Three Sealing Captains at Falkland Islands (1787-90)
The decades following Bougainville's 1765 attempt to establish a colony in
the South Atlantic (ref.
saw continued jostling on the world stage by the
three major European powers — Spain, France and Britain. Colonization,
revolution and warfare (whether declared, recent or imminent) created conflicts
on land and turbulence on the high seas. With
the passage of time, these three countries would progressively be compelled
to yield the New World stage to Britain's independent-minded Atlantic colonies — the
United States of America. It was within this context that a growing number
of commercial expeditions were directed to the waters of the South Atlantic.
In the 1780's Spain's small settlement on the Islas Malvinas
(= Îles Malouines = Falkland Islands) was proving insufficient
to police the great expanse of coast and adjacent maritime zone. These had
become the target of British and U.S. seal hunters, attracted by the region's
hitherto largely untapped natural resources, and encouraged by the lucrative
markets for oil and fur. The document presented here tells of three such ships'
Compelled by circumstance to approach the Spanish authorities
for assistance, they were questioned by Governor Ramón de Clairac, who
dutifully delivered his report to the Viceroy, in Buenos Aires, for onward
communication to the Spanish Court. Although the captains were warned
by Clairac to stay out of the King of Spain's dominions, his admonitions sound
like a "paper
tiger": for instance, Captain Loveday had already spent two years
in the area, and could tell of half a dozen other ships that he had met during
In the course of his questioning the Governor tried to obtain
more information about a new colony that Britain was founding somewhere in
the southern hemisphere. Although all parties called it "New
the answers provided leave no doubt that it was actually New South
a state of Australia). The data given fit the facts — dates, route
travelled, shipload of 200 women convicts, shortage of food, etc. But,
why the name? Although it was used several
times around this period, there is no evidence,
as yet, that it ever applied to New South Wales — perhaps there was a
miscommunication, or perhaps a mischievous deception: more information
This transcript has been made from the original held in Spain, in the Archivo
General de Indias. The final summary pages have not been transcribed.
Spelling has been modernised, and English names of persons and ships are
provided wherever they can be identified.
Source: AGI,ESTADO,80,N.1; accessed at PARES
This page last updated: 3-IX-2013