Bibliography Texts

Ecuador the Unknown,
Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands,
The Galapagos Revisited

Victor Wolfgang von Hagen

These unedited excerpts describe the Darwin monument on Isla San Cristóbal, the commemorative postage stamps, and the “Darwin Medallion” commissioned by the author and presented to President Velasco Ibarra. See Notes below for additional details.

An asterisk (*) indicates a footnote by the author, and the § symbol indicates a footnote added to this online page.

Unrelated to the above, the Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands excerpt presents von Hagen's incorrect account of the Alessandro Malaspina expedition, which did not visit Galápagos.

Ecuador the Unknown

(pp. 96-97) It was September 1935. Christine and I were on board the schooner San Cristóbal bound for the Galápagos Islands, there to carry out an objective that we had been planning for two years. To mark the centenary of Charles Darwin's visit to the islands, we planned to erect at Wreck Bay on Chatham Island, the spot where he first landed,§ the monument which was safe in the hold of the schooner. The bust of Darwin was a replica of a portrait [sic, bust] in the American Museum of Natural History, and had been sent to me through the kindness of Dr. Robert Cushman Murphy of that Museum; a plaster cast had been made of the original, and in Ecuador it was re-cast by a native sculptor.§§ The inscription for the monument was written by the sole surviving son of the great naturalist, Major Leonard Darwin, of Sussex, England, and the plaque, containing the inscription, also had a portrait of Darwin as a young man. A copy of the portrait was obtained through the gracious offices of Mrs. Nora Barlow who had recently edited her grandfather's Diary of the Beagle.

§ Actually, Darwin's first landing was near Cerro Tijeretas, which is northwest of Wreck Bay. Although Wreck Bay is close, there is no written evidence that he ever visited it. See Estes et al for map showing his landing places.

§§ The sculptor was Luis Mideros.

Raising the monument was more than an act of biological piety. It was the beginning of a campaign to bring to the attention of naturalists all over the world, and to the attention of the Republic of Ecuador, to which the Galápagos Islands belong, the need for conserving the irreplaceable natural phenomena of the archipelago, and to save from extinction this living laboratory for the study of evolutionary processes.

Knowing the Latin Americans to be particularly receptive to personal appeals, I hoped by means of the monument to dramatize the need for protective legislation. In addition, I had designed a series of stamps which I had suggested that the Republic of Ecuador issue to commemorate the centennial of Darwin's visit to her possessions. The stamps were to have been issued on 17 September 1935; they actually appeared six months later, a hiatus not due this time to traditional Latin-American procrastination, but to the deposition of the President with whom I had carried out negotiations.

(pp. 109-110) In the early morning we disgorged our freight. In addition to our store of food, collecting apparatus, books, and instruments, we had to unload the bust of Darwin, for the monument was to be erected nearby. We also had to take off our two masons, natives of Guayaquil, who were to make the base. They had not come up on deck during the whole voyage; they looked positively gangrenous, but now that terra firma was at hand they took a new lease on life.

The whole of that day was spent trying to find a suitable place for the monument. I had designed a base which was to be made of the basalt lava fragments of the Galápagos; to assist the masons, I had also had made a small scale model. We had to have a supply of fresh water with which to mix the cement, and a block and tackle to lift the heavy bust of the naturalist on top of the pedestal when it was completed. To the right of the bay, overlooking the harbour, was an elevated spot near the shore, which seemed to be the ideal location, and the site was decided upon therewith.

The masons were already at work on their task of finding the material for the base of the monument as we mounted mules and left for the settlement in the hills of Chatham Island. Half-way up the slope, at six hundred feet, the sun broke out through the mist, and the clear azure sweep of the Pacific revealed itself.

(pp. 171-172) We made first for Chatham to inaugurate the Darwin monument. Even from a distance one could see the bust on top of the lava pedestal, and I thought my masons had done quite well. With scant ceremony, the bust was unveiled and accepted by the Commander of the port in the name of science and the Republic of Ecuador. The masons had done a good job, but, as they had not been working under supervision, they had found a heart-shaped stone which they put in the centre of the monument and wrote thereon, in large conspicuous letters:


This legend completely dwarfed the name of Charles Darwin. The work had taken a long time, because the masons could not chip the basalt with their chisels, and had broken most of them before they decided that they could not cut the lava rock. Thereafter they searched out each stone they needed, stones of the right size to build the fifteen foot pedestal.

Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands

(p. 197) Then came Malaspina. And he was a “caballo del otro color.” Alesandro Malaspina was chosen to lead a scientific expedition on the ships Descubierta and Atrevida into the South Seas in circumnavigation. Malaspina [after visiting Guayaquil] shaped the course of his two vessels for the Galápagos Islands. There they cruised for some days among the fantastic clinker heaps.

This was, in reality, the first scientific expedition to come to the Galápagos.§ It is unfortunate that we do not know what it accomplished.

