(Casa Bemberg, Buenos Aires)
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.
Eduardo A., Los Irlandeses en la Argentina: Su Actuación y
Descendencia (Buenos Aires, 1987), p. 12.
Patrick, Irish Emigration to Argentina: A Different Model
(Cork: Irish Centre for Migration Studies, 2000).
Jorge, Diccionario Biográfico del Campo Argentino (Buenos
The Standard and River Plate News Vol. 15 - N° 3947, Buenos
Aires (10 June 1875).