David Jewett’s visit, 1820 – no valid “possession-taking” of the Falkland Islands

Argentina is making a great show of commemorating the 200th anniversary of the visit to the Falklands by the privateer captain David Jewett in 1820 and his purported “taking of possession” of the islands for Argentina. However, before he arrived he had captured a neutral Portuguese ship, and he captured another neutral US ship in the islands.

The capture of neutral ships ended his role as a privateer (privateers were legally entitled to capture only enemy ships in time of war) and made him into a pirate. Accordingly, Jewett himself (in absentia), his ship and his successor as captain, William Mason, were later condemned for piracy by a Portuguese court; their ship was confiscated and sold, and Mason and the crew were imprisoned in Lisbon.

Pirates were outlaws everywhere in the world, and all their actions were illegal. So there was no valid “possession-taking” of the Falklands in 1820, despite anything Argentina may say.

The Argentine government did not order David Jewett to take possession of the Falklands, and in the long report he wrote from Port Louis in February 1821 he did not mention that he had taken possession of the islands.  If he had had orders to do so, he would not have omitted to mention that he had carried his orders out. Argentina only found out that he had claimed the Falklands because of reports in the English-language press, which were not published in Buenos Aires until 10 November 1821, just over a year after the event.

For a detailed paper recounting Jewett’s visit click here