After the Colonial Office shifted the Falkland Islands’ capital from Port Louis to sheltered Port Jackson (soon renamed Stanley Harbour) in 1844, Stanley became the new seat of government, but its permanent population was a ragtag assortment of roving mariners, holdover gauchos, and military pensioners. Except in emergencies, ’round-the-Horn shipping avoided the Islands, because Stanley gained a reputation for cargo-shipping losses—“condemned at Stanley” became a cliché among insurers.
In the early days, feral cattle rather than sheep roamed the Islands’ pastures, and low-value hides attracted little commercial interest. After mid-century, though, when the newly founded Falkland Islands Company (FIC) shifted from cattle to sheep and other recently created farms followed suit, Stanley grew rapidly as the transshipment point for wool between camp—which is the local term for the countryside—and the United Kingdom.
In addition to being the Islands’ largest landholder, the FIC dominated commerce as the Islands’ only significant merchant house and Stanley’s biggest employer, and it remained so for more than a century. Its impact on the townscape was palpable—many if not most Stanley houses belonged to the company, whose workers lived in them only so long as they remained employees.
With declining wool prices after World War II, and political uncertainties due to relations with Argentina in the 1970s, Stanley stagnated until the outbreak of hostilities in 1982. While the capital was heavily occupied by Argentine troops, their last-minute surrender to approaching British forces avoided serious damage.
Stanley still transships the Falkland Islands’ wool, but fisheries income since 1986 has transformed it into one of the most prosperous communities of its size in the world. It’s far from pretentious, and the boom-and-bust of squidding makes the economy vulnerable, but the changes since the conflict are the most dramatic in the capital’s history. Only oil, still not confirmed in commercial quantities, could have a bigger impact.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition