The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic

VernetPort Louis by Louis Vernet


Vernet 1828 and the years under the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata

  • Old-stone-jetty-below-the-fort-
  • Ruins-from-West-End-Port-Louis
  • The fort
  • Dicksons-store-ruins-probably

In 1823 the Buenos Aires Government granted the French entrepreneur Louis Vernet, an articulate and intelligent man, living in Argentina since 1816, and his partner Jeorge Pacheco, a concession of land on East Falkland on which they intended to exploit the many wild cattle that had built up there. They bought into the partnership of a British immigrant, Robert Schofield and hired Pablo Areguati, a retired officer as expedition leader who successfully petitioned the Argentine authorities to be appointed 'Commandant'. The venture which left in February 1824 failed as only five horses survived the voyage all the way to the settlement, others were starving and had to be put ashore before reaching the destination. The five that arrived there were not fit to hunt cattle and the expedition returned in August 1824. Schofield died from alcoholism and Vernet was left with almost 30,000 pesos of debt.

Undeterred, Vernet formed a new company, this time with relatives and friends. He was aware of the British claim and before he sailed in January 1826 he took his Argentine grant to the British Consulate to be stamped. Woodbine Parish, the British Consul asked Vernet to prepare a full report for the Islands for the British Government and Vernet expressed the assurance that, if the British returned to the Islands they would take his colony under their protection. His request was passed on to London.

Argentina granted Vernet East Falklands and the sole right to the seal fisheries for 20 years and permission to found a colony, a condition which he had to fulfill within three years for his enterprises to be exempt from tax. Vernet, took horses from his cattle rearing estancia south of Río Salado to the Falklands. The first shipment (1824) had had to be landed short of Port Louis as they were starving. 22 of these surviving horses were found again when the second expedition arrived, they had thrived and were in fine health and the party were able to catch beef. The 1826 ship carried horses left over from his cattle slaughtering activities near Río Negro and were likely to be the best of good stock. Being used to hard plains these horses soon disabled on the soft land of the Falklands but Vernet persevered finding ways of training and using hunting horses to suit the terrain. The gauchos and horses were often severely hurt by the bulls.

In 1829 Vernet's gave a description of the people at the little colony to Parish; it consisted of 52 settlers, made up 10 white inhabitants , natives of Buenos Aires, 10 sea-faring men, mostly English and Americans, Verne't brother and brother-in-law, 18 Negroes indentured for then years and 10 Negro girls (PJ Pepper). Vernet's wife and three children and their governess arrived. Later their fourth child was born in in the Islands 5 February 1830 and was named Matilde but known as 'Malvina'. The family lived in the stone Governor's house which was formerly occupied by de Bougainville, his family and 15 slaves. On 10 June 1828 Vernet was appointed Governor of the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego. In 1829 Britain's consul general in Beunos Aires protested against the appointment of a governor and old claims to sovereignty were re-asserted.

A whaling industry was set up but it was plagued by foreign whalers taking the spoils. Matthew Brisbane, a seafaring man, was appointed director of the seal fishery. Vernet renamed Port Soledad Port Louis, reverting to it's original French name. The cattle enterprise went well. By 1831 exports included wool to London, salt fish and dried beef to Brazil and fresh produce was sold to passing ships. Vernet demanded the sealers who had fished the Southern Ocean for 60 years by now, that they pay licence fees to him and objected to their indiscriminate slauterings of seals and other wildlife. The constant defiance of the whalers and sealers of any regulations imposed was bound to have repercussions, Vernet arrested 3 vessels, confiscating their cargos of skins. The master of one was taken to Buenos Aires for trial, Vernet left the islands in November 1831 and never returned. In retaliation Captain Silas Duncan of the American warship 'Lexington' trashed Port Soledad settlement, proclaiming the Islands free of all government. Vernet's deputy Brisbane was treated as a pirate, clapped in irons and taken to Montevideo.

In September 1832 Buenos Aires despatched another Governor Juan Esteban Mestivier but his office was abruptly terminated when he was murdered by his own men just after his arrival and Jose Pinedo, Captain of the Sarandi assumed control.

News of these events and also the anarchical acts of the North American sealers forced the British Government to take action and two British vessels Clio and Tyne Antonio Riverowere sent to re-assert British rights. They arrived in Berkeley Sound on 2nd January 1833. Don Pinedo was forced to leave on the warship Sarandi taking his soldiers and the convicts that had arrived with him. The penal settlement was closed, and William Dickson, Vernet's storekeeper, was left in charge until Brisbane could return. Puerto de la Soledad fell to the mercy of a gang of gaucho indians, previously convicts, and reluctant to return to lawful life.

Vernet sent Brisbane back to the islands in March 1833. On his return Brisbane tried to salvage Vernet's enterprise and attempted to create law and order. The volatile situation errupted over construction of a corral and Vernet's own paper pesos that was used to pay the gauchos. Led by Antonio Riverio and armed by American sealers, they murdered Brisbane, William Dickson, Juan Simon (capitaz of the gauchos), Don Ventura Pasos, and Anton Wagner (a german settler). Surviving settlers, thirteen men, three women and two children fled first to Hog Island and later to Turf Island in Berkeley Sound where they remained, living off the land, until help arrived in the form of a passing naval vessel, the 'Hopeful' some months later. On hearing the tragic news, HMS Challenger was sent to the Falklands to land Lieutenant Henry Smith RN as Governor. Rivero and others were arrested and taken to England but due to the dispute over the islands there was no trial and all were returned to Montevideo by the Admiralty.

The colony at Port Louis came under British rule with the naval Lieutenant Henry Smith in charge. Along with his son Sith kept Vernet's cattle enterprise going until in 1838 Lieutenant Lowcay took over. Vernet was by then bankrupt, petitioning unsuccessfully for help and permission to return to the islands and for finance to re-establish his business in the islands. He was only given permission to go to the islands and take away his moveable property.

Sources include: "The Falkland Islands- Ian J Strange, Falkland Islands History- G Moir, The Falkland Islands- Mary Cawkell, Darwin's Beagle Diary (1831-1836) Charles Darwin, Vernet, Louis Élie Vernet Dictionary of Falklands Biography/ PJ Pepper, A Brief History of the Falkland Islands- Wayback Machine, Falkland Islands portal
Photographic credits: Port Louis- Ailsa Heathman
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Luis Vernet