Review - Lord Luce

From the journal of the Overseas Service Pensioners Association

I recommend this book to anyone who has had any involvement or interest in the Falkland Islands or the Dependencies.  For historians it is a mine of information on which to draw.  As a former Governor of the Islands, David Tatham was in an ideal position to draw the evidence together and edit it and I congratulate him on his achievement. 

It is extraordinary how many of us have some kind of link with the Islands.  In the case of Douglas Hurd, who writes the Foreword, his father was a Director of the Falkland Islands Company and Douglas has visited the Islands as a Minister and privately.  In my case I have an extensive family link.  My grandfather, Admiral John Luce, was Captain of HMS Glasgow at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914 which led to the decisive defeat of Admiral Von Spee’s German naval force in the South Atlantic.  My brother-in-law, Captain Hart Dyke, was Captain of HMS Coventry which sank in the 1982 conflict with the Argentines.  I first visited the Islands in 1971 as a member of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation of two MPs.  I was one of the last to travel by ship from Montevideo.  I loved the Islands and the people.  I was Minister of State at the FCO in 1982 when the Argentine invasion took place which was a disaster both for the Islands and for British foreign policy.  For that reason I resigned as a Minister alongside Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary.

Although this book is intended for reference purposes, a read through it provides a remarkable picture of the history of the Islands and Dependencies from every point of view since the sixteenth century, as the Islands were an attraction to explorers and scientists from Europe and America who were probing the South Atlantic towards Antarctica.  So it was not surprising that the British, Spanish and French established settlements in places like Port Egmont and Port Louis.

It was, however, in 1833 that Captain Onslow on HMS Clio confirmed British possession and sovereignty of the Islands.  By then great explorers like James Cook, Darwin, John Davis, Carl Larsen, Sir James Ross, Admiral Bougainville and many others had established a link.  In later years came Shackleton, C A Larsen, Peter Scott, Fuchs, and many scientists, botanists and agriculturalists.

The Dictionary highlights some of the remarkable families who settled or were involved with the Islands like the Waldrons, Pitalugas and Lafones.  Many of them served on the Executive or Legislative Council, of whom two accompanied me at my request in discussions in New York with the Argentine Government in February 1982.

Then there were a real cross-section of Governors, some of poor quality but many pretty good such as Allardyce, Middleton, Cosmo Haskard and Moody.  Many of them had distinguished careers within the Colonial Service in many parts of the Empire.

A constant theme throughout is the environment; in particular whaling and sealing in earlier times, but above all the use of the land.  In the earlier days large landholdings developed but many Governors had to grapple with issues related to the size of farm holdings.  Specialist advisers were brought in to establish experimental farms, for example to study grasslands including tussac grass, or to advise on sheep farming and the sale of wool, the price of which varied enormously over time, affecting the economy.  It is not surprising that natural links were formed with Scotland and the Dominions like New Zealand where relevant agricultural expertise was available.

The history of the relationship with the Argentines features regularly.  In earlier times some of the links were natural.  For example the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches often shared responsibilities for both the Falklands and the mainland.  By contrast gauchos were recruited and cattle brought over from Argentina and Uruguay.  Although there were often tensions over Argentine aspirations for the Falklands, there were also prolonged periods of some cooperation or simply non-involvement.  But a sea change started in the 1960s, and thereafter until the invasion there is a constant picture of tension.  There were earlier warning signals such as a conversation between President Peron and the British envoy in 1946 when Peron said that he would use the Falklands as a diversion whenever he faced domestic problems.

So many interesting people have been involved with the Falkland Islands, but equally fascinating are the depictions of some of the remarkable, often humble, characters who have lived there and served the Islands, as for example telephonists, pilots and farmers.  Many of them were the salt of the earth.  

We must be grateful to David Tatham for helping to produce a picture of a great kaleidoscope of history and people which has featured in the Falkland Islands for over four centuries.  The next formidable job will be to update the Dictionary to contemporary times.

Richard Luce

(Kenya 1960-62; FCO Minister of State 1981-82 and 1983-85; Governor, Gibraltar 1997-2000.)[Baron Luce of Adur, KG, KCVO, Kt, PC, DL.]