The British Empire Library

A Falklands Diary: Winds Of Change In A Distant Colony

by Jean Austin

Courtesy of OSPA

David Tatham (Governor of the Falklands Islands 1992-95 and Editor of the Dictionary of Falklands Biography)
When Jean Austin, the wife of J A Jones, Colonial Secretary of the Falkland Islands, left Stanley in 1972 she wrote up her memories. But, no doubt reckoning that there was little interest in the said distant colony, she lodged the manuscript in the library of Rhodes House in Oxford. Only in 2009, nearly forty years after it was first composed, was the text printed.

The preface (it is not clear who wrote it) notes that the author "casts considerable light on the disputed historical claims to the islands and the tensions and suspicions that culminated in ... war on 2 April 1982". In fact Jean Austin's grasp of Falklands history is rather sketchy but on "tensions and suspicions" she is a valuable witness to the atmosphere in the islands from 1969 to 1972. Although she stresses that 'the final chapter has yet to be written', the general tone of her work is optimistic.

When she and her husband arrived, she noted that not only were the islanders apprehensive and distrustful of any change, but even the Governor Sir Cosmo Haskard was "over-involved" and fresh thinking was required. The Diary relates the progress of this fresh thinking, promoted by the Foreign Office in London and encouraged by Argentina. The greatest single spur to "new thinking" was the sale of the steamer Darwin, the only link to the outside world (and herself almost a character in the book).

Jean Austin charts the growth of the air link with Argentina from a single medical evacuation to the construction of a temporary airstrip. As wife of the Colonial Secretary, she entertained various Argentine official visitors, though conscious that this would win her no brownie points with islanders. After three years she found the change for the better "quite staggering". When she wrote it was not yet clear to British officialdom that (as the islanders suspected all along) Argentine appetites would be whetted not sated by the tit-bits which HMG offered Buenos Aires.

Beside her political narrative the author also gives a good picture of Falklands life before it was transformed by the Conflict and the prosperity which followed. At first down-cast by her large draughty house and her voracious Rayburn stove, she learns to love them, just as she adjusts to the isolation and quirkiness of Falklands society.

While her decision not to adjust the story in the light of hindsight is admirable, one regrets that she has not included either an introduction or post-script bringing the story up to date and pointing out that the islands have changed enormously in the nearly forty years since she wrote. A sustainable fishery has multiplied the government's income by a factor of five or six and regular air services, good telecommunications and investment in education have transformed the shrinking and inward-looking society which Jean Austin describes.

The Diary is written in a fluent and pleasant style. Tighter editing might have removed a few errors (the Panama Canal was opened in 1914, not 1855). But the index is excellent and the photographs by Jean Austin herself are pleasant and relevant, though the front cover, described as "the snowy mountains of the Falkland Islands" in fact depicts the far sharper peaks of South Georgia.

A Falklands Diary can be recommended as a description of the Falkland Islands as they faced growing pressure from Argentina and as an account of British diplomatic attempts to resolve the tension.

British Empire Book
Jean Austin
I B Tauris
987 1 84511 713 9


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe