Falkland Islands Museum & National Trust
The historic heart of Stanley
Sheep Farming in the Falkland Islands
The first sheep on the Falkland Islands are thought to have been those brought by French settlers to Port Louis in 1764, but it was not until almost eighty years later that the first attempts at commercial farming took place. Governor Moody, who arrived in the Falklands in 1842 was strongly of the opinion that the Islands would be suited to sheep rearing. He wrote to the Colonial Office "The few sheep that have been imported for exportation of coarse or blanket wool would meet with great success....and this should be made the staple production as soon as possible". With the active encouragement of Government, land on East Falkland was soon taken up by aspiring sheep farmers and by 1860 wool was being sold on the London market. In 1867 the first sheep farms were established on West Falkland and by the 1870s the wool industry was prospering. Throughout various fluctuations of the market it remained the economic mainstay of the Falklands for the next hundred years, until the 1980s, by which time wool prices had seriously declined an the fishing industry replaced it in importance as a source of income. But although today only a relatively small proportion of people are still engaged in sheep farming, it has remained an important part of the Falklands identity. The history of many families is bound up in a way of life which has formed the social and cultural traditions of the Falkland Islands.
Traditional Hand Shearing
For the first hundred years of sheep farming in the Falklands the laborious work of removing the wool was carried out almost entirely using hand shears. Although machine shears had been introduced by the Falkland Islands Company as early as 1893 they were not a success and only began to come into general use in the 1950s and '60s.
Driving the Sheep
Across the huge distances of the Falklands landscape, sheep being gathered for shearing or moved to new ground had to be driven, often for many miles, by shepherds on horseback assisted by well-trained dogs. Flocks could number several thousand and long days in the saddle were part of every shepherd's existence. Today with smaller farms and flocks, motorised transport is more commonly used, although sheep dogs are still an important asset.
The Big House
The original larger farm settlements were laid out on similar patterns. The main structures were the shearing shed, the cookhouse for single men and individual houses for married men. Often set slightly apart from the rest would be the 'Big House' where the owner or manager, known as 'The Boss' lived. This arrangement, usually regarded as surprisingly feudal by visitors, was common until the 1980s when most of the larger farms were sub-divided and settlements split among different owners.
The Early Years
The settlers of the nineteenth century brought with them the dress, manners and customs of Victorian Britain. These were carefully maintained, nurtured by periodicals from 'home' which helped to lessen the sense of remoteness. Social occasions such as weddings, dances and race meetings assumed a particular importance in lives characterised by hard work and isolation.
Wool Collection. s.s. 'Fitzroy'
In the absence of roads in the Falkland Islands, all farm settlements were built on the sea, so that stores could be delivered and wool taken away by ship. Shearing sheds were built at the head of jetties so that the heavy bales of wool could be loaded directly on to the boat, to be taken to Stanley and onward to Britain. The Fitzroy was one of a series of local steamers run by the Falkland Islands Company and was in service from 1932-1957.
Much of the history of the Falkland Islands revolved around the lives and lifestyles of the rural community –
the farmers and workers who lived in the Camp (the name given to everywhere outside of Stanley).