Thomas Armstrong (1797-1875)
(Portrait in Casa Bemberg, Buenos Aires)
Death of Mr. Armstrong.
Buenos Ayres lost one of its most trusted and influential citizens in
the person of Mr. Thomas Armstrong, who held a prominent place here
for more than half a century. His long and useful career terminated
after a few days' illness and had passed away quietly in the bosom of
his family, leaving behind him the recollection of many important
public services, and numberless acts of private generosity unknown
except to his most intimate friends.
Mr. Armstrong was the
oldest living member of an ancient and honorable family for two
centuries settled in Ireland, remarkable alike for the gallant deeds
of many of its scions and the longevity of those not killed in
fighting. The original name was Fairbairn, of Scottish origin, but
they seem to have crossed the Tweed in the 13th century,
and settled at Corby in Lincolnshire, at Tynedale in Northumberland,
and at Thorpe in Nottinghamshire. Tradition says that one of the
family was knighted for saving the King's life in the battle, who gave
him for sobriquet "Fairbairn of the Strong Arm".
The first settler in
Ireland was Christopher Armstrong, whose brother was executed in the
time of Mary Stuart; he built Mangerton Castle in Fermanagh, 1550, and
his sixth descendent was General Sir John Armstrong, founder of
Woolwich Arsenal who had done such gallant service under Marlborough.
The Armstrongs of King's County, from whom the deceased gentleman
drew his descendent had for ancestor Colonel Armstrong who fought for
Charles I, and was taken prisoner by Cromwell in the battle of
Worcester; his son was killed in the capture of Gibraltar in 1704.
They were always fighting family, and during the 18th
century we find, in Burke's records, several officers of rank,
descendents of Archibald Armstrong of Ballylin, who died at Banagher
in April, 1747, age about 100. One was Colonel and Coldstream Guards,
another Chamberlain to George III in 1794; same died in India, others
came home wounded and spent their closing years in Ireland. Some went
to Jamaica, and embraced a planter's life, others entered the church,
while the subject of our notice came to Buenos Ayres in 1817, being 20
years of age.
So far back as 1824
we find the name of Thomas Armstrong on the committee of British
merchants in Buenos Ayres and even since that time, during more than
50 years he has been one of the foremost men of our society. Having
married into the wealthy Spanish family Villanueva, he was intimately
connected with the interest of the country; This may of our greatest
and most successful enterprises are connected with his name while his
estates in Buenos Ayres and Santa Fe represent an enormous value. For
the last 20 years he occupied himself in banking; previously he was a
saladerista and export merchant.
As a public man he
took no part in political but always felt a lively interest in
charities of every kind, besides acting as trustee for the American
church and the British Hospital. Before and since the fall of Rosas,
he was repeatedly director of the Provincial Bank, and member of the
Municipal Council, lending his valuable experience and weight to the
interest of the city in which he was one of the largest house
Among matters of
wider range affecting the general welfare of the Republic we may
mention Mr. Armstrong's friendly offices in restoring amicable
relations with Great Britain in January 1857, after an interruption of
four years caused by the minister of Foreign Affairs sending H.M.
chargé d' affaires Capt. Gore his passports. The difficulty was
arranged by the Retiro battery it ring a salute of 21 guns to the
British flag, and her Majesty seems to have offered, through Mr.
Christie, to knight Mr. Armstrong, but he declined the honour. He
subsequently arranged the Buschental Loan in 1862 when before
congress. His connection with the Central Argentino railway and the
Ensenada port and railway may be said to have formed the chief feature
of his life in the last 12 years, and successful completion of this
enterprises owes only less his efforts than to those of Mr.
Government wisely placed the utmost reliance in Mr. Armstrong as local
director of these railways, which greatly smoothed and facilitated the
mutual relations; So much so the when Mr. Armstrong, owing to advanced
age, resigned a past fraught with so much constant anxiety and care
the Government refused to admit his successor and insisted on dealing
only with Mr. Armstrong. At one period the works of the Central
Argentine were in danger of suspension, when his influence with the
government mainly induced Mr. Rawson to subscribe £300,000 more, and
push on the line to completion. Subsequently a serious dispute arose
relative to the land company in connection with the railway but this
was arranged, as were other questions about income tax, etc., through
the never falling tact and good temper of the resident director Mr.
