Los descendientes del Dresden: Wistorical Article Published in Facebook Google+

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Wistorical Article Published in Facebook

Ref: Article - The SS Dresden Affair – Wistorical Facebook Page:

Dear Mr Bunbury,

Reading through your article published on your facebook page regarding the case of the SS Dresden Affair would suggest it was based on a flawed publication by Mike Geraghty. Consequently, I would like to highlight and clarify some issues arising.

In your introduction you rightly acknowledge the correct name of the steamship involved in the emigration to Argentina which had previously been misnamed on the RTE Genealogy Show broadcast on the 11th  May 2014. Just to reconfirm, it was not the City of Dresden, but it was, as Peter Mulvany has already identified, the SS Dresden.

There is another error within the text, for example, the reference to the letter of Archbishop Croke, which states: Archbishop Croke, patron of the GAA, was appalled by the treatment of the Dresden émigrés and penned a strong letter to the Freeman’s Journal in Dublin: ‘Buenos Aires is a most cosmopolitan city into which the Revolution of ’48 has brought the scum of European scoundrelism. I most solemnly conjure my poorer countrymen, as they value their happiness hereafter, never to set foot on the Argentine Republic however tempted to do so they may be by offers of a passage or an assurance of comfortable homes’.”


This was said by the Archbishop, but not after the Dresden had arrived. He wrote the letter on January 25th 1889, almost a month prior to the arrival of the SS Dresden to Buenos Aires. Archbishop Croke could not have known about the Dresden émigrés as they had not passed through Buenos Aires at the time of writing, although it is a very interesting letter and presents the case. The question here was what kind of future for the Irish if they had stayed at home, or would they have been better off emigrating like thousand of citizens all over the world, not only to Argentina, but to the USA, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Following you will find the link to the transcription of the original article from the Archbishop (http://descendientesdresden.blogspot.com.ar/2014/05/letters-archbishop-of-cashel-on.html).

You also reported “Argentina was enjoying an economic boom at this time, with 20,000 new arrivals every month, including 1,000 Italians who arrived on the same day as Dresden.” This is true, partially. At that time Argentina was experiencing one of it’s economic crisis that ended in 1890 with the resignation of President Juarez Celman following a revolution encouraged by the Radical Party. The so called boom was not good for the Argentine economy because it was about to explode. However it is true that immigrants were coming in their thousands every day and it was said that at the time, that if you entered a bar where there were ten people, nine would be foreigners, and only one would be Argentine.

Then there are two paragraphs within the article that should also be considered which state; “Amongst them were several "decrepit octogenarians" as well as an unspecified number of convicts plucked out of Limerick and Cork jails on condition they would not return to Ireland.”  “According to The Southern Cross, ‘young girls of prepossessing appearance were inveigled into disreputable houses – a swell carriage with swell occupants drives up, promises of a splendid situation are made and accepted, and away go the unsuspecting girls’. And, as Michael John Geraghty put it, ‘so began a long tradition of Irish whores in the squalid, now-gone-red-light district down at the port area of Buenos Aires’. Some of the city’s most famous "madams" were Irish women.” This could be possible, but I did not find any extant records which would confirm Geraghty’s analysis that there were convicts and whores on the list. Older people are mentioned in many articles (La Prensa, The Standard, The Southern Cross and Buenos Aires Herald). But it would be a good point to prove this from Ireland. You may have much more knowledge as to where I can find records of convicts in order to cross that information with the SS Dresden passenger list. Perhaps you can advise?. There is only one article in the La Prensa published in Feb. 21st 1889 which reported the following “Llamaban la atención varias mujeres ebrias que ofrecían espectáculos poco edificantes, que no hablaba muy bien a favor del acierto en la elección de esos inmigrantes y que deberían prevenirse por quien corresponda. It drew attention that several drunken women featuring unedifying spectacles, that doesn’t spoke very good for the confidence in the choice of these immigrants and should be prevented by the appropriate parties.” But it never said anything about whores. It was true that at the time many articles were describing the Immigrants from the SS Dresden stating they were not the “happy and successful irish-argentine farmer”. But I think that it is very different from what the article affirms.
You also said  “Upon arrival, they were informed that their luggage – sent on ahead – had been lost, and that, unless they happened to have a tent in their pocket, the only accommodation available was under trees and in ditches.” Fr. Gaughren describes very well the trip and the arrival to Napostá and he doesn’t mention anything regarding lost luggage. See Buenos Aires Herald published March 15th 1889, (http://descendientesdresden.blogspot.com.ar/2014/05/letters-from-rev-f-matthew-gaughren-omi.html).