§ For a time, another ship, the Santa Gertrudis, Captain Alonzo de Torres y Guerra, sailed in company with Malaspina. Then, while Malaspina sailed westward across the Pacific, the Santa Gertrudis visited Galápagos on its way to Lima, Peru. Upon arrival, a Galápagos chart was drawn by Thomas de la Cruz Doblado, based on the work of Lorenzo Vacaro, an officer on the ship. A note on this chart cited the voyage of Malaspina. From this, it's possible that von Hagen thought Malaspina himself visited the islands.

The Galapagos Revisited

(p. 10) Dr. Robert Murphy, the famed authority on oceanic birds at the American Museum of Natural History (my earliest mentor) took me to see Henry Fairfield Osborn [Director of the Museum]. He promised to have made a plaster cast of the bronze portrait [sic, bust] of Charles Darwin that stands at the entrance of the Museum.§ They would also pack and ship it to Guayaquil, the port of Ecuador.

§ The bust was actually located in the Museum's Darwin Hall of Invertebrate Zoology.

(p. 12) The crated bust of Darwin I transported personally to Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, where a well-known sculptor (whose name now after a half century escapes me§) would recaste it in concrete filled with bronze fillings which, it was hoped, would take on a patina of bronze when exposed to the elements. Further, a plaque was designed showing the young Darwin and the names of the participating members of the expedition were listed.

§ As noted above, the sculptor was Luis Mideros.

(p. 13) (Preparation and subsequent meeting with the President and others) I changed into more formal clothes as I was expected to meet the President within an hour. I hurredly found the time to find the Darwin Medallion. … The ceremony was brief and for me most efficacious. The President, Dr. Velasco Ibarra, whose profession was that of a history professor, was tall and thin. His eyes were rimmed with spectacles, his face unseemingly pale, since there had been a brief whiff of revolution. … He had already been briefed on the purpose of the Darwin Memorial Expedition. … I told him briefly the purpose of our coming. We were to make an island-to-island survey of the Galápagos, note the problems of conservation of the turtles, land tortoises and birds. I would submit a report on these conditions. We were also going to raise a monument of Charles. In addition, the medallion that I had cast in San Francisco showed Charles Darwin as a young man; on the reverse side was the H. M. S. Beagle and Darwin's words: “The voyage of the Beagle has been the most important event of my life and determined my whole career.” § It was beautifully encased in black velvet. It made the impression I wished it would make. My only chagrin was that I kept none for myself.

§ In Darwin's Autobiography.

(p. 14) At my request, I was taken to the Minister of Post and Transportation who, too, was briefed on the program and purposes of the expedition. The object of this was for the post office department to consider issuing a series of Galápagos stamps, six distinct issues with Darwin's portrait, tortoises, iguanas, etc., which would be offered at the time of the centennial. Efforts were also to be made to see if they would appoint me as honorary postmaster of the Galápagos during that time, with a special cancellation seal so that these stamps could be franked by me on the date of the inauguration of the Darwin monument, so that through the avenues of publicity it would draw collectionistas to the stamp series from which a profit would be gained, which would act as the first financial contribution to the establishment of a research station on the Galápagos. It was, unbelievably, the easiest of all my projects; the designs were given to the representatives in Quito of Thomas de la Rue, Ltd., who specialized in such stamp issues. Final designs were made during the end of 1934, approved and the Darwin memorial stamps were actually issued, but not, as will be learned, in the precise form in which I had visioned it.

(p. 168-171) My first notice I had at San Cristóbal, of information contained in several wireless messages, was: the Darwin stamp project was kaput; the President had been “replaced”, so all governmental projects were suspended and in that suspension was the stamp issue. Had it taken place, it would, for the time, have been a bold step. The Galápagos stamps of the six different issues, one bearing the portrait of Darwin and others of the fauna, were to be issued on 15 September (1935).§ The envelopes bearing these stamps, the first air mail flights to the Galápagos, were to be franked by an official seal (which I carried). A year before, I had talked with Juan Trippe, then President of the Pan American Airlines, into making the first air flight to the Galápagos and pick up the franked covers. These were to be sold and the money obtained to be the base of the first contribution to finance the Galápagos project. Juan Trippe, too, had telegraphed that the stamp project was “off” and so there would be no flight to the Galápagos. That the plan has merit is demonstrated in that it is now being done. In 1982* my Darwin stamp issue did eventually take to wings, but far too late to be of assistance to the over-all plan.

§ This series was in fact issued a few months later, in 1936.

* 1982 — First day cover in aid of conservation. A series of stamps of fauna of the Galápagos is being issued to be franked from various areas associated with Charles Darwin. The object: to raise funds for the operation of the Charles Darwin Research Station.

The Darwin monument fared better. There it stood on the beach of Wreck Bay, facing the same beach where Darwin had landed a century ago. … The work had taken a long time, as the masons could not chip the basalt with their chisels and had broken most of them before they decided that they could not cut the lava rock. Thereafter, they searched out each stone they needed, stones of the right size, to build the fifteen-foot pedestal.

