The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic
The Spanish at Puerto de la Soledad

The Spanish at Puerto de la Soledad

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  • Ruins-from-West-End-Port-Louis

The French settlement disturbed both the British and the Spanish government. Spain feared that the Falklands would be a rear base to threaten her Peruvian gold interests. The French government ordered Bougainville to sell the islands to Spain and this he did receiving the equivalent of 25,000 pounds and they took over the settlement in 1767 from the French naming the East Falklands Soledad (solitude) and Port Louis 'Puerto Soledad'. A Spanish governor under the Captain-General of Buenos Aires, Felipe Ruiz Puente (1767-1773) was appointed, with Bougainville himself attending the ceremony. There followed an uneasy relationship until 1769, the British on West Falklands and the Spanish on East Falklands as they continued to try to get each other to leave. After evicting the British from Port Egmont in 1770, which almost led to war between Britain and Spain, Spain agreed to let them return, but reserved their right of sovereignty. However Britain, due to economic reasons abandoned the settlement at Port Egmont in 1774 anyway, leaving a plaque with their claim.

Until the early 19th century, spanning 44 years, the Falklands remained the Spanish colony of Islas Malvinas, a military outpost and penal colony protected by three batteries and governed through Spain's colonial administration in Buenos Aires.

The Spanish, used to a town-based colonial life were unhappy there and found the country alien and desolate. Attempts at growing vegetables failed and more cattle and horses were imported. By 1782 the horses had multiplied to 50 and by 1778 there were 166 reportedly at Puerto Soledad. The settlement struggled despite efforts to develop it, relying heavily on the wild cattle for fresh meat and the annual summer lifeline ships to Montevideo for other supplies. In 1781 there were 103 residents including the governor, a surgeon, a mason, a baker, 50 soldiers and 43 convicts.

In 1789 a bullfight was held to celebrate the coronation of the Spanish King Charles IV and twelve bulls were fought.

The settlement was a garrison with 20 buildings, barracks for officers convicts and troops. A small turf church was built with a bell tower to call the 80 settlers to prayer. A larger brick and stone church to hold the by now larger population of 200 was built and consecrated in 1801. By 1811 there were over 30 buildings but the population had dropped to 46. Puerto Soledad's garrison was an unpopular post, and no Spanish Governor could be persuaded to stay more than his term in office despite inducements of double pay. During the Spanish reign of 44 years the settlement had 21 different governors, mainly naval officers.

In 1806 the British captured Buenos Aires and the Spanish Governor of the Malvinas fled the islands to Montevideo. In 1807 the British captured Montevideo as well and with their supplies temporarily cut off the settlers at Puerto Soledad almost starved. In 1811 the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata evacuated all their troops and settlers from the settlement to Montevideo on board the brigantine Galvez in order to help in the struggle against Buenos Airean adversaries. A lead plaque was left claiming Spanish sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas.

In 1810 Spanish jurisdiction in South America, including the Falklands came to an end. A period of confusion and lawlessness followed.

Sources include: "The Falkland Islands- Ian J Strange, Falkland Islands History- G Moir, The Falkland Islands- Mary Cawkell, A Brief History of the Falkland Islands- Wayback Machine, Falkland Islands portal
Photographic credits: Port Louis- Ailsa Heathman
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