The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic
old print of sealers clubbing sealsSealing, Beauchene Island, Falkland Islands


Sealers and whalers were in the Falklands at the beginning, in 1776 the French colony at Port Louis was exporting whale oil and 800-900 seals were killed in a day.

During 1792 forty sealing vessels were reportedly operating there, some of them 'elephanting' or hunting elephant seals for their oil. New Island, West Point Island and other West Falkland harbours became home bases to sealers, many from Nantucket. Home was a rough stone hut on the beach with a sealskin or sailcloth roof. A man could flay up to 50 seals in a single day.

Life was hard for sealers and whalers, they were probably away from home for a minimum of 18 months at a time but this could be years. Sealers were put ashore on beaches to live in rough stone huts with sealskin or sailcloth roofs. For food they had wild pigs and goats, also on some islands rabbits, released on small tussac islands to ensure future supplies of meat. When they were required they were hunted down by dogs, often the tussac or grass was fired to make job easier. Geese, penguins, wild birds and penguin eggs were abundant in season, and on East Falklands around Puerto Soledad there were wild cattle to be had. For tea leaves of the shrub Myrteola nummularia (tea-berry) could be boiled up.

Resentful against any authority after their freedom to help themselves to anything during the 'Lawless Years', American sealers had armed the gauchos who committed the Port Louis murders in 1833. As the young town of Stanley emerged they began to relocate there. When Stanley, the new town and capital officially came in to being on 18 July 1845 it comprised 24 turf houses and about 100 inhabitants. Most of them were sealers and whalers. The seafaring community was lawless and unruly. Governor Moody considered most of the disorderly to be sealers, whalers, foreigners and Spanish gauchos who were more or less accustomed to a reckless life, badly influencing others, causing 'disturbances' in the town and bringing it in to disrepute. The sealers and whalers were a floating population with little respect for the British flag. Also ships often discharged their more troublesome and worthless crew members in Stanley compounding the problem. With little to do and eight public houses in the small town drunkeness prevailled.


Captain Lowe 1833

Charles Darwin visiting the Falkland on the 'Beagle' in 1833 wrote:    

'East Falkland Island 1833 March 24th. On Friday a sealing vessel arrived commanded by Capt. Lowe; a notorious & singular man, who has frequented these seas for many years & been the terror to all small vessels. — It is commonly said, that a Sealer, Slaver & Pirate are all of a trade; they all certainly require bold energetic men; & amongst Sealers there are frequently engagements for the best "rookerys". & in these affrays Capt Lowe has gained his celebrity. — In their manners habits &c I should think these men strikingly resembled the old Buccaneers.' 

An unidentified officer of HMS Tyne (sent to expell the Argentine military garrison in 1833) leaves a graphic description of a party of sealers:

'Observing a fire under one of the sea cliffs, I walked towards it, and found there two of the schooner's (Courier) crew boiling seal oil for the use of the vessel, using turf and the refuse of the blubber for fuel. The desolateness of the place, the semi subterranean situation, and the whirling gusts of smoke and flame gusting from under the rocky canopy all contributed to give it a very picturesque look: the men, while writhing about with their grim faces and ash powdered hair, stirring their cauldron amid curling smoke like the scullions of Pluto stewing down a dish of the damned for the supper of their infernal master.'

Governor Moody reported in April 1842: 'the hair seals which were formerly so abundant on these islands have decreased considerably in number, in consequence of the wanton destruction at all times of the year when they can be met with; neither old seals nor pups are spared by the sealers'.

The Illustrated London News report of 1856 stated: 'In some of the smaller islands, which are generally  covered with Tussac grass, the seals congregate in great numbers, called rookeries: and, to avoid the danger of attacking them under cover, the sealers set fire to the grass, which of course, obliges the alarmed inhabitants to scamper helter skelter  down their pathways to the sea, on the road to which they are attacked and slain in great numbers for their oil and skins.'


James Lovegrove Waldron- Notebook and Diary 1866- 1867 leaves us an insight into the trade and state of Falkland seal stocks in 1866: 'A few years ago seals were very numerous on these islands but being mercilessly killed at all times both young and old, they are becoming very scarce, both fur and hair seal, although it is but justice to say they the young being left always pined away and died. They now have to seek them on the coast of Patagonia and South Georgia.'

Falkland Islands Magazine/ At Dyke Island, at House Cove, there are the ruins of buildings put up by whalers and sealers. The walls of a house still stand; their measurements are as follows- nine paces by 7 paces; the wall at its highest place is still 5 feet high; they are 2 feet thick, clay was used instead of mortar; a partition wall divides it into two rooms; a fireplace was built in the partition wall as well as in one of the walls of the inside room. There are no remains of a roof which was composed, in all probability, of spars, oars and sails from on board; each ship most likely rigged up a roof for itself. There is also a small 'bake house' standing apart; when first found it was lined with small red bricks; its inside dimensions were about 4 feet by 3 feet.

On another creek in the same Cove are three graves side by side, said to be those of a captain and two of his men. One of these graves was opened years ago and human remains were found. It is a pity that having satisfied their curiosity, the grave was not properly filled up. Near the graves are the remains of a small forge; clinkers, cinders, and pieces of iron are scattered about it.

Sources include: The Falkland Islands- Ian J Strange, James Lovegrove Waldron- Notebook and Diary 1866- 1867, The Falkland Islands- G Moir




  • Trypot
  • Trypot
    Sealers' trypot. Photo by Biffo Tuson