Falkland Islands Discovery – 1592

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With the Falkland Islands in the news again we thought we’d delve into the Ultrapedia archives to see what history holds.  Below is an excerpt from a parliamentary speech made in 1770 on the Falkland Islands claiming they were first discovered in 1592 by the British Captain Davies.

Excerpt from The Speeches of the Right Honourable the Earl of Chatham in the Houses of Lords and Commons by William Pitt published in 1848

THE DUKE OF RICHMOND’S MOTION RESPECTING THE SEIZURE OF FALKLAND’S ISLAND – 22nd November 1770

Badge of The Falkland IslandsThe expulsion of the English from the Falkland Islands by a Spanish force in the year [1769], caused serious apprehensions to be entertained of a rupture between Spain and Great Britain.

The Falkland Islands are situated in about 51 and a half degrees of southern latitude, and about one hundred leagues from the eastern entrance to the Straits of Magellan. They consist of two large, and a great number of small islands; the large ones being divided by a sound or strait of considerable length. They are supposed to have been first discovered in the year 1592, by Captain Davies, who was the associate of the brave but unfortunate Cavendish, and was afterwards parted from him, or basely deserted him. In consequence of stress of weather, Davies was prevented from making any observation on them, nor did he even name them. This was reserved for Sir Richard Hawkins, who two years afterwards discovered them, and called them, in honour of Queen Elizabeth, Hawkins’ Maiden Land. No settlement being made on them, when the Dutch navigator, Sebald de Wert, touched at them in the year 1598, he imagined himself to be the first discoverer of them, and designated them the Sebaldine Islands. We hear nothing more of these islands until the reign of William the Third, when one Strong fell in with them, and is supposed to have given them their present English name, which being also adopted by Halley, was inserted in our maps.

Lord Anson was the first who was impressed with the importance of forming a British settlement on the Falkland Islands; and accordingly, soon after the peace of Aix la Chapelle, when he was at the head of the Admiralty, preparations were made for sending out some frigates to make discoveries in the South Seas, and particularly to examine, with precision, the state and condition of the islands in question. But the Court of Spain gained intelligence of this project, and made such representations against it, that it was for the time laid aside, and continued dormant until the conduct of naval affairs was entrusted to the Earl of Egmont. Under the directions of this nobleman, Commodore Byron was sent out, in the year [1764], to make a settlement on the Falkland Islands, and in the beginning of the following year he took formal possession of them in the name of the King of Great Britain. About the same, or perhaps at an earlier period, the French, animated by a desire to retrieve the great national losses which they had sustained during the late war, formed a plan of making discoveries in the South Seas. The low state of their finances prevented this scheme from being undertaken at the public expense; and it was left to the enterprise of a private individual M. de Bouganville, to carry it out at his own and his friends risk. He fitted out an expedition at St. Malo, whence these islands were called by the French Les Malouines, and having arrived at them, he formed a settlement which he designated Port Louis, and built a fort. The British settlement, which was called Port Egmont, in honour of the first Lord of the Admiralty, under whose auspices it was made, lay on the larger and more western of the two principal islands; and the French settlement on the eastern and lesser of them. The King of Spain asserting an exclusive right to all the Magellanic regions, procured a cession of the French settlement, and changed its name from Port Louis to that of Port Solidad.

In the year [1769], Captain Hunt, the commander of a frigate, which with the Swift, a sloop of sixteen guns, was stationed at Port Egmont, being on a cruise off the islands observed a Spanish schooner taking a survey of them.  Captain Hunt immediately sent a message to the Spanish commander, requiring him to depart. This requisition was for the time complied with, but two days afterwards the schooner returned with letters for Captain Hunt from the Governor of Port Solidad, complaining that the former had sent an imperious message to the Spaniards in the King of Spain’s own dominions. In reply, Captain Hunt warned the Spaniards from the island in the name of the King, as belonging to the English by right of discovery in the first instance, and of settlement in the second.

Excerpt from The Speeches of the Right Honourable the Earl of Chatham in the Houses of Lords and Commons by William Pitt published in 1848

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Further Reading and External Links

Charles Lennox – 3rd Duke of Richmond

William Pitt The Elder – 1st Earl of Chatham 

BBC News Magazine on the Falkland Islands