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Culpepper (Darwin) Island in the Galapagos Archipelago

Culpepper Connections! Editorial Note: Many thanks to Chip Culpepper who has solved the rationale for the naming of Culpepper Island in the Galapagos' archipelago. The following text has been supplied by him.

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Prior to the islands official annexation and renaming by Ecuador in1832 (and unofficially, for at least another 150 years) the islands carried the following English names:

bulletCulpepper (now Darwin)
bulletWenman (now Wolf)
bulletAlbemarle (now Isabella)
bulletIndefatigable (now Santa Cruz)
bulletNarborough (now Fernandina)
bulletChatham (now San Cristobal)
bulletJames (now San Salvador)
bulletCharles (now Santa Maria)
bulletBindloe (now Marchena)
bulletHood (now Espanola)
bulletAbingdon (now Pinta)

Ambrose Cowley, an English pirate made the first navigational charts of the islands in 1684. At that time, he named the islands after fellow pirates, and for English Kings (James, Charles), and for privateer-supportive noblemen (courtier of King Charles II, John Culpepper appears to be the namesake of Isla Culpepper. Wenman is also the surname of a contemporaneous nobleman in the court of Charles II). An tiny islet near Isabella still bears the name Cowley.

The island of Chatham was likely named for the ship HMS Chatham which visited the islands in 1795 along with HMS Discovery under the command of Captain George Vancouver.

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The following information is from a section of Cornell University's web site on the Galapagos archipelago. An additional historical narrative is also available.

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Discovery, Pirates, and Whalers

The Galapagos were discovered in 1535 by Fray Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama. This was the time of Spanish exploration and discovery, and followed Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe by a just a dozen years and Balboa's discovery of the Pacific by two dozen. de Berlanga, however, was no explorer. He had been sailing to Peru, recently conquered by Pizzaro, when his ship became becalmed and was carried west by currents; his discovery was entirely accidental. de Berlanga saw little value in the islands. He wrote that the land there, inhabited only by birds, seals and reptiles, was "dross, worthless, because it has not the power of raising a little grass, but only some thistles." By the time de Berlanga sighted the first of islands, his ship had only a two day supply of water. They found no fresh water on the first island they landed on. They sailed on to a second (one with high peaks, possibly Santa Cruz) but ran out of water by the time they reached it. After several days they succeeded in finding water "in a ravine among rocks" (later visitors learned to find water by following tortoise paths into the highlands). In the meantime, de Berlanga's men were reduced to squeezing water from prickly pear cactus pads. Two men and ten horses died of thirst before water was found. de Berlanga reported sighting two more large islands, possibly Santiago and Isabella, and landed on the smaller of the two.

Galapagos TortoiseIn his report to the King of Spain, de Berlanga did not refer to the islands by name, but they appear on Ortelius's 1570 world map as "Insulae de los Galopegos", named for the saddleback giant tortoises de Berlanga and subsequent early visitors reported seeing.

It is possible that the islands were discovered some 60 years earlier by the Inca king Tupac Yupanqui, as Incan oral history tells of his voyage to the west and discovery of two "Islands of Fire". If there is truth to this, and there are some inconsistencies in the story, it is perhaps more likely he discovered Easter Island.

The fabulous wealth of the growing Spanish Empire caught the attention of Spain's European rivals, who wanted to limit Spanish power and grab some of the wealth for themselves. England in particular gave its blessing to pirates and buccaneers who attacked Spanish galleons returning to Spain from the New World laden with treasure. The Galapagos lay not far from the route between the conquered Inca Empire of the Andes and Panama and New Spain (Mexico), the center of Spanish activity in the New World. So beginning in the late 16th century, the Galapagos became a base of operations for many English pirates. In 1684, one of these buccaneers, Ambrose Cowley, made the first crude map of the islands and named each of them, mainly after English kings and noblemen (these names have largely been supplanted by Spanish ones; a small islet east of Isabel, however, still bears Cowley's name). Though fresh water is scarce in the Galapagos, it can be found in a few localities. One particularly favored spot was Buccaneer Cove on the northwest end of Santiago. Fresh meat, in the form of the giant tortoises, was another valuable commodity to be had in the Galapagos. The giant tortoises were highly prized by mariners because they could be kept alive in the holds of ships for many months without food or water.

By 1790 pirates were being replaced by whalers. Captain James Colnett was commissioned by His Majesty's government to investigate the possibilities of sperm-whale fisheries in region and visited the islands in 1793 and 1794. Colnett made the first reasonably accurate map of the archipelago and set up a "Post Office Barrel" on Floreana. Whalers, who would be at sea for years, would leave letters in the barrel and ships heading back to England to port would pick up the letters and deliver them to port. The Post Office Barrel may still be seen today on the shore in Post Office Bay.

Soon whalers from New Bedford as well as England were coming to the Galapagos in large numbers, dozens of ships each year. Like the pirates before them, whalers would hunt tortoises, turtles, birds, and occasionally land iguanas for food. The whalers, though, were much more numerous than the pirates had been and some races of tortoises quickly became extinct. As many as 200,000 tortoises may have been taken over the course of the 19th century. Also taken in great numbers were fur seals, whose thick, luxurious fur was highly prized. By the early 20th century they were nearly extinct (they have since greatly recovered). In 1813, when the U.S., Britain, and France were at war with one another, American Captain David Porter, commanding the U.S.S. Essex, nearly destroyed the British whaling fleet in the Galapagos. At the same time, Porter charted the islands and made careful observations of them in his log, including an eruption of Floreana in July 1813, the only known historic eruption of this volcano. Porter was also the first to remark upon the differences in the tortoises, particularly in the shape of their shells, from the various islands. When anchored in James Bay, Porter released several goats to graze near the shore. However, after several days the goats disappeared into the interior and were not seen again. Porter had not intended to release the goats. But in subsequent years and centuries, many were deliberately released to provide a continuing source of meat to ships in the area. These goats would multiply, eventually reaching 100,000 on Santiago, and devastate the native flora of Santiago and several other islands and threatening the native herbivores, such as the giant tortoise. Today, introduced species remain the single greatest threat to the Galapagos biota.

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The Dragons of Galapagos
1998 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

lGalapagos viewIn May 1995 Australian film-makers David Parer, Elizabeth Parer-Cook and their three year old daughter Zoe, arrived in Ecuador to make a film called "The Dragons of Galapagos".

Over a two year period they spent 500 days in the field, 200 days of which were on boats. Assisted by a guide, David Day and an Ecuadorian assistant Segundo Guaman, they travelled to many islands of the archipelago including Espanola, Santiago, Floreana, Isabela, Genovesa and the northern islands of Wenman and Culpepper.

Iguana But the bulk of their time was spent on Fernandina, the most active volcano in the region and home to vast numbers of marine and land iguanas - the so called "Dragons of Galapagos".

To the casual observer the Galapagos has all the ingredients of a tropical paradise - a string of Pacific islands on the Equator where the animals show no fear of man. Here sealions frolic in the water only inches from anyone who ventures amongst them; finches and mockingbirds land on your camera to peck at the lens cap and curious hawks hover only feet above your head as you hike.

Galapagos VolcanoBut in reality the Galapagos is anything but a tropical paradise. It's a land of extremes - born of the violence of volcanic eruptions. A place where rainfall is infrequent and the struggle for existence and reproduction a battle. And a place that has its share of challenges for the film-maker.

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Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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