Thomas St. George Armstrong
1875 - 9 June - 2005

His Obituary in The Standard and River Plate News
Vol. 15 - N° 3947, Buenos Aires, 10 June 1875
Transcription kindly sent by Eduardo Garcia Saenz

Thomas Armstrong (1797-1875)
(Portrait in Casa Bemberg, Buenos Aires)

Death of Mr. Armstrong.

Yesterday morning 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 proprietors.

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. Wheelwright himself.

The Argentine 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.

The Standard (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.

Thomas Armstrong entry in the Dictionary of Irish-Argentine Biography >>>

Last Update: September 2005


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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