Origins of Falkland Islanders

Falkland Islanders (also called Kelpers[1] or Falklanders) derive from various origins. Earliest among these are the numerically small but internationally diverse early 19th century inhabitants of the Falkland Islands, comprising and descended in part from settlers brought by Luis Vernet, and English and American sealers; South American gauchos who settled in the 1840s and 1850s; and since the late 1830s, settlers largely from Britain (especially Scotland and Wales) with a minority from other European countries. There has also been significant recent contributions from Saint Helena and Chile.[2][3]

Falkland Islanders.

Early settlers

Falklands gauchos having mate. Watercolour by Dale, manager of Hope Place – Saladero in the 1850s.

Following the abandonment of the archipelago by the Spanish authorities in 1811, the only inhabitants of the islands were people who in their various capacities travelled back and forth, carried out a variety of commercial and shipping activities, sought refuge there, and through various efforts attempted to colonize the islands. Most numerous by far among them were the English and American sealers who had pursued their industry on the Falklands at least since the 1770s, as pointed out by US Secretary of State Edward Livingston.[4] The average number of English and American sealing vessels operating in the area is estimated between 40 and 50[5] meaning that several hundred to 1,000 sealers were involved.

The settlement of Port Louis, established by Vernet on the site of the former Spanish settlement of Puerto Soledad, had about 100 inhabitants at its high point. In his account of his voyages in HMS Beagle, Captain Robert FitzRoy quoted references to the numbers and makeup of the inhabitants from a fellow officer who had previously visited Port Louis. According to that source there were about 100 people in the settlement, comprising:

25 Gauchos and 5 Indians, 2 Dutch Families, 2 or 3 Englishmen, a German family, the remainder were Spaniards and Portuguese, pretending to follow some trade, but doing little or nothing. The Gauchos he said were Buenos Ayreans and their Capataz a Frenchman.[2]

That population was reduced in 1831–32 by various means unconnected with the British arrival at Port Louis on 2 January 1833. Luis Vernet and his family left the Falklands, and returned to Buenos Aires in November 1831 following his action involving the use of force against local American sealers,[4] while the United States warship USS Lexington, Commander Silas Duncan arrested 7 residents he deemed responsible for the detention of US sealing vessels, and also transported from the islands a further 33 persons, including families. In his report on the incident Duncan says:

But in taking this step I have consulted their own wishes, and they have embarked on board the Lexington by general consent; they say they have been deceived by Vernet and others, who have kept many of them upon the Island contrary to their inclinations and appeared greatly Rejoiced at the opportunity thus presented of Removing with their families from a desolate Region where the climate is always cold and cheerless and the soil extremely unproductive. These individuals some of whom have families, come from Buenos Ayres and Monte Video, also, and are principally Germans; they appear to be industrious and well disposed persons.[6]

On 5 January 1833, at the moment when the remaining Argentine military abandoned the islands,[7] 27 of the original Vernet settlers and 2 temporary residents remained in Port Louis.[8] These included 12 gauchos from Argentina and their Capataz (foreman); a Frenchman; 5 Indians from Montevideo, Uruguay; 3 women from mainland South America and their two children. Other nationalities recorded are Irish, Scottish, German, and North American, making up a tiny population of some 7 different nationalities.

An Islander mounted in typical Falklands style with the usual gaucho horse gear, c. 1936.
Gaucho stone corral at Sapper Hill, East Falkland (120 m in diameter, 3 m high); dated 1840s.

An insight into the state of the local population in March 1833 is provided by Captain Fitzroy who outlines the scene of a land based population that is vastly outnumbered by the many ships that ply their trade around the islands, the whole completely unregulated by any authority whatsoever:

