The rural history of the Falklands is wide ranging: bases used by early hunters of seals and penguins for extracting oil; lone graves of sailors from passing ships who died and were buried on Falkland shores, or of settlers who died as a result of accident or illness; wrecks of ships whose timbers still survive on reefs and rocky beaches; sites of habitation or industry; stone buildings and structures; signs of communication such as semaphores, letterboxes and lighthouses.
Cattle and pigs were put ashore by visiting ships in order to provide fresh meat for future visits. Once the islands were settled cattle hands and good horsemen (gauchos) were employed to undertake the various tasks involving wild, and later tamed, cattle. This included the building of stone and turf corrals and walls (which must have been back-breaking work undertaken with minimal tools) many of which are still visible today.
Sheep farming and the export of wool became a more lucrative trade and has continued ever since, but brought about a call for shepherds (mostly from the United Kingdom). Boundary riders were employed and lived in basic huts until wool began showing financial returns when fences were erected, and small houses were built on outlying areas of farms so that shepherds could live near their flocks. Settlements, the farm headquarters, were built in harbours with jetties to enable wool to be shipped out and supplies brought in. These settlements grew larger as more workers were required, and as more sheep were being carried on farms, so those farms prospered and were able to improve housing and amenities.
Life was not easy for farming populations as there were no roads, communications were basic, sea links were sometimes hazardous for sea craft of all sizes. These carried supplies, mail, doctors, itinerant school teachers and other passengers from offshore island farms to mainland settlements and back again. Some tragedies resulted. On land, horses, carts and other horse drawn equipment travelled on pre-defined tracks between settlements and shepherds’ houses. This too could be hazardous, crossing rivers, beaches and over mountains in sometimes inclement weather brought downfall to some.
As farming progressed so did communications with magneto telephones being installed, bridges built, and tracked and wheeled vehicles introduced, making life much easier. Radio Telephones (R/T) made a huge difference to communications, especially to those on islands who felt less isolated, as did the establishment of the air service using floatplanes which could land at settlements to transport passengers and deliver mail.
Beginning in the 1980s many of the larger farms were subdivided and sold in sections as single family units; thus life changed quite radically for many. Now a network of all-weather tracks connects farms and a ferry links East and West Falkland. Time and progress have marched on very quickly it seems and, as such, relics from rural life can sometimes be demolished, fall down, get ploughed under, built over, covered by vegetation or just forgotten altogether.
1p Rudd’s Pass, San Carlos River
In October 1864 John Rudd, the Falkland Islands Company’s camp manager at Darwin, was riding through the river pass accompanied by a gaucho or cattle hand by the name of Gill (records show him as being ‘a half bred Indian’). As they were fording the river, Gill stabbed John Rudd who later died of his wounds. Gill fled and hid in shrubbery, but was discovered by men from the farm, taken to Darwin, thence to Stanley where he was hanged for the murder of John Rudd. Folklore tells of a card game in Stanley where Gill drew the ‘short straw’ as the person who would commit the murder, but there is no evidence to support this. John’s widow was left with six young children and was expecting a seventh.
2p The St Mary Whale Point, Island Harbour, Fitzroy Farm
The newly built ship ‘St Mary’ was damaged in 1891 after nearing Cape Horn, when an iron ship collided with her, resulting in her making for the Falklands and Stanley, for repairs. She struck the reef opposite Kelp Lagoon, where she lay a shattered wreck. The crew managed to make Fitzroy but the captain stayed aboard the ship. He was found the next day, lying dead in his berth. At the inquest the jury returned that his death was caused by ‘heart disease accelerated by worry and excitement’. A storm later split the wreck into two halves, one of which came ashore. Some of the valuable cargo, which included carpet, coffee, whiskey, paraffin and soap, was sold by auction. A portion of the ‘tween decks was taken back to Maine, USA and reconstructed in Maine State Museum, Augusta.
5p Hillside House, Riverside Farm
An early stone cottage in a ruined state near to the more modern (1940’s) wooden house. The location was chosen by the shepherd Jason Phillips and the cottage built by the Falkland Islands Company in 1868. It was later discovered that the cottage was built on the wrong side of the plot boundary and most likely on Fitzroy farmland.
