soldiers who had taken part in a failed coup attempt on the mainland. Eighty others joined them later in the year, with General Villamil. They brought with them donkeys, goats, pigs and cattle, thus assuring the establishment of introduced animals on the islands. They also cut down highland forests on Floreana to create pastures and to plant crops, including citrus. The economic focus of these new settlers was orchil, live tortoises and tortoise oil that they were sold to visiting whalers and sent to the mainland. Villamil left for Floreana in 1837, and in the same year the remaining colonists revolted against the governor, Colonel Jose Williams. By 1852, the settlement had failed. 


In September 1835 the second voyage of HMS Beagle brought Charles Darwin to Charles Island. The ship's crew was greeted by the Acting Governor of Galápagos, Nicolas Lawson, and at the prison colony Darwin was told that tortoises differed in the shape of the shells from island to island, but this was not obvious on the islands he visited and he did not bother with collecting their shells. He industriously collected all the animals, plants, insects and reptiles, and speculated about finding "from future comparison to what district or 'centre of creation' the organized beings of this archipelago must be attached."


The next major colonisation effort began in 1858 when Manuel Julian Cobos, Jose Monroy and Jose Valdizan formed the Orchillera Company. When this project failed, Cobos moved to El Progreso (on San Cristobal), and focused his efforts on the production of sugar cane.

Jose Valdizan had moved on to the island with his family, from 1860, Jose extracted orchil in Floreana and in 1869 won an exclusive twelve year contract. He worked to increase his croplands so that he could maintain regular trade with Guayaquil. At the same time, he exploited other products, such as tortoise oil. Nevertheless he made an error that would prove fatal: he accepted a growing number of convicts imprisoned because of debts, taken from the jails of Guayaquil, whom he would attempt to transform into upright men. Valdizan died during an uprising in 1878.

Taken from the writing of Octavio Latorre, La Maldicion de la Tortuga.

“He shared a drink with them and then they left. A few minutes later, Alvarado returned and asked for one more drink..... Don Jose agreed, but when he leaned over to put away the demijohn..... the criminal brutally stabbed him with an enormous dagger”.

The group of criminals that assassinated Valdizan and several of his friends were in turn, killed by faithful workers. Thus ended this new attempt to colonise Floreana Island. Penitentiary projects in Galapagos kept on until the middle of the twentieth century.


The trade in orchil declined because large quantities of the lichen in Baja California and because of the development of synthetic dyes, beginning with mauveine developed in London in 1856.


In 1893, Antonio Gil made an attempt to colonise Floreana, but abandoned his efforts and moved to Isabela, where he founded the settlements of Puerto Villamil and Santo Tomas.  




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Captain Paul Bruun, commander of the Neptune, 1911.



Captain Brunn was instrumental in taking the Norwegians to the Galapagos. There is a wonderful account of his career and passage on www.galapagos.to/TEXTS/HOFF-2.HTM. called Drommen om Galapagos.

Brunn made a last attempt to reorganise the few Norwegians that remained but he was to die tragically on Isabela Island in July 1931.



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1925 Map of Floreana showing the twenty two plots of the Norwegian community.


After various failures, one of the most ambitious projects was the one promoted by August Christensen, Consul of Ecuador in Oslo, Norway. After the awarding of the islands to the Ecuadorian Government in 1925, twenty two lots were defined. Each was twenty hectares and would be used by the Norwegian colony to establish themselves on Floreana.


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The Norwegian ‘Headquarters’ – The Matrix House.


More than two thousand Norwegians, full of dreams, left their home country and arrived. They invested considerable capital to finance their trips to the islands of “paradise”. They arrived with prefabricated houses, fishing equipment, machinery for canning fish, boats and domestic animals. One of the initial plans was to set up a whaling station, it did not succeed, these colonists moved to Academy Bay on anta Cruz. The others failed to establish themselves on the island - they realised this was no paradise and left by 1928. They were confronted with very difficult conditions in this environment. Several people died – disillusioned and sick of loneliness, the majority returned to Norway.



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In September 1929, Dr. Friedrich Ritter, doctor and philosopher and his partner Dore Strauch arrived in Guayaquil from Berlin to settle on Floreana. They came longing for paradise, having left Germany surrounded by scandal, they settled with their belongings on a small ranch called Frido. They maintained a strict vegetarian diet and spent time in deep meditation. Soon various German publications printed the passionate articles written by Dr. Ritter - full of the virtues of island life. He enthused about physical strengthening and spiritual aspects. Soon others were considering fleeing civilisation, anxious to remake their lives in harmony with nature.

In November, Dr. Ritter died from poisoning after eating pork, he had been unhappy with the “invasion of other people to the island”. Dore Strauch returned to Germany and died in 1942 during an air raid.



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In 1932 Heinz and Margret Wittmer arrived with their son Harry. They had been inspired by articles written by Dr. Ritter about the idyllic life in the islands. They hoped the climate and environment would improve their sickly sons health – Harry suffered from rheumatic fever. Shortly afterwards their son Rolf was born there, the first citizen of the island to have been born in the Galápagos. The families relationship with Ritter and Strauch was said to be “distant but respectful” meeting occasionally to trade goods.

Margret set up a hotel which is still managed by her descendants (own blog), and wrote an account of her experiences in her book Floreana: A Woman's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos.



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In October 1932, a strange woman arrived with her three lovers. It was Baroness Wagner de Bosquet, Rudolph Lorenz, Robert Philippson and an Ecuadorian named Valdivieso, who came with plans to establish a hotel for millionaires to be called The Paradise. With the arrival of the Baroness began the jealousies, discord and intrigues. The Baroness and her partners soon began exchanging provisions with visiting yachts and luxurious vessels. Life on the island became a genuine hell. In March 1934, The Baroness and Philippson mysteriously disappeared, even now their fate is unknown. These facts were followed in detail by the sensationalist press, which reaffirmed the stereotypical vision that Floreana was “a tragic place”. 



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In July, Lorenz, principal suspect in the “disappearance” of the Baroness and Philippson, was found dead on the island of Marchena. The cause: shipwreck.




The demands of the ‘human visitors’ and early settlers devastated much of the local wildlife and both the endemic tortoise and Floreana mockingbird became extinct on the island.

Flamingos and green sea turtles nest (December to May) on this island. The "patapegada" or Galápagos Petrel is found here, a sea bird which spends most of its life away from land. At the “Devil's Crown”, an underwater volcanic cone, coral formations are found.



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