The British in Argentina

Cyril Hamshere describes how the British community in Argentina came to be, at one point, the largest outside the Empire.

During the nineteenth century, at the same time as the settlement and economic development of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, British interests were active in the rising independent states of South America, particularly in Argentina.

So great was the financial investment, so numerous the British subjects resident in South America’s second largest country, that Argentina was fondly described by them as ‘the Sixth Dominion’. Argentinian opinion about this title is not recorded in books by British authors; but it is a fact that the British community in the republic was the largest outside the British Empire.

Under Spanish rule, the settlements along the Plate were small and isolated, lining the tenuous communications route through Bolivia that formed the backdoor to Peru. It was from Lima that Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Asuncion, Cordoba and Tucuman were governed. 

When young John Drake, nephew of Sir Francis, was taken prisoner at Buenos Aires in 1586 he was passed slowly along that 2,000-mile road until he arrived at Lima. At Asunción en route, he turned Catholic, with the result that, after a suitable period of penance, he was allowed to live on to found the eminent Spanish family of Drake del Castillo.

His case is worth noting because it exemplifies the acceptance of Englishmen in Spanish colonies provided they were Catholics. Thus Thomas Gage, the English Dominican, spent twelve years in Mexico and Central America. Irishmen were always acceptable. Bernardo O’Higgins, the Chilean national hero, was the son of an Irish adventurer who had worked in Spanish service for many years.

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