The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. The principal islands are about 300 miles (483 kilometers) east of South America’s southern Patagonian coast, at a latitude of about 52°S. The archipelago, with an area of 4,700 square miles (12,000 square kilometers), comprises East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 smaller islands. As a British overseas territory, the Falklands have internal self-governance, and the United Kingdom takes responsibility for their defense and foreign affairs. The islands’ capital is Stanley on East Falkland.
Controversy exists over the Falklands’ discovery and subsequent colonization by Europeans. At various times, the islands have had French, British, Spanish, and Argentine settlements. Britain reasserted its rule in 1833, although Argentina maintains its claim to the islands. In April 1982, Argentine forces temporarily occupied the islands. British administration was restored two months later at the end of the Falklands War. Most Falklanders favor the archipelago remaining a British overseas territory, but its sovereignty status is part of an ongoing dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom.
The population (2,932 inhabitants in 2012) primarily consists of native-born Falkland Islanders, the majority of British descent. Other ethnicities include French, Gibraltarian and Scandinavian. Immigration from the United Kingdom, the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, and Chile has reversed a population decline. The predominant (and official) language is English. Under the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983, Falkland Islanders are British citizens.
The islands lie on the boundary of the subantarctic oceanic and tundra climate zones, and both major islands have mountain ranges reaching 2,300 feet (700 meters). They are home to large bird populations, although many no longer breed on the main islands because of competition from introduced species. Major economic activities include fishing, tourism and sheep farming, with an emphasis on high-quality wool exports. Oil exploration, licensed by the Falkland Islands Government, remains controversial as a result of maritime disputes with Argentina.
The Falkland Islands take their name from the Falkland Sound, a strait separating the archipelago’s two main islands. The name “Falkland” was applied to the channel by John Strong, captain of an English expedition which landed on the islands in 1690. Strong named the strait in honor of Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount of Falkland, the Treasurer of the Navy who sponsored their journey. The Viscount’s title originates from the town of Falkland, Scotland — the town’s name likely comes from a Gaelic term referring to an “enclosure” (lann), but it could less plausibly be from the Anglo-Saxon term folkland (land held by folk-right). The name “Falklands” was not applied to the islands until 1765, when British captain John Byron of the Royal Navy, claimed them for King George III as “Falkland’s Islands”. The term “Falklands” is a standard abbreviation used to refer to the islands.
The Spanish name for the archipelago, Islas Malvinas, derives from the French Îles Malouines — the name given to the islands by French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1764. Bougainville, who founded the islands’ first settlement, named the area after the port of Saint-Malo (the point of departure for his ships and colonists). The port, located in the Brittany region of western France, was in turn named after St. Malo (or Maclou), the Christian evangelist who founded the city.
Although Fuegians from Patagonia may have visited the Falkland Islands in prehistoric times, the islands were uninhabited at the time of their discovery by Europeans. Claims of discovery date back to the sixteenth century, but no consensus exists on whether these early explorers discovered the Falklands or other islands in the South Atlantic. The first recorded landing on the islands is attributed to English captain John Strong, who, en route to Peru’s and Chile’s littoral in 1690, discovered the Falkland Sound and noted the islands’ water and game.
The Falklands remained uninhabited until the 1764 establishment of Port Louis on East Falkland by French captain Louis Antoine de Bougainville, and the 1766 foundation of Port Egmont on Saunders Island by British captain John MacBride. Whether or not the settlements were aware of each other’s existence is debated by historians. In 1766, France surrendered its claim on the Falklands to Spain, which renamed the French colony Puerto Soledad the following year. Problems began when Spain discovered and captured Port Egmont in 1770. War was narrowly avoided by its restitution to Britain in 1771.
Both the British and Spanish settlements coexisted in the archipelago until 1774, when Britain’s new economic and strategic considerations led it to voluntarily withdraw from the islands, leaving a plaque claiming the Falklands for King George III. Spain’s Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata became the only governmental presence in the territory. West Falkland was left abandoned, and Puerto Soledad became mostly a prison camp. Amid the British invasions of the Río de la Plata during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, the islands’ governor evacuated the archipelago in 1806; Spain’s remaining colonial garrison followed suit in 1811, except for gauchos and fishermen who remained voluntarily.
Thereafter, the archipelago was visited only by fishing ships; its political status was undisputed until 1820, when Colonel David Jewett, an American privateer working for the United Provinces of the River Plate, informed anchored ships about Buenos Aires’ 1816 claim to Spain’s territories in the South Atlantic.
