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French expeditions to Falklands and Strait of Magellan, 1764-1766
Principal characters: Bougainville, Duclos-Guyot, Giraudais and Saint-Simon
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France and the Falklands Islands (Îles Malouines)

After the loss of French Canada to the British (by the Treaty of Paris, 1763), Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a colonel of the defeated French army, looked to the southern hemisphere for fresh lands to colonize. That same year he mounted a private expedition /1/ from France to the South Atlantic, settling a group of expelled Acadians in February 1764 on the uninhabited Îsles Malouines (Falkland Islands); and building Fort Saint Louis, so named in honour of the King of France. Among his travelling companions was Antoine Joseph (Dom) Pernety, a priest, eminent writer and naturalist, from whose book of the voyage two of these extracts are taken. Having undertaken essential construction work, Bougainville and Pernety returned to France; King Louis XV ratified his actions, and issued instructions for a second expedition.

New Settlement: Visits to the Magellan Strait

In October 1764, Bougainville sailed for a second time from St. Malo, carrying passengers and provisions for the new colony, making landfall in early January 1765. /2/ Owing to the absence of trees on the islands, it was necessary to seek supplies of wood on the Patagonian mainland. link Accordingly, Bougainville sailed for the Strait of Magellan, arriving mid-February, returning at the end of March with cut timber and large numbers of young trees. In the course of this visit to the Strait, he made a brief, but amicable, contact with some canoe people near Port Famine. /3/  link

A third expedition left St. Malo in September 1765, carrying more provisions and passengers (this time, neither Pernety nor Bougainville were present). Once arrived at the Malouines, two ships followed instructions to visit the Magellan Strait and collect further supplies of wood. This occurred between May and June 1766. Lieutenant Duclos-Guyot (Aigle) and Captain Giraudais (Étoile) maintained Journals, recording their contacts with the native peoples. Extracts from these accounts (Duclos-Guyot ; Giraudais) were included in Pernety's book. /4/

Îsles Malouines: A short possession

Not long after Bougainville returned to France in 1765, he was sent to Madrid, commissioned with returning the "Îsles Malouines" to Spain, which had asserted its sovereignty rights. /5/  The Spanish crown eventually compensated Bougainville for his work and expenses. To carry out his commitments, he sailed to Buenos Aires in 1766, and from there to the islands in early 1767, accompanied by the Spanish governor and a contingent of Spanish troops. The objective was to evacuate those French colonists who wished to leave, and to formally hand over control of the "Islas Malvinas". After the departing French colonists reached Montevideo, Bougainville re-assembled his ships: he entered the Magellan Strait in December 1767, traversing it by the following month. His was to be the first French expedition to circumnavigate the globe (1766-1769).

/1/ «M. de Bougainville caused a frigate and a sloop to be built at St. Malo at his own expense, under the directions of the Sieurs Guyot du Clos and Chenart de la Gyraudais, who were to have the command of them under him.» [Pernety, 1771, p. vii]

/2/ In January 1765, while these events were unfolding, the British Navy Commodore John Byron explored Saunders Island (off the north coast of West Falkland Island), establishing Port Egmont. "Unaware" of the recent French occupation, Byron claimed the "Falkland Islands" for the British crown. The following month, there was an uneventful encounter in the Magellan Strait between Bougainville's ship "Aigle" and Byron's squadron.  link

/3/ «We have made an alliance with the Patagonians, who have been so ill spoken of, and we have found them neither taller, nor even so wicked as other men.» [Letter from Bougainville to Pernety dated 26 August 1765. Pernety, 1771, p. 269]

/4/ The stated intention of the Editors in adding these reports to Pernety's book was to make available the navigational information — and to contribute to the ongoing public debate on the size of the Patagonian natives.

/5/ This negotiation was made easier since both countries were ruled at the time by the Bourbon family.