|Luis Elías Vernet|
March 6, 1791
Hamburg, Holy Roman Empire
|Died||January 7, 1871
San Isidro, Argentina
|La Recoleta Cemetery|
|Monuments||Mount Vernet on East Falkland is named in his memory.|
|Other names||Ludwig, Louis, Lewis|
|Ethnicity||German of Huguenot descent|
|Known for||Being appointed as Military and Civil Commander of Falkland Islands and the Islands adjacent to Cape Horn by the Government of Buenos Aires|
|Title||Military and Civil Commander of Falkland Islands and the Islands adjacent to Cape Horn|
|Successor||Juan Esteban Mestivier|
|Spouse(s)||María Saez Pérez|
|Children||Luis Emilio, Luisa, Sofía, Malvina, Gustavo, Carlos Federico|
Luis Vernet (born Louis Vernet in 1791; died in 1871) was a merchant from Hamburg of Huguenot descent. Vernet established a settlement on East Falkland in 1828, after first seeking approval from both the British and Argentine authorities. As such, Vernet is a controversial figure in the history of the Falkland Islands sovereignty dispute.
Vernet was born in Hamburg but later claimed a French birthplace in his effort to have the French Government intercede with the British Government on his behalf. As a result, some sources refer to him a native of Hamburg, while others refer to him as French born.
Vernet variously referred to himself as Ludwig, Louis, Lewis or Luis depending on the language he was using. He was multilingual, being fluent in German, French, English and Spanish.
Elias Luis Vernet (Vernet and Louis Elie) was born on 6 March 1791 in Hamburg. His ancestors were Huguenots, probably from Avignon, who settled first in Belgium and then Hamburg. His parents were the tobacco and tea merchant Jacques Vernet (* 1730, † 1813) and Maria Vernet. He had three brothers, Peter Alexander, Emilio and Federico.
At the age of 14, in 1805, he was appointed by his father to a trading company and sent to Philadelphia. There he joined the trading house of Krumbhaar, staying with Lewis Krumbhaar, who became a father figure. He became a merchant travelling to Portugal, Brazil and Hamburg.
Emigration to South America
The U.S. government sent a diplomatic Commission to the newly independent United Provinces of Río de la Plata. Luis Vernet took passage in the frigate USS Congress, arriving in Montevideo in February 1818 (whilst it was a Brazilian possession) and on to Buenos Aires. He remained in Buenos Aires and organized a trading company with the port of Hamburg.
Together with the Montevideo-based Conrado Rücker († 1866, Hamburg), he ran a trading company until 1821 . Rücker was also his best man when he on 17 August 1819 he wed María Saez Pérez (* 1800; † 1858) from Montevideo . With her he had seven children: Luis Emilio, Luisa, Sofia, Malvina (* 1830, † 1924), Gustavo, Carlos Federico.
Falkland Islands venture
In 1823, the United Provinces of the River Plate granted fishing rights to Jorge Pacheco and Luis Vernet. Travelling to the islands in 1824, the first expedition failed almost as soon as it landed, and Pacheco chose not to continue with the venture. Vernet persisted, but the second attempt, delayed until Winter 1826 by a Brazilian blockade, was also unsuccessful. The expedition intended to exploit the feral cattle on the islands but the boggy conditions meant the Gauchos could not catch cattle in their traditional way. Vernet was by now aware of conflicting British claims to the islands and sought permission from the British consulate before departing for the islands.
Vernet was owed money by the United Provinces government and the settlement in the Falkland Islands was offered in partial restitution of that debt. In 1828, the United Provinces government granted Vernet all of East Falkland including all its resources, and exempted him from taxation if a colony could be established within three years. He took settlers, later joined by the British Captain Matthew Brisbane (who had sailed to the islands earlier with Weddell), and before leaving once again sought permission from the British Consulate in Buenos Aires. The British asked for a report for the British government on the islands, and Vernet asked for British protection should they return. Vernet arrived in Puerto Soledad in 1829 and reverted to the use of the original French name as Puerto Luis. Vernet was anxious to establish the colony quickly due to the promise that it would be free from taxation if it could be established within 3 years.
Vernet was appointed as Military and Civil Commander of Falkland Islands and the Islands adjacent to Cape Horn by the Government of Buenos Aires (his appointment was in the name of the Republic of Buenos Aires). A proclamation naming Vernet as Governor was issued by the Government in Buenos Aires on 10 June 1829. The proclamation followed his petition to the Government to provide a warship to police the settlement. That request was refused and a proclamation issued giving Vernet the authority to act with his own means. The Argentine historian Ricardo Caillet-Bois indicates he was provided with 4 cannons and 50 rifles, plus blacksmithing tools.
The appointment of Vernet was challenged by the British consul in Buenos Aires, who restated the previous British claim to the Islands. In response to the announcement of his appointment as Governor, Vernet stressed to the British that his interests were purely commercial.
Vernet was granted a monopoly on seal hunting and one of his first acts was to curb seal hunting on the Islands by others, to conserve the seal population for his own dealings. This act was disputed by both the British and American consuls in Buenos Aires, each asserting their right to continue exploiting the natural resources in the islands. In 1831, Vernet seized the American ships Harriet, Breakwater and Superior for breaking his restrictions on seal hunting. Property on board the ships was seized and the Harriet along with her captain returned to Buenos Aires to stand trial, with Vernet also returning for the trial. As a result, in 1831 the USS Lexington raided the islands. On January 1833 a British task force re-established British rule on the Falkland Islands, ending the influence of Buenos Aires over them.
