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Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas

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Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Admiral William (Guillermo) Brown

Father of the Argentine Navy


Admiral William Brown (also known in Spanish as Guillermo Brown) 
(22 June 1777 – 3 March 1857) was an Irish-born Argentine Admiral. 
Brown's victories in the Independence War, the Argentina-Brazil War, 
and the Anglo-French blockade of the Río de la Plata earned the 
respect and appreciation of the Argentine people, and today he is 
regarded as one of Argentina's national heroes, with more than 
1,200 streets named after him. Creator and first admiral of the 
country's maritime forces, he is commonly known as the "father 
of the Argentine Navy".
Guillermo Brown por Henry Herve.jpg

His Spanish nickname was Guillermo Brown 
Born 22 June 1777 in Foxford, County Mayo, 
Ireland and died 3 March 1857 at the age 
of 79 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is 
buried in La Recoleta cemetery He served 
in the Argentine Navy with the rank of  
Admiral, and fought in the Argentine War 
of Independence, Argentina-Brazil War, 
and Argentine Civil Wars

	William Brown was born into a dark 
time in his native Mayo with the Penal Laws 
of Ireland which sought to crush the Catholic Church in Ireland leading 
to civil discord and eventual uprising. William Brown was very close to 
his Uncle Joseph, a Franciscan priest who was continually on the run 
from the authorities and offered Holy Mass on Mass Rocks in the 
surrounding mountains of Foxford.
Daguerrotipo Brown.jpg 
	These were clandestine affairs as the 
priest or anyone who harbored a priest were 
likely for severe treatment if caught and 
informants were often responsible for their 
capture.Young William learned to sail on 
nearby Lough Conn and Cullin by his uncle who 
was convinced he was due for great things as 
his birthday was 1777 which is considered a 
lucky number. Brown recalled his uncle 
saying he would have "seven bad years, seven 
content years, and seven glorious year".His 
uncle was later captured and tortured and 
though he did escape little is known of him 
after that. The times were hostile in the 
once sleepy town of Foxford. His family emigrated to Philadelphia, 
Pennsylvania in the United States, around 1786, when William was 
only nine years old.  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.

One morning while wandering along the banks of the Delaware River, 
he met the captain of a ship then moored in port. The captain 
inquired 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.

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 ship and forced to serve the British 
crown. To press gang an American merchant navy captain in 
possession of a captains ticket was unheard of and entirely illegal.

During the Napoleonic wars, Brown is said to have escaped the 
galley , and scuttled the ship however, the French, not 
believing he had assisted them, took him prisoner and sent him 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.

He returned  England, he quit his maritime career, on 29 July 1809  
married Elizabeth Chitty, then left the same year for the Río de la 
Plata and set himself up as a merchant in Montevideo, Uruguay.

	Brown became part owner of a ship called Eliza, trading 
between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. When Eliza ran aground, Brown 
carried his cargo inland, and disposed of it profitably.  He then 
crossed the Andes to Chile. He used his money purchase a schooner 
called Industria (Spanish for "Industry"), and 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.

	Spanish ships destroyed Brown's schooner, and tried to 
nullify Argentina's attempts to defend her coasts against Spanish 
raiders. Argentina then 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.    This was following the challenge of 
Benjamin Franklin Seavers registered as a Canadian merchant shipman, 
who relinquished his challenge when Browns illegal press ganging 
earlier in his career came to light and is believed to have tipped 
the decision in his favor to lead the flotilla. Seavers was American 
born; however, following the Jefferson reforms, like most merchant 
shipmen became Canadians to avoid the double taxation system imposed 
on free enterprise. The River Plate presented new opportunities for 
these captains of free enterprise particularly to keep grain lines 
open to the North of the continent and the Spanish stood in the way. 



Captain Seavers was Brown's second in command and bravely led the 
first attack on the Spanish naval force opening  a blockade and 
providing a path for the fleet to take to high water, and was the 
first casualty of the battle. The news of the death of his friend 
and comrade drove Brown to launch a full attack on the Spanish as 
morale was low at the loss of this experienced officer so early in 
the engagement.

 "On 10 March 1814 the Hercules, joined by the Julieta, the Tortugas, 
the Fortunata and the felucca San Luis, faced the strong Spanish 
naval fleet commanded by Captain Jacinto de Romarate. The Spanish 
armada had six war ships, brigs, gunboats and a land battery with 
four cannons. There was a fierce combat after which the Hercules 
was stranded. 

  Seaver, commander of the Julieta, was killed in action. The Hercules 
defended herself until 12 March at 10 am. As a result of this combat 
Commander Elias Smith, Lieutenant Robert Stacy and forty-five sailors 
were killed by grapeshot. There were about fifty wounded, which 
imposed a heavy task for the surgeon Bernard Campbell. The flagship 
received no less than eighty-two cannon blows and was repaired in the 
same war zone. Plumb plates were placed under the water line and the 
hull covered with leathers and tar. Henceforth it was nicknamed as '
the Black Frigate'. Richard Baxter, an English-born officer, was 
appointed as the new commander. On 17 March 1814 Brown attacked the 
island Martín García together with the Julieta and the Zephir. The 
Hercules engaged in combat with the Spanish warships Esperanza and
Carmen.'

