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Thomas Falkner

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Born 6 Oct., 1707; died 30 Jan., 1784. He was the son of Thomas Falkner, a Manchester apothecary, and obtained his education at the Manchester grammar school. Later on, having studied medicine under the well-known Dr. Richard Mead, he became a surgeon and practised at his native place. His own health being delicate, he was advised to take a sea-voyage, and being acquainted with a ship chaplain on board the "Assiento", a vessel trading with Guinea and carrying slaves thence to Buenos Aires, he accepted an invitation to accompany the vessel as surgeon. This was in or about 1731. On reaching Buenos Aires he was so ill that the captain was compelled to leave him there in the care of Father Mahoney, the superior of the Jesuit College. Here he not only recovered his health, but was received into the Church, and on 15 May, 1732, entered the Society of Jesus, becoming a member of the Paraguay province. Having spent some time at the Jesuit College of Cordoba de Tucuman, he went as a missionary to the Puelches, near Rio Legundo. His knowledge of medicine and mechanics procured for him considerable influence among the Indians, and in 1740 or soon after he was sent to assist Father Strobel in his successful mission to the Patagonian Indians at Cape San Antonio. For more than thirty years he laboured among the Patagonians until 1768 when the Jesuits were expelled from South America. He then returned to England where, in 1771 or 1772, he joined the English province of the Society. He was appointed chaplain to Mr. Berkeley of Spetchley, and here, in addition to his priestly labours, he wrote an account of his Patagonian experiences, which was published at Hereford in 1774 under the title "A Description of Patagonia and the adjoining parts of South America, with a grammar and a short vocabulary, and some particulars relating to Falkland's Islands". The book as published was not his original work, but a compilation by William Combe, who used Falkner's papers. Kirk (see below) quotes a remark by Rev. Joseph Berington : "Mr. Falkner was a man of a vigorous mind, well exercised in various points of science, and had he been allowed to tell his story in his own way, stored as his mind was with anecdotes and incidents, on which he delighted to dwell, we should have had from him an amusing and interesting performance. But his papers were put into the hands of the late Mr. Robert Berkeley of Spetchley, who extracted from them the whole spirit of the original. He made them what they are." But though Mr. Berkeley wrote the preface, the responsibility for the taming process must rest with Combe. Even in its emasculated form the book was successful, and was translated into German, French, and Spanish. Another account of the Patagonians due to Father Falkner is found in the works of Thomas Pennant, who described his essay as "formed from the relation of Fr. Falkner, a Jesuit, who had resided among them thirty-eight years". On leaving Spetchley, he became chaplain to Mr. Berington of Winsley in Herefordshire, and afterwards to the Plowdens of Plowden Hall in Shropshire. After his death, which occurred at the latter place, the Spanish Jesuits, who had known him in South America, were very anxious to obtain his unpublished works, which included treatises on the botanical and mineral products of America, and "American distempers as cured by American drugs". It is stated by Fr. Caballero, S.J., that he had also edited "Volumina duo de anatomia corporis humani".

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