The Falkland Islands Discovery – 1502

We’ve delved into the Ultrapedia archives to see what history holds on the discovery of the Falkland Islands; there are many conflicting and biased reports.  Here we feature an excerpt from The Merchants Magazine and Commercial Review Volume 6 published in 1842 – reporting the islands were first discovered in 1502  by the Italian explorer Americus Vespucius while in the service of Portugal.

Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here.

The Falkland Islands Discovery – 1502

The merit of discovering these islands has been claimed by the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, and the French. Americus Vespucius, in the journal of his voyage through the South Atlantic Ocean, made in 1502, while he was in the service of Portugal, says that he saw a rugged and uncultivated land beyond the 52d degree of south latitude; but under what meridian it is impossible to learn. The Spaniards assert that the islands were found by their earliest navigators in those seas, who called them, Islas de Leones; no direct proof of this assertion has been adduced, but it seems scarcely possible that they could have remained unseen by the people of that nation, during a whole century, in which so many of their squadrons were engaged in exploring the adjacent seas and coasts.

The first notice of the existence of the islands which can be considered as distinct, is contained in the account of the voyage of John Davis, the commander of one of the vessels in the English squadron sent to the Pacific under Cavendish in 1591, written by John Lane, one of the crew, and published at London by Hakluyt in 1600. The writer there states, that after in vain attempting to enter Magellan’s Straits, they were on the 14th of August, [1592]

“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”

This description, though short, is sufficient to establish the fact, that Davis did, in [1592], see some of the northwesternmost of the Falkland Islands; and upon the evidence thus afforded, Great Britain founds her claim to the sovereignty of the whole archipelago.

The same islands were also no doubt seen, two years afterward, by the celebrated Sir Richard Hawkins; in the narrative of whose voyage, by John Ellis, it is stated that:

“on the 2nd of February, 1593-4, we fell in with the land of Terra Australis, in 50 degrees, 55 leagues off the straits of Magellan, east-northeast from the straits”

Sir Richard, believing himself to be the first who had seen this territory, gave to it the name of Hawkins Maiden-land; “for” as he says, “that it was discovered in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, my Sovereign Lady, and a maiden Queen, and at my cost, in perpetual memory of her chastity, and of my endeavours.”

This name, however, did not obtain general currency; and the islands were not destined to serve as monuments commemorating the chastity of Queen Elizabeth, or the perseverance and liberality of the dauntless searover.

The last navigator, by whom the discovery of these islands was supposed to have been made, was Sebaldus or Sibbald Van Weerdt, the commander of one of the five Dutch ships sent to the Pacific from Rotterdam in [1599], under Jacob Mahu. Having been foiled in his attempt to pass Magellans Strait, Van Weerdt resolved to return to Europe; and on his way back, two days after leaving that passage, he fell in with three small islands, in the latitude of 50 degrees 40 minutes, distant sixty leagues from the South American continent; which were, in all probability, the same seen by Davis and Hawkins. The Dutch, in consequence, gave the name of Sebaldine Islands to the whole archipelago; which is so called on many English maps, published in the last century, while in others it appears as the Sibble d’Wards Islands.

Excerpt from The Merchants Magazine and Commercial Review Volume 6 published in 1842

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Further Reading and External Links

BBC News Magazine on the Falkland Islands 

World Atlas Falkland Islands Facts 

Americus Vespucius