  A land attack was organized and at that moment William Brown ordered 
the fife and the drum to play 'Saint Patrick’s Day in the Morning', 
which acted as a real booster among the troops.

  On 20 April 1814 Montevideo was blocked by Argentine forces. There 
were no other major engagements until 14 May, when a combat started 
but the sea conditions stopped a full attack.

Brown resolved to attack the formidable Spanish squadron with his 
ill-equipped flotilla of seven ships. On 8 March 1814, Brown took his 
ships to sea and within 48 hours was engaged in a furious battle. Land 
and sea forces saw action at Martín García island, a fortified island 
20 mi (32 km) from Buenos Aires, known as "the Gibraltar of the River 
Plate", which commanded the access to the rivers Paraná and Uruguay. 
Brown failed to win possession of the island, and his flagship, 
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 14 May from the protection 
of the fort guns, and two days afterwards on 16 May 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.

	The battle continued for Brown well after Argentina claimed 
victory. He chased and hassled Spanish shipping from his waters much 
to the consternation of the Argentine investors of his ships. Stranded 
on an island and exhausted from fever, news arrived that he was to be 
court martialed on his return to Argentina. He returned to England where 
he fought a legal and political battle, which he won with the support 
of his allies. He returned to Argentina and had the Hercules gifted to 
him.   William Brown took up farming and enjoyed 14 years of content 
and happy family life.  

War with Brazil

Argentina-Brazil War 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 14 December 1825, war broke out between Argentina and Brazil. The Argentine authorities were without an experienced Admiral, in fact they were without a fleet with all their energies being deployed into land campaigns along the borders. The coast seemed invisible and Brown had long campaigned for an operational fleet and was ignored and labeled "foreigner" by most of his opposition who had turned from the "blue shirt" of the union, to the "red shirt" of the federation. Then finally his chance came. The Admiral was once again coaxed from his retirement by the "cap in hand" opposition to save the port of Buenos Aires. Brown accepted his commission and with a team of chaulkers commenced building and equipping a fleet as best he could. 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 (24 February 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 11 June 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 4 October 1827. [13] War with Uruguay Factional disputes within Uruguay led Argentine leader Juan Manuel de Rosas to support his friend the deposed Uruguayan president Manuel Oribe in the civil war between the Blancos (supporting Oribe) and the 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 Paraná, defeating a Uruguayan riverine fleet of launches commanded by the future hero of the Italian Risorgimento, Giuseppe Garibaldi. After pursuing the Uruguayan up the river Brown forced a landing and his marines brought the Uruguayans to action. Many men on both sides knew each other from previous engagements and a minority of Browns men, having gained the advantage took personal vengeance on a prisoner, emasculating him. On hearing this Admiral Brown became enraged and tolerating no cowardice among his men severely punished them using the infamous "gauntlet" technique. The men were stripped and walked between two lines of their comrades who beat them with rods, some did not survive the ordeal. Brown refusing to accept the victory because of the dishonor brought upon the battle by his men, used his influence to have Giuseppe Garibaldi released from prison where he was awaiting trial and certain execution. Admiral Brown used a saying on such occasions when loyalties were in question to the task, "Even if to the devil the word is given, then it must be kept". Honor in the line of duty was important to William Brown, and his services to his adopted country seen his favor shown to Garibaldi. Giuseppe Garibaldi in recognition of this grace, years later named one of his grandchildren "William" after Brown . (Admiral William Brown : Liberator of the South Atlantic Aguinis, Marcos; Tyson, Bill P) 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 and France 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 3 March 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". 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". His grave is currently located in the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires. Commemorative stamps showing him were issued by the Irish government, and the Argentine government. Since the mid 1980’s, a replica of Brown’s sword has been worn by Admirals of the Argentine Navy. Statues and memorials of William Brown's battles are located in both Buenos Aires and his birthplace in Ireland. A museum to his honour was open in Foxford, located in Lower Main Street. 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". Brown_Statue_Dublin.jpg William_Brown_in_Mar_del_Plata_Argentina_Monumento_Brown.jpg Statue of William Brown in Dublin, Ireland Monument of William Brown in Mar del Plata, Argentina Also, a substantial number of Argentine warships and political entities have been named after him. Examples include: The Almirante Brown destroyer class, a group of four German-designed military ships commissioned between 1983 and 1984 for the Argentine navy.[25] The ARA Almirante Brown, an Italian-built cruiser in service during World War II, whose design was similar to those of the Trento class.[26] The ARA Almirante Brown (D-10), a currently active destroyer.[16] The Almirante Brown Antarctic Base, an Antarctic base located in Paradise Bay.[27] The Almirante Brown department in Chaco Province, in the country's northern region.[28] The Almirante Brown partido in Buenos Aires Province, located at the south of the Gran Buenos Aires urban area.[29] The Admiral William Brown National College, a high school located in Adrogué, Buenos Aires Province. Spanish: Colegio Nacional Almirante Guillermo Brown. Four different football clubs: Club Atlético Almirante Brown located in the town of Arrecifes,[30] Club Almirante Brown located in Isidro Casanova,[31] Brown Athletic Club from Adrogué,[32] and Puerto Madryn-based Guillermo Brown. Source: Unknown