Harriet (November 14,1830 - June 23 2006) was a Galápagos tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus porteri) who had an estimated age of 175 years at the time of her death in Australia. Harriet is the second oldest tortoise ever authenticated, the oldest being Tu'i Malila, who died in 1965 at the age of 188.
She was reportedly collected by Charles Darwin during his 1835 visit to the Galápagos Islands as part of his round-the-world survey expedition, transported to England, and then brought to her final home, Australia, by a retiring captain of the Beagle. However, some doubt was cast on this story by the fact that Darwin had never visited the island that Harriet originally came from.
In August 1994, a historian from Mareeba published a letter in the local newspaper about two tortoises he remembered at the Botanic Gardens in 1922 and that the keepers of the time were saying that the tortoises had arrived at the Gardens in 1860 as a donation from John Clements Wickham, who was the First Lieutenant (and later Captain) of HMS Beagle under Fitzroy during the voyage of the Beagle in 1835.
Wickham actually brought three tortoises to Australia when he arrived after retiring from the Royal Navy in 1841; these lived at Newstead House from 1841 to 1860. Records show that the tortoises were donated to the Botanic Gardens in 1860 when Wickham retired as Government Resident of Moreton Bay (now Brisbane) and left Australia for Paris.
There is evidence from letters that Charles Darwin was aware that Wickham had these tortoises, as he sent a letter to Huxley in 1860 informing him that he should speak with Wickham in Paris about the last of the tortoises from the 1835 expedition because he had them. This makes it at least possible that the three tortoises at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens were personally collected by Darwin.
An initial analysis of Harriet's DNA was unable to identify her subspecies in a cross section of 900 animals representing 26 extant and extinct populations. After reanalysis she was assigned to G. n. porteri. However, her genetic diversity and other factors in her DNA sequence data indicated she was most likely at least two generations removed from the oldest specimens of her subspecies in the dataset. The oldest G. n. porteri in the dataset were collected as adults in 1907 and, hence, this would require Harriet to be born by 1860.
This dating rules out many alternate possibilities for Harriet as, prior to 1900, Australia was a very difficult place to get to. There were only two imports of Galápagos tortoises prior to 1900, and four of the five animals involved have been accounted for and are still represented by museum material. The suggestion in some quarters that Harriet was collected by whalers and brought to Australia is not possible, as Australia had its own whaling industry and whaling ships from South America did not visit Australia.
The tortoises collected by Darwin were all recorded in Fitzroy's journals of the voyage, including their measurements. As they averaged 11" in length, and this represented an approximate age of 5 years for the subspecies, Harriet's year of birth was estimated by Scott Thomson to 1830, with an error of 2 years either way, in the 1995 paper describing the events of Harriet's life and the results of the research.