18th & 19th Centuries

Pirates were not the last to take advantage of the Galapagos Islands’ natural resources. By the 18th century, whalers and sealers were exploiting the islands’ rich marine life. Fur seals and Galapagos tortoises were nearly hunted to extinction.

The Essex (not to be confused with the USS Essex) was an American whaleship that was infamously sunk by an angry sperm whale off the coast of the Galapagos’ Charles Island (now known as Floreana) in 1820.  It later served as the major inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Essex being struck by a whale on November 20, 1820, sketched by the ship's youngest crew member, Thomas Nickerson, 14. Public Domain, via wikimedia commons.

Essex being struck by a whale on November 20, 1820, sketched by the ship’s youngest crew member, Thomas Nickerson, 14. Public Domain, via wikimedia commons.

Activity was so heavy during this time that a makeshift post office was established on Floreana. While it was no more than a marked barrel, the post office still exists today, and tourists can leave letters for future visitors to take home and mail.

This period also saw the establishment of permanent settlements in the Galapagos Islands. Patrick Watkins, an Irish crewmember on a British ship, was the first known settler, although it isn’t clear whether or not his stay was by choice. In 1832 the Galapagos Islands were annexed by Ecuador, and colonists established formal settlements on the islands of Floreana and Santa Cruz.

 

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