A final paragraph that might be considered for revision states “Fr. Matthew Gaughren lived amongst the Napostá Irish for several months. By March 1891, the colony had collapsed and 520 men, women and children began the long trek back to Buenos Aires. Over one hundred of them had died in Napostá; there would be more deaths on the road to Buenos Aires. Many of those who made it back either returned to Ireland or moved on to the USA.” It should be noted,  Fr. Gaughren was not in Argentina in 1891. He said these words when he sent a letter to a newspaper telling them what he has seen as an “eye witness” at the Hotel de Inmigrantes, when they arrived in Buenos Aires in February of 1889. In the following link you will find some letters of Fr. Gaughren that were published in different newspapers during that time.. (http://descendientesdresden.blogspot.com.ar/2014/05/letters-from-rev-f-matthew-gaughren-omi.html).

Another paragraph states “Father Matthew Gaughran O.M.I., a Dublin-born priest in the city at this time, recalled seeing people passed out with hunger and exhaustion on the cold flags of the courtyard, while their children ran around them naked. ‘To say they were treated like cattle would not be true’, he wrote, ‘for the owner of cattle would at least provide them with food and drink, but these poor people were left to live or die unaided by the officials who are paid to look after them’. That is true.

Mike Geraghty’s article was excellent for many reasons. Thanks to him, the story was once again the subject of discussion among everyone here in the Irish Argentine community. But, as I talk with Mike, this story deserves a much deeper study. As there is now no access to direct sources, we only have what was published on the news, some personal letters of F. Matthew Gaughren that I have, some records found on books like Gainor’s or Mulhall or Murray, and the most important thing, the memories and stories of the descendants.  With all this we may gain a better insight into what is commonly referred to as the Dresden Affair.

Those times were hard and not only in Argentina, but in every part of the world, including the USA. How many deaths occurred in the Irish colony will not change the end of the story. The fact is, many kids died there (and adult people too). If you look at the place in Google maps, you will see nothing around the train station... so, the question arises where were they buried? It may be their remains were moved to the local cemetery in Bahia Blanca, but that is unproven. Irrespective those lost lives deserve to be remembered.

What happens after 1891 when the Society La Viticola Argentina, declares bankruptcy, is another question to be answered. Mike Geraghty reported in his article that surviving emigrants started their way back to Buenos Aires, walking. That could be true. To imagine hundreds of people walking all together to Buenos Aires, is a rare picture. I think each one did their best. One of the first things that I did when I started researching this project, was to check the names on the passenger list with the actual White Pages of the phone book. I discovered that many of the names are in a 500 km radius of each other. This includes Mar del Plata and Balcarce (where the Nealon, McCarthy and Stephens families were finally established).

Argentina was and is a very particular and complex case to study. The language was not a minor thing in this entire story. In this regard, I recommend “Historia de la Inmigración en la Argentina” Fernando Devoto, 2003, Editorial Sudamericana and “Cómo fue la inmigración irlandesa en Argentina” Hilda Sábato and Juan Carlos Korol, 1981, Buenos Aires, Plus Ultra.

Interestingly many of the emigrants return to Ireland because there were credits to travel back. This was a very common thing between the English-speaking community. Many of them, as I have discovered contacted some descendants and kept on going. The case of the Tracey family was one. They went back to Ireland, remained there for a while, and shortly after, went to the USA where they finally stayed.
The batch of immigrants was nearly 1800. From this only 800 went to the Bahia Blanca, ten days after their arrival. What happens with those 1000? That’s a good question.

The case of the SS Dresden deserves to be studied seriously here in Argentina, and in Ireland too. This history involves many people, many descendants and many others like O’Meara, Dillon, Gartland, etc. that are now being judged (good or bad) without knowing exactly what did happen. The Proyecto Los Desciendentes del Dresden   /Dresden Descendants Project want to invite everyone that may agree that the experience of these forgotten emigrants deserves a better and deeper research effort by all concerned to support our objectives.

Once again thanks so much for making this case known and to give everyone the space to interact on this matter.

Gran abrazo desde La Patagonia!

Juan Pablo Alvarez
Proyecto Los Desciendentes del Dresden   
descendientedresden@yahoo.com.ar