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Debunking the Baroness

Walter Finsen

Left: Walter Finsen, ca. 1935.
Right: Walter Finsen, Amanda (“Lalla”) Christoffersen, Thorvald Kastdalen, Sigurd Graffer, Håvard Henriksen (photos & identification courtesy Jacob Lundh).

In 1928 a middle-aged dentist, Dr. Frederick Ritter, in Berlin, got tired of the struggle and decided to move to a tropical island, where he thought he could live an easy life without much work. The fact that he had just stolen another man's wife, Dore Loergin [sic, Dore Strauch Koerwin] may have made the far places more alluring. He took the dame to Floreana and set up housekeeping under a tin roof. He was either too ignorant or too indolent to build a house, so he claimed that living in a house was unsanitary. He announced his intention to live 150 years or more. The Galapagos could, so why could not he? He called his place El Retiro de la Paz [sic, Friedo]. The peace did not last long, as this chronicle will show. In those days, the world was full of German would-be scientists. Ninety percent of the Germans that came out here, claimed to be scientists of some kind. Lately we are getting a better understanding of German science.

Ritter and Dore were no exceptions; Ritter claimed to be writing a new philosophy, but nobody could find a head or tail to his writings. He claimed to be a vegetarian, this probably on account of being a poor hunter. On one of my wanderings on Floreana, I happened to shoot a steer in self defense, near his place, so I took what meat I could carry to the Ritters. The doctor gave a long and fearsome sermon on the evil of eating meat, but in the meantime Dore kept on frying and as the aroma of the cooking reached his nostrils, he gradually changed the tune of his sermon. At last he decided that the biggest sin of all was wasting food and that, therefore, it was his Christian duty to help eat the meat, so nothing should be wasted.

On leaving Berlin, he had his teeth drawn and false teeth made of stainless steel. He inserted these and went to work. When my hunting dogs saw him tear into the meat with those glistening steel fangs, they got an inferiority complex that they carried with them to their grave. He put away more meat in that one sitting than I could eat in two months. In spite of Dore and a few colonists living on Floreana, he claimed to live a hermit life on a desert island. He must have been a disciple of Goebbels. He told this tale so often to the tourists and yacht owners, that these simple-simons repeated it as gospel truth. People thought him mad, but I always insisted that he never had enough intelligence to get that way. He was a gnome-like fellow and wore his hair long, tied together with a string on the back of his neck. He said that the Vikings wore it that way. He kicked hell out of Dore and made her work like a mule. She was an unattractive, slovenly drudge. The only special thing I remember her by is that I never saw her neck clean. They were nudists and the doctor got sore as hell when people walked in without warning. Dore did not seem to mind. They raised a few chickens and bananas, but lived mostly on handouts from the yachts. Dr. Ritter had a modest racket, but he got by on it while it lasted.

In 1932, the Winters [sic, Wittmers] came to Floreana. Winter was an officer in World War I and is a typical soldier. He probably came out here to forget. Their ambition was to cultivate the earth and make a living. They were not looking for publicity or fans so they did not cut in on Ritter's racket and peace still prevailed on Floreana. They are there still.

The next visitor to the island was, however, a different story. She was the Baroness Boise Bosquet de Wagner Whereborn [sic, Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bousquet] of Vienna and Paris. She announced her intention to start a private and somewhat carnal paradise on the island. She brought with her two German lovers, Alfred Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Phillipson [sic, Philippson] and in case of accidents, she picked up a third one [Manuel Valdivieso Borja] in Guayaquil. Like Ritter, she established her home under a tin roof and called it “Hacienda Paradise.” She elected herself the Pirate Queen of Galapagos and she did put Floreana on the map. She was her own press agent and a darn good one at that. She caused stories about herself to be widely published in the European newspapers. Some of them were humdingers, like the one about Pablo Rolando and his bride, Rosa, who were shipwrecked on their honeymoon tour and drifted ashore to Floreana. She cast them adrift in a small boat, to perish in the storm.§ Needless to say, these people never existed. She decreed that nobody could land on the island without her permission. She got fan letters from the four corners of the earth and many ne'r-do-wells offered to serve under her banner if she would pay the fare. Lots of yacht owners heard of her doings and flocked to Floreana. They were eager to make their otherwise dreary travels seem interesting and get their name in print and connected in some way to the outer edge of some adventure. To them she was manna from heaven and they gazed on her as royalty and, in order to shine in reflected glory, they did their best to spread her fame. She was a sight to see, walking aboard the American yachts, beating her chest like an ape and screaming, “I am the Queen of Galapagos.” She was quite an actress. All this was not so good for poor Ritter. The Baroness easily outshone the yokel and took away all his trade. Violent quarrels resulted.

