Many doctors in the 19th century, trained in Britain or Ireland, settled in Argentina where they were as much pioneers in medicine as were their fellow countrymen in cattle and sheep breeding, engineering and commerce. Few if any, however, wrote their memoirs of their lives in Argentina. Recollections of an Irish-born Doctor in Nineteenth-Century Argentina is one of the few known memoirs in existence of a doctor’s experiences in Argentina at a time when many towns in rural areas did not have hospitals and the local population had more faith in local healers (“curanderos”) than in doctors.
Arthur Pageitt Greene, a younger brother of Thomas Greene who had accompanied the Welsh to Patagonia in 1865 as the colony’s doctor, was an Irish Protestant, born in Ireland in 1848. When he was twenty-four went to Argentina, having studied at two of the most renowned medical schools in Europe — the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh. His five brothers and three first cousins had preceded him to Argentina, settling in the then wild area of the Tuyú in the south of the province of Buenos Aires, an area that was steeped in gaucho lore.
Arthur Pageitt Greene wrote his recollections of his life in Argentina after he had retired from medicine and had returned, briefly, to England. They describe his early years in Argentina as a young man open to adventure, his revalidation of his medical diplomas at the University of Buenos Aires required of all foreign-trained doctors, his experiences as a doctor first in the towns of Lobos, then in Mercedes, both in province of Buenos Aires, and later as a senior physician at the British Hospital in Buenos Aires. He also wrote on his marriage to Maria Latham (a niece of Wilfrid Latham), the births of his children, of his grief at losing his youngest brother to tuberculosis – the killer disease of the 19th century. He wrote of violent crimes and revolutions prevalent in his day, of diseases, suicides, and the ravages of cancer and smallpox, and of his final years before retirement from medicine.
The Recollections, with a Foreword by Dr. John D.C. Emery of the British Hospital in Buenos Aires, are edited by his great-great-niece, Susan Wilkinson, author of Sebastian’s Pride and Mimosa: the Life and Times of the Ship that went to Patagonia, who has provided a brief history of the development of Medicine in Argentina as it related to her ancestor’s medical life in South America.
They will be published early next year by The Memoir Club, when further details will be announced, and are to be presented by the Canadian embassy at the International Book Fair in Buenos Aires in April.