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Voyage of the Tamar
For a small ship built at Saltash the naval sloop Tamar had an interesting life.
The early days of the Tamar were devoted to researching, in the words of the Admiralty “what the world was made of”. Thus it happened that on the 3rd June 1764, the Tamar, a sloop of 14 guns commanded by Capt. PATRICK MOUAT sailed from Plymouth in company with the Dolphin, a frigate and the store ship Florida supposedly for a journey to the Far East, but in fact it was a voyage of discovery to locate Pepys Island and to chart the Falkland Islands after Lord Anson visited them in 1740 recommending to the British Government that they be used as a base for further exploration of the Pacific Ocean with a view to establishing a settlement. It was not deemed advisable to let the crew know what lay ahead of them until they were well away from British waters. It was not until the ship reached Rio de Janeiro, that the ships company were called aft and informed of the nature of the cruise upon which they had started. To nip in the bud any feeling of discontent at their having been pressed into such an expedition they were told that the Admiralty had promised to grant double pay to all who conducted themselves in a satisfactory manner.
In November Port Desire was visited (now ‘Puerto Deseado’ on the Patagonian coast of Argentina) and the ships took in a supply of fresh water and on the 5th December she sailed again to look for ‘Pepys Island, but they were unsuccessful. The weather now became very stormy and the captain thought it prudent to make for the Straits of Magellan, when they were off the coast of Patagonia natives came down to the shore and were observed to be making signs of invitation to land, which were accepted after taking the precaution of arming the officers and boat’s crew. There was no need for suspicion as the motives of the Patagonians, who proved themselves such amiable hosts that a friendly intercourse was soon established.
The captain recorded that the men were found to be of extraordinary stature, averaging seven feet in height, their manly proportions being seen to advantage as they wore little cloths, but merely decorated their shoulders with skins of beasts slain in the hunt. Their faces were painted in such a variety of colours that their rapid movement almost gave them a kaleidoscopic effect which has been referred to as a ‘hideous appearance’. Many were mounted on small horses that managed cleverly.
As for the ladies of this interesting people, they were strong and muscular and were so far ‘advanced’ that they mounted their horses in the fashion recently advocated, but not yet adopted in Rotten Row, namely astride or astraddle, the saddle being merely a little pad or cushion without stirrups, while the bit was a piece of hard wood and the bridle a thong of leather.
The ship left after an entertaining farewell from the natives who were presented with coloured beads and ribbons, greatly to their delight, the Tamar set sail, and in January 1765, some small islands were discovered, in one of which was an excellent harbour, promptly named Port Egmont in compliment to his lordship who was at that time First Lord of the Admiralty. Byron of the Dolphin recorded, '.... I think it one of the finest harbours in the world. In every part of Port Egmont there is fresh water in the greatest plenty, and geese, duck, snipe and other birds so numerous that our people grew tired of them...' On the 23rd, BYRON went ashore on Saunders Island, named after Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, and raised the Union Flag claiming the Islands for King George. The surgeon of the Tamar planted a vegetable garden. The islands were surveyed and taken possession of on behalf of his Majesty King George III, under the name of ‘Falkland Islands’, they being believed to be the group which had been previously spoken of as Pepys. The squadron then left to continue their voyage.
A return to the Straits of Magellan was decided upon but before the Tamar and Dolphin entered the troubled waters the supply ship Florida was sent back to Britain with a message recommending that the islands be colonized. The ships entered the Magellan Straits on 17th February, and it was the 9th April before the Tamar got through to the Pacific after meeting with tempestuous weather and many difficulties and dangers.
On 7th June a small cluster of islands was sighted, but the reception promised by the natives was very different from that offered by the Patagonians, for the shore was quickly lined with men armed with spears and clubs and showing every inclination to oppose a landing. The sight of the luxurious growth and an abundance of coconut trees gave promise of much needed fruit and vegetables, for scurvy had claimed many a man on board the Tamar. Therefore it was not easy to dissuade the men from attempting to set foot upon what seemed to the crews little short of Paradise, boats were launched and sent to sound and find a proper place to land but every point of the coast proved inaccessible, being bound by stupendous rocks on which heavy surf was constantly beating.
