As the morning breaks in the tiny town of Stanley, a couple of friends might be found on Ross Road chatting about last night’s lively darts match at the Upland Goose Hotel. Others could be riding out to the “camp,” as everything outside town is known, to lend a hand with some sheep shearing. A clutch of ladies might be gathering to put up some Diddle-dee jelly.
Stanley has just one weekly newspaper, aptly titled Penguin News, and one television station. So, there isn’t much in the way of media to provide distraction. In many ways, a day in the life of a Falkland Islander is much the same as it’s been for approximately the last 150 years — filled with work, family, friends, and the desire to carve out a happy life in this remote island outpost.
The Struggle for Control
Though it’s believed that the Falkland Islands were sighted even before the 17th century, historians do know that a British lad named Strong did come ashore here in 1690. Seventy years later, the French established an enclave in a spot known as Port Louis which they quickly sold to Spain. The British themselves became entrenched in an area of the Falklands known as Saunders Island. (Remember there are approximately 700 Falkland Islands in total although most activity surrounds only two — East Falkland and West Falkland.)
Another 60 years passed before the United Provinces of the River Plate claimed control over Port Louis. This Argentine-based group remained firmly in power until Americans forces decided to flex their military muscle. They were unhappy that the Argentines were holding American citizens who had been charged with operating a sealing trade in the region.
In the year 1833, members of the English navy routed the Argentines. Falkland Islanders enjoyed a quiet, prosperous, stable and somewhat charmed life for 149 long years. Then, in 1982 Argentine forces invaded the Falklands at dawn. The out-manned islands fell within hours. A quickly-mustered British assault force steamed 8000 miles from England to defend their people who remained under Argentine control for eleven weeks. Two hundred fifty eight British military men lost their lives. So too did three Falkland Islanders. Twelve thousand Argentine troops surrendered and the matter drew to a costly close.
The tiny town of Stanley has been the capital of the Falklands since 1845. Stanley’s harbor has always been very good for ships needing provisions and a safe anchorage. The neighboring countryside provided an almost endless supply of fuel, in the form of peat, for these vessels. And ship repairs have long been an island specialty.
But Stanley really experienced its glory days during the great California Gold Rush in the 1850s. At that time, a steady stream of ships attempted to round Cape Horn to get to their share of the riches. There was heavy sea traffic in both directions.
Sailors were also lured to this part of the world because of the great abundance of whales, seals, and penguins. Their oils were exported to light parlor room lamps throughout Europe and North America.
During this time, many of the ships sailing around the Horn were either manned by inexperienced crews or were just un-seaworthy. Scores were forced to turn back to the Falklands for emergency repairs, or worse. Many ships were simply battered beyond repair.
The Falklands became the final resting place, rather like a maritime graveyard, for a number of these old ships. Many were run aground, deliberately wrecked, or literally abandoned by their officers. To this day, several high-and-dry wrecks and hulks of colliers, packets, clipper ships, iron barques and others lay rusting and rotting within view of Stanley proper. Many date back to the mid-1800s. Among them are the Jhelem, the Charles Cooper, and Lady Elizabeth. In fact, more than 100 wrecks have been charted just in the Falklands alone.
When the Panama Canal was opened, cargo ships no longer were required to endure the arduous journey around Cape Horn. They could cut precious and costly days off their itinerary by simply crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the canal. The Falklands’ importance waned a bit. The islands did experience a revival, of sorts, as a base for vessels heading toward Antarctica. Asian and European fishing fleets, sailing in search of Fuegian herring, rock cod, hake, skate and whiting, headquartered in the Falklands.
At Day’s End
As the day ends in this remotest of places, the aroma of roast mutton fills the air. Campers, as those living out of town are called, head home across the moors in muddied off-road vehicles. A weary shepherd ties up his tired horse, which remains an effective means of transportation even today. And a young couple heads off to the pub for another friendly game of darts. After all, today is like so many others in the life of a Falklander.