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Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are situated in the South Atlantic, approximately 400 kilometers east of the nearest point on the coast of Argentina, and are connected with Patagonia by an elevated submarine plateau.

The Falkland Islands are about 200 in number, but only two, East Falkland and West Falkland are of considerable size.

The largest is East Falkland, which is about 150 kilometers in length with an average width of 64 kilometers and a square area of 7770 square kilometers.

West Falkland is 128 kilometers long, about 40 Kilometers wide and about 5180 square kilometers in area.

A narrow strait between 28 and 4 kilometers running north to (magnetic) south separates East and West Falkland. The coasts of both islands are deeply indented with many bays and inlets that provide protected harbors.

East Falkland is near bisected by two deep fiords which leave the north and south of the connected by an isthmus just under 2.5 kilometers. The north part of the island is hilly with an east-west range rising as high as just over 600 meters in places called the Wickham Heights. The rest of the island is grassland and bog fed many countless small streams.

West Falkland is hillier, with a mountain range called the Hornsby Hills running parallel with the Falkland Sound. The highest peak is Mount Maria, rising to just over 690 meters.

As Charles Darwin noted when he visited the islands in 1833-4, the flora of both islands is very similar to that of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

The strategic location Falklands and recent discoveries of energy resources under the South American continental shelf have led to much argument about which nation has the strongest claim to sovereignty by virtue of discovery (the islands being uninhabited prior to the arrival of European voyagers).

Those claimed to have first discovered include Amerigo Vespucci, who has been credited with first sighting the islands in 1502, Binot Palmiere de Gonneville (1503-4) and Esteban Gomez (1520) during the course of Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands.

Irrespective of which voyage brought Europeans to the islands, they appeared marked as the Sanson Islands on Spanish charts from the 1530s.

The earliest English claim to possession by discovery rests on John Davis’ sighting the islands in August 1592. Two years later Sir Richard Hawkins allegedly ranged along their north shore.

In 1598 the islands were claimed by Sebald de Wert, a Dutch voyager, who named them the Sebald Islands, a name by which they were recorded on Dutch maps until well into the nineteenth century.

The English navigator John Strong first navigated the sound between the two main islands in 1690 and named it Falkland Sound in honor of Anthony Cary, fifth Viscount Falkland and at that time First Lord of the Admiralty.

In 1761, George Anson took possession of the islands in the name of the British crown on the grounds of prior discovery, although his doing so nearly provoked war with Spain.

In 1763, the French took possession of the islands, establishing a colony called Saint Louis at Berkeley Sound on the northeast coast of East Falkland.

The Spanish expelled the French some time in 1767-8, only to surrender the islands to Great Britain by convention in 1771. Britain continued to claim sovereignty over the island but after 1790s had no official presence amongst the international community of sealers and whalers who by this time inhabited the islands.

Argentina claimed possession of the islands after gaining independence from Spain in 1816. In 1833, a naval expedition under the command of Captain James Onslow enforced British claim to the islands, after which Britain and Argentina remained locked in a cold war of sorts until the Argentine occupation of 1982 led to Great Britain declaring war and retaking the islands by force.


Prepared by: Turnbull, P
Created: 4 October 2001
Modified: 20 March 2004

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000067

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