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Raising the Flag on the Falklands, 1833

Posted by Brian Vale, on January 7th, 2016


This letter from Captain Onslow of HMS Clio describes the actions in establishing British sovereignty over the Falklands in 1833, and also methods used to deter other powers. In the 18th century, Spain and Britain both claimed sovereignty over the Falklands, but had occupied them only briefly.  The islands were therefore without any government but were a haven for ships of all nations hunting seals, fish and wild cattle. In 1823, Luis Vernet made a bid to control the resources of the Falklands, and obtained an economic concession and political authority from newly independent Argentina, which had inherited the Spanish claim. However, in 1831 Vernet seized three American ships for ‘illegal’ hunting, and the USS Lexington was sent to arrest and remove Vernet and his men.

Observing these events, Palmerstone’s government ordered Rear Admiral Baker of the South America Squadron to send a ship to the Falklands to demonstrate British sovereignty.  There was no suggestion of settlement or military action, but by the time the order reached Baker, the Argentines had sent a military force to occupy the Islands.  Baker promptly extended his instructions and ordered Clio both to demonstrate sovereignty and remove any foreign flags or troops. In January 1833, Clio arrived, forced the Argentines to leave and removed the Argentine flag.   Then, putting a resident British subject in charge, he withdrew. The raising of the flag in the Falklands provoked little interest in Britain.  But as an affront to Argentina it provoked anger and resentment that has continued to this day.

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