Part 3 - Louis Vernet: The Great Entrepreneur

Louis Vernet's Early Expeditions

In 1823 Argentina granted a concession of land on East Falkland to Frenchman Louis Vernet, who had arrived in Buenos Aries in 1816, and his Argentine partner, patriot Jorge Pacheco.  Vernet believed it would be profitable to exploit the wild cattle teeming on uninhabited East Falkland.  Vernet and Pacheco then brought into the partnership Robert Schofield, a Montevideo merchant of British origin, and Pablo Areguati, a retired Argentine captain of militia, who successfully petitioned the Argentine government to be appointed Commandant of Port Soledad..  In February 1824 an expedition led by Areguati arrived on East Falkland but the expedition was not a success as the five horses which had survived the voyage were too weak to hunt the cattle.  The expedition returned in August 1824 and shortly thereafter Schofield died from alcoholism, leaving Vernet saddled with debt.

By the end of 1825 Vernet had formed a new company with family and friends, but not Pacheco or Areguati who appear to have become disillusioned with the enterprise.  By now Vernet was aware of the British claim to the Falkland Islands, and in January 1826 before sailing he took his Argentine grant to the British Consulate where it received their stamp.  This second expedition was delayed by the Brazilian blockade of Argentine ports, and reached East Falkland in mid-June.  The gauchos Vernet had brought with him found that chasing wild cattle across the boggy terrain of the Falklands was very different to chasing them across the pampas.  The horses Vernet had brought with him could not compete with the bulls, and horses and gauchos were often severely hurt.  Ships bringing more horses to the Islands were lost.  Vernet concluded that before mainland horses could be put to work, they had to be retrained.

Vernet's Colony

In 1828 Argentina granted Vernet all of East Falkland, together with its fishing and sealing resources.  He was also given permission to found a colony, and his enterprises were exempted from all taxation provided he established a colony within three years.  He set out once more for the Islands, this time accompanied by several Dutch and German families, and by his new deputy, English sea-captain Matthew Brisbane.  His wife and three children followed, his fourth child being born in the Islands.  

Before departing Buenos Aries, Vernet once again took his grant to the British Consulate and received its stamp.  He also had an interview with British Consul Woodbine Parish, who asked him to prepare a full report on the Islands for submission to the British Government.  Vernet expressed the wish that, in the event the British returned to the Islands, they would take his colony under their protection.  Vernet expressed the same sentiments to Langdon, a British captain.  Both Parish and Langdon passed Vernet's request on to London.   

Vernet and his energetic companions settled at Port Soledad, which Vernet renamed Port Louis, reverting to a version of its original French name.  They were soon exporting salted fish and dried beef to Brazil, wool to London, and selling fresh produce to passing ships.  By 1831 the colony was so well established that Vernet was advertising for more colonists.  Vernet himself resided in the stone Governor's house erected by de Bougainville with his family and some fifteen slaves.

In 1829 North American sealers began raiding the rookeries around the Islands, which under his 1828 grant Vernet had been given sole right to.  He applied to the Argentine Government for a warship to scare the intruders away.  The Government were unable to supply a ship, and instead appointed Vernet as Governor of the Islands.  The British Consul Parish lodged a formal protest with the Argentine government against this move but received no reply.  Meantime Parish and Vernet continued to correspond, Vernet's reports on the progress of the colony being forwarded to London.  

The Lexington Raid

Vernet objected to the activities of American sealers who were slaughtering seals and other wildlife indiscriminately.  In 1829 he arrested 3 American sealing ships.  In December 1831 the US ship 'Lexington' captained by Silas Duncan arrived in the Islands, ostensibly to take action against American sealers.  Instead, Duncan and his men took advantage of Vernet's absence to destroy the settlement at Port Louis.  All the guns were spiked, all the powder burnt, the doors of all the houses broken off, the windows smashed, the vegetable gardens trampled down, the sealskins and rabbit skins in the store destroyed.  

Duncan arrested Vernet's deputy Matthew Brisbane and carried him off to Montevideo.  Duncan also persuaded some of the settlers to go with him to Montevideo, falsely promising them compensation but instead confiscating their belongings and putting them ashore destitute and starving.  Vernet's British storekeeper William Dickson was left in charge of the settlement and the remaining settlers.  Brisbane was released only through the intervention of British Consul General Woodbine Parish, who by chance was in Montevideo when Duncan arrived there.  

