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The Legend of Irish Pat

John Woram

One of the more colorful accounts in Galápagos folklore is oft an early resident on Charles Island (now, Isla Floreana). But the story of Patrick Watkins, perhaps better known as “Irish Pat” or “Fatherless Oberlus,” may actually begin earlier on Albemarle Island (Isla Isabela). While there, Captain David Porter, United States Frigate Essex, went off in seach of water, but found something else:

I found four holes, each about 14 inches square, and from 6 to 7 deep, which had apparently been cut by some person with a pick-axe, for the purpose of catching the water as it dripped from the rocks above. … And but a short distance from thence was erected a hut, built of loose stones, but destitute of a roof.§ This I afterwards understood was the work of a wretched English [Irish?] sailor, who had been landed there by his captain, destitute of every thing, for having used some insulting language to him.

§ The remains of the hut may have been discovered by Greg Estes and Thalia Grant, as described and photographed in the latter's Writing on Walls.

Porter doesn't say how he “afterwards understood” the hut's origin, but presumably he heard about it from someone on one of the ships he encountered while in Galápagos. In any case, Porter reports that the unfortunate sailor …

… provided himself with two seal skins, with which, blown up, he formed a float; and, after hazarding destruction from the sharks, which frequently attacked his vessel, and which he kept off with a stick that served him as a paddle, he succeeded at length in getting along side an American ship [in Banks Bay] early in the morning, where his unexpected arrival not only surprized but alarmed the crew; for his appearance was scarcely human; clothed in the skins of seals, his countenance haggard, thin, and emaciated, his beard and hair long and matted, they supposed him a being from another world. The commander of the vessel where he arrived felt a great sympathy for his sufferings, and determined for the moment to bring to punishment the villain who had, by thus cruelly exposing the life of a fellow-being, violated every principle of humanity; but from some cause or other he was prevented from carrying into effect his laudable intentions, and to this day the poor sailor has not had justice done to him.

In his Adventures in the Pacific, John Coulter tells of a whale ship crewman:

… an Irishman … he having formed several plots to mutiny, and take the ship, there being no feeling of security as long as he was on board, he was landed on the southern extremity § of Albemarl Island.

§ Probably an error: the distance from the southern extremity of Isabela to Banks Bay is about 100 miles, so—assuming the man was Watkins—it's more likely that he paddled from the shore near his hut (just south of Tagus Cove) to the bay.

Here water being extremely scarce, he was nearly famishing, and would have died from the want of it, but that he squeezed the juice out of the prickly pear and cabbage tree. This was a substitute, which saved his life. As to food, he had plenty of doves and terapin, or the land tortoise, which is excellent. After some months the captain of an American whale ship humanely took him off, and landed him, at his own request, on Charles's Island, with which he was familiar, and which he knew possessed plenty of fine water from springs.