The Collectors

The Collectors

From Oxford, Pete, and Graham Watkins. Galapagos: Both Sides of the Coin. Morgansville: Imagine Publishing, 2009. Print. Available for purchase in our online store.

Louis Agazziz at Harvard University

Towards the end of the 19th century, collecting Galapagos specimens had become a driving force for visitors. Simeon Habel stayed six months in the Galapagos Islands in 1868, collecting birds, reptiles, insects, and mollusks that ended up in Vienna. Harvard zoologist, Louis Agassiz, a strong critic of Darwin’s ideas, visited the islands on board the U.S.S. Hassler in 1872. Günther’s 1874 manuscript on giant tortoises may have triggered additional interest, and, by the late 1880s, Lord Rothschild had supported numerous trips for his collection at Tring in Hertfordshire, England. The geologist and naturalist, Theodore Wolf, visited in 1875 on the Venecia collecting specimens that were accidentally lost. The Italian corvette, Vittor Pisana, visited in 1884-5 and collected plants on Floreana and San Cristóbal. Baur and Adams spent four months collecting specimens in 1891 and the Albatross visited in 1888 and 1891, collecting on various islands for the Smithsonian.

At the turn of the 19th century, the number of expeditions setting out from California began to grow as Rothschild transferred his operations to San Francisco. Prior to this move, the focus of research on the Galapagos Islands had been in the Royal Society, the Zoological Society of London, the British Museum in the UK, and the Smithsonian Institute and Harvard University, both on the east coast of the US. Subsequently, US west coast universities and museums began to play an increasingly important role in Galapagos science.

In 1898, Edmund Heller and Robert Snodgrass, from Stanford University’s Department of Zoology, visited on board one of the last sealer schooners and brought back collections.  In 1901, Rollo Beck visited on the Mary Sachs and brought back live and dead giant tortoise specimens for Lord Rothschild’s collections. Beck returned in 1905, leading the California

Crew of the schooner Academy in 1905

Academy of Sciences expedition on board the schooner Academy that stayed for more than a year in the islands, collecting specimens. This collection is, by far, the largest ever taken from the islands—76,000 specimens—and includes all but one of the giant tortoise species inhabiting the islands. The volume and extent of the collection is astonishing, but the point of view of the day was that these collections were the only way to ensure posterity for Galapagos Species. At the turn of the century, scientists had already noted the consequences of whalers, tortoise oil hunters, and invasive species.

William Beebe

Naturalists with the support of wealthy philanthropists then began visiting Galapagos. In 1924, the Monsunen and the St. George visited to collect terrestrial and marine fauna. William Beebe visited twice—on the 1923 Harrison-Williams Expedition on the Noma and in 1925 on the Arcturus Oceanographic Expedition. Allan Hancock visited in 1928 on the Oaxaca and then several times aboard the Velero III from 1931-1938. Gifford Pinchot visited in 1929, as did the Cornelius Crane Pacific Expedition of the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. In 1930, the Vincent Astor Expedition on the Nourmahal explored Santa Cruz Island. William K. Vanderbilt visited on the Ara in 1928 and then again on the Alvain 1931-2. The Templeton Crocker Expedition spent two months in the islands in 1932, and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia made two expeditions, in 1936 and 1937, to the islands, with the support of Dennison Crockett on the Chiva and George Vanderbilt on the Cressida.

All of these visits provided fodder for the magazines and radio stations of the United States. Articles featuring the Galapagos Islands regularly appeared in Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic, Life, and Harpers. Perhaps the most influential publications of the time were those of William Beebe; his books, Galapagos—Worlds End in 1924, and The Arctus Adventure in 1926, captured the imagination of many would-be colonists, naturalists, and romantic idealists. Galapagos was well on the way to its metamorphosis from “inhospitable inferno” to “scientific treasure house” to a “naturalist’s paradise.”

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