Irish merchant in Callao, Peru, not much is known about Conroy’s early years: born in Wexford in 1806 or 1807 to a father originally from Rathdowny, it seems that he arrived in Lima around 1820 after a short stint in the United States. What is certain is that Conroy was already settled in Peru by December 1827, when he married Petronila Enderica Talamantes (d. 1862), with whom he would go on to father 14 children.
He was involved in numerous mercantile activities in Peru. According to the German merchant Heinrich Witt, he operated as the agent of the house of Antony Gibbs & Co. in Callao in the early 1840s (Mücke, ed., The Diary of Heinrich Witt, vol. 2, 33). Together with being the port agent in Callao and for some time the Consul General for Costa Rica in that town as well, Conroy held business interests in copper and guano and may have also been the proprietor of a mine. His presence in Callao – conspicuously marked by a large residence and office purposefully built for himself in 1855 – prompted the arrival in Peru of two of his younger brothers: Peter, ‘Pedro’ —later a partner of the Lima firm of Naylors, Conroy & Co.— and George, who committed suicide in 1846. Additionally, Thomas Conroy is credited with having been one of the main promoters of the horse races at Bellavista, near Callao.
Thomas Conroy died in Callao on 17 August 1885. The death notice published in Lima’s El Comercio referred to him as ‘one of the first Europeans who settled amongst us during the days of our [struggle for] independence’ and spoke of a merchant known throughout his 65 years of residence in Peru for his ‘hard work, honesty and love towards his fellow men, which had made him deserving of everyone’s esteem’. In the opinion of Heinrich Witt —who had known Conroy from the time of his own arrival in Lima in 1827— the Irish merchant was ‘a really good man but rather extravagant’ (Mücke, ed., The Diary of Heinrich Witt, vol. 3, 523). Witt estimated in 1875 that at the peak of his business ventures in the 1840s-50s, the Irishman’s income could have amounted ‘to as much as $40,000 annually, but he, like his brother Peter, was ostentatious, and thus his money went out as fast as it came in’ (Mücke, ed., The Diary of Heinrich Witt, vol. 5, 191).
Sources: Memoria de los Ramos de Hacienda y Comercio que presenta el ministro encargado de su despacho al Congreso Oficial, convocado extraordinariamente para el mes de octubre de 1858 (Lima: Imprenta de J. M. Masias, 1858), xviii; El Comercio (Lima), 17 August 1885; Teodoro Hampe Martínez, ‘Apuntes documentales sobre inmigrantes europeos y norteamericanos en Lima (Siglo XIX)’, Revista de Indias, 53: 198 (1993), 459–491; El Peruano (Lima), 3 December 2007; Juan Manuel Dávila Herrera, ‘Jirón Daniel Nieto – inmueble histórico en riesgo’, Callao Centro Histórico blog, [http://www.callaocentrohistorico.com/2012/06/, accessed 3 March 2019]; Ulrich Mücke (ed.), The Diary of Heinrich Witt (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2016, 10 vols.); Gabriela McEvoy, La experiencia invisible. Inmigrantes irlandeses en el Perú (Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2018).
Author: José Shane Brownrigg-Gleeson Martínez
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