June 20, 2013
February 1833: Parallel truths in parallel universes — can that be the only explanation?
This article was originally published on the Mercopress website on February 15. John Fowler is a Falkland Islands resident and the Deputy Editor of the Penguin News. He has previously worked as a Superintendent of Education and is a Manager of the Falkland Islands Tourist Board.
According to the Argentine view of things, the Falkland Islands are Las Islas Malvinas and the capital city is not Stanley, which was founded in 1844, but Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, which did not really begin to be a town till 1881 with the establishment of a penal colony there.
The place does have links with the Falkland Islands however as the first European family to settle there among the native Indians, were the Bridges. These British missionaries, who had previously run the South American Mission on Keppel Island, in the Falklands, built the first house in Ushuaia in 1870.
Continuing with what we would consider to be the fictitious Argentine view, which almost amounts to a belief in a parallel universe, our regional newspaper is not the Penguin News, but El Diario del Fin del Mundo, (The End of the World’s Newspaper) published in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
This is an excellent daily paper, which comes out from Monday to Friday and has recently, during our troubles with cruise ships, often proved a useful source of information. Many local newspapers, including the Penguin News on occasion, make good a lack of current newsworthy events by trawling their archives, usually under a heading such as “On This Day.”
El Diario del Fin del Mundo is no exception and on February 8, this year, they took a look back to the same date in 1833. Under the headline, “Esto pasó en nuestra región: Fusilan a los siete asesinos del comandante de islas Malvinas” (This happened in our region: they shot the seven killers of the Commander of the Falkland Islands) the readers of the paper are reminded of the event which forms a crucial part of the historical basis for the Argentine Government’s sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands.
The odd thing about this report by an Argentine newspaper, in Argentina, aimed at an Argentine readership, is that the account that they give of the event does not appear to be entirely the officially sanctioned one, which tells of a civilian population cruelly expelled from their homes by the might of the imperialistic British.
In the report, we are told about the mutiny and murder by shooting and bayoneting on November 30 1832, of José Francisco Mestivier, the artillery sergeant major in charge of a garrison of 50 soldiers which had arrived in the Islands in early October. We also are told that the members of this garrison had arrived with their wives because the intention was that they should settle in the Islands.
We are told as well that this group was “made up of deportees, criminals, and vagabonds who had been condemned to serve in the military; this being the first rehearsal for forming a southern penal colony.” (Integrada por deportados, criminales y vagabundos condenados a servir como uniformados; siendo este el primer ensayo de colonia penal austral).
The article informs us that while José Maria Pinedo, the captain of an Argentine ship, was trying to capture the seven mutineers who had murdered their commander, the British corvette HMS Clio arrived under Captain Onslow.
It is here that the version of events, as described by the newspaper of the region to which the Falkland Islands supposedly belongs, departs from that repeated so fervently by Argentina’s President and her ministers.
True, we are told that Captain Onslow announces that he has orders to take possession of the Islands in the name of the British Crown, (reasonable, given that we have claimed sovereignty over the Islands since the 18th Century) and gives him 24 hours in which take down the Argentine flag.
When Pinedo protests at this, we are told that far from exercising brutal force, the British captain tells him that “he would have the honour of conveying his protests in writing.”
The myth-exploding bit comes at the end of the article, as follows: “On the fourth of January, the Argentine ship left carrying the news of the dispossession. Among its passengers were the murderers of Mestivier, to be judged for mutiny and the crime against their superior officer, which ended with the seven soldiers facing a firing squad. Pinedo also was court marshalled and was removed from the ranks of the Navy because of his passivity in the face of the British invasion. The Clio also left later on. Then the Islands remained inhabited by a few British officials and the employees of Vernet’s establishment”.
It is these “civilian employees of Vernet”, a merchant born in Hamburg and a controversial figure, who some claim to be the first Argentine Governor of the Falklands, but who also sought the permission of the British to establish a settlement in Port Louis, who, according to the “official” Argentine history, make up the population which was supposedly driven out the Falkland Islands in 1833. (Unfortunately, some of them were shortly to be murdered at Port Louis by gauchos led by the Argentine folk hero Rivero, who disliked being paid with Vernet’s own paper money, when they preferred being paid by the Royal Navy in gold).
According to research in the National Archives of Argentina and elsewhere by historians Peter Pepper and Graham Pascoe, of the 33 civilian residents of Port Louis when HMS Clio arrived, 22 remained when it left. Twelve were from Argentina (eight gauchos, three women and one child), four were Charrúa Indians from Uruguay, two British, two German, one French and one from Jamaica.
Although the account of the events of February 8, 1833 given by the Diario del Fin del Mundo is so different from that of the official Argentine propaganda, it matches that given by Pepper and Pascoe in their 2008 publication, “Getting it Right: the Real History of the Falkland Islands.”
Pepper and Pascoe record that Onslow had orders not to molest any civilian inhabitants he might find, orders which he obeyed scrupulously, even going to great lengths to persuade the inhabitants of Port Louis to remain, as their presence as suppliers of fresh meat to visiting ships was of great importance.
Even Captain Pinedo in his report made on his return to Buenos Aires, said that Onslow had told him that: “…those inhabitants who freely wished it should remain and both they and their property would be respected as before….”
I don’t personally believe that the events of 1833 are particularly significant in the sovereignty debate, when compared to the rights implicit in the 180 or so years of peaceful and voluntary settlement that followed (not counting the 74 days following the Argentine invasion in 1982), but if over half the population who remained in Port Louis after the alleged ethnic cleansing in 1833 were Argentines and the newspaper of the nearest Argentine province to the Falkland Islands believes this to be true, why is it so difficult for Argentina’s President and her Foreign Secretary to grasp.