Vernet's role in the dispute over the Falkland Islands
Vernet never set foot in the Falklands again. Recognising that Vernet had British permission to be in the islands, the settlement in the Falklands was encouraged to continue. Vernet's deputy, Matthew Brisbane, returned in March 1833 and endeavoured to resurrect the settlement but later that year was murdered alongside senior members of the settlement by disgruntled Gauchos.
The settlement at Port Louis was left in a derelict state following the murders, Lt Smith the first British resident set about making the buildings habitable. As a naval settlement the issue of Vernet's property became a matter for the admiralty and initially Lt Smith was instructed to take care of Vernet's property and provide accounts to Vernet.
In Buenos Aires, Vernet was effectively bankrupt and attempts to obtain compensation from the US Government for losses from the Lexington raid proved fruitless. The situation in Buenos Aires was chaotic and diplomatic relations with the US remained ruptured till 1839. He made several approaches to the British Government asking for support to re-establish his business at Port Louis, receiving support from Woodbine Parish (British chargé d'affaires in Buenos Aires from 1825 to 1832) as the best qualified person to develop the islands.
Vernet wrote to Lt Smith offering advice, which was gratefully received and acted upon. Lt Smith repeatedly urged Vernet to return to Port Louis but as Vernet became increasingly involved in the territorial dispute with the Government in Buenos Aires all communications ceased and no more accounts were sent. An approach to Lt Lowcay to retrieve his property was rebuffed but later he was requested to remove his property as the Government could not be responsible for it.
Nevertheless Vernet continued to influence the development of the Falkland Islands. He sold part of his holdings in the islands to British merchant G.T. Whittington, who formed the Falkland Islands Commercial Fishery and Agricultural Association. This organisation was a key factor in persuading the British Government to establish a colony in the islands, rather than a military base. He provided Samuel Lafone, a businessman key to the formation of the Falkland Islands Company, with maps of the island and knowledge of the potential of the feral cattle population of the islands.
Vernet was later credited with the discovery of a preservative treatment for leather; the process, known in Argentina as vernetizar, permitted the rapid growth of leather exports to Europe and elsewhere. The money he made with this process enabled him to travel to London in 1852 to press his claim for compensation for his losses. He claimed a sum total of £14,295 for horses, domesticated cattle, stone houses and beef left at the settlement, which with interest was inflated to £28,000. After some five years of wrangling he was awarded £2,400 in a settlement of his claim of which he received £1,850 the balance being used to pay off his promissory notes. Although he signed a waiver against further claims he attempted to press for further compensation in 1858 without success.
Vernet returned to Buenos Aires and in 1869 signed a contract with his eldest son to pursue claims against the US Government for the Lexington raid, against Britain for unsatisfactory compensation and against Silas E. Burrows, owner of the Superior for breaking the contract signed by Captains Davison and Congar in 1831.
The Vernet family persisted with the claims. In 1868, whilst Vernet was still alive, the Argentine government had granted Isla de los Estados part of Vernet's original 1828 concession to Luis Piedra Buena. His sons successfully petitioned the Argentine Government and received compensation for this loss but not for the loss of East Falkland. In 1884, he received support from the Government of President Julio Argentino Roca who reopened both the Lexington claim with the US and the Falklands claim with Britain. The US Government of President Cleveland rejected the claim in 1885. Argentine government protests over the Falklands had ceased with the signing of the Convention of Settlement but were revived in the Affair of the Map in 1884.
Vernet is considered as a national hero in Argentina as he was proclaimed Military and Civil Commander of Falkland Islands and the Islands adjacent to Cape Horn by the Republic of Buenos Aires in 1829, on the other he is perceived as an unpatriotic merchant who acted in his own interest and made a pact with the British. The US Government accused Vernet of piracy, whilst the British regard him as an entrepreneur who began the opening up of the Falkland Islands economy.
Vernet was a complex character who impressed almost everyone who met him as a man of intelligence, charm and drive. He was not always truthful in what he said and his falsehoods have sometimes misled historians.
- M. B. R. Cawkell; Mary Cawkell (1960). The Falkland Islands: by M.B.R. Cawkell, D. H. Maling and E. M. Cawkell. Macmillan. p. 51. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
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- Jason, Lewis; Alison Inglis. "A Brief History of the Falkland Islands, Part 3 - Louis Vernet: The Great Entrepreneur". Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- Peter Pepper, Graham Pascoe (1 June 2008). "Luis Vernet". In David Tatham. The Dictionary of Falklands Biography (Including South Georgia): From Discovery Up to 1981. D. Tatham. pp. 541–544. ISBN 978-0-9558985-0-1. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- Mary Cawkell (2001). The History of the Falkland Islands. Anthony Nelson. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-904614-55-8.
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- Philip Parker King; Charles Darwin (1839). Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-1836, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz-Roy. H. Colburn. p. 271. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
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- Historical Dictionary of Argentina London: Scarecrow Press, 1978.