There was a simple ceremony.§ A few idle Galápagueños, half teethed and half clothed, stood by, mainly for the wine that was to follow. I made a short speech in Spanish; the commandant, who did not know any more about Darwin then he did about Wedgewood [sic, Wedgwood] responded. He accepted the monument in the name of the Republic of Ecuador and that was that. It would certainly have delighted Charles Darwin to know that a small group of sea iguanas, which he called “the little imps of darkness” were then scampering about the base of the monument.

§ A brief announcement in the June 11, 1935 New York Times (p. 19) reported the upcoming ceremony.

That monument was alone our monument. Few knew or could have understood the immense labour, mental and physical, it had cost me to have transported a cast from its original in New York, convey it to Quito, cast it and convey it in a pitching vessel to the Galápagos. Still, that single act was to lead to an awakening of the importance of the Galápagos and Darwin. Ecuador, which then had a small interest in its cinder heaps, would, through my publications in their newspapers and the various publications of that moment on a world-wide basis, slowly realize its great heritage in history and science.

After all these years had slipped by since 1935, no one had mentioned it, so I was resigned to the fact that it had been destroyed, until I learned in reading William Robinson's book Return to the Sea (1972) that the monument still survived.

They showed me (at Chatham Island) a barren little memorial park with its bust and plaque erected by von Hagen who has done so much against discouraging inertia to try and save the Galápagos. They have surrounded the place with low ornamental walls of lava and planted trees … Rereading von Hagen's book (Ecuador and the Galápagos — 1949), I realize what a misfortune it is, there are not more scientists like him interested in preserving rare birds and animals alive in their own habitat. … I felt a warm personal accord with von Hagen who was not afraid to come right out and side with the animals.

This was the first notice, since it was erected in 1935, that I knew that the monument was still there. When I returned to Las Encantadas in 1981, I too found the Darwin Monument in the place, as described by Robinson except that …

Except that it had been moved from where I first placed it on the beach at Wreck Bay where Darwin first landed.§ It was behind a fence in Marine Headquarters, its garden greened with plants (wonderful when one recalls how little water there is on the island). An anchor had been tastefully placed at its base, otherwise it was the same as I had erected it forty-five years ago. The commandant of a detail of marines at first refused my request to enter the citadel, until I showed him photographs of the monument and myself standing by it, in 1935.

§ As noted earlier, Darwin never landed at Wreck Bay.

And there we were, in 1981, my daughter Bettina and myself. We were filmed beside that monument which, launched forty-five years ago, was part of the plan for a National Park within the Galápagos and the erection and maintenance of a permanent Research Station.

(p. 276) (Concerning the Charles Darwin Research Station) As to my own participation in all this, in the 20th anniversary (1980) issue of Noticias de Galápagos, the secretary general wrote: “Victor Wolfgang von Hagen and other Galápagos enthusiasts made the first effort and vigorously advocated both protective legislation and the establishment of a scientific station in the archipelago. The Government decreed some of the islands as natural resources and in 1935, exactly one hundred years after Charles Darwin's visit, von Hagen led the “Galápagos Memorial Expedition” and on San Cristóbal (Chatham) Island erected a monument to the great naturalist with an inscription written by his one surviving son, Major Leonard Darwin. It was a gallant effort, but produced no positive action. The Government appointed no wardens to enforce its decree and international scientists failed to set up even a modest Research Station. Von Hagen pleaded his cause in Europe, where, in 1937, Sir Julian Huxley headed an imposing “Galápagos Islands Committee.”

Things never materialize until the moment is ripe for them. My placing a monument to Darwin, where he first landed, my survey of the Galápagos, island to island, in order to form a base for a conservation program, my subsequent writing the legislation (14th May 1936, Official Decree 31) for Ecuador and my publication of books and articles, as well as lectures did arouse international attention, but war sank any project before it could be launched.


People whose names are inscribed on the Darwin monument:
Victor Wolfgang von HagenExpedition leader
Christine Inez von HagenWife
Christine Inez BrooksMother-in-Law
Alexander Brown IIIBrother-in-Law
Dard HunterAuthority on paper

The parents of Dr. von Hagen's wife and brother-in-law were Alexander Brown II and Christine Inez Brown. After Mr. Brown's death, she married a Mr. Brooks. Only Dr. and Mrs. von Hagen actually participated in the expedition. The others contributed financial and personal support. (Family information courtesy of von Hagen biographer Keith Richmond.)

Dr. von Hagen apparently created La Asociación Conmemorativa Darwin (Darwin Commemorative Association) prior to his 1935 Galápagos Expedition, although he does not mention this in the texts above. However, an invitation bearing that name was sent to Dr. John C. Merriam, Director of the Carnegie Institute (now, Carnegie Institution) in Washington, DC. The invitation (about 16 × 18 inches) invites Dr. Merriam to participate in the commemoration, and is signed by von Hagen as Director, and Alexander R. Brown III as Secretary.

See The Chronology of the Darwin Memorial Expedition in the von Hagen Bibliography for additional details about the expedition, and Portraits in the Round for more details about other Darwin busts.