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The famous Galapagos Islands are associated with one man in particular, Charles Darwin. This famous 22-year-old British naturalist first arrived in the Galapagos Islands in 1835 aboard the HMS Beagle. 

Darwin arrived in the archipelago as a participant in a scientific voyage. He went as a companion of his captain, the also young Robert Fitzroy. In 1831 they left England aboard the HMS Beagle for the coasts of South America.

After the inspection of these coasts, Fitzroy decided to stop briefly in the archipelago. This stop was exclusively technical, as the Galapagos was known to be the last chance to resupply water and food for ships crossing the Pacific Ocean.

The Beagle was stranded in the Galapagos for five weeks. And he visited 4 islands. During this time Darwin had the opportunity to observe wildlife and endemic animal species that had never been seen before. Based on this he made an important collection of reptiles, plants, minerals and birds among which were the famous Darwin’s finches.

“Considering the small size of these islands, we are all the more amazed at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their reduced extent…. Thus, both in space and time, we seem to approach that great fact, that mystery of mysteries: the appearance of new beings on this earth.” (Darwin, 1845).On his return Darwin dedicated himself to the investigation of the samples taken, and differences appeared in some cases, or similarities in others, of a group of small land birds, which led him to consider the origin of the inhabitants of the islands. Thus he spent twenty years working on his theory of evolution. It was in 1859, when Darwin finally consolidated all his findings in his famous book The Origin of Species.

About Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin
  • Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809. 
  • He was an amateur geologist and had a special interest in beetles. 
  • The genes of science were in his blood. His grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, was a renowned botanist, and his father, Dr. Robert W. Darwin was a physician.
  • At the end of his studies at Cambridge he had the opportunity to travel aboard the HMS Beagle as a companion of Captain Fitzroy. The Beagle traveled around the world for five years in search of geographical, botanical and military data.
  • Darwin, after returning from his trip around the world, began to suffer from exhaustion, nausea, headaches and chronic attacks for many years. Many say that during his voyage he contracted a parasitic disease called Chagas disease, which eventually caused his death.

Timeline of Darwin’s voyage in the Galapagos

Darwin's voyage in the Galapagos Islands
Darwin’s voyage in the Galapagos Islands

1835 San Cristobal Island (Chatham)- September 15 to 23

Once Charles Darwin arrived at the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle, he was impressed by the giant tortoise species. Also with the plants and above all by their volcanic origin, which is evident in their rocky islands. 

San Cristobal in Galapagos Islands
San Cristobal Island

Floreana Island: September 24 to 28

Floreana was a penal colony and was administered by the Englishman Nicholas Lawson. When the Beagle arrived, the crew was allowed to descend to visit the colony. Darwin got a lot out of this visit, collecting good specimens of animals and plants. He also learned to recognize which island a tortoise came from by its shell. 

Thanks to the notes in Darwin’s diary, it became known that the tortoises were hunted by whaling ships and pirates. The convicts of the colony also ate the turtles. Thus, by 1846, the race had become extinct.

Floreana in Galapagos Islands
Floreana Island

Isabela Island (Albemarle): 28 de septiembre – 4 de octubre

During this period Darwin was able to research more about marine iguanas. Thanks to the dissection of one of them he was able to discover that it feeds on algae and not fish, contrary to what he thought. 

Sierra Negra in Isabela Island
Sierra Negra – Isabela Island

Northern Islands: Marchena, Genovesa and Pinta (Bindloe, Tower and Abingdon) – October 4 to 8

The intention was to visit these islands but due to the currents and winds the Beagle could not reach Abingdon Island. Not being able to anchor in any of these islands, the Beagle sailed to Santiago Island to obtain fresh water. 

Santiago (James) Island – October 8 – 17

Unfortunately they found no water in Santiago, so the Beagle returned to San Cristobal. But Darwin together with the ship’s doctor and some servants stayed in Santiago to explore for a week. During this time he was able to collect many specimens such as: fish, snails, birds, reptiles and insects.

Isabela (Albemarle), Wolf (Wenham) and Darwin (Culpepper) Islands- October 17 to 20 

After Darwin and his group’s week of research, the Beagle picked them up and headed for the eastern shore of Isabela Island for a final inspection. They then went on to Abingdon (Pinta) to pick up another group. 

Wenham (Wolf) & Culpepper (Darwin) – October 20 

An interesting fact about Darwin is that he never set foot on the land of Culpepper, the island that now takes his name.

Charles Darwin  “The Origin of Species”

Charles Drawin published his book “The Origin of Species” in 1859, after spending 20 years synthesizing the observations of his voyage. 

One of the key contributions the scientist made was natural selection. This idea says that animals of the same species are in constant competition for food, refuge and the ability to reproduce. And so only those that have adapted best to the environment will succeed in reproducing, so their genes will be passed on to the next generation and become more common.

The Galapagos Islands were an important source of inspiration for Charles Darwin theories. He affirmed this in his book. “Many years ago, in comparing, and watching others compare, the birds of the various islands of the Galapagos archipelago, both with each other. And with those of the American continent, I was much struck by how completely vague and arbitrary the distinction between species and varieties”.

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