2nd April 2012
Falkland Islands or Iles Malvines ?
On this 30th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands it is entirely appropriate that we should be preparing a further significant offering of the stamps and postal history of the islands.
The sale will take place on June 12th a date on which, back in 1982, were being fought the crucial battles for the recapture of Port Stanley. To be entirely correct in our descriptions we refer to the hostilities as having been a 'Conflict' but it was war of course in all but name.
Names are important, though, as the Argentines acknowledged by immediately renaming Port Stanley 'Puerto Argentino' on their arrival. To this day they insist that the islands should be called the 'Islas Malvinas' although few are aware of the true origin of the appellation.
This name derives not, as might be first thought, from 'bad vines', although it has to be acknowledged that wine production on the Atlantic islands has never been terribly successful. During his exile on Saint Helena Napoleon insisted on fine Constantia being brought from Cape Town, and it is best not to think about the possible qualities of a Château Goose Green. No, the 'Islas Malvinas' is rather a Hispanic adaptation of 'Iles Malouines' for the islands were once, if they belonged to anyone, French !
The "Iles Malouines', as they were then called, owed their naming to the mariners of the port of Saint-Malo in Brittany, who were the first to set up dwellings on the islands whilst fishing in the area. These first French settlers quite probably spoke Breton, at least among themselves.
In our June sale we will be offering the second earliest known letter from the islands, addressed to Nantes and written in French, sent from "Port Louis, Ile Falkland" on January 28th 1827. This settlement on East Falkland had been established by Louis de Bougainville in 1764 whilst the year after, unaware of the French presence on the other island, Captain John Byron had claimed the islands for Britain after landing on West Falkland. Shortly afterward the French transferred their interests to Spain although they too withdrew in 1811.
The German entrepreneur Luis Vernet, with the approval of the government of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, subsequently attempted a commercial seal hunting and cattle farming operation on the islands, although this was immediately challenged by both the British and American Consuls in Buenos Aires. In 1831 the warship U.S.S. Lexington had to be sent after acts of aggression toward American vessels had been reported and in 1833 Britain brought an end to what had by then become a chaotic situation by arriving with an assertion of full sovereignty. The Argentines have since claimed that their colonisers were forcibly expelled at this time but contemporary sources show that they were in fact encouraged to stay.
Today, and speaking here as a French resident, I have to suggest that Président Sarkozy might now be missing a trick. Why not once again declare the islands French ?
Even if his chances of staking any realistic claim to the oil riches currently being discovered under the southern seas are very small it would at least provide a rallying call to those mindless French patriots who would otherwise vote in support of the charmless Marie Le Pen. It has to be admitted also that, nearly 180 years after the British declaration of sovereignty, there still remains the need for a full and satisfactory resolution of rival claims, one that most supporters of democracy would expect to give prime consideration to the wishes of the local population.
As this extract from a letter sent by a young soldier home to his family whilst stationed on the islands during the 1982 'Conflict' and now contained in one of our June lots, a major shift in attitude among ordinary Argentinians might yet be required to acknowledge this.
"aunque los diarios digan lo contrario, los malvinenses no quieren ser aregntinos, pero eso es problema de ellos" – (Although the newspapers say the opposite, the Falklanders do not want to be Argentinian - but that is their problem.)
As this attitude still seems to prevail in Buenos Aires it is small wonder that there remains such mistrust between the 'Argies' and the islanders.
On the other hand, although their claims are shakier, what might the French bring to the table if they could again be involved in the life of the islands ?
Well, Gigot d'Agneau obviously and perhaps Pingouin au Vin. I am not so sure though how the Upland Goose might feel about being force-fed to produce South Atlantic Foie Gras !