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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Padre Smith

Looking Back

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Friday January 27 2017

Looking Back: Padre Smith

From January 1907, a tribute to a Church of Scotland minister who served settlers in Argentina.




By the Right Hon. J. A. CAMPBELL

TO many of our readers this may be a name never heard of before; but among Scottish settlers in Buenos Aires and the Argentine Republic, for the last fifty years, it may safely be said that no name has been more familiarly known or more universally revered.

James Smith was born at Crieff in 1817. At the University of Glasgow he proved a conscientious and successful student, and accepted an appointment as Lay Missionary in a mining village in the outskirts of Glasgow, where he conducted mission work in the hours which he could spare from his studies. This, no doubt, developed a facility and fluency in addressing mixed audiences which stood him in good stead in his after life. At the same time it was too great a strain upon his strength, with the result that he completed his University course in feeble health.

He received licence from the Presbytery of Glasgow in January 1849 and providentially a situation soon afterwards opened to him a way of continuing his ministerial career under favourable conditions. Dr. William Brown, after twenty five years’ service at Buenos Aires at Consular Chaplain to the Presbyterian settlers, obtained a year’s leave of absence. A minister was required to take his place for the year, and to this duty the Colonial Committee appointed Mr. Smith. Dr. Brown, on coming home, was appointed to the Professorship of Biblical Criticism at St. Andrews, so that his charge at Buenos Aires became unexpectedly vacant. The congregation having had some months’ experience of Mr. Smith, gave him a call to be their permanent minister.

The climate of Buenos Aires had the best effect on the young minister’s health, and he devoted himself with energy and assiduity to the duties of his position. He came home for ordination in September 1851, returning to Buenos Aires with the additional qualification of being now a married man. His family life was clouded some years later by the severe illness of his wife, resulting in her lamented death in 1868.

Mr. Smith was not satisfied with attending to those who waited on his ministry within the city of Buenos Aires, but felt that his duty lay also in seeking out the Scottish settlers on the pampas or plains. He carried on, with the assistance of many good friends of his work and with great personal labour, the visitation of farms and the organisation of Sunday Schools, with occasional services as far as was possible; the great distance, however from the city to the different estancias made it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain regular services anywhere. This resulted in the founding of extension churches, with manses and a provision for their ministers – all the result of subscriptions by the settlers and their friends.

In the year 1871 Buenos Aires, having only recently come through a visitation of cholera, was prostrated by a severe epidemic of yellow fever. For nearly four months the fever raged with great virulence, diminishing the population fo the city by about one-fourth.

In the Scottish congregation of 450, not fewer than 54 deaths occurred. Mr. Smith was indefatigable, giving his services wherever they were required, without regard to church or creed. A service of plate, costing 200 guineas, was presented to Mr. Smith by the British community of Buenos Aires, “as a proof, however slight, of the high appreciation with which his noble and unselfish conduct during the yellow fever epidemic of 1871 is regarded by his countrymen throughout the Argentine Republic.”

As years advanced, Mr. Smith became conscious that he could not long continue, unaided, the labours of his position. He accordingly asked for the appointment of an Assistant. This was cordially agreed to, and the Rev. J. W. Fleming was appointed Assistant and Successor. After a short while Mr. Smith intimated his desire to retire altogether from the pastorate.

He continued to reside in Buenos Aires for some years; but after a severe illness in 1900 his home was with his daughters in the neighbourhood of London, and in the winter months at Montreux, Switzerland. In the summer of 1905 he had an illness which betokened a general failure of strength. He was removed to Grange-upon-Sands, Lancashire, where, after a lingering illness, with gradual decay of physical powers, but with his mind unclouded to the end, he died on 9th October last, in his eighty-ninth year. From an admirable sermon preached by his successor, Mr. Fleming, we extract these sentences:-

The feature of all others that will keep the memory of our father in God green and fresh is the remembrance of his pastoral ministrations. No trouble was too great for him to take in their interest; and he never spared himself. In times of sickness and death no one had such a wonderful power of comfort as he.

It was the sense of his kind care over every one to whom he could do a fatherly turn that gained Dr. Smith, both amongst his own congregation and in the community generally, the name of the “Padre.” “Padre Smith,” merited in this way, was a more honourable title than any degree, academic or civic.

1925: Scots in Patagonia

From Orkney to Buenos Aires

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