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History of Falkland Island

Early History

The Falkland Islands were uninhabited when discovered by Europeans, but recent discoveries of arrowheads in Lafonia (on the southern half of East Falkland) as well as the remains of a wooden canoe provide strong evidence that they had been visited previously, most likely by the Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego. It has also been suggested that the Falkland Island foxes, or warrahs, found on the islands were introduced by the Yaghans or another Amerindian tribe, bearing as they did a resemblance to the culpeo or Fuegian fox. It is not known if these are evidence of one-way journeys, but there is no known evidence of pre-Columbian buildings or structures.

The islands had no native trees when discovered but there is some ambiguous evidence of past forestation, that may be due to wood being transported by oceanic currents from Patagonia. All modern trees have been introduced by Europeans.

European Discovery

An archipelago in the region of the Falkland Islands appeared on maps from the early 16th century, suggesting they may have been sighted by Ferdinand Magellan's or another expedition of the 1500s. Amerigo Vespucci is believed to have sighted the islands in 1502, but did not name them. In 1519 or 1520, Esteban Gómez of the San Antonio, one of the captains in the expedition of Magellan, deserted this enterprise and encountered several islands, which members of his crew called "Islas de Sansón y de los Patos" ("Islands of Samson and the Ducks"). Although these islands were probably the Jason Islands, a group northwest of West Falkland, the names "Islas de Sansón" (or "San Antón", "San Son", and "Ascensión") were used for the Falklands on Spanish maps during this period.

Islands that may well have been the Falkland Islands are also shown on the maps of Piri Reis, a Turkish admiral of the period who drew remarkably accurate maps.

When English explorer John Davis, commander of the Desire, one of the ships belonging to Thomas Cavendish's second expedition to the New World, separated from Cavendish off the coast of what is now southern Argentina, he decided to make for the Strait of Magellan in order to find Cavendish. On 9 August 1592 a severe storm battered his ship, and Davis drifted under bare masts, taking refuge "among certain Isles never before discovered." Consequently, for a time the Falklands were known as "Davis Land" or "Davis' Land".

In 1594, they were visited by English commander Richard Hawkins, who, combining his own name with that of Queen Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen", gave the islands the name of "Hawkins' Maidenland".

In 1600, Sebald de Weert, a Dutchman, visited them and called them the Sebald Islands (in Spanish, "Islas Sebaldinas" or "Sebaldes"), a name which they bore on some Dutch maps into the 19th century.

English Captain John Strong sailed between the two principal islands in 1690 and called the passage "Falkland Channel" (now Falkland Sound), after Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland (1659-1694), who as Commissioner of the Admiralty had financed the expedition and later became First Lord of the Admiralty. From this body of water the island group later took its collective name.

Early Colonisation

France established a colony at Port St. Louis, on East Falkland's Berkeley Sound coast in 1764. The French name "Îles Malouines" was given to the islands – malouin being the adjective for the Breton port of Saint-Malo. The Spanish name "Islas Malvinas" is a translation of the French name.

In 1765, Captain John Byron, who was unaware of the French presence in the east, explored Saunders Island, in the west, named the harbour Port Egmont, and claimed this and other islands for Britain on the grounds of prior discovery. The next year Captain John MacBride established a British settlement at Port Egmont. These events were nearly the cause of a war between Britain and Spain, both countries having sent armed fleets to contest the barren but strategically important sovereignty of the islands. In 1766, France agreed to leave, and Spain agreed to reimburse Louis de Bougainville, who had established a settlement at his own expense. The Spaniards assumed control in 1767 and re-named Port St. Louis as Puerto Soledad.

Meanwhile, the British presence in the west continued, until interrupted by Spain during the Falkland Crisis from 10 July 1770 to 22 January 1771. As a result of economic pressures stemming from the upcoming American War of Independence, Britain unilaterally chose to withdraw from many overseas settlements in 1774. On 20 May 1776 the British forces under the command of Lt. Clayton formally took their leave of Port Egmont, while leaving a plaque asserting Britain's continuing sovereignty over the islands.

Spain ruled the Islands from Buenos Aires until 1811, withdrawing due to the pressures of war against Bonapartist rule at home and the moves toward independence by her South American colonies. Like Britain earlier, Spain left behind a plaque proclaiming her sovereignty.

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