All Fools Day

1 Apr

In the UK, and many other countries, today, April 1st, is known as Fools Day.

Today is also the 246th anniversary of Louis de Bougainville’s handing over of his East Falklands settlement to the Spanish in an act of French recognition that Spain claimed all of that part of the world. A claim not recognized by Britain, or indeed many other European nations – indeed a claim not recognized by Bougainville himself. 1763 Louis Antoine de Bougainville

April 1st, 1767 was however the last act of French involvement in the history of the Falkland Islands despite Bougainville’s attempt to get Napoleon to assert the French claim to sovereignty in 1801. Not that the French had discovered the archipelago – an accolade likely to belong to Portuguese explorers – but the French had been stopping off at East Falkland since at least 1700.

Bougainville, however, was the first to establish a permanent settlement on the eastern of the two main Falkland Islands which he did in February 1764; almost 12 months before the British arrived in West Falkland and reasserted their claim to all the islands.

At that time, French/Spanish politics was based on the ‘Family Compact’, an agreement recognizing that the two royal families were related. It was as a result of this agreement that Bougainville was forced by his King to hand over his settlement; an Order he fought against arguing that the Spanish had never attempted to settle on the Falklands and appeared not even to know where they were.

Britain’s claim was asserted by Commodore John Byron in January 1765; having been sent with orders based on earlier English claims to the archipelago; “Whereas nothing can redound more to the honour of this Nation, as a maritime power, to the dignity of the Crown of Great Britain, and to the advancement of trade and navigation thereof, than to make discoveries of countries hitherto unknown; and whereas there is reason to believe that lands and islands of great extent, hitherto unvisited by any European power, may be found in the Atlantic ocean, between the Cape of Good Hope and the Magellanic streight, within the latitudes convenient for navigation, and in climates adapted to the produce of commodities useful in commerce; and whereas his Majesty’s islands called Pepy’s island, and Falklands islands, lying within said tract; have never yet been sufficiently surveyed as that an accurate judgment may be formed of their coasts and product: his Majesty; conceiving no conjuncture so proper for an enterprise of this nature; as a time of profound peace, which his kingdoms at present happily enjoy, has thought fit that it should now be undertaken.”

Whilst it is noteworthy that the British King assumed sovereignty from the 1690’s, the reality was that the French claim was probably the better one. But they gave it up in a simple ceremony; “ I delivered our settlement to the Spaniards, who took possession of it by planting the Spanish colors which were saluted at sun-rising and sunset from the shore and on the ships. … “

And so the Spanish arrived two years after Byron reasserted the British claim – on April 1st 1767. All Fools Day.


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