Who has been in the Falklands the longest?

22 May

In the 248 years since the Falklands were first settled, 4 powers have laid claim to the Islands. With a history of settlement amounting to 190 years (1765-1776 1833-present), the British presence on the islands dwarfs that of any other, with Argentina, the only other power to currently question current British sovereignty, occupying the Falklands for a period of 13 years.

Earlier this year Cristina Kirchner, President of Argentina, reopened the debate on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, popularly known in Argentina as Las Malvinas. Argentine claims on the islands are based on a variety of factors, ranging from proximity to treaties signed in the 18th Century, before even the existence of an Argentine state.

What the Argentines can’t deny though is that British claims on the islands, based on a historical and continued presence, or rather longevity, are not without merit. As the chart above demonstrates, the British presence on the Falklands far outweighs that of any other power. The percentages are based on the total amount of years that the 4 powers (Britain, France, Spain and the United Provinces) maintained an active presence, exercising some degree of governorship, since the islands were first colonized in 1764.

A Brief history of the Falklands

The Falkland Islands, or rather East Falkland, was first colonized in 1764 by the French. Their presence on the islands were brief and by 1767 they had ceded their claims on the territory to the Spanish.

Unaware of the French presence in East Falkland, the British, under Captain John Byron, landed in West Falkland in 1765, claiming the islands in the name of King George III. Their presence lasted until 1774 or1776 (historical discrepancies exist on this), when for economic reasons they withdrew personnel from the islands, leaving the Spanish as the sole governors.

In 1806 the Spanish governor withdrew from the islands, although, like the British before them, the Spanish left behind a plaque claiming sovereignty of the islands. By 1811, the Spanish presence ceased, leaving the Falklands in a state of flux for 9 years.

In 1820 a force from the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata (the precursor to modern-day Argentina) sailed to the Falklands, claiming sovereignty over them.

With Britain still asserting its claims on the islands,  British warships forced the departure of forces and officials from the United Provinces in 1833. From then until the Falklands War in 1982, the British remained the sole possessors of the islands with the overwhelming majority of administrative officials and colonists being of British descent, a state that continued following their quick victory over Argentine forces.


While the French may have first settled the Falklands, the first official British presence occurred only a year later. Between 1764 and 1833, competing claims between the powers of Britain, Spain, France and the United Provinces meant that any significant human presence in the islands was at most, small and semi-permanent.

The British, barring the period of the Falklands War, have governed and maintained a population on the islands for the past 179 years. They also were the first to colonize West Falkland, maintaining an initial presence there for 11 years. The Spanish, although presiding in the territory for 44 years, have never exercised any modern claims of sovereignty on the islands, nor indeed have the French, the original settlers.

Argentina, or rather the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata, were only the presiding power on the Falklands for 13 years, and even during that period did not appoint a governor until 1829. While the Argentines may point to the period of flux of 1811-1820, among other things, as granting a reasonable basis for their initial claim of sovereignty in 1820, it seems that any current claims of sovereignty based on a long period of previous governorship and settlement are tenuous at best.


One Response to “Who has been in the Falklands the longest?”

  1. maroxana May 22, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Argentina es continuadora de los derechos de España en todo su territorio desde la declaraciòn de la independencia en 1816 mientras que Francia nunca pretendiò derechos de soberanìa en Malvinas. Por otro lado la ocupaciòn ilegal y siempre cuestionada, de una parte del territorio de cualquier naciòn no dà mayores derechos que los nacidos de la fuerza, pero que nunca fueron avalados ni por la razòn ni por el derecho internacional.

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