Letters from the Library

Georgina's diary

It happens that the little book I am talking about could not maintain its anonymity much longer: it had to be revised. It underwent a general revision of our collections that involved, among other things, the re-cataloging and physical reprocessing of each and every one of our books. A revision that took it from its well-guaranteed invisibility.

When she took it out of its light blue case, one of my colleagues —the one who had the chance to work with that particular document— showed it to me. I think she already knows about my taste for old papers and antiques.

It was a small notebook, of yellowed paper and blue lines, covered in a brownish fabric that might have been white or cream in the past, before time gave it its own patina, and with a handwritten note on the cover.

"Diary of Galapagos".

I did not recall seeing any document with that title in our collection...

[...and here I will make a parenthesis and will hasten to explain, not without a blush, that librarians do not always know our entire collection, nor have we read all of our books... Except in cases of general inventory, we rarely touch all the items of our collections. And although we touched and reviewed them, sometimes we don't know those books' and those boxes' contents. We tend to know our documents over time, according to the requests of our users, or our own investigations: those trips that some librarians embark on and that take us to navigate among our shelves for years...]

...and since it didn't ring a bell, I crossed my fingers and wanted to suppose that I was facing one of those jewels that could contain surprises.

And boy, did it contain them...

That "Diary of Galapagos" turned out to be the travel log of Rosamund Georgina Lloyd, the wife of a British chemist/botanist named Thomas Taylor. Along with him, Georgina was in Galapagos in 1938-9, as part of the scientific expedition led by the now famous (and then unknown) David Lack.

The diary is a treasure for many reasons. Because it is an original document, manuscript and unpublished, and it is perfectly preserved. Because it was specifically donated by Georgina to G. T. Corley Smith, a CDF member and promoter of our library. Because it describes the entire trip, from his departure from London to his arrival in the same city several months later, in great detail, and from a daily and personal perspective. Because it is the voice of a woman, who was little heard then. Because it is the voice of a non-scientist participating in a scientific expedition, and giving her own opinion about what she saw (which was not always polite). Because it is the voice of a high-class British speaking about South America. Because the expedition lived in Santa Cruz and Georgina describes life in Academy Bay at the beginning of the 20th century, and her coexistence with characters such as the Angermeyer brothers, Captain Stampa or the Kübler couple and their daughter, Carmen (today Angermeyer) who then would be 10 years old. Because it describes in the first person native landscapes and species, and investigations that were then ongoing and that later marked the history of science in the Galapagos (that of Lack with the finches, or that of Taylor himself with plant pigments). Because it clearly reveals many tics (racist, classist, sexist) and, also, many behaviors that were advanced for a woman of the time...

So surprising, interesting, and even moving, can be those little handfuls of sheets that we preserve, with all the possible care, on the shelves of our library and on the boxes of our archive.

I would like to close these notes by sharing a fragment of the "Diary of Galapagos". These are the notes that Georgina scribbled in her notebook on Sunday, April 2, 1939, when she left the islands (never to return). I think that the ones that I will write down in my own diary when I leave here will not be very different.

"Goodbye, Indefatigable; good bye, all you people, who have been so kind to us, and who quarrel so fearfully among yourselves; good bye, the iguanas and tortoises and turtles, and the birds under the cliff, and the night herons who bark and grunt at sunset; good bye, nice dogs sitting on the balcony silhouetted against the sky, and the five cats slinking among the palms and the papayas, and the wild donkeys who all night long keep up an interminable chorus all over the island.

Good bye, Galapagos".

The ‘Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands’, in French ‘Fondacion Charles Darwin  pour les Iles Galapagos’, Association Internationale sans but lucrative (AISBL), has its registered office at Avenue Louise 54, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Trade Registry # 0409.359.103

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