Fray Tomas de Berlanga

fray tomas de berlanga

Tomas de Berlanga was a humanist, religious and adventurer. He belonged to a noble family from Spain.


He was known for his political influence in the Spanish Court, and was sent to settle political affairs, including the mediation between two conquistadors Almagro and Pizarro.

He's real name was: Tomas Martinez Gomez, and 500 hundred years ago the Dominican Bishop Tomas de Berlanga accidentally discovered the Galapagos Islands while en route from Panama to Peru.

On February 23rd 1535, he embarked on a trip southward to Peru (Capital city of Peru) with very favorable winds.

But on the eighth day a mysterious current pushed them away from the continent and the ship drifted without control to the high seas with no idea that he was heading to the Galapagos Islands.

Tomas de Berlanga arrived to the Galapagos Archipelago on March 14, 1535.

The Galapagos Islands discovery took the Spanish sailors by surprise and they described these unknown Islands as the enchanted isles as they appeared and disappeared enshrouded in the mist.

And the area's gentle winds gave the sensation that the Islands themselves were moving instead of their ships.

In a letter to the King of Spain, the bishop Tomas de Berlanga was less than enthusiastic about these Islands, he wrote: "I do not think that there is a place where one might sow a bushel of corn, because most of it is full of very big stones and the earth there is much like dross, worthless, because it has not the power of raising a little grass".

Like most of the early arrivals, Bishop Tomas de Berlanga and his crew arrived thirsty and disappointed at the dryness of the place. He did not even give the islands a real name.

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Letter from Tomas de Berlanga to King Charles VI

The ship sailed with very good breezes for seven days, and the pilot kept near land and we had a six-day calm, the currents were so strong and engulfed us in such a way that on Wednesday, the tenth of March, we sighted an island and, as on board there was enough water for only two more days, they agreed to lower the life-boat and go on land for water and grass for the horses.

The abrupt landscape is desolate and mysterious, with no signs of human presence, the rocks are sterile, they found nothing but seals, and turtles and such big tortoises that each could carry a man on top of himself, and many iguanas that are like serpents.

On another day we saw another Island, larger than the first, and with great sierras and thinking that, on account of its size and monstrous shape, there could not fail to be rivers and fruits, we went to it.

The distance around the first one was about four or five leagues and around the other, ten or twelve leagues. At this juncture the water on the ship gave out and we were three days in reaching the Island on account of the calms, during which all of us, as well as the horses, suffered great hardship.

The boat once anchored, we all went on land and some were given charge of making a well, and others of looking for water over the Island.

From the well there came out water saltier than that of the sea, on land they were not even able to find even a drop of water for two days, and with the thirst the people felt, they resorted to a leaf of some thistles like prickly pears.

And because they were somewhat juicy, although not very tasty, we began to eat of them, and squeeze them to draw all the water from them, and drawn, it looked like slops of lye, and they drank it as if it were rose water.

On Passion Sunday, I had them bring on land the things necessary for saying Mass, and after it was said, I again sent the people in twos and threes, over different parts.

The Lord deigned that they should find in a ravine among the rocks as much as a hogshead of water, and after they had drawn that, they found more and more.

In all, eight hogsheads were filled, and the barrels and the jugs that were on the boat, but through the lack of water we lost one man and two days after we left that island we lost another; and ten horses died.

From this island we saw two others, one much larger than all, which was easily fifteen or twenty leagues around the other was medium.

I took the altitude of the sun to know where the islands were and they are between half a degree and a degree and a half of the Equator, in the south latitude.

On this second one, the same conditions prevailed as on the first. Many seals, turtles, iguanas, tortoises, many birds like those of Spain, but so silly that they do not know how to flee, and many were caught in the hand.

The other two islands we did not touch, I do not know their character. On this one, on the sands of the shore, there were some small stones that we stepped on as we landed, and they were diamond-like stones, and others amber colored.

Thinking that we were not more than twenty or thirty leagues from the land of Peru, we were satisfied with the water already mentioned, although we might have filled more of our casks but we set sail.

With medium weather we sailed eleven days without sighting land, and the pilot and the master of the ship came to me to ask me where we were and to tell me there was only one hogshead of water on the ship.

I tried to take the altitude of the sun that day and found that we were in three degrees south latitude, and I realized that with the direction we were taking we were becoming more and more engulfed, that we were not even heading for land, because we were sailing south.

I had them tack on the other side, and the hogshead of water I had divided as follows: half was given for the animals and with the other half a beverage was made which was put into the wine cask, for I held it as certain that we could not be far from land, and we sailed for eight days, during all of which the hogshead of the beverage lasted, by giving a ration to each one with which he was satisfied.

And when the hogshead gave out and there was no relief for us, we sighted land and we had calm for two days, during which we drank only wine, but we took heart on sighting land.

We entered the bay and river of the Caraques on Friday, the ninth of April 1535 and we met there the people of a galleon from Nicaragua who had left Nicaragua eight months before. So we considered our trip good in comparison with theirs. Fray Tomas de Berlanga.

Some historians believe that the Galapagos Islands visited by Tomas de Berlanga could have been Isabela and Floreana after his accounts of "high sierras".

In 1537, Tomas de Berlanga retired from the Diocese, and returned to Spain to found a Dominican convent in his birth town.

He gave donations to orphan young girls and funded several chapels. He died on August 8, 1551 and was buried in the main Chapel of the Collegiate in Berlanga, Spain.

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