The gauchos wished to leave the place, and return to the Plata, but as they were the only useful labourers on the islands, in fact, the only people on whom any dependence could be placed for a regular supply of fresh beef, I interested myself as much as possible to induce them to remain, and with partial success, for seven staid out of twelve ... Although the climate is so much colder than that of Buenos Ayres, the gauchos sleep in the open air, when in the interior, under their saddles, just as they do in the latitude of 35°. While idling at the settlement they gamble, quarrel, and fight with long knives, giving each other severe wounds. With their loose ponchos, slouched hats, long hair, dark complexions, and Indian eyes, they are characters fitter for the pencil of an artist than for the quiet hearth of an industrious settler. Besides these gauchos, we saw five Indians (p. 267), who had been taken by the Buenos Ayrean troops, or their allies, and allowed to leave prison on condition of going with Mr. Vernet to the Falklands. Including the crews of some thirty whale-ships, hovering about or at anchor among the islands; the men of several American vessels, all armed with rifles; the English sealers with their clubs, if not also provided with rifles; these cut-throat looking gauchos; the discontented, downcast Indian prisoners, and the crews of several French whalers – who could not or would not see why they had not as good a right to the islands as Englishmen – there was no lack of the elements of discord; and it was with a heavy heart and gloomy forebodings that I looked forward to the months which might elapse without the presence of a man-of-war, or the semblance of any regular authority.[9]

Charles Darwin, who visited the Falklands in 1833 and 1834, was greatly impressed by the expertise of his two gaucho assistants in the exploration of the interior of East Falkland:

St Jago soon separated a fat cow, he threw his balls, they hit her legs, but did not entangle her: he dropped his hat to mark the place where the balls fell, uncoiled his lazo & again we commenced the chase; at last he caught her round the horns. (...) Meat roasted with its skin (carne con cuero) is known over all these parts of S. America for its excellence – it bears the same relation to common beef, which venison does to mutton. – I am sure if any worthy alderman was once to taste it, carne con cuero would soon be celebrated in London. (...) We slept in a valley in the neck of land which joins the Rincon del Toro, the great peninsula to the southwest point of the island. The valley was pretty well sheltered from the cold wind; but there was very little brushwood for making a fire; the Gauchos soon found what to my surprise made nearly as hot a fire as coals, it was the bones of a bullock, lately killed but all the flesh picked off by the Vultures. They told me that in winter time they have often killed an animal, cleaned the flesh from the bones with their knives, & then with these very bones roasted the meat for their dinner. What curious resources will necessity put men to discover![10]

According to Lieutenant B.J. Sullivan's survey of the Falklands, corroborated by other sources, in 1838 the then single settlement of Port Louis had a population of 40–45 residents including some gauchos and women from among Luis Vernet's settlers.[11] The population grew to 50 in 1841, and 200 by 1849, boosted by the building of Stanley, the new capital with better port facilities which was inaugurated in 1845. New arrivals included more gauchos from South America and military pensioners, farmers and shepherds from the British Isles.[12] The 1851 Falklands Census recorded 20 men as 'Gaucho' by profession, mostly of 'South American' nationality, with 8 of them having wives and young children.[13]

Richard Clement Moody, the first British Governor of the Falkland Islands, recommended in his Dispatch 13 of 1842:

The settlers best adapted to colonise these Islands would be from among the industrious population of the Orkneys and the Shetlands, accustomed to a hardy life and as much seamen as landmen...[14]

South American influence

The earliest known Falklands settler was Carmelita Penny (Simon) who had arrived as a slave after 1826.[15] Her sons José Simon, Manuel Coronel Jr. and Richard Penny Jr. were all native Falkland Islanders (born in 1831, 1834 and 1837 respectively), whose fathers had been resident in the islands since before 1833. Among the prominent early Falkland Islanders of Buenos Ayrean origins were the gaucho Manuel Coronel Sr., Santiago Lopez (Darwin's 'St Jago'), German-born Charles Kussler, Antonina Roxa, and another slave Gregoria Madrid. Most popular among them was Antonina Roxa whose hard work in several occupations (she was a skillful gaucho, and worked as such at Hope Place – Saladero) made her the owner of a 6,000-acre (24 km2) farm and valuable real estate in Stanley.[13][16] The South American contribution to the Falklander ethnogenesis is further recorded by Commodore Augusto Lasserre of the Argentine Navy, who traveled extensively around the islands; according to his account there were up to 20 Argentine-born Islanders in 1869, "working either as labourers or foremen in the ranches, because in this kind of work they are better than the majority of the foreigners".[11][17]

Location of some Falkland Islands corrals.

