Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography

William Brown
(Archivo General de la Nación)

Brown, William (1777-1857), naval officer and founder of the Argentine navy, was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo, on 22 June 1777. In 1786 William Brown was taken by his father to settle in Pennsylvania, though some historians argue that he was an illegitimate son of William Gannon and Mrs. Brown from Sligo. Brown began his naval career as a cabin boy in merchant ships, and was pressed into service by the British navy in 1796. During the Napoleonic Wars he was made a prisoner by the French 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 Germany, from where he traveled to England. That year he married in Kent to Eliza Chitty.

Later in 1809 William Brown was engaged in commercial business with the River Plate, chiefly trading arms and munitions on both sides of the river. Brown got involved in the War of Independence when he arrived in Buenos Aires port during the revolution of 1810 to find it blockaded by Spanish ships. When his ship was commandeered by the Spanish, he organized an expedition which captured one of the blockading ships and brought it in triumph into port. Brown went back to England and returned to Buenos Aires definitively in 1812 with his wife and two children. Offered the command of a small fleet by the Argentine authorities, he defeated the Spanish in Martín García and broke their blockade of Montevideo in March 1814, allowing its capture by the patriot army and the effective end the Spanish threat to the newly independent state.

In 1815 the government sent Brown and his fleet to the Pacific. He led the forces which in 1816 stormed during three weeks the Peruvian port of Callao, a Spanish stronghold in South America, and then went on to capture the fort of Punta de las Piedras at the mouth of Guayaquil Bay in southern Ecuador. Before finding his way back to Buenos Aires, Brown was captured by the Spanish in Ecuador, and then by the British in Barbados, and had to fight his case in a British court. On return, he faced a government instigation into his exploits and was retired from active service in 1819. William Brown was, however, recalled to service upon the outbreak of war with Brazil in 1825/28, during which he gained a number of major victories in Montevideo, Pozos, Juncal, Quilmes and again in Martín García. In 1828 Brown was appointed governor of Buenos Aires. Later in 1841 he led the successful campaign against Garibaldi and Admiral John H. Coe. In 1847 Brown visited his native Foxford accompanied by his daughter. On his death on 4 March 1857 at Buenos Aires, William Brown was given a public funeral and buried with full honors in Recoleta cemetery.

Edmundo Murray


- De Courcy Ireland, John. The Admiral from Mayo: A life of Almirante William Brown from Foxford. Dublin: Eamonn de Burca, 1995.

- Geraghty, Michael. "Was Admiral Brown Admiral Someone Else?" Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, talk at the British Engineering Association of Buenos Aires, April 6, 2004, (cited May 2004).

- Read, Jan. The New Conquistadors. London: Evans Brothers Ltd., 1980.

- Ratto, Capt. Héctor R. Historia del Almirante Brown. Buenos Aires: Instituto de Publicaciones Navales, 1985.

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies

Online published: 1 December 2003
Edited: 07 May 2009

Murray, Edmundo, 'Brown, William
(1777-1857)' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" November-December 2005 (


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2005

 Copyright Information