If you are planning to visit the Falkland Islands, you would be well advised to make time to explore the Falkland Islands Museum on Holdfast Road. Administered by a group of dedicated Trustees, this wonderful collection is growing steadily and always well worth a visit. Allow plenty of time, and preferably several visits. This is an experience to be savoured rather than bolted.
Some years ago I spent a happy couple of hours wandering around the museum, armed with my trusty camera. I only skimmed the surface, though this wasn't my first visit - so I must warn you that the pictures on this page are just to give you a taste of what is to be seen. They by no means represent the total experience. Since my visit the Museum has expanded and is an even more worthwhile experience. The entrance fee of (currently) £3 now includes admission to Cartmell Cottage on Pioneer Row - a pioneer house dating back to 1849, open on cruise ship days or by arrangement.
What can you see here? Well, there are several well-presented displays of all kinds covering Camp life, Sheep Farming, Geology, Whales & Whaling etc. There are also sad relics of the conflict of 1982, including the darkly-lit and highly atmospheric reconstruction of an Argentine bunker. Carefully planned showcases display examples of the Islands' unique currency. You can even admire the Gilbert & Sullivanesque regalia which the Islands' Governor wears on ceremonial occasions (and wonder how that plume stays attached in a good old Falkland wind). If you have a strong stomach you can marvel at the pickled foetuses in the marine mammals display - or avert your eyes and inspect instead the collection of baleen, teeth and bones. Imagine having backache with vertebrae that size...
There are many evocative reminders of how life used to be in the early and not-so-early years of settlement, from farming tools to horse gear. Even a travelling kit for the dentist - portable chair and basin - many of us remember a fairly antiquated kit almost as basic as this, with a shudder, and are happy that times have moved on. There's a display on Transport through the years, from horse to aircraft of various kinds. Telephones of the kind I can remember using twenty years ago - the kind you wound to produce a certain number of rings, which those along that particular line would recognise and pick up when it was their code. And often when it wasn't...
Much is now behind glass to protect items from careless hands, but this necessary measure does little to detract from the pleasure of a visit. Much hard work has gone into the museum, and it continues to develop thanks to the loving and dedicated work of people such as John Smith the past curator, Leona Vidal Roberts the current curator, and Joan Spruce, Chair of the Trustees. Many Islanders have gladly donated items either as gifts or indefinite loan and we were happy to offer a lovely old spinning wheel, too frail for regular use but now looking quite content in its retirement setting of an old-fashioned. sitting room.
Because this isn't just a collection of dull old cases. Many items are in glass display cabinets, but there are also several very effective dioramic displays. My favourite is the store, complete with a wonderful collection of packets, tins and all kinds of items. You almost feel you should ring a bell to summon the storekeeper, and that he would finally appear, grumbling at being disturbed from his Smoko [tea break] but quietly delighted to be able to inform you that your particular requirement is out of stock so you'll just have to wait 'until the next boat' - a situation that is familiar to this day, more often than we might wish, in spite of better-filled shelves in the stores... some things don't change.
Another such display, this time housed behind a glass window, shows a typical Camp kitchen/living room furnished in authentic detail, as though the housewife had only popped out to chop peat for the old range and would be back presently to check her oven... Other set displays depict a wash-house scene complete with dolly, copper and mangle. "Thank heavens for automatic washing-machines" must be the thought of many an observer.
From anchor to zither, via butter-churn and Warrah, there's a whole spectrum of items for the visitor to admire. Delicate christening gowns are on display, but so are sturdy tools such as peat spades. You can see china and coins, musical instruments, and a wonderful clock. Even a tombstone... Most items are well documented and the museum staff are happy to answer questions. Whatever your interest you should find something here to interest you - and make you want to return. The entrance fee is a bargain, including access to Cartmell Cottage. to remember your visit by, there are some truly original, handmade souvenirs on sale, some actually produced by museum staff.
There is nowadays a museum website for you to get more information, but I decided to leave this page on our site anyway... I had fun making it.
For now, I hope that this short article and my amateur photographs have given you at least a taste of what this incredibly interesting place has to offer.
Updated 1st August 2006