Posted by: Rob Viens | August 4, 2012

Island of the Rats

On August 4th Darwin visited the Island of the Rats:

“We altered our anchorage, & stood much closer in.— we found an excellent berth amongst the merchant ships.— After dinner went with Wickham to Rat island & collected some animals.” (Aug 4)

Rat Island has gone by a lot of names in the last couple hundred years – Seagull Island, Island of the French, Rabbit Island, and most commonly Liberty Island. Though strangely there is not a lot written about the island (at least in English). The later name, which appears to be what it primarily goes by today, comes from the role it played during the Uruguayan Civil War between 1843 and 1852.

Rat Island (from

Rat Island

During part of the 1800’s (presumably at the time Darwin visited) the island was leased to the Royal Navy.  That would explain why it appears the Beagle crew was spending so much time on the island – that and the unsafe conditions in Montevideo as rival factions continued to fight in the city.

The island itself is not particularly impressive. It it only about 100 x 50 meters in size, and like much of the surrounding area, it is flat and light on vegetation. The island was used by the Uruguayan Navy in the first half of the 1900’s, at which time a sea plane hangar was built there.  This seems to be the main feature on the island today.

Map showing the location of Rat Island (labeled Isla de Ratas / from

Rat Island

Darwin ends the day’s entry with one of his poetic descriptions of the beauty of the equatorial regions:

“In the evenings the greater length of twilight is very pleasant: it is quite a new phenomenon to watch the purple clouds of the Western sky gradually to fade into the leaden hue of night.— This is a beauty of which the equinoctial regions can seldom boast.— And to an Europeans eyes it is a great loss.” (Aug 4)



  1. Given all the great critters I’ve met through this blog, I found myself hoping for some sort of exotic rat on “Rat Island.” 🙂

    • Alas no – But, to be fair, my search for information on the island was limited by the degree to which I can translate Spanish (mostly via translator). So I could easily have missed something 🙂

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