10p Ferguson’s Lookout, New Island
The stone shelter on top of a hill overlooking New Island settlement was built by Bob Ferguson and his sister Effie during WWII as one of 16 coast watching stations set up in Camp. On a clear day it gives excellent views for miles in all directions. Monetary rewards were given for the sighting of foreign and/or enemy ships during WWII. As a lookout, it has the advantage of being enclosed and with a stone roof, enabling the person watching for approaching ships to remain relatively dry and warm.
54p Mission Station, Keppel Island structures
The Patagonian Missionary Society, established a settlement on Keppel Island in 1855, the aim being to bring Fuegian Indians to be “civilised” and educated and shown practical farming skills so that, on their return to Patagonia, they could pass on those skills. Their hard work made the Island self-supporting in vegetables, beef, mutton and wool, the surplus produce being sold to Stanley and the wool exported. The need to bring parties of Indians to Keppel was reduced following the establishment of mission settlements in their homeland and so from 1898 the island was run as a farm only, until it was sold in 1911 to the Deans who continued with sheep farming.
77p Caravans, general farm constructions
Caravans were rather heavy, farm made huts on sleigh runners or, less commonly, on wheels. They could be towed around farms for fencing work or left in situ near, for example, peat bogs or lamb marking pens where farm workers were required to live on site for short periods. The caravans were normally timber framed, clad with flat iron and roofed with corrugated iron, and contained bunks and a small peat stove for cooking, heating and boiling water. A peat bin and meatsafe were often located on the outside end of the caravan. Quite a number can still be seen on farms today although the majority have been modernised.
80p Little Chartres Bridge, Little Chartres Farm
The Annual Colonial report of 1928 tells of a wooden bridge being built with a span of 120 feet across the Chartres River, near Little Chartres house, which runs into Chartres Creek. A ford, or pass, a little further downstream was not suitable at high tide for crossing with a flock of sheep, horse riders or later vehicles. The bridge was replaced with a new Bailey bridge after the road was upgraded between Port Howard and Fox Bay.
£1 The Bull’s House, Lafonia
A very small shelter, just large enough for one person, situated on the side of a valley. Folklore suggests this would have been used whilst waiting for cattle to cross the ditch in the valley below.
£2 Whaling Station, New Island
Christian Salvesen & Co of Leith, Scotland, operated the first, and last, shore-based whaling station in the Falklands from the south of New Island from 1908 until 1916, with three whaling vessels. There are many relics from the station still at the site, and graves of some Norwegians who were attached to the whaling station. Long rails run into the bay, upon which the very few whales were winched to the flensing or ‘cutting up’ area, then to the large vats to render the blubber into oil. The station closed due to the lack of whales and was transferred to the more lucrative whaling in South Georgia.
£2.05 Stone Corral, Kelp Harbour,Goose Green Farm
This corral is the most perfectly built one in the Islands, by Falkland Islands Company stone mason James Smith who was paid £29.7.0. The stones are well cut and square, a perfect stone circle with a smaller circle attached. It is also possible ‘Nippy’ Steel another mason was involved. Nearby Egg Harbour was the home in the early days of an employee who looked after the farm breeding mares, as well as undertaking cattle work, both utilising the corral.
£3.60 Sheep Dip, Mount Rosalie, Port Howard Farm
Sheep dips are long troughs, some above ground, others set into the ground, where sheep were immersed in a liquid solution to kill skin parasites such as ked, scab and ticks. The animals were encouraged to plunge into the dip liquid and swim to the other end of the trough from where they would scramble up a ramp into pens. Sheep dipping ceased in the 1970s as the various parasites had been eradicated.
£5 Standing Man, Stanhope Hill, Weddell Island
Stone cairns (standing men) were built mostly on high ground as wayfinders for travellers riding from one shepherd’s house or farm settlement to another. They were also useful as a stop for shepherds waiting for a flock of sheep to be driven past, to join the drive. To pass the time, the shepherd would often put more stones on the cairn. In the 1950s standing men were built on high ground or mountains by surveyors mapping the Falklands. These were built carefully and symmetrically centred over the trig station mark. Some, such as this one on Stanhope Hill, included an X shaped canvas marker which was used for the aerial photographic survey.
With thanks to Joan Spruce and Nathalie Smith, Authors of Falklands Rural Heritage. Available from Hugh Osborne firstname.lastname@example.org
Local Rate Booklet £3.30
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