The historic heart of Stanley

Captain John Davis

Discovery of the Falkland Islands

For many years it was believed that the English Elizabethan explorer Captain John Davis made the first recorded sighting of the Falklands on 14th August 1592. However, recent research has unearthed forgotten documents which indicate that the first to discover the islands were most likely Portuguese. Although the identity of those explorers is not known, it would seem that the discovery took place around 1518-19.

“It cannot have been later than early 1519, since the discovery was known to Pedro Reinel in Seville before Ferdinand Magellan set sail

in September 1519. It is unlikely to have been much earlier than 1518-19 because not a single map before Reinel’s goes so far down the Patagonian coast; it seems explorers only reached so far south around that time.”  Graham Pascoe & Peter Pepper

John Davis - 1592

However, John Davis was certainly the first to make a recorded sighting of the Falklands and his part in our story continues to be of great importance. 

John Davis was captain of the 120 ton ship, Desire, sailing with a small fleet commanded by Sir Thomas Cavendish. Halted by storms in the Magellan Straits the fleet lost men to scurvy, starvation and the cold. The ships were heading back to Brazil when they became separated. Davis made for the coast of Patagonia to repair his ship and wait for Cavendish, who, unknown to Davis, had decided to sail home for England.

On August 6th Davis set sail for the Straits again and on the 9th ran in to a severe storm:

"We had a sore storm so that we were constrained to hull [lie to] for our sails would not endure any force.

"The 14th. We were driven in among certain isles never before discovered by any known relation,

lying fifty leagues or better from the shore East and Northerly from the Straits in which place unless it pleased God of his wonderful mercy

to have ceased the winde we must of necessity have perished.”

The islands that Davis was blown in amongst were the Falkland Islands - probably some of the small islands off the coast of West Falkland (possibly the Jason Islands).

Davis and his men suffered a great many more hardships on the return to England, including a misplaced accusation of desertion which damaged Davis’ reputation at the court.

August 14th is known as “Falklands Day” in the Islands and the name of Davis’ ship, the Desire, is incorporated in the motto on the coat of arms of the Islands: “Desire the Right”


John Davis (1550 - 1605) was born at Stoke Gabriel near Dartmouth. He went to sea at an early age and is chiefly remembered for his voyages in search of a Northwest Passage in the mid-1580s. The Davis Strait is named after him. Davis also penetrated Baffin Bay, reaching latitude 73o north in a ship of only 20 tons.

Captain Davis was a master navigator who invented a navigational instrument, the backstaff and double quadrant, and wrote several books on navigation. He was killed in 1604 during a fight with Japanese pirates off Borneo.


The English navigator

Richard Hawkins on the Dainty

maps the northern coastline

and names the Islands "Hawkins

Maydenlande" after himself

and 'the virgin Queen', Elizabeth I.

Dutch navigator Sebald van
Weerdt names the Jason Islands “The Sebaldines”.  

1690 - First Recorded Landing
An English navigator Captain John Strong, in his ship the Welfare makes the first recorded landing on the Falklands - believed to be at Bold Cove, Port Howard, on the west island.

Captain Strong named the channel dividing the two main islands “Falkland Sound” after Viscount Falkland, Treasurer to the Royal Navy.

William Dampier, a British explorer who had sighted the Falklands in 1684, returns and circumnavigates the Islands.

British privateer Woode Rogers explores the Islands and uses the name “Falkland’s Land” to describe the whole archipelago.

Lord Anson visits the Falklands and urges the British Government to use the Islands as a base for exploring the South Atlantic.


Louis Antoine de Bougainville
The French diplomat and explorer, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, claims the Islands for Louis XV and establishes a settlement which he names Fort St. Louis (now Port Louis). The French name the Islands “Iles Malouines” after the port of St. Malo from which they set out.

Port Egmont
Unaware of the French settlement, Commodore John Byron, sent to survey the Islands, lands at Port Egmont on Saunders Island (W. Falkland) and claims the Falklands for King George III.

