Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography

Thomas Armstrong
(Casa Bemberg, Buenos Aires)

Armstrong, Thomas Saint George (1797-1875), banker and railway promoter, was born on 29 November 1797 at Garrycastle, 4 miles from Clara, Co. Offaly (King's County). Son of Col. Thomas Saint George Armstrong, County Sheriff, and Elizabeth Priaulx. Col. Armstrong served as an officer in the King's 8th Regiment of Foot in North America from 1768 to 1785. Thomas Armstrong (jun.) married 12 April 1824 in Buenos Aires with Justa Villanueva.

In 1817, his father sent him and his brother John to Buenos Aires to run the merchant house Armstrong & Co. Once established, in 1826, Thomas traveled back to Ireland together with Thomond O'Brien, trying to recruit immigrants from 'Ballymahon-Ballymore-Mullingar area which straddles the Westmeath-Longford border. The Armstrong family were the local landlords and were (and still are) highly respected in that locality' [McKenna 2000].

He was appointed Director of the National Bank, the Bank of Buenos Aires Province, and of the Public Credit. In 1859, Armstrong founded the Argentine Insurance Company. He was financial agent of the National Government, and founder of the Stranger's Club. In 1863, the government of Buenos Aires province accepted a proposal to build the Southern Railway, signed by Thomas Armstrong, Federico Elortondo, and others. Armstrong was involved in the construction of railways to Luján, Central Argentino, and Ensenada, and served as their director. He also established rural colonies, particularly in Santa Fe province, where he managed his own estancia.

When Fr. Anthony Fahy arrived in Argentina, he moved into Thomas Armstrong's house, 'he lived rent free, in his own apartment in Armstrong's home for the rest of his life, the two remaining inseparable, lifelong, friends. Armstrong had assimilated into the Creole community in typically Irish merchant fashion. He married Justa Villanueva the daughter of the Alcalde (chief officer under Spanish rule) of Buenos Aires of 1807. Being such a powerful business figure and because of his wife's connections Thomas Armstrong was also a very influential if unseen force in the political life of the country.' He was the business counselor and close friend of 'almost every Argentine governmental administration from the Directorship of Rodriguez to the Presidency of Avellaneda' acting as 'honest broker' between the British and Argentine Governments in their commercial affairs for over 40 years. Given that Argentina was dependant on British capital which was antipathetic to the Catholic church it was a master stroke of Fr Fahy and the good fortune of the Irish community that he was able to recruit to his cause an Irish Protestant merchant, who so well understood the Irish Catholic culture and who was in such sympathy with it' [McKenna 2000]. 'The fact that Thomas Armstrong was banker to Fr Fahy enabled him to become one of the leading business figures in Buenos Aires. He was a co-founder of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange, a director of the Provincial Bank which he made, in effect, the central bank of Argentina. He was also the director and substantial investor in the major railway company and served on the boards of most of the major stock companies in the city. His connections with the Creole community were also beyond reproach' [McKenna 2000].

Thomas Armstrong died on 9 June 1875 in Buenos Aires. A village and railway station in Santa Fe were named after him by the Government and the railway company.

Edmundo Murray


- Coghlan, Eduardo A., Los Irlandeses en la Argentina: Su Actuación y Descendencia (Buenos Aires, 1987), p. 12.

- McKenna, Patrick, Irish Emigration to Argentina: A Different Model (Cork: Irish Centre for Migration Studies, 2000).

- Newton, Jorge, Diccionario Biográfico del Campo Argentino (Buenos Aires, 1972).

- The Standard and River Plate News Vol. 15 - N° 3947, Buenos Aires (10 June 1875).

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies

Online published: 1 December 2003
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, '
Armstrong, Thomas St. George (1797-1875)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" November-December 2005 (


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

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