Stanley Commonwealth Walkway

Falkland Islands / Americas

History of the Falklands The Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas) are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, 300 miles to the east of the Patagonian coast of South America, and 752 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula.  They have been a British Overseas Territory since Britain reasserted rule over them in 1833, though this is disputed by the Argentinians.  There is East Falkland, West Falkland and some 776 smaller islands.  The capital is Stanley, on East Falkland.   The islands are named from Falkland Sound, the strait which separates East and West Falkland.  The strait was so-called by Captain John Strong, when he landed in 1690, giving it the name of the then Treasurer of the Navy, 5th Viscount of Falkland (1656-94) who had sponsored the expedition.  In 1765 Captain John Byron (1723-86) officially claimed the islands for George III and gave them the name ‘The Falklands’.  The other name, Islas Malvinas, was given to them by the French explorer, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811). The islands may have been visited in prehistoric times, but were uninhabited when Europeans discovered them.  Thereafter their history is complicated.  Captain Strong detected water and game, and then in 1764, the French established Port Louis on East Falkland.  In 1766 the British captain John MacBride (1735-1800) founded Port Egmont on Saunders Island.  The French surrendered their claim to the islands to Spain.  The Spanish captured Port Egmontin in 1770, but this was returned to the British in 1771.   The British and Spanish co-existed until 1774 when the British withdrew for economic reasons, only to invade South America later.  Eventually, the Spanish colonial garrison left in 1811.  The Argentinians claimed Spanish territories in 1816 and allowed the German-born merchant, Louis Vernet (1791-1871) to fish and keep cattle, eventually forming a colony.  He held sway until an 1831 raid by the American commander, Silas Duncan (1788-1834), who dissolved the government.  British forces reasserted Britain’s rule in 1833, following a mutiny the year before.  In 1840 the Falklands became a crown colony.  Stanley, formerly Port Jackson, became the capital in 1845, the Falkland Islands Company took over in 1845,  and in 1881, the Falklands became financially independent from Britain. The islands were an important part of Britain’s territorial claims to sub-antarctic islands and a section of Antarctica.  They were governed as the Falkland Island Dependencies between 1908 and 1985.  They played a small part in the two world wars as a military base, with control over the South Atlantic.  There was an important batter in December 1914 when the British fleet defeated a German squadron.  In 1939 HMS Exeter retreated there for repairs having been damaged in the Battle of the River Plate.   Disputes arose between the British and the Argentinians in the latter part of the Twentieth Century.  For some years the British Government had been encouraging the idea that the Falklands could be handed back to Argentina.  The issue of British sovereignty proved a hindrance to business between Britain and Argentina.  The Foreign Office were promoting a Leaseback policy, similar to that in Hong Kong, and ministers such as Nicholas Ridley came down with increasing degrees of unpopularity.  It was the job of Rex Hunt, the Governor, to promote this idea but after a while, he became convinced that the Islanders did not want to be united with Argentina.  As Governor, rather than as an ambassador, he believed he was in a position to reflect the views of the Islanders, something which did not always make him popular with the Foreign Office. It was a bad day when the Government decided to withdraw HMS Endurance, largely to save money.  Lord Buxton, who knew the Falklands well having explored the wildlife there over many years, wrote to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to complain about the ship’s withdrawal, which he thought was largely to save £4 million a year.  On 19 August 1981, Mrs Thatcher replied that the ship was ‘not essential to the maintenance of our defence commitment to the Falkland Islands, of which the Royal Marines Garrison provides – and will continue to provide – a tangible demonstration.’ The Prime Minister also stated: ‘We are in no doubt about the legitimacy of our sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and we are determined to ensure that the Islands’ territorial integrity is preserved.’ Lord Buxton was not impressed.  He replied on 22 September, describing the withdrawal of Endurance as ‘nothing less than a callous and discourteous act to the Falkland Islanders, and in the case of loyal British citizens it was surely unworthy of any British Government.’ So this proved to be.  The withdrawal of Endurance gave the Argentinians the message that Britain was not interested in the Falklands and would therefore not rush to their rescue if they were invaded.  No doubt to draw attention away from his inability to resolved internal policies in Argentina, the President, General Galtieri, invaded the Falklands in April 1982.  Margaret Thatcher recalled Parliament on 3 April and told the House of Commons: The House meets this Saturday to respond to a situation of great gravity.  We are here because, for the first time for many years, British sovereign territory has been invaded by a foreign power.  