William Pilling (1834-?)

The Forgotten Author

Strange how someone that did so much in Argentina has been forgotten, even to the extent that he does not figure in the many lists of residents in Argentina in the 19th Century.

William was an active and enterprising young man born in Liverpool to John and Alice Pilling on the 12th of November 1834, and baptised on the 8th of July 1835. He arrived in Buenos Aires in December 1852, and registered in the Consulate on the 8th of July 1853, the anniversary of his baptism, 18 years old, he noted himself as employed in 'comercio'. He is entered under the name 'Guillermo', and this gives an idea that he may have spoken some Spanish before his arrival.

His first mark of note is that he started and ran a newspaper The Commercial Times, a weekly, each Saturday. The first copy was #1 on Saturday April 17th, 1858. The paper dealt with local and community news, as well as local advertising, and shipping. It was published as a single sheet, folio size (31cm. x 51cm.), at least at the start, later copies have not been inspected. The only copy seen is that held at the newspaper depository of the British Library at Colindale in North London. This is copy #8 of Saturday the 5th of June 1858. There was, as far as I know, only one existing complete set of the newspaper, which was held in the treasury of the Biblioteca Nacional in four volumes, until 1999, when it disappeared. The paper ceased publication in mid 1862, following the start of The Standard, on May 1st. 1862.

Practically speaking this is when William disappears. The careful listing of residents and estancias in the first two handbooks of the Mulhalls, do not mention Pilling, He appears, once only, in Michael Mulhall's, The British in South America, 1878, in the section on the Press in Argentina, noticed only as - Pilling, The Commercial Times, 1858-1862 . In a later handbook, 1885, for the first time he is noted as William Pilling, and given an address in Rio Cuarto.

Following the closure of the Commercial Times, William probably decided that writing was his future, and, as a result, came the book that in the 20's and 30's of the 20th century could be found in every Anglo-Argentine home library: Ponce de Leon, or the rise of the Argentine Republic. This book was issued under the pseudonym of Án Estanciero. Under this pseudonym it is known today, and still no one queries who was the real author. One copy of the first edition, published by Chapman & Hall in London, with a publishers date of 1878, is inscribed by the owner, who was Mr. Edward H. Ripley of 464 Reconquista, corner La Valle, and dated July 20th 1887, as follows "Sr. Don Pilling was our fellow voyageur from Lisbon to Buenos Aires, May 25th to June 16th 1887". Subsequent editions of the book into the 1930's were published by T. Werner Laurie of London, and Mitchell's Bookshop of Buenos Aires, under the date 1910. Ponce de Leon is a novel of the two British invasions of Buenos Aires, and the subsequent fortunes of individual characters, and national government up to the Declaration of Independence at Tucuman in 1816. This work is possibly the only work to deal in detail, and written in English, with the invasions. Pilling must surely have had the opportunity to speak with British ex soldiers, and survivors, to put in the detailed accounts of the corner to corner street fighting. It is written in an archaic style which makes for difficult reading, but the feel of the detail gives the impression that this could only have come from survivors of the battles who remained in Argentina.

Closely following this book appeared another novel, Near the Lagunas. This was re-viewed by the Standard and the Buenos Aires Herald in May 1879. Again Mitchell's reprinted this book in several editions into the 1920's and 1930's. This book was, this time, issued under the name of William Pilling. Few copies of this work seem to have survived, although Mitchell's issued it in hard-back and paper-back editions. The story of the book was placed in the region of Guamini, Province of Buenos Aires.

What else was William Pilling doing during these years from the end of the Commercial Times, to his next documented appearance in 1890 ?

In the British Library there is a tract on the taxation of Uruguay, under the title of National Suicide, published in November 1874. The sub-title is "A Review of the industrial, financial, and political position of the Republic of Uruguay, with the object of showing the unjust and oppressive nature of export duties, and the probable result of their continuance". The author is given as An Estanciero. The tract was printed in Liverpool, the home town of Mr. Pilling. It can be found under shelf mark, #8180a 14, and entered into the British Library on the 12th October 1876. The detailed description of the situation in Uruguay can have come only from someone on the scene, and William is the suspect, again using his pseudonym, An Estanciero. The text of the tract is of interest to the present situation in Argentina, July 2003.

In 1886 two further tracts appear, Money: The question of today, and The Silver Question, Plainly and Practically Considered. These two tracts both acknowledge their author as William Pilling, and they appeared together with a further tract entitled Order from Chaos, a Treatise on Land Tenure, London, 1886, again signed by William Pilling. This last work was later published in book form under the title Land Tenure by Registration, 2nd. Edition of Order from Chaos, 1890, published by Chapman & Hall, the publishers of William Pilling's previous works. In the British Bibliographical Archive, the unknown writer states that William Pilling was a legal writer who flourished about 1885, I would beg to differ. The printer and bindings of the tracts of 1886 are practically identical with those of National Suicide of 1874. Even the 'printers flowers' on the covers, and their layout, are the same as that of 1874. If William was visiting relatives in Liverpool, then it would have been more convenient for him to use his Liverpool printer.

On the 29th of November 1890 William returns to Buenos Aires from Southampton on the ship Wordsworth. Again the date coincides with the publication of his book, as noted above, by Chapman & Hall in that year. During his time in London he wrote a short letter to Bartolome Mitre requesting his permission to publish in English a précis of the two volume edition of his Life of San Martin. The original letter, written on the letter head of a London hotel in Gower Street, is held in the Mitre Museum, Calle S. Martin, Buenos Aires. The letter is written in a familiar style, which suggests that he knew, personally, Mitre. The book appeared under the title The Emancipation of South America, being a condensed translation by William Pilling of The History of San Martin by General Don Bartolome Mitre, first constitutional president of the Argentine Republic, London, Chapman & Hall, Ltd. 1893. Copies of the printed sheets of this book were shipped to Buenos Aires, Mitchell's bookshop trimmed and bound the books locally and sold them in Argentina, with the title page unchanged. The hard back binding was of the same colour as that of the London edition, with the addition of Mitchells Buenos Aires noted on the base of the spine, there was no change to the title page as issued, still remaining at 1893. With trimming the book is smaller, in height and width, than the London edition.

A tribute to William by the Academia de la Historia was their choice of his translation of Bartolome Mitre to be used by the Academia to open their new series of books Hombres Representativos de la Historia Argentina, and a translation into Spanish by Julio Payro was arranged by them, and the edition by the Academia appeared in 1943, it was subsequently given a second edition by Espasa-Calpe in 1950, Año del Libertador General San Martin. It was also re-published in English by Cooper Square Publishers, Incorporated, New York, in 1969.

William fades away from documented history with his arrival, once again back from London, possibly from having seen his translation through the press at Chapman & Hall, and his arrival is noted as arriving at Buenos Aires from Southampton on the ship Tamar, aged 58, on the 14th of June 1893, almost forty years after his registering in the Consulate his arrival in Buenos Aires.

No record has been found yet of his death, or his will.
Colin Sharp

If you have any information about William Pilling, please email Colin


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