Although frustrated in there endeavour to get on shore, the islands in the group were named and placed on record as King George’s, Prince of Wales’s, Duke of York’s and Danger Islands.
A few weeks later another inhospitable island was discovered, this time a number of natives put off in canoes and approached the ships, but they brought off no cocoanuts and showed no desire to communicate being extremely savage in their manner. Out of compliment to the commodore, who was in the Dolphin with which the Tamar was keeping company, the name Byron was given to the island.
The scourge of scurvy was now causing such havoc and suffering amongst the crew owing to the continued difficulties experienced in getting fresh provisions or fruit that it was decided to continue west much to the joy of the men.
Between 1 May and 30 July they sailed across the Pacific, strangely making no new discoveries, making landfall in Tinian in the Ladrone or Mariana Is. where the ships put in shore. Capt. BYRON ordered the erection of tents for his sick men, remaining nine weeks on the island. Dolphin and Tamar sailed for England via Batavia (an early name for part of Indonesia)and the Cape of Good Hope, Tamar sustained damage to her rudder and diverted to Antigua to be fitted with a new one whilst Dolphin continued home, arriving in the Downs on 9 May 1766.
On 9th June 1766 the Tamar arrived in the Downs with her depleted crew, having effected a circumnavigation of the globe in twenty two months and six days.
In 1767 a new captain, ANTHONY HUNT, was appointed to take charge of the Tamar and she was once more dispatched to the Falkland Islands accompanied by Favourite, Capt. MALTBY and Swift, Capt. FARMER, to establish Great Britain’s claim to the islands.
The Tamar fell in with a small schooner, the Goleta St. Philipe, DON MIGUEL SANTES, belonging to the King of Spain, which was conducting a survey of the islands, and sent her off with orders to desist. She returned a few days later with a Spanish officer carrying a letter from Philip Ruiz Puenta, at Port Solidad on the eastern part, (called Port Louis when occupied by the French in 1767). The diplomatic official accounted for this unexpected civility by assuming that the Tamar had been driven in by bad weather. At the same time he made it perfectly clear that if he were in error upon this point, the British sloop of war was to make herself scarce without delay, as he asserted that the dominion of these seas belonged solely to the King of Spain.
HUNT sent the following letter in reply:-
Tamar, Port Egmont, Dec. 10th. 1769
I have received your letter by the officer, acquainting me, that these islands and the coasts there of, belong to the King of Spain, your master.
In return, I am to acquaint you, that the said islands belong to his Britannic Majesty, my master, by right of discovery as well of settlement; and that the subjects of no other power whatever can have any right to be settled in the said island, without leave from his Britannic Majesty, or taking the Oath of Allegiance, and submitting themselves to his government, as subjects to the Crown of Great Britain.
I therefore, in his Majesty's name, and by his orders, warn you to leave the said islands, and in order that you may be the better enabled to remove your effects, you may remain six months from the date hereof; at the expiration of which time you are expected to depart accordingly.
I am, etc.
As a result of this bold front the Spanish were determined to try the effect of a show of force and a few weeks on 20 February 1770 the Spanish frigate St. Catharine (36) DON FERNANDO de RUBALCAVA, and the Andalisia (30), from Buenos Ayres with troops, entered Port Egmont (Bay of Cruizada to the Spaniards) and sent a letter to Tamar protesting against the construction of a settlement under the English flag and supported by his Britannic Majesty's ships.
Capt. HUNT replied the same day:
"I am to acquaint you that these islands belong to his Britannic Majesty, by right of discovery, and that it is with his most gracious pleasure that I am here to protect them to the utmost of my power, I do exhort you, and all under your command, to evacuate them."
Eight days later the Spaniards quitted Port Egmont and Capt. HUNT, suspecting that the Spaniards were about to take more decisive action, immediately sailed for England, arriving at Plymouth in June 1770, when he forwarded a full report to the Admiralty in order that proper steps might be taken to uphold the rights of this country to the possession of the Falkland Islands.
Captain HUNT later returned to the Falkland Islands as Commander of the British settlement.
Naval & Military Review 1899
History of the Falkland Islands
Plymouth Central Library, Local Studies and Naval History Department