THE Falklands are among the little-known islands of the Atlantic Ocean, and yet they promise to become one of the news centres of the world. The islands form a crown colony of Great Britain, which is now planning to establish a naval and coaling station upon them. Such a station would command not only the passage around Cape Horn, but also the Atlantic entrance to the Strait of Magellan, the two great trade routes round South America, over which hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of freight passes annually.
The Falklands lie about 250 miles east of Cape Virgens, at the Atlantic entrance to the Magellans, less than a day’s steaming for one of England’s. great war vessels. They are even nearer the track of ships going round Cape Horn. With the exception of Punta Arenas, which belongs to Chile, and which by the neutrality laws could not furnish coal except in times of peace, the only coaling port near the islands is at Montevideo, a thousand miles to the northward, the next nearest, perhaps, being the Cape of Good Hope, at the lower extremity of the African continent more than four thousand miles off.
The islands were discovered by an English commander named Davis, in 1592, and two years later were sighted by Sir Richard Hawkins, who named them the Maiden Islands in honor of Queen Elizabeth. Later on the Spanish government claimed them, and the Argentine Republic, as the heir of Spain, looked upon them as her property. In 1833 England again took possession of them, and today, although Argentina disputes her title, she holds them fast.
I arrived at the Falklands from Punta Arenas on the steamer Itauri of the Kosmos line. The islands are so far off the regular routes of travel that tourists seldom visit them. The Kosmos line, although it is owned by Germans, has a subsidy from the English government to carry the mails, and it makes calls at Port Stanley, the capital, once every three weeks on its way to and from Hamburg and the west coast of South America. We were one day at sea, sighting the islands in the evening: we sailed all night along their bleak, bare, and rocky coasts, reaching Port Stanley in the morning.
The islands extend from west to east for about two hundred miles. There are two hundred of them, consisting of two large islands and many are so small that they do not even make appreciable dots on the map. Some of the smaller islands are inhabited only by penguins, there being so many of these birds that the governor of the Falklands has been called «the King of the Penguins.”
The islands altogether have about two-thirds as much land as the State of Massachusetts, and East and West Falkland, the two larger islands, are about five times as large as Rhode Island. East Falkland, the larger island of the two, is 95 miles long and 40 miles broad and has an area of 3,000 square miles. It is the most settled of the islands, having the capital, Port Stanley, situated on an excellent harbour on its eastern shore. All of the larger islands are covered with sheep-farms, which are of such immense size that twenty-seven men, it is said, own the whole country. The total population is under 2,000, and over 1,900 of these work, in one way or another, for these twenty-seven men. The inhabitants are nearly all Scotchmen, and the islands are like a little slice of Scotland in the South Atlantic.
The pasturage of the islands comprises 2,325,000 acres. Upon this area more than 750,000 of the finest sheep in the world are feeding and from them $500,000 worth of wool is exported every year… One company alone owns 240,000 sheep, and the man who owns less than 25,000 sheep is considered a small farmer indeed.
Outside of sheep-raising there are no other industries. There are only fifty pigs in the whole of the islands; and although the grass is good for cattle, there are but few in the Falklands. Not enough wheat is raised to make a Maryland biscuit, and the only signs of agriculture are the little garden patches of cabbages, potatoes, and turnips which one sees back of each of the houses of the shepherds on the moors, at the capital, and at the other small settlements scattered here and there over the two chief islands.
The Falklands are a very cave of .Aeolus. The cold winds blow almost all day long and every day ; it is said, they some-times blow the vegetables out of the ground. They blow so hard that not a tree can live, and to-day there are not enough bushes on the islands to furnish switches for a country school. The Governor told me that it was his ambition to raise at least one tree, and that he had already made several attempts, but in vain.
The pasture, however, grows luxuriantly, and the sheep keep fat, if the land is not overstocked. They breed so fast that tens of thousands of the older ones are killed and thrown into the sea every year, their skins only being saved. There is a curious grass on the islands, which is a tonic as well as a food for the animals eating it. It is in fact a sort of a vegetable cocktail. It is called tussock grass, and has a stalk from four to six feet high and blades about seven feet long. The plants grow close together in bunches, as many as 250 roots springing from one plant. Animals eat the roots as well as the leaves, and feeding upon them fatten rapidly. The roots are even eaten by men, and it is said that two Americans once lived for fourteen months upon them on one of the smaller islands. The roots of the old plants decay and raise the grass upward, so that it grows upon a cushion of manure, as it were. Some of these cushions are six feet high and five feet in diameter, so that the grass springing from them makes them look from a distance like a grove of low palm trees. The tussock grass grows along the coast even down to high-water mark. It is fast disappearing, however, as the sheep are so fond of it that they eat it far down into the roots. Another odd plant which grows in the bogs looks like a stone. It forms bunches from three to eight feet tall and is as hard as a rock; indeed, it is so hard that one cannot cut it with a knife. On hot days a pale yellow gum comes out on its surface, and a rich aromatic odour fills the surrounding air. It is known as the balsam bog.
