The Galapagos Islands were officially discovered by Fray Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, in 1535, when his ship was becalmed in the Pacific and then swept off course. They appear to have been first named Isolas de Galapagos by a Flemish cartographer named Orteliu, in 1536. The name Galapagos originates from a Spanish word for saddle, or saddleback tortoise. The islands also became known as Las Encantadas (the Enchanted Isles), not for their beauty but for the menace of their strong currents, thick fog banks and small emergent rocks. By the late 1500s, pirates and buccaneers were regularly hiding out in the archipelago and by the 1680s, such famous buccaneers as William Dampier, Ambrose Cowley and Edward Davis, based in the Galapagos, were sacking the coastal towns of Ecuador and Perú.
Although the Galapagos originally appeared on a map in 1570, it was Cowley who first crudely charted the islands in 1684. In 1790, Alessandro Malaspina led the first scientific visit to the islands from Spain. This coincided with the arrival of the whalers. As industry grew in the developed world there was a rising demand for whale oil. In 1793, the whaler James Colnett arrived from Britain in HMS Rattler. Thus began the heyday of whaling, the period which certainly had the most biological impact on the islands. There were so many whales that Colnett reported seeing lines of them passing from dawn to dusk. At about this time a post office barrel was established on Floreana Island, in which sailors would leave mail to be collected by ships that were homeward bound. In 1813, Captain David Porter was sent from the United States in the warship Essex to destroy the British whaling fleet, which he duly did. In 1905-6, an expedition from the California Academy of Sciences collected the skins of 6,000 land birds and 266 tortoises, among other prizes.
The first resident of the Galapagos was an unkempt and fearsome Irishman called Patrick Watkins who was marooned on Floreana in 1807 and stayed until 1809. In 1859, oil was discovered in the United States and the whaling industry declined. In 1832, the Galapagos Islands were annexed by Ecuador and colonised. Attempts were made to harvest dyer's moss, the lichen Roccella babingtonii, which was used as a dye in the textile industry. A small settlement established on Floreana quickly became a penal colony, and stories of subsequent tyranny, slavery and murder on the island abounded.
In 1835, a young scientist named Charles Darwin arrived as the naturalist on HMS Beagle, captained by Robert Fitzroy. Fitzroy mapped the coastline of the Galapagos with such accuracy that his charts were used by all ships until World War II; Darwin's findings inspired his thoughts on evolution, and later provided evidence for his theory of natural selection.
During the 20th century, settlers and scientists converged on the islands from all corners of the globe. In 1924, Norwegian immigrants landed on Floreana, then on Santa Cruz where they set up a fish-canning plant. Over the years the five islands were settled by various nations. Then, in 1959, the Government of Ecuador declared all areas without a human population to be a national park. In the same year, the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands was set up in Brussels. This led directly to the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz (Ecuador), officially inaugurated in 1964. In 1968, the Ecuador government sent out the first two park wardens and so began the administration of the national park. Large-scale tourism started in 1970 with the arrival of a 58-passenger vessel. The Galapagos have never looked back. The human population has continued to swell and, with tourism, places increasing pressures on natural resources. Today towns such as Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz are busy little centres of commerce and trade, a far cry from the natural beauty beyond.