Spain and South America, was born in Ennis, County Clare,
Ireland, some time in the late 1750s or early 1760s. At an early
age he became one of the 'Wild Geese', going into the service of
the French king in the Walsh Regiment. O'Gorman rose to the
rank of Captain before abandoning his unit as the Irish
regiments were disbanded in the wake of the French Revolution.
By 1792 he was in the French Indian Ocean colony of Ile de
France (Mauritius), where he married the young Marie Anne
Périchon de Vandeuil, daughter of an important French colonial
then aided his father-in-law who had resigned his post and
subsequently engaged in mercantile activities. O'Gorman's
command of English served them well as Mauritius in the 1790s
had become a bustling entrepot for foreign captains and traders,
and particularly for North Americans. With the reversal in
Franco-Spanish relations in 1797, a new trade between the
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and French colonies in the
Indian Ocean ensued. Porteño (Buenos Aires) merchants
exchanged food and silver for slaves and manufactured goods, and
O'Gorman was involved in that commerce.
persuaded his father-in-law to take the drastic step of moving
both families and all their possessions to the Río de la Plata.
In Buenos Aires O'Gorman had a relative, Michael O'Gorman, who
occupied the important position of Protomédico and who
could vouch for the acceptance of the migrants. He could also
call upon the goodwill of Casimiro Francisco Necochea, a
porteño acquaintance involved in the Mauritius/Río de la
Plata trade. In July 1797 the large party arrived at Montevideo.
There O'Gorman and his father-in-law ingratiated themselves with
authorities by emphasising their devotion to the Catholic
religion and their distaste for the excesses of the French
Revolution. Their request for residence was granted due to the
fact that Necochea and Uncle Miguel had vouched for them.
O'Gorman further requested naturalisation, stating that he was
descended from the ancient Irish nobility, but was informed that
that action would take some time.
immigrant then toyed with the idea of establishing a large sugar
plantation in Paraguay, but investment in slaves and equipment
required more capital than he possessed. Rather, O'Gorman found
his vocation as a middle-man or facilitator for merchants of
Buenos Aires as the neutral trade of 1797-1799 opened up new
opportunities for those who discarded their traditional Cádiz/Río
de la Plata commercial connections. Only a year after his
arrival, O'Gorman received a commission from Francisco de Sar
and Manuel de Sarretera to sail to the United States and there
conclude the purchase of several North American ships as well as
arranging for the cargo to be shipped south on various
merchants' accounts, including that of Tomás Antonio Romero, the
greatest merchant in the Río de la Plata. In Philadelphia he was
informed that the neutral trade had been terminated, but he
pressed onward with the enterprise. The ships and cargo arrived
and the Viceroy approved the transactions, not wishing to
alienate important merchants during an unstable period for the
affiliated himself to a group of merchants who recognised the
opportunities of free foreign trade and who were increasingly
frustrated with traditional monopolistic mercantilist policies.
Both legal licensed trade and contraband flourished and the
Irishman was deeply involved in both. At the same time Madame
O'Gorman, with typical Gallic vivacity, conducted what may be
termed a salon at their Buenos Aires residence. There, French
expatriates such as Santiago de Liniers, then an obscure
French-born captain in the Spanish Navy who had minor business
dealings with O'Gorman, associated with disaffected criollos
and the occasional Yankee sea captain.
the temporary peace between Great Britain and Spain in 1803,
Thomas O'Gorman embarked upon his most ambitious enterprise.
Arranging a partnership with porteño merchants, he
travelled to Great Britain and there, with the aid of a merchant
relative, organised the purchase of a ship and British-made
goods. Overcoming difficulties in Great Britain and receiving
some financial aid in Spain from an agent of the porteño
merchant Ventura Marco del Pont, he arrived in the Río de la
Plata with a large cargo in early 1805. He was accompanied on
the return voyage by a nephew, Edmund Lawton O'Gorman, and
another fellow Irishman, James Florence Burke.
Burke was a
secret agent of the British government, sent to Buenos Aires to
assess the extent of discontent with Spanish rule. While there
is no direct evidence that O'Gorman himself served as a British
agent, he certainly provided Burke with information as to
conditions in the Río de la Plata. Furthermore, the sudden
resolution of difficulties O'Gorman encountered in Great Britain
renders this even more likely.
viceregal capital Burke moved easily in porteño society,
and at the O'Gorman residence and elsewhere succeeded in
subverting a number of porteños before returning to
report on conditions in the Viceroyalty. Edmund O'Gorman
remained in the Río de la Plata until after the first British
invasion in 1806. There he played an equivocal role. He did
obtain for Santiago de Liniers a safe conduct into occupied
Buenos Aires where the naval captain, outraged by the British
invasion, recognised the enemy's weaknesses, and subsequently
assumed leadership of the resistance to the British. On the
other hand, during the same occupation Edmund O'Gorman acted as
a commissioner for the enemy, as the British occupiers swept up
the treasuries of various government organs.
O'Gorman was not in the Río de la Plata during the British
invasions, but rather in Spain where, apparently acting for
Ventura Marco del Pont, he obtained permission to charter
Portuguese and North American ships out of Lisbon for the
transport of goods of British origin to the west coast of South
America. By this time his marriage had collapsed, and his wife,
'la Périchona', had begun her notorious affair with Santiago de
Liniers, by then Viceroy of the Río de la Plata. The expedition
to Chile and Peru was quite profitable for O'Gorman, but he
never returned to the Río de la Plata. According to a few vague
reports from Callao in Peru, he left the New World and rumour
had it that he later died in Spain, spending his final days in
poverty and almost deranged.
left the care of his family to his French in-laws, and of
course, to Viceroy Liniers. From his offspring emerged the
Argentine O'Gorman clan, the most famous being his
granddaughter, the tragic Camila, who was executed on Juan
Manuel de Rosas' orders. As for an assessment of Thomas
O'Gorman, he represented the entry of foreigners, particularly
the Irish into the commerce of the Spanish American Empire in
the final decades of its existence. With historical hindsight it
is clear that this presence was one of the signals of the coming
Jerry W. 'Commerce, Contraband and Intrigue: Thomas O'Gorman in
the Río de la Plata' in Colonial Latin American Historical
Review 13:1 (Winter 2004): 31-51.
Raúl. Máxima Périchon de Martínez, 1856-1919 (Buenos
Aires: Imprenta López, 1935), 39-40, 173-4.
Peter. 'A Soldier under Two Flags. Lieutenant-Colonel James
Florence Burke: Officer, Adventurer and Spy' in Études
Irlandaises 23:1 (1998): 123-6.