The Capital of the Falklands: Port Stanley History
Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands’ quaint, beloved capital, was founded in 1843 and is now the largest community in this remote territory located deep in the South Atlantic. Located on East Falkland Island, Port Stanley, now commonly called Stanley, is popular with visitors seeking a unique adventure, with this captivating town’s history, geography, and culture rewarding all who make the journey.
Port Stanley wasn’t always the capital
British imperialist Richard Clement Moody sent Captains Francis Crozier and James Clark Ross to find a new capital for the Falkland Islands; the previous capital was Port Louis. The men set out on two ships and spent five months searching the archipelago. In 1843, work on the new settlement began, and it became the official capital in 1845. The new capital was named Stanley Harbour after Lord Stanley, who was the secretary of state for war and the colonies at the time, although he’d never visited the Falklands.
Respite for sailors, repair for ships
As a deepwater port, Stanley was a common ship repair stop. Ships traveling through the Strait of Magellan encountered rough seas and storms, and many sailed to Stanley Harbour for repair, making ship repair one of the main industries that grew the capital’s economy. Sealing and whaling ships also used Stanley as a base, and later it became a Royal Navy coaling station.
Natural disaster and war
In the late nineteenth century, two landslides damaged the town, both caused by excessive peat cutting. During the second landslide, in 1886, two people died.
In April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands and occupied Stanley, believing that Great Britain wouldn't retake the islands by force. Britain, however, retaliated and sent warships to retake the islands. After losing a warship and all 300 crew on board, Argentina kept its ships in the safety of the port. Meantime, British forces were threatened from the air by the Argentinian air force and lost warships themselves.
In May 1982, British forces landed on the islands and engaged Argentinian troops on the ground. The battle to recapture Stanley began on June 11; three days later, Argentinian forces surrendered.
Politics in Stanley.
Given Stanley’s tiny population of 1,750 people, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there’s virtually no unemployment. Sheep shearing and wool production used to be the island’s economic drivers, but in recent years fishing and tourism have significantly increased and rapidly driven up the local GDP. All local politicians in Stanley stand as independents and are elected by the community, with the highest official — the governor — being appointed by the British government to represent the British monarchy.
Culture in Stanley
Since the Falkland Islands don’t have an indigenous population, cultural practices have been adopted and imported — mainly from the United Kingdom. Stanley is often described as feeling akin to a small Scottish or English town, and the locals follow many British customs.
Highlights of Port Stanley
Located on East Falkland Island, Port Stanley has a number of quaint cafes and informative museums for visitors. Must-see attractions include the Falkland Islands Museum, St. Mary's Church, Government House, and the 1982 Liberation Memorial.
Christ Church Cathedral, consecrated in 1892, is one of the town’s most stunning landmarks; it’s even printed on the local currency notes. Although it’s among the world’s tiniest Anglican churches, it stands out due to an arch at the front that was constructed from the enormous jawbones of two blue whales from the South Shetland Islands in 1922.
This town in the Falkland Islands is like no other. Despite being 8,000 miles away from the United Kingdom, Stanley retains many traits of British culture. Yet just steps away from the main streets is a world of exotic wildlife that you’ll not see in the English countryside. With a unique mixture of culture, heritage, wildlife, and landscapes, Stanley keeps travelers flocking back time and time again.