HISTORY OF THE SCOTS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN ARGENTINA
From the early 1800s Scots had begun to settle in
Argentina, principally in the city and province of Buenos Aires.
Initially the settlers were merchants, attracted by the opportunities
for highly profitable import and export trade, made possible by the
decline of Spanish colonial rule, the achievement of independence, a
liberal constitution and policies supportive of British interests and
immigration. Soon, these circumstances encouraged Scots from many
backgrounds, trades and professions to emigrate to Argentina, either
to work in the cities or on the fertile lands of the pampas where
sheep and cattle-raising were highly profitable. The 1820s saw many
ships carrying Scots arriving in Buenos Aires, the best known being
the Symmetry, with some two hundred and fifty men and their families
who founded the short-lived agricultural colony of Monte Grande,
south of the city. They were to be followed by thousands more
throughout the 19thcentury
The early Scottish settlers, like their English
counterparts, were a small Protestant minority in a Roman Catholic
country. They brought with them their distinctive identity as
Scottish Presbyterians, but they had no church premises nor a Scots
minister to serve their needs. Consequently, services were held in
private houses, with ministers from other Churches officiating at
baptisms, marriages and burials. Also, when a Chaplaincy was
established by the British Government it was intended to serve both
Anglicans and Presbyterian, despite the differences between the two
Faiths. Faced with this unsatisfactory situation, several meetings of
prominent members of the Scots Presbyterian community were held
between December 1828 and March 1829, which resulted in decisions to
secure the services of a minister, to establish a Scotch
Presbyterian Chapel and to make a wide appeal for funds. The Chapel
was opened on the 15th March 1829 and the Rev. William
Brown, formerly minister to the now defunct colony at Monte Grande,
officiated. Now thoughts turned to a properly organized and equipped
Church and to the erection of a suitable building. The plans were
realized, with the authority of the Buenos Aires Government, and on
the 25th February 1833 the foundation stone was laid of “
the First Scotch National Church in South America and to be called
St. Andrew’s”. The Church, at 55 Calle Piedras, was
opened for public worship on the 25th April 1835, with the
Rev. William Brown conducting the service.
St. Andrew’s Scotch Presbyterian Church
The original Church served the Presbyterian congregation
until 1893 when the property was expropriated by the municipality of
Buenos Aires. The new Church, on the Calle Belgrano, was dedicated on
the 10th April 1896, and serves the wider Presbyterian
community to the present day.
The growth and dispersion of the Scots population in
Argentina, particularly in the vast province of Buenos Aires, but
beyond into Entre Rios in the north and Patagonia in the extreme
south, created the need for other centres of worship or for
visitations by ministers. The first of the new congregations was
established in the district of Quilmes, at Florencio Varela,
initially with a “Rancho Kirk” (wattle and daub) and then
in 1855 with the permanent Church of St. John’s. St. John’s
building is supported by the Sociedad de Amigos de la Capilla de Los
Escoceses. It was soon followed by another “Rancho Kirk”
near Chascomus, some seventy miles south of Buenos Aires, where there
was a flourishing Scots community. The permanent Church of St
Andrew’s Chascomus was opened in 1872. However, Churches could
not be justified for more distant and smaller communities. The
Scottish settlers who founded Nueva Escocia, south of Concordia in
Entre Rios, gradually dispersed and they, together with Scots on
scattered estancias in the Banda Oriental, now Uruguay, were served
for many years by the Rev. Lachlan McNeill, a Gaelic speaker, who
moved from one preaching station to another. Patagonia perhaps
presented greater problems and was visited at infrequent intervals
over several years. Travelling or “camp” chaplains had,
in fact, to meet other needs in many distant communities, ranging
west beyond Rosario to Mendoza and north as far as the province of
Jujuy. Meanwhile, the workshops of the Great Southern Railway ,
initially at Barracas and then Talleres in the southern suburbs of
Buenos Aires, employed many English-speaking staff. A Presbyterian
Church was opened at Barracas in 1888, followed by another at
Remedios de Escalada, by the new site of the workshops. Later again,
in 1908, the residents of the suburb of Belgrano in the north of the
city had a Church opened. Further developments took place in the
first quarter of the 20th century, with Churches at Bahia
Blanca, Temperley, Quilmes and much later, in 1966, Olivos.
