Falkner, Thomas (DNB00)

FALKNER, THOMAS (1707–1784), jesuit missionary, son of Thomas Falkner, apothecary, was born at Manchester on 6 Oct. 1707, and educated at the Manchester grammar school. He studied medicine under Dr. Richard Mead, and, after practising as a surgeon at home, went out as surgeon on board the Assiento, a slave ship, belonging to the South Sea Company. He sailed to the Guinea coast of Africa about 1731, and thence to Buenos Ayres, where he fell dangerously ill. The jesuits there treated him with such hospitality and kindness that he resolved to change his religion, which is said to have been presbyterian, and became a candidate for admission into the Society of Jesus. He was duly received in May 1732, and afterwards spent thirty-eight years as a missionary, at first in Paraguay and Tucuman, and then, from 1740, among the native tribes of South America, between Rio de la Plata and Magellan's Strait, rendering conspicuous service to his order. His skill in medicine and surgery and his knowledge of mechanics aided him materially in his labours. In Paraguay he was looked upon as a Galen. In January 1768, on the expulsion of the jesuits from South America, he returned to England, and for a while stayed with friends in Lancashire and elsewhere. He joined the English province of the Society of Jesus about 1771, and acted as chaplain successively to Robert Berkeley (1713–1804) [q. v.] at Spetchley Park, near Worcester, to the Beringtons at Winsley in Herefordshire, and the Plowdens at Plowden Hall, Shropshire. He died at Plowden Hall on 30 Jan. 1784, aged 77.

He appears to have left the following works in manuscript, but their whereabouts is unrecorded:

  1. ‘Volumina duo de Anatome corporis humani, quæ plurimi sunt pretii apud artis peritos.’
  2. ‘Botanical, Mineral, and like Observations on the Products of America,’ folio, 4 vols.
  3. ‘A Treatise on American Distempers cured by American Drugs.’

A compilation from his papers, made by William Combe [q. v.], was published at Hereford in 1774 (4to, 144 pages), entitled ‘A Description of Patagonia and the adjoining parts of South America, &c.’ In the opinion of the Rev. Joseph Berington [q. v.] this work would have been ‘an amusing and interesting performance’ if Falkner had been allowed to tell his story in his own way, but ‘the whole spirit of the original’ was extracted by the compiler. It forms, nevertheless, a valuable record of observations in a hitherto comparatively unknown country. A German version by Ewald was published in 1775, two French translations came out in 1789, and a Spanish one in 1835. Other translations or abridgments have appeared in German and Spanish collections of travels.

Pennant had several conversations with Falkner, and wrote a paper entitled ‘Of the Patagonians. Formed from the Relation of Father Falkener, a Jesuit, &c.,’ which was printed at the private press of George Allan of Darlington in 1788, and reprinted in the appendix to Pennant's ‘Literary Life,’ 1793.

[Oliver's Collections S. J. 1845, p. 88; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. of English Catholics, 1886, ii. 224; Foley's Records S. J. iv. 563, v. 855, vii. 243; Hoefer's Nouvelle Biog. Générale, 1856, xxxvii. 60; Mulhall's English in South America, 1878, pp. 79–86; Backer's Bibl. des Écrivains de la Comp. de Jésus, 1853, i. 294; Reuss's Alphabetical Register of Authors, 1791, p. 131; Monthly Rev. 1774, li. 409; The Month, June 1888, p. 220; extracts from Manchester Church registers furnished by Mr. John Owen.]

C. W. S.