The Falkland Islands have grown and developed though the enterprise of seafaring explorers and pioneers, creating a history that is intertwined with maritime tradition.
The English navigator Captain John Davis is credited with discovering the Falkland Islands on 14th August 1592. (His ship Desire adorns the Islands’ coat of arms and its name has been incorporated into our motto: “Desire the Right”.) Another English captain, John Strong, made the first landing on the Islands, at Bold Cove on West Falkland in 1690, naming the channel between the large east and west islands “Falkland Sound” after Viscount Falkland, Treasurer to the Navy.
Over the years the Islands were sighted and charted by navigators of several nations. The Islands had no indigenous population and settlement began in 1764/65 when the French diplomat and explorer, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, established a colony on East Falkland which he named Fort St. Louis, and Commodore John Byron claimed the Islands for Britain and set up a settlement and garrison at Port Egmont on Saunders Island, West Falkland.
The 1800s brought whaling and sealing boats to the Falklands. Seal populations had declined in the northern oceans, and these hunters began to exploit the waters around the largely unpopulated Islands; a pillage that continued throughout the century.
In 1833 the Falkland Islands became entirely administered by Britain; the Islands’ first civilian Governor arriving at Port Louis in 1842. Governor Richard Clement Moody moved the seat of government to Port Jackson, renamed Stanley in honour of Lord Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies.
One of the prime reasons for the Falklands fascinating maritime history is the Islands’ location - on one of the great trading routes of the world, Cape Horn. The Horn provided an essential route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans prior to the building of the Panama Canal in 1914 and the Falklands were an important supply point for vessels making the journey.
Many ships suffered damage upon the treacherous seas and, as such, Stanley’s ship repair business was very lucrative, particularly during the 1850s and 1860s, when the discovery of gold in California and in Australia, and Peruvian guano trade created a massive increase in ships rounding Cape Horn.
More than 100 wrecks are known to lie off the rocky coasts of the Islands; other ships, having limped into Stanley, found the cost of repairs too high – many of these vessels were stripped and sold for use as storage hulks or warehouses - the most accessible of these are the Jhelum and the Lady Elizabeth which sit on the shores of Stanley harbour. The skeletal remains of several other ships, such as the Capricorn and the Afterglow can still be seen along the harbour front.
In the 1900s the Falklands’ industry shifted to sheep farming and internal shipping was vital, with Islanders depending upon the small vessels for supplies, transport and communication. Larger vessels ran between the Islands, South America and Britain, carrying passengers, exporting wool and importing just about everything else.
The Falkland Islands demonstrated their strategic value in both World Wars. On 8th December 1914, Admiral Sturdee led a British squadron from Stanley against the German Pacific Fleet commanded by Admiral Graf von Spee. The British victory secured naval supremacy in the South Atlantic for the remainder of the war and is commemorated each year with a public holiday and parade. The Islands also witnessed the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939, when the German pocket battleship- the Graf Spee - was hunted down by the Exeter, Ajax and the Achilles.
High Season (November to End of March)Monday to Friday: 9.30am - 4.00pmWeekends: 2.00pm - 4.00pmHours may be extended on days when cruise ships are visiting Stanley
Off Season (April to end of October)Monday to Friday: 9.30am-12.00 noon and 1.30pm - 4.00pmWeekends: 2.00pm - 4.00pm
To promote awareness and appreciation of the history and heritage of the Falkland Islands and to protect and preserve this history for future generations.