Dr Johnson on The Falkland Islands

Dr Samuel Johnson is famous for his Dictionary of English words, but he was a well informed writer and barrister, who also published Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Faulkland’s Islands. This is how he describes the first English visitors to this still disputed territory:

He talks of Anson describing he islands, which inspired a 1748 expedition to further investigate, but when challenged by the Spanish who claimed the region, the English claimed they ere only examining the Pepys and Falkland islands, with no intention of colonisation. As the Spanish complained, why spend all that effort for curiosity when the Spanish were willing to provide any information they had on the region? The matter was dropped until Lord Egmont sent Captain Byron to take possession of the islands nearly 1765, who described it as

Six or severn hundred miles round, and represented it as a region naked of wood, but which, if that defect were supplied, would have all that nature, almost all that luxury could want. The labour he found capacious and secure, and therefore thought it worthy of the name of Egmont. Of water there was no want, and the ground, he described as having all the excellencies of soil, and as covered with antiscorbutic herbs, the restoratives of the sailor. Provision was easily to be had, for they killed almost every day an hundred geese to each ship, by pelting them with stones. Not content with physics and with food, he searched yet deeper for the value of the new dominion. He dug in quest of ore, found iron in abundance, and did not despair of nobler metals. 

This praise inspired an expedition the following year, led by captain Macbride, who was less impressed, and more recognisable.

He found.. a mass of islands and broken lands, of which the soil was nothing but a bog, with no better protect than that of barren mountains, beaten by storms almost perpetual. Yet this, says he, is summer… The plenty which regaled Mr Byron, and which might have supported armies of Patagons, was no longer to be found. The geese were too wise to stay wen men violated their haunts., and Macbride’s crew could only now and then kill a goose when the weather would permit. All the quadrupeds which he met there were foxes, supposed by him to have been brought upon the ice, but of useless animals, such as sea lions and penguins, which he calls vermin., the number was incredible. He allows, however, that those who touch these island may find geese and snipes, and, in the summer months, wild sellery and sorrel.

No token was seen by either, of any settlement ever made upon this island, and Mr Macbride thought himself so secure from hostile disturbance, that when he erected his wooden blockhouse he omitted to open the ports and loopholes.

They tried planting a garden but plants withered. They planted firs, native to rugged climes, but they also failed to thrive. Fortunately, cattle, goats, sheep and hogs thrived. But it was believed that any colony could never become independent.

BTW how did the foxes get there and what did they live on?

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