1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Falkland Islands

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FALKLAND ISLANDS (Fr. Malouines; Span. Malvinas), a group of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, belonging to Britain, and lying about 250 m. E. of the nearest point in the mainland of South America, between 51° and 53° S., and 57° 40′ and 61° 25′ W. With the uninhabited dependency of South Georgia Island, to the E.S.E., they form the most southerly colony of the British empire. The islands, inclusive of rocks and reefs, exceed 100 in number and have a total area of 6500 sq. m.; but only two are of considerable size; the largest of these, East Falkland, is 95 m. in extreme length, with an average width of 40 m., and the smaller, West Falkland, is 80 m. long and about 25 m. wide. The area of East Falkland is about 3000 sq. m., and that of West Falkland 2300. Most of the others are mere islets, the largest 16 m. long by 8 m. wide. The two principal islands are separated by Falkland Sound, a narrow strait from 18 to 2½ m. in width, running nearly N.E. and S.W. The general appearance of the islands is not unlike that of one of the outer Hebrides. The general colouring, a faded brown, is somewhat dreary, but the mountain heights and promontories of the west display some grandeur of outline. The coast-line of both main islands is deeply indented and many of the bays and inlets form secure and well-protected harbours, some of which, however, are difficult of access to sailing ships.

East Falkland is almost bisected by two deep fjords, Choiseul and Brenton Sounds, which leave the northern and southern portions connected only by an isthmus a mile and a half wide. The northern portion is hilly, and is crossed by a rugged range, the Wickham Heights, running east and west, and rising in some places to a height of nearly 2000 ft. The remainder of the island consists chiefly of low undulating ground, a mixture of pasture and morass, with many shallow freshwater tarns, and small streams running in the valleys. Two fine inlets, Berkeley Sound and Port William, run far into the land at the north-eastern extremity of the island. Port Louis, formerly the seat of government, is at the head of Berkeley Sound, but the anchorage there having been found rather too exposed, about the year 1844 a town was laid out, and the necessary public buildings were erected on Stanley Harbour, a sheltered recess within Port William. West Falkland is more hilly near the east island; the principal mountain range, the Hornby Hills, runs north and south parallel with Falkland Sound. Mount Adam, the highest hill in the islands, is 2315 ft. high.

The little town of Stanley is built along the south shore of Stanley harbour and stretches a short way up the slope; it has a population of little more than 900. The houses, mostly white with coloured roofs, are generally built of wood and iron, and have glazed porches, gay with fuchsias and pelargoniums. Government House, grey, stone-built and slated, calls to mind a manse in Shetland or Orkney. The government barrack is a rather imposing structure in the middle of the town, as is the cathedral church to the east, built of stone and buttressed with brick. Next to Stanley the most important place on East Falkland is Darwin on Choiseul Sound—a village of Scottish shepherds and a station of the Falkland Island Company.

The Falkland Islands consist entirely, so far as is known, of the older Palaeozoic rocks, Lower Devonian or Upper Silurian, slightly metamorphosed and a good deal crumpled and distorted, in the low grounds clay slate and soft sandstone, and on the ridges hardened sandstone passing into the conspicuous white quartzites. There do not seem to be any minerals of value, and the rocks are not such as to indicate any probability of their discovery. Galena is found in small quantity, and in some places it contains a large percentage of silver. The dark bituminous layers of clay slate, which occur intercalated among the quartzites, have led, here as elsewhere, to the hope of coming upon a seam of coal, but it is contrary to experience that coal of any value should be found in rocks of that age.

Many of the valleys in the Falklands are occupied by pale glistening masses which at a little distance much resemble small glaciers. Examined more closely these are found to be vast accumulations of blocks of quartzite, irregular in form, but having a tendency to a rude diamond shape, from 2 to 20 ft. in length, and half as much in width, and of a thickness corresponding with that of the quartzite ridges on the hills above. The blocks are angular, and rest irregularly one upon another, supported in all positions by the angles and edges of those beneath. The whole mass looks as if it were, as it is, slowly sliding down the valley to the sea. These “stone runs” are looked upon with great wonder by the shifting population of the Falklands, and they are shown to visitors with many strange speculations as to their mode of formation. Their origin is attributed by some to the moraine formation of former glaciers. Another out of many theories[1] is that the hard beds of quartzite are denuded by the disintegration of the softer layers. Their support being removed they break away in the direction of natural joints, and the fragments fall down the slope upon the vegetable soil. This soil is spongy, and, undergoing alternate contraction and expansion from being alternately comparatively dry and saturated with moisture, allows the heavy blocks to slip down by their own weight into the valley, where they become piled up, the valley stream afterwards removing the soil from among and over them.