§ According to William Albert Robinson, “One Pablo Rolando and Blanca Rosa his bride, shipwrecked on their honeymoon voyage and stranded on the island, were cast adrift again in a small open boat. Fortunately they were picked up later by a fishing craft, and lived to tell their story to the Ecuadorean authorities.” (Voyage to Galapagos, p. 205). A Similar report appeared in Milwaukee Sentinel (col. 4, para. 1) and no doubt elsewhere.

Then something happened to bring me into this history. A friend of mine, a fisherman from Santa Cruz, named Stampa, foolishly defied the Queen's order and landed on Floreana to hunt for meat. He was promptly arrested and the Baroness threatened to have him shot. He got away by Winter's help and came home with this strange tale. I suppose that subconsciously, I felt that I should be taking a more active part in the social doings of Galapagos. Anyway I felt that I had urgent business in Floreana. I persuaded a Norwegian named Vuggerad [sic, Nuggerud] to sail over with me. The distance is only 35 miles. We got into Post Office Bay about 5 o'clock in the afternoon and I suggested that we should sleep ashore in an old house that some Norwegian had left there, but my partner thought that the pirates might sink the boat, so he stayed and I went ashore alone. I spread my blankets in a strategic corner of the veranda and waited. The moon was shining bright so at 11 o'clock when they came I could see them at quite a distance. There were two of them. Both had rifles. I only had a revolver, so I let them come close before I sprang up. They wanted to know what I was doing there and if I did not know that it was forbidden to land. I told them that my travels were none of their business and invited them to scram, which they did. I used to know quite a few bad men in the Mexican revolution so I thought I knew one when I saw him. Some way those two did not look the type. I was tired and it seemed unreasonable to lose a good night's sleep on account of these two fools. I felt sure that they would not come back and then I did an, even for me, unusually foolish thing. I went to sleep. I never thought of the Baroness, but there whe was, big as life, sitting alongside of me, when I woke up, in broad daylight, next morning. She had a heavy revolver strapped outside her silk dress. She looked to me far more dangerous than her standing army of three.

The Baroness chose to play a new role or maybe she was just natural for once. She was friendly and she was very charming. She was not young nor was she good looking, but you soon forgot these minor defects in her company. She entertained me with stories from the Imperial Court of Vienna, where she said her mother served as a lady-in-waiting. Some way she made this seem credible while I was with her. She had an unmistakable mark of class and a profound contempt for humanity. She said that nothing amused her more than fooling the people. She took me to “Hacienda Paradise” and showed me her fan letters and clippings from the European press. I think she came to Floreana with the intention of getting some millionaire to finance her in building a tourist hotel there, and given time, I think she would have done it. A short time after my visit, she took to her court a young Dane. For some reason unknown to me, she shot this fellow and nearly killed him which goes to show that she could be dangerous. I wonder why she did not kill me in Post Office Bay. She visited me in Santa Cruz and we were fast friends to the last.

One day, Lawrence [sic, Lorenz] came to Santa Cruz. He had a strange tale to tell. He said the Baroness and Phillipson had left the island on a strange yacht. I had just been reading about a German cannibal in Hamburg, that had a lot of human flesh salted down in his house and as usual said the first thing that come into my head, “They have eaten her.” No[w] they may not have eaten her but the story of the yacht has some weak points in it. Travel is not so easy since the world was made safe for democracy. Anywhere a man goes he has a flock of fools after him examining his papers and taking the joy out of life in general, so it could not be so easy to pick up strange people without papers. Another [thing] strikes me as strange. In a place like Galapagos, where people don't get news from the outside world for months on end, it is natural when a boat comes, to gallop down to the coast, tail in the air and burning up the road. In this case, nothing of the kind happened, and that is the reason for the fact that nobody on the island knew the name of the boat, or anything about her. Nobody on the other islands saw this boat, which also seems passing strange. The fact [is] that the Baroness disappeared, hide, horn and holler, and has not been heard from to this day. I miss her. She broke the monotony of Galapagos life and I loved to see the way she fooled the great and near great.

Lawrence wanted to get to the mainland and he was in a hell of a hurry to get there. He hired Vuggerad to sail him to Chatham, hoping to get in from there. They took a nigger boy with them and set sail. Nothing was heard from them till months later, [when] Lawrence and Vuggerad were found dead on Marchena, a desert island over 100 miles from here. The boat and the nigger boy have never been found. §

§ See the Notes page for comments on Finsen's unfortunate choice of words.

Now it looks that those happenings would be enough for an island with [a] population of 9, but there was more to come. Ritter died mysteriously of arsenic poisoning [sic, food poisoning]. Dore made several statements, none of them alike. This may be due to rattle-brain, but that doesn't solve the problem. The local government started to investigate, but the poor devils were so flabbergasted by all this that they did not know up or down and nothing came of it. Newspapers in Guayaquil sent out reporters and a lot of nonsense was written. Dore went to Germany and wrote a book that nobody reads.

There are now on Floreana 16 soldiers and 7 civilians, including 2 children, so it seems that the Government of Ecuador is going to make it hard for the next empire builder.