Since the islands had no permanent inhabitants, in 1823 Buenos Aires granted German-born merchant Luis Vernet permission to conduct fishing activities and exploit feral cattle in the archipelago. Vernet settled at the ruins of Puerto Soledad in 1826, and accumulated resources on the islands until the venture was secure enough to bring settlers and form a permanent colony. Buenos Aires named Vernet military and civil commander of the islands in 1829, and he attempted to regulate sealing to stop the activities of foreign whalers and sealers. Vernet’s venture lasted until a dispute over fishing and hunting rights led to a raid by the American warship USS Lexington in 1831, when United States Navy commander Silas Duncan declared the dissolution of the island’s government.
Buenos Aires attempted to retain influence over the settlement by installing a garrison, but a mutiny in 1832 was followed the next year by the arrival of British forces who reasserted Britain’s rule. The Argentine Confederation (headed by Buenos Aires Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas) protested Britain’s actions, and Argentine governments have continued since then to register official protests against Britain. The British troops departed after completing their mission, leaving the area without formal government. Vernet’s deputy, the Scotsman Matthew Brisbane, returned to the islands that year to restore the business, but his efforts ended after, amid unrest at Port Louis, gaucho Antonio Rivero led a group of dissatisfied individuals to murder Brisbane and the settlement’s senior leaders; survivors hid in a cave on a nearby island until the British returned and restored order.
In 1840, the Falklands became a Crown colony, and Scottish settlers subsequently established an official pastoral community. Four years later, nearly everyone relocated to Port Jackson, considered a better location for government, and merchant Samuel Lafone began a venture to encourage British colonization.
Stanley, as Port Jackson was soon renamed, officially became the seat of government in 1845. Early in its history, Stanley had a negative reputation due to cargo-shipping losses; only in emergencies would ships rounding Cape Horn stop at the port. Nevertheless, the Falklands’ geographic location proved ideal for ship repairs and the “Wrecking Trade”, the business of selling and buying shipwrecks and their cargoes. Aside from this trade, commercial interest in the archipelago was minimal due to the low-value hides of the feral cattle roaming the pastures. Economic growth began only after the Falkland Islands Company, which bought out Lafone’s failing enterprise in 1851, successfully introduced Cheviot sheep for wool farming, spurring other farms to follow suit.
Early mail service depended on occasional calls by ships connecting to the Brazil packet via Montevideo; the earliest recorded letter dates from February 15, 1800. From 1852 to 1880 a schooner (either a government boat or a contractor) called about every two months. Before July 17, 1861, postage costs could not be prepaid, and from 1869 prepaid franks are known, used by the local postmaster.
The high cost of importing materials, combined with the shortage of labor and consequent high wages, meant the ship repair trade became uncompetitive. After 1870, it declined as the replacement of sail ships by steamships was accelerated by the low cost of coal in South America; by 1914, with the opening of the Panama Canal, the trade effectively ended.
In October 1877, the Secretary of State of the Colonial Office, the Earl of Carnarvon began the process of application for the Falkland Islands to join the General Postal Union (renamed Universal Postal Union in 1879). No sooner than the Falklands had joined the GPU; an announcement was made that the postage rates would be reduced from 6 pence per ½ ounce to 4 pence per ½ ounce.
The first stamps, 1 penny and 6 pence values featuring the profile of Queen Victoria, were issued on June 19, 1878. Unusually for a British colony, the first stamps were not on watermarked paper, but this was rectified in 1883. Additional values of this design appeared from time to time until 1902.
In 1880, carriage of mail was made mandatory for any ship calling at Stanley, and regular service was contracted to the German Kosmos Line, which operated steamships on a route from Hamburg to Callao, Peru.
In 1881, the Falkland Islands became financially independent of Britain. For more than a century, the Falkland Islands Company dominated the trade and employment of the archipelago; in addition, it owned most housing in Stanley, which greatly benefited from the wool trade with the U.K.
The first post office opened in Stanley in 1887.
On January 1, 1891, a need for ½ penny stamps resulted in the authorization of bisection and surcharge of existing 1 penny stamps. Half-penny stamps arrived in September, but the bisects were allowed until January 11, 1892.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the Falklands served an important role in Britain’s territorial claims to subantarctic islands and a section of Antarctica. The Falklands governed these territories as the Falkland Islands Dependencies starting in 1908, and retained them until their dissolution in 1985.
In 1900, the Pacific Steam Navigation Company got the mail contract, which operated until 1914, when the opening of the Panama Canal made Cape Horn roundings unnecessary, and regular mail service to the Falklands was not resumed until 1927.