Presbiterio San Andres - The Presbyterian Church of
By the early 20th century the Church could
look back on major achievements, with ministers and congregations in
various parts of the city and province of Buenos Aires, the extensive
use of “camp” chaplains and occasional visits of
ministers to serve the spiritual needs of small communities of Scots
in many parts of Argentina and an impressive record in meeting the
educational and social needs of Scots and others. However, much was
to change. Increasingly there were Scots who had married into
Criollo families and others into families of foreign immigrants,
losing their Presbyterian origins and often speaking little or no
English. Furthermore, there were many non-Scots in the huge
population who had little or no attachment to the Roman Catholic
Church or, indeed, any denomination. Clearly there was a need for a
Spanish-speaking and evangelical policy which could reach out to
these two major groups. In 1912 Pastor Jose Felices, educated in
Spain and Aberdeen, was appointed for the purpose of developing the
Spanish work of the Church, holding Services in Spanish and starting
Spanish Sunday Schools. His mission brought numerous adults and
children from many nationalities into the Church. On his retirement
in 1941 no successor was appointed, perhaps because the
English-speaking Scots Presbyterians feared that they would be taken
over by the Spanish-speaking congregation. The difficulties of
reconciling the different interests were ultimately to weaken the
historic connection with the Church of Scotland. In 1983 the Rev.
Gordon Morris, the last minister who belonged to the “Scottish
Church”, retired. The title “Scots” was dropped in
1981 and in 1987 the Presbyterian Church in Argentina went its own
way. Today, The Presbyterian Church of Argentina - Presbiterio San
Andres - is an independent Church, working almost entirely in
Spanish, its ministers trained at the Instituto Biblico Buenos Aires
or the Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos.
The following sections deal with the Churches
themselves, ministers and their assistants and others who are
recorded in way one or another in publications on the history of the
Scots Presbyterian Church in Argentina.
The following list contains the location of Churches
founded by the Scots Presbyterian Church, their year of opening, and
whether the existing buildings are still in use.
1829 Buenos Aires. Open. The present building was
opened in 1896.
1855 Florencio Varela (originally Quilmes). Closed
1953. The oldest remaining building.
1857 Chascomus. Ranch Kirk replaced in 1872. Closed.
1868 Jeppener. Closed.
1888 Barracas. Closed 1941.
1911 Bahia Blanca. Closed 1964.
1913 Temperley. Open.
1913 Remedios de Escalada. Closed 1952.
1924 Quilmes. Open.
Ministers and Assistant Ministers, 1829-1925.
Biographical information on the following can be found
in the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, the record of ministers of the
Church of Scotland from the Reformation to the present day.
Rev. William Brown, D.D. First minister of St. Andrew’s,
Rev. James Smith, D.D.. Second minister of St. Andrew’s,
Rev. Francis Gebbie, St. Andrew’s and St. John’s,
Quilmes (later Florencia Varela).
Rev.Martin P. Ferguson, First minister at Chascomus.
Rev. Lachlan McNeill, Entre Rios/Banda Oriental and St.
Rev. J. W. Fleming, D.D., O.B.E., Third minister of St.
Rev. E. Williamson, Chascomus.
Rev. Alfred S. Barritt, Chascomus.
Rev. M. Gillespie, Chascomus.
Rev. Douglas W. Bruce, Fourth minister of St. Andrew’s.
Rev. Jose Felices, minister for outreach work in
These ministers usually served in Argentina for two or
three years, serving either in the city and its suburbs or as camp
chaplains. Places where they later went are given.
1850-51 James Smith, St. Andrew’s, Buenos Aires.
1879-83 James W. Fleming, St. Andrew’s, Buenos
1884-85 Charles Robertson, Assynt, Sutherland.
1889 Alexander Macdonald, Otautau, New Zealand.
1890-92 D.J. Moir Porteus, Port Glasgow.
1892-94 W. Lyall Wilson, St. Cuthbert’s,
1894-95 T. Edward Taylor, Dooars, India.
1895-97 A. R. Howell, Paisley Abbey.
1897-1900 J. H. Horton MacNeill, Gargunnock.
1900-02 C. Gordon Mackenzie, West Parish, Crieff.
1902-04 H. Shaw Masterton, Rosemarkie.
1902-07 A. Taylor Hill, Old Luce, near Stranraer.
1904-06, W. N. Monteith, Elie.
1906-08 W. A. Forbes, Murroes, Dundee.
1908-10 D. Bruce Nicol, St. Mark’s, Dundee.
1910 Dugald MacCallum, Rosskeen, Invergordon.
1910-12 Douglas W. Bruce, St. Andrew’s, Buenos
1910-11 J. Aulay Steele, St. Vincent’s, Glasgow.
1911-12 Percival Mackenzie, Dulwich, London.
1912-14 P. Hill Nicol. Scotland.
1914-16 W. M. Laing, Union Church, Valparaiso.
