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Founder of the Argentine Navy, William Brown is considered a national hero in Argentina, with more than 1,200 streets named after him.[1]

Admiral William Brown (also known in Spanish as Guillermo Brown) was born in Foxford, County Mayo, Ireland on June 22, 1777 and died in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 3, 1857. Brown's victories in the Independence War, the Argentina-Brazil War, and the Guerra Grande in Uruguay earned the respect and appreciation of the Argentine people, and today he is regarded as one of Argentina's national heroes. Creator and first admiral of the country's maritime forces, he is commonly known as the "father of the Argentine Navy".[2][3][4][5]


Early life and career


Career as a merchant captain

Coat of arms of County Mayo, William Brown's birthplace in Ireland. The motto Dia is Muire Linn translates as "God and Mary be with us".[6]

William Brown was born in Foxford, County Mayo, Ireland on June 22, 1777. His family emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States, about 1786, when William was only nine years old.[7] A short time after the arrival, the friend who had invited them out and offered them food and hospitality died of yellow fever, and several days later, William's father also succumbed to the same disease.[8]

One morning while wandering along the banks of the Delaware River, he met the captain of a ship then moored in port. The captain enquired if he wanted employment and Brown answered yes. The captain then and there engaged him as a cabin boy, thereby setting him on the naval promotion ladder, where he worked his way to the captaincy of a merchant vessel.

Comparatively little is known of Brown's early life, and it has been suggested that he was illegitimate and took his mother's surname, and that his father's surname was actually Gannon.[9]

Service during the Napoleonic Wars

After ten years on the Atlantic, where he developed his skills as a seaman and reached the level of captain, William Brown was press-ganged into a British boat and forced to serve the British crown.

During the Napoleonic wars, Brown's ship was seized by a French man-of-war, and he was made a prisoner and sent to Lorient. On being transferred to Metz, he succeeded in escaping disguised in a French officer's uniform. He was recaptured, however, and then imprisoned in the fortress of Verdun. From there, in 1809, he escaped in the company of a British colonel named Clutchwell and eventually reached German territory.

Returning to England, he renounced his maritime career and, on July 29, 1809, he married Elizabeth Chitty, in Kent. Brown left the same year for the Río de la Plata on board Belmond and set himself up as a merchant in Montevideo, Uruguay.[10]

Immigration to Argentina

Brown became part owner of a ship called Eliza, trading between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. When Eliza met with disaster and ran aground, Brown carried his cargo inland, and having disposed of it profitably, he next crossed the Andes to Chile. He had by now accumulated sufficient capital to enable him to purchase a schooner called Industria (Spanish for "Industry"), with which he opened a regular sailing-packet service between Uruguay and Argentina, the first such venture in South America. At this point, the Spanish colonial government stepped in, sensing a threat to its mercantile interests.

Commander-in-Chief of the Argentine Navy

War with Spain

Spanish ships destroyed Brown's schooner, and took drastic effects to nullify Argentina's attempts to defend her coasts against Spanish raiders. As a result of the incident, Argentina resolved to provide ships to protect her coasts and trade, with Brown being commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel at the service of the Navy and appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Argentine fleet.[10]

Brown resolved to attack the formidable Spanish squadron with his ill-equipped navy of seven ships. On March 8, 1814, Brown took his tiny fleet to sea and within 48 hours was engaged in a furious battle. Land and sea forces saw action at Isla Martín García, a fortified island twenty miles above Buenos Aires, commanding the two rivers Paraná and Uruguay, and known as the Gibraltar of the River Plate. Brown failed to win possession of the island, and his flagship, the Hercules, was badly battered and ran aground. Argentine forces attacked vigorously by land and sea on 14 March, and after a stiff contest succeeded in gaining possession of Martín García. The Spanish commander took his ships to Montevideo hotly pursued by Brown, whose naval forces were now increased by the addition of three armed merchant vessels.

The Spanish blockading squadron was now blockaded itself by Brown and his fleet. Montevideo was threatened with starvation. Brown, pretending to retreat, drew the Spanish forces away on May 14 from the protection of the fort guns, and two days afterwards on May 16 an engagement took place in the course of which Brown's leg was shattered by a cannon ball. Undeterred he continued to issue orders and direct operations while stretched on the deck of the Hercules. In a panic the Spanish squadron rushed for shelter to port, but three of their ships were captured. As a direct result of this engagement the Río de la Plata was freed from Spanish control and Montevideo fell to the Argentines.

