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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Susan Wilkinson

Arthur Pageitt Greene was born in Ireland in 1848. In 1872, when he was twenty-four, after completing his medical studies at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, he went to South America where five of his brothers had settled. In his Recollections, which he wrote towards the end of his life, he described his early years in Argentina as the only doctor in a remote area in the pampas, revalidating his medical diplomas in Buenos Aires that was required of all foreign-trained doctors, his medical posts in rural towns and later as a senior physician at the British Hospital in Buenos Aires, his marriage and births of his children, his grief at losing his youngest brother to tuberculosis. He wrote of violent crimes and revolutions prevalent in his day, of epidemics, diseases, suicides, 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, Head of Institutional Relations at the British Hospital in Buenos Aires, are arranged in chronological parts and edited by Arthur Pageitt Greene’s great-great-niece, Susan Wilkinson, author of Sebastian’s Pride and Mimosa: the Life and Times of the Ship that Sailed to Patagonia. They constitute the only known memoir of a doctor in nineteenth-century Argentina, written in English, in existence.
‘Susan Wilkinson engagingly gives us a historical background of the development of the practice of medicine in Ireland, the description of the geographical and sociological situation of a newly emerging country in Latin America, its countryside and its towns, woven through and around the story of an Irish doctor who chose to practice his profession in Argentina in the second half of the nineteenth century.’
Dr. John D.C. Emery, The British Hospital, Buenos Aires

Dr. Niall Whelehan, Marie Curie Fellow, School of History, Classics and Archeology,
University of Edinburgh.

The publication of Arthur Pageitt Greene’s Recollections provides us with an important source for nineteenth-century Irish medical networks and, more broadly, for the history of Irish migration to Argentina.  It gives us fascinating and novel insights on a number of aspects of life in the Irish-Argentine community, including health, crime and politics, from the perspective of a doctor who served in rural settlements and in Buenos Aires.

Edward Walsh, The Southern Cross, (Argentina).
Already known for her previous two books - Sebastian’s Pride and Mimosa: the Life and Times of the Ship that Sailed to Patagonia – this is in a related area but slightly different genre. Dr Arthur Pageitt Greene’s (1848-1933) memoirs takes one on a journey from Kildare, County Kildare, through medical education in Dublin and Edinburgh, and on to Argentina – learning Spanish, revalidation of his medical qualifications in Buenos Aires and then as physician, initially in the wilds of Tuyu (in the south of the province of Buenos Aires), followed by time spent in Buenos Aires, the towns of Lobos and Mercedes and in the British Hospital, Buenos Aires. This was an Irish medical doctor, an agnostic dissenter working in a country which was predominantly Roman Catholic.

It is often assumed that the Irish who emigrated to Argentina were all Catholic.  That was not the case as in fact there was a sizeable number of Protestants who left Ireland for Argentina, and this is as yet an un-researched area of Irish Argentine history.  Reading is all about the lines that leap off the pages and this book published by The Memoir Club does not disappoint. 

Dr. Kenneth Collins, Editor, VesaliusHonorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow.
This work, describing the career of an Irish doctor, in the unfamiliar territory of rural nineteenth century Argentina makes for fascinating reading. The recollections of Arthur Pageitt Greene, who had studied in both Dublin and Edinburgh, bring to life the medical and social conditions of the time and the struggles of a doctor, far from the big city in his early years, to cope with political instability and the variety of diseases common to the era. As a graduate of two cities at the forefront of Victorian medicine the Argentinian pampas proved to be a challenge of the most demanding kind.

Arthur Pageitt Greene grew up in a large Irish family and orphaned at an early age he was dependent on the support of his older brothers. Consequently, following the decision of his older brother Thomas to practise as a surgeon in the Welsh colony in Patagonia, it was relatively easy for Arthur to make the long journey to the Southern Hemisphere in 1872 and join his brothers and some cousins in Argentina.

Conditions were primitive in the rural area, The Tuy├║, where Arthur settled. There were few doctors and the sick were accustomed to treatment by a variety of local, and untrained, healers. Infectious diseases were rife. An Irish doctor would have been something of a novelty and would at first been treated with a degree of suspicion. Injuries from violence were common and often turned septic and the nineteenth century saw many outbreaks of cholera with high levels of mortality. Yellow fever was also endemic and the death of young children was a frequent occurrence. Clinic and hospice facilities were primitive and basic. This was a prescription for a harsh life for a dedicated young physician.

In 1876 Greene moved to the small city of Mercedes. It was there that he achieved some fame using drainage apparatus just arrived from Europe which enabled him to cure an empyema of lung. Many clinical cases, some successfully managed, but others not, are recounted, sometimes in great detail, and give a clear flavour of the medical conditions under which he worked. A description of the recovery of an Irish patient from a severe lung infection displayed the devoted care and understanding of pathology on which his reputation came to be based. Mercedes proved to be Greene’s home until 1912 with a break of nine years based at the British Hospital in Buenos Aires serving the city’s large British expatriate community.