In 1904, new stamps of the same general design as the earlier Queen Victoria issues, but depicting Edward VII, were released, and likewise after 1912 for George V. Shortages of dyes due to World War I led to considerable color variations in the wartime printings of George V stamps. The 2 pence purple stamp was surcharged 2½ pence in 1928 for use on the island of South Georgia only during a stamp shortage.
The Falklands played a minor role in the two world wars as a military base aiding control of the South Atlantic. In the First World War Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914, a Royal Navy fleet defeated an Imperial German squadron.
In 1929, the first pictorial stamp design appeared, featuring small images of a whale and penguins beneath the profile of George V. This was followed up by the much-admired centennial issue of 1933, a series of 12 stamps featuring local scenes and wildlife evocatively rendered; a full set is today priced at about US$3,000.
Starting in the 1930s, the Falklands took part of the omnibus stamp issues of the Empire; the Silver Jubilee issue of 1935, Coronation issue for George VI in 1937, and so forth. The new king also meant a need for a new definitive series, which came out in 1938 and featured scenes, wildlife, and ships, though in a somewhat plainer design than the pictorials of 1933.
In the Second World War, following the December 1939 Battle of the River Plate, the battle-damaged HMS Exeter steamed to the Falklands for repairs. In 1942, a battalion en route to India was redeployed to the Falklands as a garrison amid fears of a Japanese seizure of the archipelago. After the war ended, the Falklands economy was affected by declining wool prices and the political uncertainty resulting from the revived sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina.
The first stamps specifically for the Falkland Islands Dependencies were issued in 1944 and consisted of overprints on stamps of the Falkland Islands for the FID territories of Graham Land, South Georgia, the South Orkneys and the South Shetlands.
A last definitive stamp series for George VI appeared in 1952. Of the 14 stamps of the issue, six were re-issued between 1955 and 1957 with a portrait of Elizabeth II. The next definitive series did not come out until 1960, the 15 values depicting various native birds.
In 1964, a series of four stamps commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Falkland Islands became notable for the HMS Glasgow error, in which the wrong warship was printed on a few of the six-pence value.
Simmering tensions between the U.K. and Argentina increased during the second half of the century, when Argentine President Juan Perón asserted sovereignty over the archipelago. The sovereignty dispute intensified during the 1960s, shortly after the United Nations passed a resolution on decolonization which Argentina interpreted as favorable to its position. In 1965, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2065, calling for both states to conduct bilateral negotiations to reach a peaceful settlement of the dispute. From 1966 until 1968, the United Kingdom confidentially discussed with Argentina the transfer of the Falklands, assuming its judgment would be accepted by the islanders. An agreement on trade ties between the archipelago and the mainland was reached in 1971 and, consequently, Argentina built a temporary airfield at Stanley in 1972. Nonetheless, Falklander dissent, as expressed by their strong lobby in the British Parliament, and tensions between the U.K. and Argentina effectively limited sovereignty negotiations until 1977.
Concerned at the expense of maintaining the Falkland Islands in an era of budget cuts, the U.K. again considered transferring sovereignty to Argentina in the early Thatcher government. Substantive sovereignty talks again ended by 1981, and the dispute escalated with passing time. In April 1982, the disagreement became an armed conflict when Argentina invaded the Falklands and other British territories in the South Atlantic, briefly occupying them until a British expeditionary force retook the territories in June.
During the Falklands War, the occupied islands used stamps of Argentina, and postmarks with the wording Islas Malvinas. Since that time, a British garrison has been maintained; while forces mail to home is free, mail to other destinations requires postage franked with British stamps, and as of 2003 was cancelled with two intertwined circles saying Falkland Islands BFPO 655 Post Office.
After the war, the United Kingdom expanded its military presence, building RAF Mount Pleasant and increasing the size of its garrison. The war also left some 117 minefields containing nearly 20,000 mines of various types, including anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines. Due to the large number of deminer casualties, initial attempts to clear the mines ceased in 1983.
Based on Lord Shackleton’s recommendations, the Falklands diversified from a sheep-based monoculture into an economy of tourism and, with the establishment of the Falklands Exclusive Economic Zone, fisheries. The road network was also made more extensive, and the construction of RAF Mount Pleasant allowed access to long haul flights. Oil exploration has also begun, with indications of possible commercially exploitable deposits in the Falklands basin.
In 2003, the Islands were given their own UK postcode, FIQQ 1ZZ. This was in response to complaints that mail to the Falklands was being sent to the wrong destination (usually either Falkirk in Scotland, where postcodes have the letters ‘FK’, or to the Faroe Islands). The introduction of the postcode, valid for all local addresses, also helped Islanders to fill in mail order forms online, many of which insisted on a valid ZIP or postal code.
