Historical Capsules

In the Falkland Islands, 200 Acadians at the end of the world with Bougainville

The Great Acadian Upheaval
The monuments commemorating the Great Acadian Upheaval (Author Quiet kiai, License CC0 free of rights)

The Falkland Islands (the Falklands) were deserted until their colonization in 1764 under the leadership of Officer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, Count of Bougainville (born in Paris, France, and first aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Montcalm five years earlier). He was involved as a plenipotentiary in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham of 1759 where 156 Acadian militiamen fought alongside the Canadian militia and the French army. Seven Acadians would very probably have died on September 13, 1759. The monuments commemorating the Great Acadian Upheaval accurately indicate that the Falklands were a place of exile in the South Atlantic. At present, the Falklands remain a proposed site for a future dressing of this noble memorial. But what is the history of these treeless islands in the land of penguins, and what was the fate of the Acadians who did settle in Port Louis, south of Brazil, not far from Antarctica?

South Atlantic
South Atlantic (Author Uwe Dedering, License CC BY-SA 3.0, with four added sites)

Under the Articles of the 1760 Capitulation of Montreal, Bougainville was deported to France on a ship of His British Majesty. Contemplating an expedition to the “South Seas” (the South Atlantic) to eventually master maritime trade, Bougainville then suggested to the Court of Louis XV the establishment of a colony in the Falklands, which were already well known to the mariners of St. Malo who had previously baptized them “Les Malouines”. Between 1763 and 1766, many Acadians, numbering nearly 200 volunteers who did not forget those who fought to keep Canada within France, decided to take part in the great enterprise to the end of the world financed mainly by Bougainville’s family capital, and under the patronage of the Compagnie de Saint-Malo.

With the authorization of the King of France supported by a royal subsidy of six sous a day for each Acadian, the French ships l’Aigle, armed with twenty cannons, and the Sphinx, with twelve, both vessels carrying proper supplies for such an expedition, left the port of St. Malo on Thursday September 15, 1763.

Colonization of the Falklands

The original colony of Port Louis
The original colony of Port Louis at the head of French Bay, now Berkeley Sound (Artwork of Antoine-Joseph Pernety, public domain)

Friday February 3, 1764, after having made a stopover in Montevideo in Uruguay to buy horses and horned cattle, Bougainville and his teammates anchored in the East Falklands at the head of a large bay which they named “French Bay” in memory of a bay in Acadia so baptized by Samuel de Champlain in 1603 (now called the Bay of Fundy). Once the location of Port Louis was chosen by mutual agreement, the brush was removed. As there were no trees, the pioneered Acadians (about fifty individuals) erected huts covered with heather as well as an earthen and turf fort equipped with 12 cannons. Then a few days later, Bougainville officially took possession of the East Falklands for France. In April 1765, seven dozen more Acadians arrived from St. Malo, increasing the total population to over 130 inhabitants. In 1766, a third and final Acadian wave comprised of seventy-nine settlers, most of whom Acadians, joined the “Colony of the South Seas”.

Cession to Spain

Islands without trees
The Falklands are treeless (Source Bradt Guides)

In 1765, during a short visit to the West Falklands, British Commodore John Byron, who fought in the Seven Years’ War against France, claimed the Falkland Archipelago (the East and West Islands) for Great Britain. It was then that Spain protested against this foreign presence considered “unlawful” with regard to both the French and the English, because the Falklands (Islas Malvinas in Spanish) were part of their Vice-Kingdom of Peru. Anxious to avoid a conflict with his ally, Louis XV ceded his rights to the archipelago by selling the small Franco-Acadian colony to the Kingdom of Spain for 618,108 French livres (corresponding to the total expenses incurred for the enterprise). On March 25, 1767, three ships of the French Royal Navy came to repatriate the Acadians and a few Malouins from the colony founded by Bougainville.

While most of the settlers left the Falklands, a few Acadian families remained there with the written permission of the King of Spain. In 1774, the British also departed from the site, but they would take it back from the Argentines in 1833 and call it definitively the Falkland Islands. It is highly probable that descendants of Acadians still live in the Falklands today and have become “British Subjects”.

References: see SOUTH SEAS