On retirement he returned to Buenos Aires before settling in England. Susan Wilkinson is to be complimented on her editing of the Recollections, written in Greene’s retirement in England, which convey with startling immediacy a country in medical and social turmoil. Her context and extensive footnotes provide the background for a clear understanding of Greene’s life. Despite spending many retirement years in Kent the lure of Argentina brought him back there in 1930 after completing his memoirs and he died in Buenos Aires in 1933. This is a memoir which is both informative and a window into an era which was formative both for the writer and his adopted country.

David Barnwell, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This interesting book recounts the memoirs of Dr Arthur Pageitt Greene (1848-1933), a distant relative of the author.

Wilkinson’s book is a collection of anecdotes taken from Greene’s papers.  They constitute a lively portrait of rural Argentine life in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It is a place where death can come in many forms, suddenly or after drawn-out illnesses, be it by murder, revolution or by minor accidents that can produce fatal complications. Smallpox is rife.  Diseases such as anthrax and rabies are common and poorly controlled.

Susan Wilkinson possesses and fine knowledge and understanding of nineteenth-century Argentina. Her notes to Greene’s memoirs are particularly useful and expansive.  Her description of mid-nineteenth-century Argentina is vivid.

Aside from its merit for those interested in the Irish presence in Latin America, this book would make an excellent gift to any friend or family member who is professionally involved in medicine.  Indeed, since the book is full of humanity, humour and for an eye for narration and description, it would be a fine gift for anyone who appreciates good stories well told.

Dr Timothy Jackson, BA MB DCH DPH FFPHMI  – Specialist in Public Health Medicine (Retired)
This is a short delightfully informative work on an Irish doctor’s life in late 19th Century Argentina.  There is an interesting background on his early life in Ireland, and the options for professional training at the time.

Following his brothers and cousins, Dr Greene then arrives in Argentina at a time of immense upheaval and change in both professional and political life.  The Author documents this in a most scholarly way, with relevant footnotes throughout, clarifying more obscure details.  

She lets Dr Greene speak for himself from his comprehensive diary.   She provides valuable comments on the state of public health at the time, and the impact of early scientific medicine, often conflicting with Traditional Healers.

Dr Greene is seen as dedicated, knowledgeable, and caring in the face of huge difficulties.  Some of his cases are extreme and astonishing, and a timely reminder of how far we have managed to come in our modern age.

Susan Wilkinson has written a memorable work, which goes well with her previous excellent works on Argentina.   

An amazing recollection, a most rewarding work that Susan Wilkinson has patiently and carefully edited to provide an insight into Argentina's little known history: that of pioneers from abroad who made the new country "out of many" and contributed significantly to the wellbeing of his countryfellows by providing not only his skills as practitioner in the arts of medicine and surgery as understood back then but also a caring and selfless attitude towards those in need.
For me it was illuminating in ways I had never expected... just to think that an Irishman from the 19th century would be teaching Argentine History and Culture to me, who has been born and bred here -even though my parents are immigrants themselves- was also a lesson in my capacity to learn and my receptiveness of other voices who are out there waiting for me to listen to them and dispense them careful attention.

A jewell, a precious gain for the history of rural and urban Argentina in the process of making itself, especially as far as the Buenos Aires province region, and especially the city of Buenos Aires from outside are depicted, together with the amazing adventures the Irish diaspora endured in the context of a British "domestic" area of domination.
What a treat... looking forward to more literature as personal, delicate and inspiring as this volume that Susan Wilkinson has provided us, thank you!

L to R: Charge d'Affaires of the Argentine embassy, Mr. Rafael Galetto, 
Susan Wilkinson, Author 
Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Professor John Hyland


The Author
Susan Wilkinson was born in India and educated in Ireland. Of a medical family, a maternal great-uncle served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in World War I and was attached to the Serbian Army on the French-controlled Salonika front, for which he was awarded the Serbian Order of St. Sava and the Croix de Guerre. Four of her Irish-born ancestors – Arthur Pageitt Greene and his two brothers and first cousin – were doctors in South America. Her father served in India, Persia and Burma in the Indian Medical Service in World War II, as did her father’s brother who was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for his service in Burma. 
She is author of works, both fictional and non-fictional, relating to 19th century Argentina, and lives in  Canada.

For further information on the books she has published or the author, please click onto the links below:
The Anglo-Argentine Society
Wikipedia Link

Price £20.00  P & P £3.00  UK £5.00 Europe £9.00  ROW

Available on   email:  or tel 01914192288 with card details and address

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