The Falkland Islands correspond very nearly in latitude in the southern hemisphere with London in the northern, but the climatic influences are very different. The temperature is equable, the average of the two midsummer months being about 47° Fahr., and that of the two midwinter months 37° Fahr. The extreme frosts and heats of the English climate are unknown, but occasional heavy snow-falls occur, and the sea in shallow inlets is covered with a thin coating of ice. The sky is almost constantly overcast, and rain falls, mostly in a drizzle and in frequent showers, on about 250 days in the year. The rainfall is not great, only about 20 in., but the mean humidity for the year is 80, saturation being 100. November is considered the only dry month. The prevalent winds from the west, south-west and south blow continuously, at times approaching the force of a hurricane. “A region more exposed to storms both in summer and winter it would be difficult to mention” (Fitzroy, Voyages of “Adventure” and “Beagle,” ii. 228). The fragments of many wrecks emphasize the dangers of navigation, which are increased by the absence of beacons, the only lighthouse being that maintained by the Board of Trade on Cape Pembroke near the principal settlement. Kelp is a natural danger-signal, and the sunken rock, “Uranie,” is reputed to be the only one not buoyed by the giant seaweed.

Of aboriginal human inhabitants there is no trace in the Falklands, and the land fauna is very scanty. A small wolf, the loup-renard of de Bougainville, is extinct, the last having been seen about 1875 on the West Falkland. Some herds of cattle and horses run wild; but these were, of course, introduced, as were also the wild hogs, the numerous rabbits and the less common hares. All these have greatly declined in numbers, being profitably replaced by sheep. Land-birds are few in kind, and are mostly strays from South America. They include, however, the snipe and military starling, which on account of its scarlet breast is locally known as the robin. Sea-birds are abundant, and, probably from the islands having been comparatively lately peopled, they are singularly tame. Gulls and amphibious birds abound in large variety; three kinds of penguin have their rookeries and breed here, migrating yearly for some months to the South American mainland. Stray specimens of the great king penguin have been observed, and there are also mollymauks (a kind of albatross), Cape pigeons and many carrion birds. Kelp and upland geese abound, the latter being edible; and their shooting affords some sport.

The Falkland Islands form essentially a part of Patagonia, with which they are connected by an elevated submarine plateau, and their flora is much the same as that of Antarctic South America. The trees which form dense forest and scrub in southern Patagonia and in Fuegia are absent, and one of the largest plants on the islands is a gigantic woolly ragweed (Senecio candicans) which attains in some places a height of 3 to 4 ft. A half-shrubby veronica (V. decussata) is found in some parts, and has also received cultivation. The greater part of the “camp” (the open country) is formed of peat, which in some places is of great age and depth, and at the bottom of the bed very dense and bituminous. The peat is different in character from that of northern Europe: cellular plants enter but little into its composition, and it is formed almost entirely of the roots and stems of Empetrum rubrum, a variety of the common crow-berry of the Scottish hills with red berries, called by the Falklanders the “diddle-dee” berry; of Myrtus nummularia, a little creeping myrtle whose leaves are used by the shepherds as a substitute for tea; of Caltha appendiculata, a dwarf species of marsh-marigold; and of some sedges and sedge-like plants, such as Astelia pumila, Gaimardia australis and Bostkovia grandiflora. Peat is largely used as fuel, coal being obtained only at a cost of £3 a ton.

