John Thomond O'Brien (1786-1861)
(The Southern Cross, Número del Centenario)
(1786-1861), army officer and entrepreneur, was
born in 1786 in Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, son of Martin
O'Brien and Honoria O'Connor.
John T. O'Brien arrived in Buenos Aires in 1812
to open a merchant house. He enrolled in the army and
fought in Uruguay with General Soler, being promoted to
lieutenant. In 1816 O'Brien joined José de San Martin's mounted
grenadiers regiment in the Andes army. After the battle of Chacabuco
John T. O'Brien was promoted to captain and appointed
aide-de-camp to general San Martin. O'Brien fought in the battles
of Cancha Rayada and Maipú, and in the campaign of Peru.
In 1821 he was promoted to colonel and awarded the "Orden
del Sol" and Pizarro's golden canopy, which have been
borne by the viceroys of Peru in processions.
John T. O'Brien turned his attention to
the mining business. He received from the Peruvian
government a grant for the silver mine of Salcedo,
near Puno. O'Brien and his associate, Mr. Page, who
represented Rundell & Bridge London jewellers, embarked
in an effort to provide food and supplies to their miners
at Lake Chiquito at 5,500 meters above sea level,
from the port of Arica, located 380 kilometres away in the
Pacific coast. They purchased a boat in Arica, stripped it
of anchor and rigging and after two years of hard labour
managed to launch her on the lake. This was the first
attempt to establish regular communications between the
valleys in Bolivia and the Pacific coast. Unfortunately
for O'Brien and Page, a storm destroyed the vessel and
with it the hopes of carrying on the mining works. Other
remarkable efforts of O'Brien included the transportation
of a steam engine across the Andes, digging through Laycayota mountain a canal 600 meters long traversed by
nine locks, and laying a railroad for the conveyance of
After the failure of his mining undertaking in Peru, John
Thomond O'Brien returned to Buenos Aires. In the mid-1820s a group within the
Irish elite of Buenos Aires, including doctors Michael
O'Gorman and John Oughagan, and the Irish chaplain Fr.
Moran, attracted the interest of the local government to
implement an immigration scheme from Ireland to Buenos
Aires. They communicated with the archbishop of Dublin and
in 1826 commissioned O'Brien to travel to Europe and recruit "moral and
industrious" immigrants. He spent two years in Ireland
trying to engage emigrants without success. However, he
met John Mooney of Streamstown, Co. Westmeath, who went to
Argentina in 1828 when O'Brien was returning. This was to
be the start of the Irish emigration to Argentina from the
Westmeath-Longford-Offaly area. In addition to John
Mooney, his sister, Mary Bookey (née Mooney) and her
husband, Patrick Bookey, went with O'Brien.
Back in South America in 1835, O'Brien
was promoted to general in Peru. In Buenos Aires, he fell
in disgrace of the regime led by Juan Manuel de Rosas and was
imprisoned before being released through a combination of
pleading by Rosas's daughter and British diplomatic
In 1845 John T. O'Brien published in London the pamphlet
Correspondence with the British Government relative to
the war between Buenos Ayres and Montevideo and the free
navigation of the River Plate, with an Appendix detailing
some of the acts committed by Rosas, Governor of Buenos
Ayres (London: Reynell & Weight, 1845). In 1847 he was
in Montevideo and the following year was appointed special
envoy of the Uruguayan Republic to the United Kingdom.
John Thomond O'Brien returned to Ireland and died on 1
in Lisbon, on his way back to South America. His remains
were repatriated to Argentina in 1938 and received an
official funeral. A town in Bragado was named after him.
Mario, Repatriación de los restos del
general Juan O'Brien, Guerrero de la Independencia Sud
Americana (Buenos Aires: Guillermo Kraft Ltda., 1938).
- Hammond, Tony, British Immigrants in South America:
Industry, Commerce and Science (www.hammond.swayne.com),
accessed 26 May 2004.
- Nally, Pat, Los Irlandeses en la Argentina,
in "Familia" 2:8 (1992).