1915-16 J. Stuart Cameron, Springburn, Glasgow.
1916-20 Donald Macdonald, Benbecula.
1917 W. T. Duncan, U.S.A..
1919 R. J. V. Martin, Alvah, Banffshire.
1919-20 Peter MacPherson, Vryheid, Natal.
1921-23 J. Y. Clark, Insch, near Stranraer.
1922-24 Victor Wands, Garvald, Haddington.
1921-26 Archibald Bell, Kelvinhaugh, Glasgow.
1922-26 Peter MacPherson, Vryheid, Natal.
1923-25 Neil MacColl, Scotland.
1923 C. Gordon Mackenzie, West Parish, Creiff.
1925 Hector K. Macdonald, Argentina.
1926 James S. Taylor, Northern Suburbs, Buenos
1927 A.R.E. MacInnes, Mauchline.
1927 D. A. Macrury, St. Andrew’s, Buenos
Names on Memorials in St. Andrew’s Church,
The following list is restricted to names on memorials.
However, the memorials often carry additional information which may
be useful to family historians.
Rev. James Smith, M.A.,D.D.; James and Elizabeth Black;
Ann Margaret Maclean;
George Bell; William McClymont; Thomas Drysdale; Juan
Drysdale; John Alston, M.D.
Carlota Luna; Henry and Margaret Thompson; John and Ann
Riddle; Roderick Hugh Campbell; David Methven; John Davidson; Rev.
T.E.Taylor; Hugo John Grant Fleming;
Roy Stuart Fleming; Arthur and Mary Towers; Robert
Inglis Runciman; Mary Spring Inglis Runciman; Janet S. Ritchie de
Wilson; Maud Elizabeth Birrell; John and Mary Rosary Robson Campbell;
John Shaw and Mary Maclean; Alexander Grant; William Brown, D.D.;
Robert Reid, M.D.; Rev. Francis Gebbie; Rev. Lachlan McNeill; Robert
Cook; William Norman Caldwell Cook; James Watson Bell; George,
Charles, Frederick and Ernest Bell; Alfred Thomas Drysdale; John
Drysdale; Rev. James William Fleming, D.D.,O.B.E..
Memorial to Dead Heroes of the Scots Church community
(First World War).
David Lyall Anderson; Magnus M. Angus; John Lyle Barr;
Andrew Baxter; Thomas beattie; Thomas H. Bell; Allan Brodie; Arthur
S. Buchanan; William Bell Burns; John Argentine Campell; Herbert
David Coldwell; Norman Cobbold; Ian Staveley Drysdale; Henry Howard
Drysdale; Donald Roy Drysdale; James J.W.Fairbairn; Gibson Finlayson;
William James Nisbet Glasgow; George Hugh Graham;
William H. Grassick; Cecil B. Grundy; John Mackie Hay; William Muir
Hayman; Frank Henderson; James Moore Hopson; Robert Colvill Jones;
Thomas Colvill Jones; William G. Lacey; William Weir Laird; John
Archibald McColl; David McCorquodale; John Stewart McHardy; John
McRostie; Frederick McWilliam; Hugh Meikle Miller; Harold Methven
Musson; Rev. W.N.Monteith; Alfred Mountjoy; William Gilmour Moore
Orr; Raymond Stanley Pearse; Victor Ernest Irvine Reid; William
Halliday Reynolds; Joseph Robinson; Ben Matthews Roberts; Edmund
Inglis Runciman; Alexander Shrewsbury; Charles Faulkner Smith;
Kenneth Struthers; Peter Sutherland; Charles Peter Waddle; Geoffrey
Philip Walsh; Alfred Ernest Walter; George H. White; Robert Scott
The principal sources are:
Dodds, James, The Records of Scottish Settlers on the
River Plate and Their Churches, Buenos Aires, 1897.
Drysdale, J. Monteith, A Hundred years in Buenos Aires
1829-1929, Buenos Aires, 1929.
The books by Dodds and Drysdale are both difficult to
obtain. Fortunately, Alastair McIntyre has done an online
transcription of the book by Dodds, which can be accessed at
Also, I have a copy of Drysdale’s book for anyone
interested in obtaining further information. It contains much detail
of possible interest to family historians.
The Rev. Charles S. Morrice’s article is
particularly helpful in explaining the changes in the Scots Church in
the later part of the 20th.century.
Information on the Presbiterio San Andres can also be
found at www.sanandres.org.ar
Lastly, I would wish again to thank Luis
Stuart-Pennington, in Quilmes, Argentina, for his continuing help; on
this occasion for information on the present status of church