As the hero of the action, Brown was raised to the rank of colonel and made commander of the navy. His flagship, the Hercules, was presented to him as a personal gift and reward for his services.[8]

War with Brazil

Brown did not long remain inactive. Uruguay had been a bone of contention between Spain and Portugal for three centuries, and now it played the same role in relations between Argentina and Brazil. On December 14, 1825, war broke out between Argentina and Brazil. The Brazilians initiated operations by blockading Argentina. In this emergency, Argentina, under Brown's guidance, improvised a new naval squadron of which he took command. Before the battle, William Brown said two of his most memorable quotes: "Comrades: confidence in victory, discipline, and three hails to the motherland!"[11] and, few minutes later, "Open fire, the people are watching us!"[12] As a counter move to the blockade of Argentina, he vigorously attacked the Brazilian coast, shattered Brazilian shipping, and at the hard-fought Battle of Juncal (February 24, 1827), with seven ships and eight 1-gun launches he destroyed the entire opposing Brazilian squadron of seventeen ships and took its commander prisoner. On June 11, 1827, the decisive Battle of Los Pozos took place between the Argentine and Brazilian forces in view of Buenos Aires, Argentina having only eleven ships while Brazil had thirty-one warships. After a violent encounter, the Brazilians were routed and peace of a sort followed, with Brown acting as Argentine commissioner when the Treaty of Montevideo was signed on October 4, 1827.[13]

War with Uruguay

Factional disputes within Uruguay led Argentine leader Manuel de Rosas to support his friend the deposed Uruguayan president Manuel Oribe in the civil war between the Blancos and Colorados. Brown returned to active service and defeated his former officer John Coe in three engagements near Montevideo. On 15 August 1842 he fought a battle on the River Paran√°, defeating a Uruguayan riverine fleet of launches commanded by the future hero of the Italian Risorgimento, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Brown ordered his men to let Garibaldi go: "Let him escape, that gringo is a brave man". The Argentine/Blanco forces occupied most of Uruguay but could not capture Montevideo, which endured a nine-year siege beginning in February 1843. When access to Paraguay was blocked in 1845 Britain, France and Brazil entered the conflict on the Colorado side.

Last years

In 1847, Admiral Brown visited his native Foxford accompanied by his daughter.

After the fall of the Rosas regime many naval officers found themselves discharged, but not the Commander of the Navy. Brown remained honoured for his long and loyal service to the nation. Retiring to his villa, Casa Amarilla at Barracas, Brown was visited by Grenfell, his opponent in the Brazilian war, who remarked how ungrateful the Republic was to its good servants; the old Admiral replied: "Mr Grenfell, it does not burden me to have been useful to the mother country of my children; I consider the honours and the wealth superfluous when six feet of earth are enough to rest so many difficulties and pains."

On March 3, 1857 he died and was buried with full military honours. The Argentine government issued a comuniqué stating that "with a life of permanent service to the national wars that our homeland has fought since its independence, William Brown symbolized the naval glory of the Argentine Republic".[14] During his burial, General Bartolomé Mitre famously said: "Brown in his lifetime, standing on the quarterdeck of his ship, was worth a fleet to us".[15] His grave is currently located in the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires.[7]


Argentine destroyer ARA Almirante Brown (D-10), named after William Brown.[16 ]

Brown's influence was such that Argentina was the first country to recognise the Irish Republic when it was first declared in Easter, 1916. Commemorative stamps showing him have been issued in 1957 by the Irish government,[17] and in 1891, 1935, and 1956 by the Argentine government. See list of people on stamps of Ireland and list of people on stamps of Argentina.

Statues and memorials of William Brown's battles are located in both Buenos Aires and Foxford, his birthplace in Ireland.[18] A museum to his honour was open in Fordfox, located in Lower Main Street.[19] In April-June 2006 the Irish Naval Service patrol boat L√Č Eithne travelled to Buenos Aires in the first-ever deployment of an Irish warship in the southern hemisphere, in order to participate in commemorations of the impending sesquicentenary of Brown's death, and to bring back a statue of Brown to be displayed in Dublin.[20] During the trip, L.√Č. Eithne made a stop in the city of Mar del Plata, where they visited Plazoleta Almirante Brown (Admiral Brown's square) and pay tribute to the Irish naval hero along with their colleagues of the Argentine Navy.[21]

Mr. Bertie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach, said on 27 September 2006 on the occasion of unveiling the new statue of Brown on Admiral Brown Way, Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin: "Back in 2001, it was my honour to lay a wreath at the Admiral Brown monument in Buenos Aires and to unveil a plaque commemorating my visit there. I brought away with me a clear sense of just what a significant figure William Brown is in Argentine history as well as a real idea of just how strong the links are, past and present, between our two countries".[22]

Statue of William Brown in Mar del Plata, Argentina
Statue of William Brown in Dublin, Ireland

