Thomas Falkner

Born in 1707, he was the son of a Manchester apothecary, and obtained his education at the Manchester Grammar School. Later on, having studied medicine under Dr. Richard Meade, he became a surgeon and practiced at his native place.

His own health being delicate, he was advised to take a sea voyage, and being acquainted with a ship chaplain aboard the Assiento, a vessel trading with Guinea and carrying slaves to Buenos Aires, he accepted an invitation to accompany the vessel as a surgeon. This was in or about 1731. On reaching Buenos Aires he was so ill that the captain was compelled to leave him there in the care of Father Mahoney, the superior of the Jesuit College.

Here he recovered his health, and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. On May 15th 1732 he entered the Society of Jesus, becoming a member of the Paraguay province. Having spent some time at the Jesuit College of Córdoba del Tucumán in the city of Córdoba, he went as a missionary to Puelches, near Río Segundo, where he established an Indian colony, which he named Nuestra Señora del Pilar. His knowledge of medicine and mechanics procured for him considerable influence among the Indians. For a time he was also Professor of Mathematics at the Córdoba University.

In 1740, or soon after, he was sent to assist Father Strobel in his mission to the Patagonian Indians at Cape San Antonio. For more than thirty years he worked among the Patagonians. In 1768 the Jesuits were expelled from South America.

He returned to England where, in 1771 or 1772, he joined the English province of the Society. He was appointed chaplain to Mr. Berkeley of Spetchley. On leaving Spetchley, he became chaplain to Mr. Berington of Winsley in Hertfordshire, and afterwards to the Plowdens, of Plowden Hall in Shropshire. He died in 1784

He is credited with discovering the first fossil in present-day Argentina, an early landmark in Argentinian science. In 1760 Falkner discovered the skeleton of a big armadillo on the banks of the Carcarañá River, near the village of Santa Fe; many years later the fossil was identified as originating from a Glyptodon.

He was employed by the Spanish government in 1750 to draw a map of the coast of South America from the south of Brazil to Tierra del Fuego, which on completion was printed in 1761 at Quito, and was noted for its accuracy. He also designed a chart of Paraguay in 1757, a chart of Tucumán in 1759, and several others of lesser importance.
He wrote an account of his Patagonian experiences, which was compiled by William Combe, using Falkner’s papers, and published at Hereford in 1774 under the title “A Description of Patagonia and the adjoining parts of South America, with a grammar and a short vocabulary, and some particulars related to the Falkland’s Islands”. He also wrote treatises on the botanical and mineral products of America, and “American Distempers as cured by American drugs”. It is stated by Fr. Caballero, S.J., that he had also edited “Volumina duo de anatomia corporis humani”. 

“Thomas Falkner”. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1923.
“Falkner, Thomas”. Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography” 1900.