Armstrong was eminently a practical man although Irishmen at home and
abroad are so often taxed as visionaries.
Armstrong town in Santa Fe
He never undertook
what did not see a fair probability of carrying through successfully,
and he never left unfinished anything he once began. We can hardly pay
him a higher or more deserved compliment; unless to add that his
charities were numerous. His purse freely open for the relief of
distressed countrymen, and his name always kept in the back ground
unless when it was his purpose by force of example to achieve some
work of public benevolence. Thus when 160 British and German settlers
had died of hunger and sickness in Paraguay, and it was proposed to
rescue the surviving 670 sufferers, he went round with Mr. St. John
from house to house, and at last made up the required sum of £2,400 to
send home a poor Englishman or pay the funeral expenses of these who
died here homeless and penniless. And when Father Fahy himself died
(during the yellow fever) so poor that 5 of his friends made up
$10,000 m/c for his funeral expenses, Mr. Armstrong paid several small
sums due by Father Fahy and interposed to save the Irish hospital from
being sold. He was equally generous to Protestant charities and his
last act was a donation of £1,000 for a new English church.
He never lost sight
of the dignity and importance of British interest in the River Plate.
In 1871 when the Duke of Edinburgh arrived in Montevideo Mr. Armstrong
sent him a congratulatory telegram on the part of the British
residents of Buenos Ayres. Last year when the bishop of the Falkland
islands arrived he gave a banquet in his honour, as he would also have
done to any Roman Catholic dignitary. He never lost an opportunity of
throwing his powerful influence in the scale in favour of his
countrymen; As president of the S. Patrick's society he wanted on the
government to solicit the removal of some grievances, and his request
was promptly attended to. Notwithstanding an absence of 60 years from
his native country he cherished the recollection of the old land, and
his eyes would brighten at the mention of the Shannon banks near which he first saw the light, or any other association that
brought up the scenes of his boy hood. He only revisited Ireland
twice; the last time in 1858, and on this occasion found most of his
relatives had been gathered to their fathers, one of the few survivors
being Major Thomas Priaulx Armstrong of Banagher, who upheld the
fighting character of his race by showing the decorations of the
Legion of Honour, Medjidie, Balaclava medal, etc., won in the hard
fought Crimean campaign.
Mr. Armstrong will
prove a great loss to our society, not only for his business
experience and high position, but still more because he represented
one of those valuable links that connect native and foreign society in
Buenos Ayres, an element of the highest importance in perpetuating the
friendly relations between us. The Argentines may inscribe on his tomb
what we read on that of his memorable friend and countryman, Admiral
Brown that "although he was an Irishman by birth he was an Argentine
by his services". No man ever more fully paid the double loyalty that
he owed to the flag at his native country, and to the land of his home
and adoption; At the same time he always kept aloof from politics, and
in this respect set an example that has doubtless had beneficial
effect in saving many of his countrymen from the misfortunes that
inevitably befall those who venture in such a troubled sea.
The foreign residents
cordially sympathise with Mr. Armstrong's family in their present sad
bereavement, and testify to the many public services of the venerable
and esteemed gentleman who was so long the doyen of the foreign
residents in this republic.
The funeral takes
place today at 1 p.m.
(11 June 1875). The remains of the
later Mr. Armstrong were interred yesterday in the vault at the
Recoleta cemetery, in the vault of the Villanueva family. The burial
service was read by the Revd. Dr. Smith, A.M., English chaplain. The
funeral cortege was the largest ever seen in the city, comprising over
500 of the leading men of Buenos Ayres of all nationalities and
creeds; There could not have been less than 200 carriages in the
mournful procession. Among those unavoidably absent were the British
minister, who is at the present in Chascomus, and Mr. St. John, who is
confined to his house by a bad cold.