27th October 1835

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Reflections following the visit to the Galapagos (4)
Mr. Stokes made some notes about the tortoises (terrapin), while with me, and as he and I are satisfied as to the facts, I will add them. Fresh water was first discovered on Charles and on James Islands, by following the terrapin paths. These animals visit the low, warm ground to seek for food and deposit their eggs; but it must be a toilsome journey indeed for them to ascend and descend the rugged heights. Some that Mr. Stokes saw in wet, muddy places, on high ground, seemed to enjoy themselves very much, snuffling and waddling about in the soft clayey soil near a spring. Their manner of drinking is not unlike that of a fowl: and so fond do they appear to be of water, that it is strange they can exist for a length of time without it; yet people living at the Galapagos say that these animals can go more than six months without drinking. A very small one lived upwards of two months on board the Beagle without either eating or drinking: and whale-ships have often had them on board alive for a much longer period. Some few of the terrapin are so large as to weigh between two and three hundred weight; and, when standing up on their four elephantine legs, are able to reach the breast of a middle sized man with their snake-like head. The settlers at Charles Island do not know any way of ascertaining the age of a terrapin, all they say is, that the male has a longer neck than the female. On board the Beagle a small one grew three-eighths of an inch, in length, in three months; and another grew two inches in length in one year. Several were brought alive to England. The largest we killed was three feet in length from one end of the shell to the other: but the large ones are not so good to eat as those of about fifty pounds weight—which are excellent, and extremely wholesome food. From a large one upwards of a gallon of very fine oil may be extracted.

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