Wednesday (25 June) was the International Day of the Seafarer. This is a day that is greatly relevant to the Galapagos Islands, as prior to the age of the airplane the only way to the Islands was by sea. To commemorate this, we shall recount the story of Patrick Watkins; the first and certainly one of the most eccentric characters to have called the Archipelago home.
Not much is known about the sailor’s background, save for the fact that he was marooned on the island of Floreana in 1807. For two years he lived feral, growing vegetables on a two-acre plot of land in a small valley. He became known for trading his vegetables for rum from passing ships and according to anecdotal history managed to remain drunk for much of his stay on the island.
Captain David Porter
There are very few first-hand accounts of Patrick Watkins, but there does exist a record from Captain David Porter in his Journal of a Cruise made to the Pacific Ocean. The captain played an important role in American attacks on British commerce during the 1812 War and travelled around the Pacific. Despite the fact that he arrived Galapagos in 1813, four years after Patrick Watkins had left, he evidently found him an interesting subject to write about in his journals.
Captain Porter noted: “The appearance of this man, from the accounts I have received of him, was the most dreadful that can be imagined; ragged clothes, scarce sufficient to cover his nakedness, and covered with vermin; his red hair and beard matted, his skin much burnt, from constant exposure to the sun, and so wild and savage in his manner and appearance, that he struck every one with horror.”
Horrendous though he may have appeared, he was cunning, and would apparently trick other sailors who had landed on the island into working for him. His method was simple: he would incapacitate them with rum and conceal them until their original ships would sail off without them, thereafter making them swear loyalty to him. In this way he managed to bring his number of followers to four.
Eventually, he and his men managed to steal a boat from a ship (the captain of which curses Patrick Watkins in his logs as “the notorious Irishman” and a “villain”) and one day in 1809 left Galapagos for the Ecuadorian mainland.
The story becomes even more bizarre for he landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador, alone. It was assumed that his companions had perished from thirst or had been killed by him as the threat of thirst grew larger in the open seas. From there he moved on to Payta, Peru, where he managed to seduce a local woman and convinced her to return with him to Galapagos.
However, the local police judged him a suspicious character and upon finding him hiding under the keel of a small boat that was about to be launched, threw him into jail. From then on, nothing more was heard of him, save for rumours and hearsay.
by Jose Hong