It is always cloudy in the Falklands. The air is moist, and nature is dreary in the extreme. Imagine a dull leaden sky hanging low over reddish-brown moors, out of which, here and there, jut the ragged teeth of white rock masses, and you have a general idea of the Falkland Island landscape. The islands are gently rolling, with here and there a ragged hill. The land is black, full of peat, and here and there is streaked with little streams and spotted with treacherous bogs, in which horses and men are sometimes lost. The ground is so soggy, in fact, that waggons cannot be used. There is not a four-wheeled vehicle in the whole country. Carts can be used only in Port Stanley. All travel is on horseback, and a stranger dare not go from one sheep farm to another without a guide. Such hauling as is done by the shepherds is on sledges dragged over the wet but snowless ground by horses. All herding of sheep is done upon horses and with shepherd dogs, which are raised and trained for the purpose.
Notwithstanding all this, the Falklands are excellent for the raising of cattle and sheep. The latitude is, roughly speaking, the equivalent in the southern hemisphere of that of Holland in the northern hemisphere, and the animals feed out all the year round. Before sheep were introduced, the islands fairly swarmed with wild cattle and wild horses : about forty years ago it is estimated that there were 800,000 wild cattle on the island. Now these have all disappeared, though almost as many sheep have taken their places. The wild cattle occasioned the first settlement on the islands. In 1844, a rich cattle-and-hides-dealer of Montevideo, named Lafone, bought the right to the southern portion of East Falkland, together with all the wild cattle on the islands, for $50,000 down and the promise to pay $100,000 additional in ten years from 1852. In this deal he got over 600,000 acres of land, besides the skins of the wild cattle. In 1852, he sold to a company his property in the Falkland Islands for $150,000, and since then this company has been the leading power in the Falklands. The company has bought more land, and it now probably owns more than 1,000,000 acres. It has about 300,000 sheep, and it has a sailing vessel which goes to London once a year to carry its wool and bring back the canned goods, clothes, sheep-farming implements, and other things required by the islands. It has a line of boats which periodically makes the round of the islands, carrying to the farmers such goods as they order, and bringing their wool to Stanley for shipment to Europe. The wool is put up in bales just as we bale cotton. Much of it goes to the markets by the regular steamers. That on which I came is now loading wool in the harbour. It will take on 1,200 bales of 650 pounds each, which, at ten cents a pound, the price it will bring in London, will make a cargo worth $80,000.
It does not take many shepherds to care for the large flocks on the islands. The farms are divided up into fields of several thousand acres each and fenced with wire, so that all the shepherd has to do is to ride about among the sheep and take them out of the bogs when they fall in or turn them over if they fall down. They have to be clipped to keep off the scab, and at shearing time they are driven to the wool shed and shorn. The wool is not washed, but is carefully cut off, packed in bales of from six hundred to eight hundred pounds, covered with bagging, hooped with iron, and shipped thus to London for sale.
Most of the Falkland sheep are of the Cheviot and Australian breeds. They have heavy fleeces, the average being from eight to ten pounds, and running from that up to twenty-one pounds, the actual weight of a fleece recently sheared.
The life of the shepherds on the Falklands is a lonely one. Like the shepherds of Tierra del Fuego they are Scotchmen. Most of them are married, and all have large families. Their houses are scattered over the farms from fifteen to twenty miles apart; they are usually built near a peat bed and near a little inlet, where the company’s boat can bring supplies. The wages are the same as in Patagonia, from $25 to $35 per month, including meat and fuel. The meat, of course, is mutton, and the fuel is peat, which the shepherd must dig for himself. In addition to this, he has a garden patch, and with mutton and vegetables he does very well. His flour and other necessary things he must buy. His home is a little cottage of two rooms and a lean-to, roofed with corrugated iron. One room serves as a kitchen and living room, and in the other the family sleep. If there is an overflow, or a guest should arrive, the loft, or attic, is also used as a bedroom. The cooking is done in a curious, oven-like pot, which is shelved under a grate set in the stone wall of a chimney or fireplace. The hot ashes from the burning peat fall down upon the pot and around it. The pot is tightly closed at the top, and it serves alike for boiling, baking, and stewing. The shepherd has mutton as a steady diet: he has mutton chops for breakfast, roast mutton for dinner, and a slice of cold mutton for lunch or supper.
The shepherds seldom leave their farms and the women often remain upon them for years at a time. I heard of one woman who had not been to town for eighteen years. Her last visit was when she came to Port Stanley to be married. Think of living away out on the dreariest moorland, under the dreariest sky, in a two-roomed cottage, with no neighbour within fifteen miles, and of coming into town only once in eighteen years!
