History of the Falkland Islands

From Academic Kids

The Falkland Islands were uninhabited when first discovered by Europeans, but the recent discovery of the remains of a wooden canoe is strong evidence that they had previously been visited, most probably by the Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego. It has also been suggested that the Falkland Island foxes, or warrahs, found on the island were introduced by the Yaghans, bearing as they did a resemblance to the culpeo or Fuegian fox.

An archipelago in the region of the Falkland Islands appeared on maps from the early sixteenth century, suggesting they may have been sighted by Ferdinand Magellan or another expedition of the 1500s. Amerigo Vespucci is believed to have sighted these islands in 1502, but did not name them. In 1519 or 1520, Esteban Gómez of the "San Antonio," one of the captains in the expedition of Magellan, deserted this enterprise and encountered several islands, which members of his crew called "Islas de Sansón y de los Patos" ("Islands of Samson and the Ducks"). Although these islands were probably the Jason Islands, a group northwest of West Falkland, the names "Islas de Sansón" (or "San Antón," "San Son," and "Ascensión") were used for the Falklands on Spanish maps during this period.

When John Davis, commander of the "Desire," one of the ships belonging to Thomas Cavendish's second expedition to the New World, separated from Cavendish off the coast of what is now southern Argentina, he decided to make for the Strait of Magellan in order to find Cavendish. On August 9, 1592, a severe storm battered his ship, and Davis drifted under bare masts, taking refuge "among certain Isles never before discovered." Consequently, for a time the Falklands were known as "Davis Land" or "Davis' Land."

In 1594, they were visited by Richard Hawkins, who, combining his own name with that of Queen Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen," gave the islands the name of "Hawkins' Maidenland."

In 1598, Sebald de Weert, a Dutchman, visited them and called them the Sebald Islands (in Spanish, "Islas Sebaldinas" or "Sebaldes"), a name which they bore on some Dutch maps into the 19th century.

Captain John Strong sailed between the two principal islands in 1690, and called the passage "Falkland Channel" (now Falkland Sound), after Anthony, Viscount Falkland (1659-1694), who as Commissioner of the Admiralty had financed the expedition, and who later became First Lord of the Admiralty. From this body of water the island group later took its collective name.



The islands were first settled by France, in 1763, when they established a colony at Port Louis on Berkely Sound. The French name Îles Malouines was given to the islands — malouin being the adjective for the Breton port of Saint-Malo. The Spanish name Malvinas is derived from the French adjective.

The French were expelled by the Spaniards in 1767 or 1768, who then re-named Port Louis as Port Soledad. In 1765, Commander Byron took possession on the part of Britain on the ground of prior discovery, and his doing so was nearly the cause of a war between Britain and Spain, both countries having armed fleets to contest the barren but strategically important sovereignty (like the Mascarene Islands but without their intrinsic resources, it was well placed as a base for pirate and privateer raids). On January 22, 1771, however, Spain yielded the islands to Great Britain by convention. The British colony was abandoned in 1774 and a plaque was left asserting Britain's continuing sovereignty over the islands.

Missing image
Halfpenny postage stamp, issued 1891

As they had not been recolonised by Britain, Argentina claimed the group in 1820 and formed a penal settlement at Port Louis which initially promised to be fairly successful until gauchos mutinied, devastating the village. In 1829 the Argentinians formally designated the Falkland islands as an Argentinian colony, and sent a Governer named Luis Vernet. However the United States claimed the mutiny left the Argentinian settlement a potential pirate base, sending Captain Silas Duncan of Lexington to destroy the remains of the mutinous settlement. This provided the spur for Britain to finally and permanently recolonise the islands, refounding Port Louis on January 3, 1833 with the establishment of a naval garrison and civilian settlement.

An interesting episode for those investigating the various sovereignty claims is the true story of "El Gaucho Rivero". Antonio Rivero in August 1833 was involved in an incident where a number of important figures on the islands were murdered. Rivero was taken to London to be judged, however when the case came before the high court it was dismissed because the court felt that the British Crown had no authority over the islands at this time and Rivero was returned to Argentina.

Work on Port Stanley started in 1843 and it became the capital of the islands in 1845.

Twentieth century

The strategic significance was confirmed by its becoming the location of the second major naval engagement of the First World War. Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee's East Asia Cruiser Squadron called at the islands on their trip from the Pacific Ocean back to Germany intending to destroy the Royal Navy radio relay station and coaling depot there. Unknown to Spee however, a British squadron, including two battlecruisers which were considerably more powerful than his forces, had been sent to hunt down his squadron and happened to be in the harbour coaling. In the one-sided battle which followed, most of Spee's squadron was sunk.

Falklands War

Argentina invaded the islands on 2 April, 1982. The British responded with an expeditionary force that landed seven weeks later and after fierce fighting forced the Argentinian garrison to surrender on 14 June, 1982.

Following the war, Britain increased its military presence on the islands and invested heavily in improving facilities in Stanley and transportation around the islands, tarmacking many roads. Despite this, there has been a gradual drop in population figures, and in particular, a migration from the more remote areas to Stanley.

External link

Early history adapted from the ninth edition of an encyclopedia (1879) and other sources.


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