Two vegetable products, the “balsam bog” (Bolar glebaria) and the “tussock grass” (Dactylis caespitosa) have been objects of curiosity and interest ever since the first accounts of the islands were given. The first is a huge mass of a bright green colour, living to a great age, and when dead becoming of a grey and stony appearance. When cut open, it displays an infinity of tiny leaf-buds and stems, and at intervals there exudes from it an aromatic resin, which from its astringent properties is used by the shepherds as a vulnerary, but has not been converted to any commercial purpose. The “tussock grass” is a wonderful and most valuable natural production, which, owing to the introduction of stock, has become extinct in the two main islands, but still flourishes elsewhere in the group. It is a reed-like grass, which grows in dense tufts from 6 to 10 ft. high from stool-like root-crowns. It forms excellent fodder for cattle, and is regularly gathered for that purpose. It is of beautiful appearance, and the almost tropical profusion of its growth may have led to the early erroneous reports of the densely-wooded nature of these islands.

The population slightly exceeds 2000. The large majority of the inhabitants live in the East Island, and the predominating element is Scottish—Scottish shepherds having superseded the South American Gauchos. In 1867 there were no settlers on the west island, and the government issued a proclamation offering leases of grazing stations on very moderate terms. In 1868 all the available land was occupied. These lands are fairly healthy, the principal drawback being the virulent form assumed by simple epidemic maladies. The occupation of the inhabitants is almost entirely pastoral, and the principal industry is sheep-farming. Wool forms by far the largest export, and tallow, hides, bones and frozen mutton are also exported. Trade is carried on almost entirely with the United Kingdom; the approximate annual value of exports is £120,000, and of imports a little more than half that sum. The Falkland Islands Company, having its headquarters at Stanley and an important station in the camp at Darwin, carries on an extensive business in sheep-farming and the dependent industries, and in the general import trade. The development of this undertaking necessitated the establishment of stores and workshops at Stanley, and ships can be repaired and provided in every way; a matter of importance since not a few vessels, after suffering injury during heavy weather off Cape Horn, call on the Falklands in distress. The maintenance of the requisite plant and the high wages current render such repairs somewhat costly. A former trade in oil and sealskin has decayed, owing to the smaller number of whales and seals remaining about the islands. Communications are maintained on horseback and by water, and there are no roads except at Stanley. There is a monthly mail to and from England, the passage occupying about four weeks.

The Falkland Islands are a crown colony, with a governor and executive and legislative councils. The legislative council consists of the governor and three official and two unofficial nominated members, and the executive of the same, with the exception that there is only one unofficial member. The colony is self-supporting, the revenue being largely derived from the drink duties, and there is no public debt. The Falklands are the seat of a colonial bishop. Education is compulsory. The government maintains schools and travelling teachers; the Falkland Islands Company also maintains a school at Darwin, and there is one for those of the Roman Catholic faith in Stanley. There is also on Keppel Island a Protestant missionary settlement for the training in agriculture of imported Fuegians. Stanley was for some years a naval station, but ceased to be so in 1904.

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 £10,000 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.

See Pernety, Journal historique d’une voyage faite aux îles Malouines en 1763 et 1764 (Berlin, 1767); S. Johnson, Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland’s Islands (1771); L. A. de Bougainville, Voyage autour du monde (1771); T. Falkner, Description of Patagonia and the Falkland Islands (1774); B. Penrose, Account of the last Expedition to Port Egmont in the Falkland Islands (1775); Observations on the Forcible Occupation of Malvinas by the British Government in 1833 (Buenos Ayres, 1833); Reclamacion del Gobierno de las provincias Unidas de la Plata contra el de S.M. Britanica sobre la soverania y possesion de las Islas Malvinas (London, 1841); Fitzroy, Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S.AdventureandBeagle” (1839); Darwin, Voyage of a Naturalist round the World (1845); S. B. Sullivan, Description of the Falkland Islands (1849); W. Hadfield, Brazil, the Falkland Islands, &c. (1854); W. Parker Snow, Two Years’ Cruise off the Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, &c. (1857); Sir C. Wyville Thomson, Voyage of theChallenger” (1877); C. P. Lucas, Historical Geography of the British Colonies, vol. ii. “The West Indies” (Oxford, 1890); Colonial Reports Annual; MS. Sloane, 3295.

  1. See B. Stechele, in Münchener geographische Studien, xx.(1906), and Geographical Journal (December 1907).