You would think that the children brought up under such circumstances would be wild and uneducated. They are not. They are as intelligent and well-mannered children as you will find in any country community. They have a peculiar institution in the Falklands known as the travelling schoolmaster. He is paid by the Government, receiving about $400 a year, to go from one shepherd’s house to another and teach the children. The time allotted to each family is a fortnight, and if three families can bring their children together they thus get six weeks of schooling. The schoolmaster lives two weeks with each family, and at the end of the time, having laid out a course of home study for the children, is sent on horseback by the shepherd to the next family, which may be twenty miles away. In the course of time he gets back to his old pupils, examines them in what they have gone over with their parents and sisters, and then takes them as much farther on the road to learning as his two weeks’ stay will permit.
The bishop and parson of Port Stanley, who are also paid by the Government, make a tour of the islands once or twice a year to examine the children, not only in their catechism, but in their secular studies. These children are, however, from the best stock of the Highlands of Scotland. Their ancestors are among the thriftiest people in the world; indeed, many of the shepherds save money, and not a few have taken their savings to Patagonia and have there become sheep-owners themselves. There is not a beggar in the Falkland Islands today.
Still, the chances for poor men are not many. The good lands are all taken up, and nothing is for sale or for rent. Much of the land is held under twenty-one-year leases from the English Government, in blocks of 6,000 acres at the rental of $100 per annum. It will be a long time before such leases will run out, and the value of the land is now so well known that the renewal of the leases will be at such prices as to leave little profit to the outsider. There is a very limited labour market in the Falklands; those who are employed get good pay, but the coming in of a hundred new hands would necessarily result in the discharge of so many men who now have work. The shepherds themselves have large families, and some of their children, when grown up, will have to go elsewhere to labour.
Let us take a look at Port Stanley, the capital of these islands. It has but 700 inhabitants, including the governor and his officials; but it has more business than many towns five times its size. It is perhaps the richest capital city in the world, for everyone of its inhabitants has all he can eat, and to spare. Port Stanley is situated on Stanley harbour, just beyond Cape Pembroke, at the eastern end of East Falkland. Its harbour is a safe, landlocked bay, about half a mile wide and five miles long, with an entrance so narrow that a large vessel could hardly turn about in’ it.
On the south side of the harbour, running up a gently sloping hill, are a hundred or so neat one- and two-story cottages. They are made of wood or stone, with ridge roofs of corrugated iron. This is Port Stanley. As you look at it from the steamer, it re-sembles a German village, and as you come closer to it you find that every little house has its front yard and garden, and that the front doors of even the poorest of the cottages have vestibules. This is to shield the visitors and the families from the cold wind. In nearly every window you see potted plants and flowers, for they do not grow out of doors, and I venture to say that there is not a town of its size in the world that has so many greenhouses and conservatories.
By the side of each house is a pile of black cubes of peat, for peat forms the fuel of the town. It comes from the bog on the top of the hill, at the foot of which Port Stanley lies. Everyone here can get his own fuel for the digging, and nearly every householder in Port Stanley goes to the moor and chops out his own peat blocks for the winter.
Some of the houses are quite pretentious. The manager of The Falklands Company has a house containing a dozen rooms, and the cottages of the Governor cover perhaps a quarter of an acre, all of the rooms being on the ground floor. There are three churches, one of which is called the Cathedral (Church of England). This is presided over by the bishop of the Falklands. Another church is the Roman Catholic, and a third is that of the Baptist denomination. There are two hotels or public houses where you can get a bed or a drink. If you want the latter, you may have good Scotch whiskey for six cents a glass, and Bass’s ale for four cents. There is a butcher shop which sells delicious mutton at four cents a pound, fairly good beef for eight cents a pound, and other things equally cheap. There is a plant on the islands called the tea plant whose leaves are used for tea; it has berries of a red rose colour. Celery grows wild. Penguin eggs, as big as goose eggs, are plentiful in season. They are delicious eating and cheap. Penguins themselves are such a drug in the market that they sometimes sell for $I.50 per hundred. The waters about the islands are full of fish, but the people eat mutton rather than undertake the labour of catching them.
Port Stanley has a post office, at which the monthly news-paper mail averages five pounds per family. It has a postal savings bank in which the deposits now amount to $i80,000. There are only 2,000 people in the Falklands, yet the depositors in the postal savings bank number 350. The colony has a Governor appointed by the Crown, who gets a salary of $6,000 per annum, and it has other officials whose salaries foot up $50,-000 annually. It has an American consul, who is trying hard to earn his salary on these far-away islands, where there is no American trade, and where not a dozen American vessels call at the port in a century. The consulate is a little cottage of three rooms and a lean-to, such as could be built in the United States for $100. It is one of the most useless consulates in our service, and there is no earthly reason for its existence except to give some politician a place.