The Falkland Islands were first seen by Davis in the year 1592 and Sir Richard Hawkins sailed along their north shore in 1594. The claims of Amerigo Vespucci to a previous discovery are doubtful. In 1598 Sebald de Wert, a Dutchman, visited them, and called them the Sebald Islands, a name which they bear on some Dutch maps. Captain Strong sailed through between the two principal islands in
1690, landed upon one of them, and called the passage Falkland Sound, and from this the group afterwards took its English name.
In 1764, the French explorer De Bougainville took possession of the islands on behalf of his country, and established a colony at Port Louis on Berkeley Sound. But in 1767 France ceded the islands to Spain, De Bougainville being employed as intermediary. Meanwhile in 1765 Commodore Byron had taken possession on the part of England on the ground of prior discovery, and had formed a settlement
at Port Egmont on the small island of Saunders. The Spanish and English settlers remained in ignorance, real or assumed, of each other's presence until 1769-1770, when Byron's action was nearly the cause of a war between England and Spain, both countries having armed fleets to contest the barren sovereignty. In 1771, however, Spain yielded the islands to Great Britain by convention.
As they had not been actually colonized by England, the republic of Buenos Aires claimed the group in 1820, and subsequently entered into a dispute with the United States of America concerning the rights to the products of these islands. On the representations of Great Britain the Buenos Aireans withdrew, and the British flag was once more hoisted at Port Louis in 1833, and since that time the
Falkland Islands have been a regular British colony.
In 1845, Mr. S. Lafone, a wealthy cattle and hide merchant on the river Plate, obtained from government a grant of the southern portion of the island, a peninsula 600,000 acres in extent, and possession of all the wild cattle on the island for a period of six years, for a payment of Io,000 down, and 20,000 in ten years from January 1, 1852. In 1851, Mr. Lafone's interest in
Lafonia, as the peninsula came to be called, was purchased for 30,000 by the Falkland Islands Company, which had been incorporated by charter in the same year.
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 Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982. The war was noted for intense air and submarine attacks that resulted in several British and Argentine ships being sunk. However, the army of Argentina was unable to stand up
against British land forces for long.
Argentina calls the the Falkland Islands by the name Islas Malvinas. It now declares it will no longer seek settlement by force. The UK continues to reject Argentine requests for sovereignty talks.
The economy was formerly based on agriculture, mainly sheep farming, but today fishing contributes the bulk of economic activity. In 1987 the government began selling fishing licenses to foreign trawlers operating within the Falklands exclusive fishing zone. These license fees total more than $40 million per year, which goes to support the island's health, education, and welfare system. Squid
accounts for 75% of the fish taken. Dairy farming supports domestic consumption; crops furnish winter fodder. Exports feature shipments of high-grade wool to the UK and the sale of postage stamps and coins. The islands are now self-financing except for defense. The British Geological Survey announced a 200-mile oil exploration zone around the islands in 1993, and early seismic surveys suggest
substantial reserves capable of producing 500,000 barrels per day; to date no exploitable site has been identified. An agreement between Argentina and the UK in 1995 seeks to defuse licensing and sovereignty conflicts that would dampen foreign interest in exploiting potential oil reserves. Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is increasing rapidly, with about 30,000 visitors in 2001. Another large
source of income is interest paid on money the government has in the bank. The British military presence also provides a sizeable economic boost.
Falkland Islands History Bibliography
* Portions of this text originated from the public domain print version of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.