The mainland South American-born Falkland Islanders contributed to shaping the Falklander identity in the 1830s–1850s, and nowadays their legacy is visible in Falklands genealogy, Falklands English vernacular, and Falklands toponymy.

A number of modern Falkland Islanders have some mainland South Americans among their 19th century ancestors, mostly Uruguayan gauchos who settled in the islands in connection with the development of the cattle and sheep farming industry that was to form the backbone of the Falklands economy for rather more than a century, until the offshore fisheries assumed that role in the 1980s. Eventually, gauchos took part in the colonization of the uninhabited West Falkland in the 1860s and 1870s, although by that time many of them were of European origins (Scottish, Gibraltarian etc.). There are some two dozen stone or turf-built corrals scattered around Camp – picturesque historical monuments of the 1840s–1870s, the epoch of pioneers who settled and developed the country outside Port Louis and Stanley.[18]

The Falklands English vernacular has a fair amount of borrowed Spanish words (often modified or corrupted); they are particularly numerous, indeed dominant in the local horse-related terminology. For instance, the Islanders use 'alizan', 'colorao', 'negro', 'blanco', 'gotiao', 'picasso', 'sarco', 'rabincana' etc. for certain horse colours and looks, or 'bosal', 'cabresta', 'bastos', 'cinch', 'conjinilla', 'meletas', 'tientas', 'manares' etc. for various items of horse gear.[18]

Unlike the older English, French and Spanish place names given by mariners, which refer mainly to islands, rocks, bays, coves, and capes (points) important for navigation, the post-1833 Spanish names usually identify inland geographical locations and features, reflecting the new practical necessity for orientation, land delimitation and management in the cattle and sheep farming. Among the typical such names or descriptive and generic parts of names are 'Rincon Grande', 'Ceritos', 'Campito', 'Cantera', 'Terra Motas', 'Malo River', 'Brasse Mar', 'Dos Lomas', 'Torcida Point', 'Pioja Point', 'Estancia', 'Oroqueta', 'Piedra Sola', 'Laguna Seco', 'Manada', etc.[18]

Late nineteenth to early twentieth century

The development of the sheep-breeding industry in the second half of the 19th century was accompanied by substantial immigration, increasing the population sevenfold in fifty years, from 287 in 1851 to 2,043 in 1901.[19] The vast majority of immigrants during that period came from the British Isles, mostly from Scotland. Scots were particularly common in Darwin, many of them coming from the Orkney and Shetland Islands, which have a similar climate to these areas.

In 1871, many shepherds situation on the Falkland Islands Company's main farm at Darwin were of Scottish origin, and members of the Free Kirk of Scotland. Finding a growing need for a minister of their own, they undertook, with the assistance of the Company to employ a minister for Darwin, and in 1872, Rev Yeoman took up the appointment. In 1873, an iron constructed church was brought from England and erected at Darwin. About this time, it was estimated that one third of the Falklands' population belonged to the Presbyterian church. (...) As Stanley grew, the Darwin minister visited the town occasionally and held services in the infants' school.[20]

An additional boost to that population growth came from the expansion of Stanley's port activities in service of the ships sailing between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan or Cape Horn. The port was particularly busy during the California Gold Rush, subsiding following the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

The early 20th century brought about a new industry to the region, Antarctic whaling in South Georgia, that supported a transient population varying from few hundred in winter to over 1,000 in summer. Some Falkland Islanders found employment with South Georgian whaling bases or ships, while some whalers settled in the Falklands to blend into the local populace. The whalers were predominantly Scandinavian (Norwegians, Swedes and Danes), with a minority of Britons, Germans, and a variety of other European nations. As a result of both natural demographic growth and ongoing immigration, the population of the Falkland Islands reached a peak of 2,392 recorded in the 1931 census, a figure that would not be surpassed until late in the twentieth century.[19]

Post-Falklands War

Falklands' youth.

