The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic
The British settlement at Port Egmont, Saunders West Falklands

The British settlement at Port Egmont, Saunders West Falklands

  • Port-Egmont
  • Ruins-at-Port-Egmont
  • Port-Egmont-ruins
At the end of January 1764 a French expedition, led and funded by Bougainville, and including a small party of settlers landed in East Falklands. The settlement, on north-eastern East Falklands, was named Port Saint Louis and the islands were claimed for France.

Meanwhile in 1764, a party of British explorers, with two vessels, the sloop Tamar and frigate Dolphin under Captain John Byron's, command set sail from England arriving the Falklands in January 1765 and settling in a harbour on Saunders Island, West Falklands. Finding the harbour 'capacious and secure' he thought it worthy of the name 'Egmont' and named it thus. Of water there was no want, the ground had excellencies of soil and was covered with antiscorbutic herbs, the restoratives of the sailor. Provision was easy to be had, for they killed, almost every day, a hundred geese to each ship by pelting them with stones. Unaware of the French settlement at Port Louis, Byron proceeded to explore, claim and name islands and headlands along the northern coasts including Cape Dolphin, The Eddystone Rock and Berkeley Sound. He did not however, venture into Berkeley Sound where he would have no doubt encountered the French settlement. Seeing no evidence of inhabitants he claimed sovereignty of the Islands for Great Britain and King George lll. The expedition left a vegetable garden and watering place.


A second naval expedition arrived in 1766 under Captain John McBride with the ships HMS Carcass, HMS Jason and HMS Experiment , sent to enforce if necessary British interests in the Falklands. McBride was not so flattering about the islands. He a described a mass of islands and broken lands with soils nothing but a bog, barren and perpetually beaten by storms even in summer. The geese were too wise to stay and they could only now and then kill one. McBride left one ship at Port Egmont to develop the settlement, several permanent buildings which included a wooden block house from England and a garrison were built while he continued to explore, discovering Weddell, Beaver and other islands. Port Egmont, Saunders became his naval garrison and he named it Fort George, and the settlement Jason's Town. The French settlement at was sighted on 3 December 1777 from a mountain overlooking Berkeley Sound.

McBride made contact the next day with the commander, de Nerville, a cordial meeting took place, followed by a letter informing him of Britain's claim. This was rejected. Both parties were unaware at this point that de Bougainville had agreed to hand the islands to Spain.Spain demanded evacuation of both French and British settlements from territories belonging to their Crown by right of Papal Bull 1493 and 1494 (dividing the Western Hemisphere between Spain and Portugal, Spain receiving everything 100 leagues west of the Azores). The British however, declared their Right of Discovery, stood their ground and refused to abandon West Falklands, aware of the value of the islands for routes to the whole Pacific Ocean. In 1770 the authorities in Buenos Aires, Spain acquired the French interests in the islands, renaming Port Louis Port Soledad, and put them under a governor subordinate to Buenos Aires. The next few years resulted in conflicting claims, and letters exchanging back and forth, between the French and Spanish with the British using Port Egmont as a basis for their claim.encouraged by Britain’s current inability to go to war due to discontent in the North American colonies, sent five frigates to Port Egmont with 1600 soldiers. Port Egmont had only the sloop 'Favourite' and a handful of soldiers with four small pieces of artillery. Token shots were exchanged but defence of the settlement was impossible so the British surrendered. Britain was brought again to the brink of war with Spain.

France refused to support Spain and it was agreed that Britain should re-occupy Port Egmont and on 15 September 1771 at Port Egmont the Spanish officer in command formally relinquished the settlement to Captain Scott of the Juno. Port Egmont became important for ships rounding Cape Horn.

Three years later in May 1774 the British abandoned the settlement of Port Egmont for economical reasons, the American War of Independence was approaching and redeployment of forces was necessary. When they left they left the British left a lead plaque, in accordance with international law, on the door of the block-house which has held true through sovereignty claims down the centuries ever since. It reads: Be it known to all nations that the Falkland Islands with this Fort, the Stonehouse, Wharfs and Harbours, Bays and Creeks there-unto belonging are of the Sole Right and Property of His Most Sacred Majesty, George the Third, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith etc. In witness whereof this plate is set up and His Britannic Majesty's colours left flying as a mark of possession. By, S. W. Clayton, Commanding Officer at Falkland Islands A.D. 1774.

The plaque was taken to Buenos Aires five years later when the Spanish demolished the settlement. It remained there until the British invaded in 1806.

Ships continued to use Port Egmont and West Falklands harbours including British sealers and whalers as the need for oil grew and Britain's Industrial Revolution began.

Sources include: The Falkland Islands- Ian J Strange, Thoughts on the Falkland Islands-Samuel Johnson1913, The Falkland Islands- G Moir, The Falkland Islands- Mary Cawkell,
Photographic credits: Biffo Tuson

  • Captain John Byron
  • Old-port-egmont-print