Captain John McBride
In January 1766, Captain John McBride of the JASON establishes a naval garrison and settlement at Port Egmont and, in December, discovers the French at Fort St. Louis.

France sells to Spain
Following a protest from the Spanish government about the French settlement on the Islands, Bougainville is forced to sell Fort St. Louis to Spain for £25,000. The settlement is renamed Puerto Soledad and a Spanish Governor is appointed under the jurisdiction of the Captain-General of Buenos Aires - then a Spanish colony.

British and Spanish ships had met the previous year while surveying the Islands and each accused the other of being in the Islands unlawfully. In 1770, Spanish ships carrying more than 1,000 men forced the British to withdraw from Port Egmont.

Serious diplomatic negotiations involving Britain, Spain and France produce the Exchange of Declarations, whereby Port Egmont is restored to Britain.

On economic grounds (due to the approaching American War of Independence and redeployment of forces from all overseas garrisons) Britain withdraws from Port Egmont. A lead plaque is left behind as a mark of continuing British sovereignty.

1810 to 1820
In 1810, a revolution had resulted in the establishment of a provisional government of the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata. The following year, all settlers were withdrawn from Puerto Soledad. In 1816 the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata declared independence from Spain and four years later (1820) a Buenos Aires privateer claimed sovereignty of the Islands.

A private attempt is made to settle the Islands, but failed after a few months. The United Provinces of Rio de la Plata appoint a military commandant of Puerto Soledad.

1826 to 1829
Louis Vernet’s Settlement
In 1826 Louis Vernet, a naturalised citizen of Buenos Aires (originally French with German connections) leads a private expedition to the Islands and established a new settlement at Puerto de la Soledad.

Vernet acknowledges the British sovereignty claim and lodges a request with the British Consul General that the colony be taken under British protection. He returns to the Islands with his family, Dutch and German families and his new British deputy, Matthew Brisbane.

In 1829 Buenos Aires appoints Vernet unpaid Commander of his concession in the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego, on the grounds that they claim all rights in the region previously controlled by Spain. Britain lodged a formal protest, asserting sovereignty of the Islands.

In an attempt to control fishing in Falklands' waters, Vernet arrests three American ships for illegal sealing. In retaliation the American warship LEXINGTON sacks the settlement and proclaims the Islands “free from all government”. Most of the settlers leave aboard the vessel and Matthew Brisbane is taken to Montevideo.

America supports Britain and questions the claim that all Spanish possessions had been transferred to the government of Buenos Aires. The United Provinces of Rio de la Plata appoints Don Juan Estaban Mestivier governor of the Islands, but he is murdered by mutineers shortly after his arrival.

Under the command of Captain James Onslow, the British warships HMS CLIO and HMS TYNE visit the Island and reiterate the Britain’s sovereignty claim.

Captain Onslow sails from Port Egmont in the CLIO and takes over Port Louis, claiming the Islands for Britain.

Matthew Brisbane is left in charge of the settlement. Shortly afterwards a Gaucho gang murders Brisbane, William Dickson (his deputy) and four other colonists. The rest of the settlers take refuge on a small island in Berkeley Sound.

The British warships CHALLENGER and HOPEFUL arrive, the murderers are arrested and the colony is re-established and named Anson’s Harbour.

British administration of the Falklands has remained unbroken since this time, apart from a ten week Argentine occupation in 1982.

1840 to 1842
Falklands’ First Civilian Governor
In 1840 the Colonial Lands and Emigration Commissioners approve the British colonisation of the Falkland Islands.

Richard Clement Moody is appointed the first civilian Governor of the Islands and arrives at Anson’s Harbour in the brig HEBE on  15th January 1842.

Governor Moody laid out a township which he named Anson in the Port Louis area, but was instructed to look for a new site for the capital.  After much debate Port Jackson was chosen, re-named Stanley and declared the official capital and seat of government in the Falkland Islands.