Having shrunk as low as 1,813 in 1980,[19] since the Falklands War the number of Falkland Islanders has been steadily increasing to exceed 3,100 in 2007.[21] That new growth was supported by a thriving economy, with wool monoculture giving way to a more diversified agriculture, fisheries and tourism, augmented with services related to the military garrison as well as to the islands' role as one of the major gateways to neighbouring Antarctica. According to the 2001 census, the people who have settled in the Falklands during the last decade originated from the United Kingdom (30 per cent of the entire population excepting those resident in connection with the military garrison, including however some children born abroad to Falklander parents), Saint Helena and Ascension Island (6 per cent; 15.8 per cent if people resident in connection with the military garrison were included,[22] Chile (3 per cent), Australia and New Zealand (2.3 per cent), Argentina (1 per cent), followed by Russia, Germany, with minor contributions by several dozens other nations from six continents. Children born abroad to Falkland Island women were enumerated in the 2001 census as being "Foreign-born".[23]

Some Falkland Islanders were even born beyond the Antarctic Convergence, most recently in the 1980s in the territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.[24][25]

Evolution of Falkland Islander identity

Hon. Lewis Clifton OBE. Speaker, Falklands Legislative Council.

The Falkland Islanders are British by citizenship, and by either origins or naturalization. They are one of the nations and mini-nations of the United Kingdom and the British overseas territories, including also the English, Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish, Channel Islanders, Gibraltarians, Saint Helenians, Bermudians, Caymanians etc.[26] Along with their common British identity, each of these has its own distinct identity shaped in the respective particular circumstances of political, economic, social and cultural evolution history. According to Lewis Clifton, Speaker of the Falklands Legislative Council, the Falkland Islanders are no exception:

British cultural, economic, social, political and educational values create a unique British-like, Falkland Islands. Yet Islanders feel distinctly different from their fellow citizens who reside in the United Kingdom. This might have something to do with geographical isolation or with living on a smaller island – perhaps akin to those British people not feeling European.[27]

Besides geographical isolation, the emerging of a distinct Falkland Islander national identity along with the originally undifferentiated British identity was possibly influenced by the devolution processes taking place among the United Kingdom nations:

The recent devolution aspirations of Wales and Scotland may be a factor. No sociological study has ever been commissioned to try to identify a plausible theory, and therefore it is difficult to elaborate on this emerging dichotomy, but significant sociological change has occurred.[27]

Since the 1960s, the political dimension of Falklander identity has evolved around the campaign for recognition of the Islanders' right to self-determination. Key to this was the formation of the Falkland Island Committee in 1968, Britain's recognition of the right to self-determination after the Islanders turned down the so-called "leaseback proposal" put forward by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1980,[28] and the new Falklands Constitution enacted in 1985. The constitution vests political power in the elected Falklands Legislative Council rather than the old style colonial governors.[27]

Hon. Mike Summers OBE. Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly.

A specific regional aspect of identity is the human relationship the Islanders traditionally maintain with Chile and Uruguay,[29] and the well-known Islander rejection of the Argentine sovereignty claim:

In the Falkland Islands a national identity dynamic also exists: it is constructed upon the Islanders' desire not to deal with Argentina.[27]

The Falklands War had tremendous security, economic and social implications for the Falkland Islanders. The War opened the prospects for long needed reforms, reversing the demographic, economic and social decline that the Falklands had suffered for several decades. The Islanders became self-confident masters of their natural resources, and managers of a vibrant economy that attracted a wide range of new technical and managerial personnel to immigrate.[30]

The Falkland Islanders consider themselves a nation, the ethnogenesis of which is no different from that of other immigrant nations typical of the Americas, Australia or New Zealand; indeed no different from the case of neighbouring South American nations, as pointed out by Councillor Mike Summers:

We are as much a people as those in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile and many other South American countries whose inhabitants are of principally European or African descent.[31]

