Day 4 |
Nov 15, 2009

Stanley, Falkland Islands

By Victoria Salem, Historian

Co-ordinates: 51°31.3’S, 057°51.4’W

Weather: Sunny start with little wind; rain later, changing to sun and calm seas

I awoke to find the Prince Albert II anchored just off Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. Originally named Port Jackson, Stanley (after the Secretary of State for the Colonies) was reborn when the seat of government moved here from Port Louis (Anson) in 1845. A leading citizen of the day observed: “Of all the miserable bog holes, I believe Mr. Moody has selected one of the worst for the site of his town”.

The then Governor turned out not to have chosen so badly after all. In fact, Stanley is a long, thin town of amazing charm, a living relic of the British Empire. We went ashore by Zodiac at 8:30am – a short, dry ride. We were starting with a bus tour of Stanley, but already we had caught glimpses from the Zodiac of a pretty, Victorian terrace of houses, colourful modern suburbs, Christ Church Cathedral and partially submerged shipwrecks off shore.

Our tour took us first along the waterfront out of town and our local guide was able to fill us in on the bird life we encountered and the history of various rotting boat hulls, now very picturesque, but once proud working vessels.  The Lady Elizabeth was the most impressive of these, in use from 1879, but since the 1930s wrecked on this sandbank, broken masts outlined against the sky. We also learned that the white painted names on hill slopes across the bay were a tribute to Stanley’s protection ships through many decades, annually repainted by local school children so as to withstand the weather.

A fun stop was by a totem pole of arrows pointing out distances from Stanley to many corners of the earth!  A more sobering stop was by a “Danger – mines” sign, physical evidence left over from the 1982 Falklands conflict.  Serious attempts are now being made to clear these mine fields, but for the last 25 years, Falkland Islanders (also known as “kelpers”) have become accustomed to skirting no-go areas on East Falkland.

We caught a glimpse of the defensive fortifications at Gipsy Cove before turning back towards town.  We were delighted to drive past an ordinary Stanley back garden whose lawn was being “mowed” by a neighbour’s pet reindeer!  Across the road we stopped to gaze at a garden display of whale bones and anti-whaling information; in the early years of the 20th century, New Island in the Falklands was the centre of a sizable (though short-term) whale fishery.

Our circular tour next took us back through town past the school and hospital, our local guide all the while filling us in on what it really felt like to live in the Falkland Islands all year round. We were given tips on how to joint sheep for the freezer, how to keep our eggs fresh over winter and how to look on old, browning bananas as a luxury! We passed monuments to World War I and the Falklands conflict and then drove along the neat white fences and beautiful gardens of Government House (first built in 1845, but much extended). 

Our longest stop was at the museum at the end of town.  What an amazing display in a small space!  Here, every possible question you could ask about the history, culture and life of Falkland Islanders can be answered.  From first discovery through to the 21st century, there were displays focusing on everything from Darwin to dentist chairs. My favourite was the mock-up of the much-loved Globe Store, which sadly burned down shortly after the 1982 conflict.  Inevitably there are sections dedicated to the involvement of the Falkland Islands in two world wars and the conflict with Argentina, but it is the insights into everyday life in Victorian Stanley and the displays of local coins (each featuring a different local animal) etc. that add the detail necessary to bring this remote southern city to life.

We thanked our local guide for all her anecdotes and information, then headed off for an hour of shopping. I was able to resist the shopping frenzy a little bit longer (there are not going to be many shopping opportunities where we are going next!) and first slipped into the cathedral, where the Sunday service had just finished.  It is small, but impressive, with its whale bone arch to one side, and contains my favourite stained glass window anywhere in the world.  This window features the Falkland Coat of Arms (“Desire the Right”), a sheep, typical “Camp” settlement (farmsteads in the countryside), the church at Grytviken (South Georgia) and Christ Church cathedral itself.

Fortunately, Stanley city centre is very compact, with shops, post office, bank and pubs all right there.  Since it was a Sunday morning, we had no luck with the bank or pubs, but the post office had opened to offer us an array of colourful Falkland Island stamps from over the years and plenty of shops tempted us to explore their souvenirs, with local knitted goods proving a popular choice for the children and grandchildren this Christmas!

The bright early start to the day had now given way to driving rain, so we all zipped up our parkas and pulled up our hoods for the short Zodiac ride back to the ship.  The drink of hot chocolate upon boarding was gratefully received and we changed into dry clothes and headed straight to lunch. 

After a very busy one-and-a-half days, we were grateful to have an afternoon at sea to recover somewhat. The weather gods are being kind to us and sea conditions were very calm indeed, so we could enjoy spending time out on deck with giant and cape petrels, prions and even a wandering albatross for company. The onboard lecture programme started up with Richard giving a talk at 2:30pm entitled “Southern Wings”, all about the seabirds of the Southern Ocean and how they survive; they have amazing specializations to enable them to thrive in this world of sea and sky.

A cup of tea and a scone fortified guests for a turn around the deck (now in sunshine again; the weather is certainly changeable in these latitudes!) and then history buffs headed back into The Theatre to my presentation on “The History of the Falkland Islands”. This talk begins with the 1500s right up to the 21st century, focusing especially on first colonizers, the development of Stanley and the political and military manoeuvrings leading to the 1982 Falklands conflict – a fascinating, but complicated subject.

Our final session of the day was a Recap & Briefing at 6:45pm. This is a chance for guests and lecturers to meet together to review what we have seen and done during the day.  Lecturers talk for a few minutes on what they have observed connected to their field of expertise and this is a great opportunity to have your questions about wildlife, ice, rocks and history answered.  Hot on the heels of Recap, came dinner and then either a visit to the Panorama Lounge for a nightcap, or back to the suite for an early night, gently rocked to sleep by a benign Southern Ocean.