After several days of rising tension in our relations with Argentina, that country’s armed forces attacked the Falkland Islands yesterday and established military control of the islands … The Government have now decided that a large task force will sail as soon as all preparations are complete.  HMS Invincible will be in the lead and will leave port on Monday… Contrary to a lot of Parliamentary advice, though backed by Admiral Sir Henry Leach, Mrs Thatcher despatched the Task Force.  The course of the short war between 1 April and 14 June is well known.   Government House was nearly taken, and when he realised the hopelessness of the position, Rex Hunt ordered the Royal Marines to lay down their arms.  The Falklands were taken over by the Argentinians.   In the ensuing two-month war, there were casualties on both sides.  The Argentinians lost numerous men, the British lost 255, and three civilians died by mischance when their house was hit by friendly fire.  Stanley was taken back and the Argentinians surrendered.   On 15 June Mrs Thatcher told the House of Commons that after 74 days General Moore had accepted the surrender of General Menendez.  The British General had sent a message: ‘The Falkland Islands are once more under the Government desired by their inhabitants.  God Save the Queen.’  11,000 Argentinians had surrendered in Stanley, 2,000 in West Falkland, and the British already had 1,800 prisoners elsewhere on the islands.  She concluded: ‘The Battle of the Falklands was a remarkable military operation, boldly planned, bravely executed, and brilliantly accomplished.’ The 3,000 or so islanders finally achieved British citizenship under the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983.   Baroness Vickers, who had taken an interest in the Falklands for some years, had tried to get this through before the war but lost by one vote.   The residents of Gibraltar had been granted British nationality on 22 July 1981, due to their membership of the European Union, but she was distressed to discover that under the British Nationality Bill, third, fourth and fifth-generation Falkland Islanders would be excluded from British citizenship.  Whereas some 1,500 Falklanders would get British citizenship, 300 or 400 would be excluded, because they did not have a grandparent born in the United Kingdom.  She wanted them granted the same rights as those in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – which were crown possessions.  After the war, this was carried unanimously. After the war, there was a Thanksgiving Service in Christ Church Cathedral, a parade, a number of Sports Association events and gymkhanas, though some had to be postponed due to occasional inclement weather.  There were dances and a cocktail party onboard Endurance and on the last night a fireworks display and dance.  Amongst those attending from the UK were Rt Hon Timothy Raison, Lord Shackleton, Lord Buxton, Cindy Buxton and Annie Price and a number of British Members of Parliament. Following the war, the British increased their military presence at RAF Mount Pleasant.  Diplomatic relations with Argentina were resumed in 1990, though tensions still exist.  Following the establishment of the 2009 Constitution, the Falklands have full internal self-government, the British retaining power in respect of foreign affairs and ensuring overall good governance.  The Queen is Head of State and is represented by a Governor. The Falklands are home to large bird populations and their economic activities depend on fishing, tourism, sheep farming and high-quality wool exports.   Stanley Stanley is the capital of the Falkland Islands and is located on East Falkland.  It is where Government House is, as well as the main shopping centre, and has three churches, including the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral and the Roman Catholic St Mary’s.  The Town Hall serves as a post office, law court, dance hall and philatelic bureau.   Originally the capital was at Port Louis, to the north of where Stanley is today.  Governor Moody moved the capital to Port Jackson, renaming it ‘Stanley Harbour’, largely because it had a deeper anchorage for ships.  It became the capital in July 1845, named after Lord Stanley, later 14th Earl of Derby, KG (1799-1869), the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.  In 1849 30 Chelsea Pensioners were settled in Stanley to help develop it and to defend the islands. Before the opening of the Panama Canal, Stanley was a major port for repairing ships travelling through the Straits of Magellan.  Later it was a whaling and sealing base for the South Atlantic and the Antarctic, and later still an important coaling station for the Royal Navy.   Stanley was divided in two for a time by a massive landslide in both 1879 and 1886, caused by excessive peat cutting.  During the 74 day Argentinian invasion in 1982, Stanley was briefly known as Puerto Argentino.  The town was greatly damaged during that war by the Argentinian occupation and British naval shelling. Since the Falklands War, Stanley fishing and tourism industries have greatly increased, and many houses have been built, making Stanley a third bigger than it was in 1982.  

2 miles / 3.3 kilometres

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What to see

  • Penguins in the Falkland Islands
  • HRH The Princess Royal at the launch of the Falklands Commonwealth Walkway
  • HE The Governor of The Falklands, with members of the community, at the Walkway launch in 2016

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