Landmine clearance work restarted in 2009, in accordance with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Ottawa Treaty, and Sapper Hill Corral was cleared of mines in 2012, allowing access to an important historical landmark for the first time in 30 years. Argentina and the U.K. re-established diplomatic relations in 1990; relations have since deteriorated as neither has agreed on the terms of future sovereignty discussions. Disputes between the governments have led “some analysts [to] predict a growing conflict of interest between Argentina and Great Britain … because of the recent expansion of the fishing industry in the waters surrounding the Falklands”.
On August 1, 2014, the Falkland Islands postal and philatelic bureau services were privatized by a decision of the Falkland Islands Government as the Falklands Post Service Ltd.
Scott #278 features two of my favorite topical themes: stamps on stamps and post offices on stamps. It was released on August 8, 1978, the low (3 pence) denomination in a set of four marking the centenary of Falkland Islands postage stamps. Lithographed and perforated 13½x13, it portrays Scott #1 as well as the first Fox Bay post office. Fox Bay is the second largest settlement on West Falkland and is located on a bay of the same name on the southeast coast of the island. It is often divided into Fox Bay East (“FBE”) and Fox Bay West (“FBW”) making it two settlements: combined, these make the largest settlement on West Falkland, but if separated, Port Howard is the largest. Fox Bay takes its name, like the Warrah River, from the Falkland fox, an animal locally called the warrah and now extinct. The Argentinians call the settlement Bahía Fox or Bahía Zorro.
Fox Bay East’s houses are scattered around a common. There are a school, a shop, and a post office which was founded in the 1890s. There is also a social club, and a refueling base for RAF helicopters. Fox Bay has two airstrips for use by FIGAS Islander aircraft.
Fox Bay West was once as large as FBE, but since the farm was subdivided and sold off in 1985 the number of residents has diminished. Until the 1990s, the track between the two settlements was “so bad that [it was] often impassable in the winter months” but an all-weather track was built in the early 1990s, improving communications between the two settlements. This was one of the first roads in the now extensive West Roads scheme.
During the Falklands War, Fox Bay was occupied by Argentine troops, around 900 men from the Eighth Motorized Infantry Regiment and elements of the Ninth Engineer Company. Several minefields were sowed around both settlements by the troops, and these still remain. Fox Bay was strafed and bombed by British Harrier aircraft and bombarded by the Royal Navy several times during the war.
Human casualties were low, but there was a major hit on the Argentine vessel ARA Bahía Buen Suceso, which happened to be moored at Fox Bay East at the time of the first British Harrier raid. Bahía Buen Suceso was a 5,000-ton fleet transport that was serving as a logistic ship, intended to resupply the scattered Argentine garrisons around the islands. The ship was attacked by two BAe Sea Harrier FRS.Mk.1s (XZ500 and ZA191) from HMS Hermes. Because it was so close to houses, the Harriers used their 30 mm ADEN cannons rather than general-purpose bombs. They succeeded in damaging the ship’s bridge and engine room, and also setting fire to a paint store and workshop ashore. One of the Harriers was hit in the tail by a 7.62 mm calibre bullet while strafing the transport, though the aircraft was able to return to Hermes safely. In a storm during the conflict, the ship partially tore loose from her moorings and the bow swung on to the beach. Once the war ended, she was towed away to San Carlos Water by the tug Irishman.
On April 27, 1982, 14 people from Stanley whom the Argentines considered “undesirable” were sent to Fox Bay and placed under house arrest for the duration of the Argentine occupation, some of whom were members of the Falkland Islands Defence Force. Fox Bay was liberated by HMS Avenger and Royal Marines from 40 Commando on June 15, 1982, and to this day this date is commemorated by residents as their liberation day.
Fox Bay East Settlement was bought by the Falklands government from Packe Brothers in 1983, not long after the Falklands War. The rest of the farm was divided into three and sold privately, with the owners buying houses in the settlement. Fox Bay West was subdivided and sold by the Falkland Islands Company in 1985. A number of Argentine landmines are still around Fox Bay West, and many of the mine-related accidents in the Falklands have occurred here.
Scott #1 was originally released on June 19, 1878 — a 1 penny denomination printed in the color of claret, engraved on unwatermarked paper and perforated 14. It’s always nice to have the original stamps paired with later commemoratives. While I do not have a copy of Falkland Islands #1 — valued at US$850 mint and US$500 used in my 2009 edition of the Scott catalogue — I do have an example of the exact same design issued some years later (pictured below). This is Scott #11B, 1 penny pale red on watermarked (upright Crown CA) paper perforated 14. It was released on June 19, 1899.