In early 1832 Argentina sent to 'Las Malvinas' a new Governor, Don Juan Esteban Mestivier, but he was murdered shortly after his arrival by mutineers.  Don Jose Maria Pinedo, officer in charge of the Argentine warship 'Sarandi', took command of the settlement. 

The British Reoccupation

In December 1832 the British returned to the Falkland Islands, concerned by the unlawful activities of the Americans and by the Argentine assertions of sovereignty.  On 20 December 1832 they posted a notice of possession at Port Egmont, and on 2 January 1833 they arrived at Port Louis.  They found 20 settlers of various nationalities living in squalid conditions, while American, British and French sealing vessels took advantage of the absence of authority.  The British commander, Captain Onslow of 'Clio' gave Don Pinedo written notice that he should remove the Argentine flag and depart immediately, as the next day the British would be exercising their rights and raising the British flag.  Don Pinedo refused to comply, and on the following day the Argentine flag was removed by the British and handed to him.  He and his men were forced to withdraw from the Islands.

Storekeeper William Dickson, the senior British resident on the Islands in the absence of Matthew Brisbane, was provided with a flagstaff and a British flag, which he was instructed to hoist on Sundays and whenever vessels arrived.  Captain Onslow and Captain Hope of 'Tyne' sent reports back to London recommending the immediate establishment in the Islands of a permanent British naval base.  These recommendations were echoed two months later by Captain Fitzroy of the survey vessel 'Beagle', whose ship's complement included the young naturalist Charles Darwin.  Captain Onslow also expressed the opinion that East Falkland was ripe for colonisation, pointing out that the soil had produced all sorts of vegetables, sheep would thrive, and the interior abounded in wild cattle, horses, pigs, rabbits, ducks and geese which would provide stock for settlers.

The Gaucho Murders

In March 1833, encouraged by the fact that 'Clio' and 'Tyne' had not only left the settlement at Port Louis in place but had given the care of the British flag to one of his employees, Vernet acquired the wherewithal to send Brisbane back to restore his settlement.  Vernet assumed that the wish he had expressed to Consul General Woodbine Parish had been granted, and the British government had given their official approval to the continuance of his settlement on East Falkland.  

Brisbane arrived while 'Beagle' was still in port.  He presented his papers to Captain Fitzroy, who reported that he was satisfied that Brisbane's business was to act as a private agent only to look after the remains of Vernet's property.  Fitzroy in his report to London described Brisbane as an honest, industrious and most faithful man who feared no danger and despised hardship.  Fitzroy also expressed concern that without military authority the Islands might descend into anarchy, given the rough nature of the many whaling and sealing crews thronging the waters.

On 26 August 1833, armed with weapons provided by American sealers, a gang of creole and Indian gauchos led by Antonio Rivero ran amok in Port Louis.  After months of freedom following the 'Lexington' raid, they resented the return of Matthew Brisbane in March 1833 and his resumption of authority (as Vernet's deputy) over the Islands.  They were particularly irked by the fact that Brisbane reinstated the former method of paying them in Vernet's paper currency.  The gang killed five settlers including Brisbane and William Dickson.  The survivors (13 men, 3 women and 2 children) took refuge on Turf Island in Berkley Sound until they were rescued by the British sealer 'Hopeful' in October 1833.  

The Installation of the British Resident

On 9 January 1834 'Challenger' arrived, bringing Lt. Henry Smith who on 10 January was officially installed as British Resident.  Lt Smith's first act was to take action against Rivero's gang, who were arrested and sent to London for trial.  He then turned his attention to restoring the devastated settlement at Port Louis which he did with great success, renaming it 'Anson's Harbour'..  He was succeeded by Lt Lowcay in April 1838, followed by Lt Robinson in September 1839 and Lt Tyssen in December 1839.  During this period Vernet was refused permission by the British to return to the Islands, on the grounds that he was a trespasser.  Eventually he visited London where he received paltry compensation for the horses which he had shipped to Port Louis many years before.  The British refused to recognise the rights granted to Vernet by Captain Onslow at the time of the reoccupation, or to reward his efforts in any way.



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