See also


  1. Chater, Tony. The Falklands. St. Albans: The Penna Press, 1996. p. 137. ISBN 0-9504113-1-0
  2. FitzRoy, Robert. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831–36, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz-Roy, R.N. London: Henry Colburn, 1839. Chapter XII, p. 267.
  3. Seventeenth periodic reports of States parties due in 2002: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. UN Document CERD/C/430/Add.3, 13 March 2003.
  4. Maisch, Christian J. The Falkland/Malvinas Islands Clash of 1831–32: U.S. and British Diplomacy in the South Atlantic. Diplomatic History, Spring 2000, Vol. 24, Issue 2, pp. 185–209.
  5. Islas Malvinas: Las Malvinas y el Archipiélago Fueguino, Museo Marítimo de Ushuaia.
  6. Report by Silas Duncan, Commander U.S.S. Lexington sent to Navy Secretary Levi Woodbury on 4 April 1932.
  7. List of the soldiers and civilians who left Port Louis, Falkland Islands on the Sarandí on 5 January 1833, and the prisoners sent to Buenos Aires by José María Pinedo in the Rapid on 1 January 1833.
  8. List of the residents of Port Louis, Falkland Islands as of 5 January 1833.
  9. FitzRoy, Robert. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831–36, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz-Roy, R.N. London: Henry Colburn, 1839. Chapter XIII, pp. 274–279.
  10. Darwin, Charles. Beagle Diary (1831–1836). Transcription by Kees Rookmaaker from the facsimile published by Genesis Publications, Guildford, 1979. Edited by John van Wyhe. pp.436–438.
  11. Destéfani, Laurio H. The Malvinas, the South Georgias and the South Sandwich Islands, the conflict with Britain, Buenos Aires: Edipress, 1982.
  12. A Brief History of the Falkland Islands. Part 4 – The British Colonial Era. Archived 6 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine Falkland Islands Information Portal.
  13. 1851 Census Information, Falkland Islands Government Archives, Stanley.
  14. (13 March 1999) "The Falkland Islands: South Atlantic dreamers". London. The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
  15. The Political Register. D. Green. 1832. p. 160.
  16. 1842 Census Information, Falkland Islands Government Archives, Stanley.
  17. Lasserre, Augusto. Descripción de un viaje a las Malvinas. El Río de la Plata Newspaper, Buenos Aires, 19–21 November 1869.
  18. Spruce, Joan. Corrals and Gauchos: Some of the people and places involved in the cattle industry. Falklands Conservation Publication. Bangor: Peregrine Publishing, 1992. 48 pp.
  19. Falklands Census 2001: Tables. Archived 1 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine Falkland Islands Information Portal.
  20. Strange, Ian J. The Falkland Islands. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1983.
  21. "The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  22. Government of Saint Helena. Political development, current constitutional review and the human relationship with the Falkland Islands. In: L. Ivanov et al. The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People. Sofia: Manfred Wörner Foundation, 2003. 96 pp. ISBN 954-91503-1-3)
  23. Table 10 of the Falklands Census 2001 Archived 1 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine contained the note: "Some of those born outside the Islands are children of persons from the Falkland Islands where the mother's confinement, for medical reasons, occurred overseas, but the child arrived within six months of birth".
  24. S/V Pelagic, Log Entry for 6 February 1997.
  25. Golden Fleece Expedition Cruises Archived 8 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  26. L.L. Ivanov et al. The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People. Sofia: Manfred Wörner Foundation, 2003. Printed in Bulgaria by Double T Publishers. 96 pp. ISBN 954-91503-1-3
  27. Clifton, Lewis. The Falkland Islands: Self-government with an emerging national identity? News and Journal 2004, The 21st Century Trust. London, 1999. pp. 16–19.
  28. A Brief History of the Falkland Islands. Part 6 – The Build-Up to War. Archived 11 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine Falkland Islands Information Portal.
  29. Falkland Islands Government website. International Relations: Chile and Uruguay Archived 8 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  30. Falkland Islands Government website. Economy: Background Archived 7 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  31. Summers, Mike. Self-Determination in the Falkland Islands. In: L. Ivanov et al. The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People. Sofia: Manfred Wörner Foundation, 2003. 96 pp. ISBN 954-91503-1-3
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