Located in Casa Amarilla, a replica of Brown's house in La Boca neighbourhood, the Brownian National Institute (Instituto Nacional Browniano) was created in 1948 for "research and study the nation's maritime history and naval interests, and cooperate with both the Argentine and Irish governments in the investigation of William Brown's life and military achievements". The centre is based in Buenos Aires city, with branches throughout the country.[23]

Also, a substantial number of Argentine warships and political entities have been named after him. Examples include:

See also


  1. ^ Irish Independent, National News, Capital idea... hero to have street named after him. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  2. ^ Spanish: el padre de la Armada Argentina. Used mainly in Argentina but also in other countries like the United Kingdom, see e.g. this BBC report. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  3. ^ Spanish: Guillermo Brown or Almirante Brown, see e.g. his biography at Planeta Sedna. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  4. ^ Irish: Béal Easa, see report at County Mayo's official website. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  5. ^ Irish: Contae Mhaigh Eo, according to its official website. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  6. ^ Mayo County Information Portal, About Mayo, Mayo County Crest. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  7. ^ a b Catholic Encyclopedia, William Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  8. ^ a b Ireland, County Mayo, Foxford, Admiral William Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  9. ^ Geraghty, Michael J.. "Was Admiral William Brown Admiral Someone Else?". Society for Irish Latin American Studies. Retrieved 2006-11-02.  
  10. ^ a b Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography, William Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  11. ^ Spanish: Camaradas: confianza en la victoria, disciplina y tres vivas a la patria! See Superior School of Commerce Carlos Pellegrini, Buenos Aires University, Almirante Guillermo Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  12. ^ Spanish: ¬°Fuego rasante, que el pueblo nos contempla! See Superior School of Commerce Carlos Pellegrini, Buenos Aires University, Almirante Guillermo Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  13. ^ Admiral Brown Society, Admiral Brown's Life. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  14. ^ Spanish: simboliza las glorias navales de la Rep√ļblica Argentina y cuya vida ha estado consagrada constantemente al servicio p√ļblico en las guerras nacionales que ha sostenido nuestra Patria desde la √©poca de la Independencia. Government of the Buenos Aires Province, Directorate-General of Culture and Education,Almirante Guillermo Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  15. ^ Spanish: Brown en la vida, de pie sobre la popa de su bajel, valía para nosotros por toda una flota. Government of the Buenos Aires Province, Directorate-General of Culture and Education, Almirante Guillermo Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  16. ^ a b Maritime Archeology and History, Navy of the Argentine Republic, ARA Almirante Brown (D-10). URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  17. ^ See e.g. Siteworx UK Website Design, Admiral William Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  18. ^ See e.g. North Atlantic Skyline Blog, Statue of Admiral William Brown in Buenos Aires. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  19. ^ Forxford honours famous son
  20. ^ Cmdr Mark Mellett (February 2006). "Voyage diary: L.√Č. Eithne departs for Buenos Aires, Argentina". Irish Naval Service. Retrieved 2006-12-16.  
  21. ^ Homenaje de la Rep√ļblica de Irlanda a la ciudad de Mar del Plata (Spanish)
  22. ^ See report at the Irish head of government official website. Full name: speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D., at the Unveiling of a Monument to Admiral Brown and the naming of 'Admiral Brown Way', at Sir John Rogersons Quay on Wednesday, 27 September, 2006 at 7.00pm. URL accessed on January 12, 2010.
  23. ^ Spanish: Instituto Nacional Browniano. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  24. ^ Navy of the Argentine Republic, Destructores Clase "Almirante Brown (Meko 360)", Technical specifications. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  25. ^ Maritime Archeology and History, Navy of the Argentine Republic, ARA Almirante Brown URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  26. ^ Superior School of Commerce Carlos Pellegrini, Buenos Aires University, Estación Científica Almirante Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  27. ^ Government of the Chaco Province, Analysis and Planning Secretariat, Región Centro Oeste. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  28. ^ Government of the Buenos Aires Province, Municipalidad de Almirante Brown. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  29. ^ Spanish: Colegio Nacional Almirante Guillermo Brown, see report at Alumni. URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  30. ^ Spanish: Club Atlético Almirante Brown de Arrecifes, see the report of the Argentine Football Database (BDFA). URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  31. ^ Spanish: Club Atlético Almirante Brown de Isidro Casanova, see the report of the Argentine Football Database (BDFA). URL accessed on October 15, 2006.
  32. ^ Spanish: Club Atlético Brown de Adrogué, see the report of the Argentine Football Database (BDFA). URL accessed on October 15, 2006.

Further reading

External links


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