From Herbert Gibson to Don Heriberto: Scottish-Argentine Connections in a Global Age

By Claire C. Arnold

In April of 1888 Herbert Gibson made a momentous decision. Writing in his personal diary, he switched from writing in English to writing in Spanish to declare that after seven years in Argentina he had “ceased to be Scottish” and “adopted a new country.” [1]  Over the following years, the newly fashioned Don Heriberto deepened this commitment to his adopted home. He participated in local politics, leading the school board in the nearby town of Ajó and later becoming mayor. He published a series of English-language books and articles promoting agriculture and stock-raising on the “vast smiling pampas” to British investors. [2] And he continued to advocate for local agricultural reforms in Spanish-language publications and newspaper articles. Still, Herbert’s transformation was not complete.  By 1891, he had reverted to keeping his diary in English, and when war broke out in Europe in 1914 he rushed back to Britain to be closer to his son.

Herbert’s dual identity speaks to his family’s long history in Argentina. His grandfather had first opened a branch of the family’s export business in Buenos Aires in 1818, a half century before Herbert’s arrival. His uncle had encouraged the family to purchase land outside the city in the 1820s, and his father had worked to establish a ranching business through the 1840s and 1850s before returning to Scotland. So, although Herbert had grown up in Britain, his arrival in Argentina must have felt like a homecoming of sorts. Like his forebears, Herbert quickly took to the rolling pampas, mild climate, and comfortable country life of an Argentinian rancher. Yet like the generations before him, he never completely cut ties with Britain either, travelling back and forth across the Atlantic to visit family and sending his children back for their education.

Herbert was not the first Gibson to feel confused about the resulting identity. His uncle, returning to Glasgow in 1837 after a decade in Argentina, mused: “I don’t see how I can do anything here; I am unacquainted with manufacturing and any other business of this country, I don’t like the place, my repugnance to a residence here is little, if any, lessened after a year’s trial. I don’t know how it is but I don’t feel at home.” [3] Herbert’s father had returned reluctantly to Scotland in 1862 with a young family, and in his later years tried to live vicariously through his sons via a deluge of letters west. [4] Herbert himself remained torn between his affection for his adopted home, and the pull of personal ties to Scotland. Scottish? Argentinian? Expats? Migrants? The Gibsons were never quite sure where they stood.

Historians, too, might struggle to classify the Gibsons. Histories of “global figures” often focus on individuals who went many places over their lifetimes: travelling scholars, career diplomats, civil servants, and military men. Histories of migration and settlement, meanwhile, tend to assume leaving Britain was a permanent break from the past. The Gibsons straddled these categories. Though they travelled frequently, they mostly passed between only two locations: Scotland and Argentina. Their lives were clearly shaped by a globalizing economy: the opening of Latin America, the expanding distribution of British capital, the transformations in transportation and communication allowed by new steamship technology. But they experienced these changes personally and regionally: a new business opportunity, a letter received a bit faster, or more frequent visits back to Britain. The Gibsons did not travel the globe, but their lives were certainly more global than those who never left Britain.

The Gibsons weren’t the only ones to occupy this middle ground. Within Argentina, they were part of a small but persistent British community that had been established in the early days of independence and supplanted by a small but steady stream of middle-class migrants from Britain. [5] Globally, they were a few of the eleven million migrants who left Britain between 1825 and 1930 to live and work around the world. Of these, at least a quarter returned, building their own personal circuits between two points on the globe. [6] Historians have argued that this migration, in aggregate, was an important part of building the Anglo-world. [7] But, taken in isolation, these migrants and their limited circuits don’t always look like the global figures we’re familiar with. The Gibsons’ family history offers a model for bridging the gap: showing how multi-generational patterns of mobility, over time, created global lives. Understanding these sorts of migratory families as global figures opens a vast new array of subjects for global histories, shedding light on a much broader range of global experiences.

Author’s Bio: Claire C Arnold is a PhD candidate at Northwestern University, writing a dissertation titled “The Demands of Distance: British Families and the World, 1830- 1914.” Her research focuses on the family, migration and globalization in the long nineteenth century. She tweets at @taketothecee .

Selected Further Reading

“Scots Abroad Databases,” National Library of Scotland:

Buchanan, Jordan. “Glaswegians in Buenos Aires: British Informal Imperialism in Latin America” on Scottish Centre for Global History blog

Cohen, Deborah. “Love and Money in The Informal Empire: The British in Argentina, 1830–1930.” Past & Present 245, no. 1 (November 1, 2019): 79–115.

Graham-Yooll, Andrew. The Forgotten Colony: A History of the English-Speaking Communities in Argentina. London: Hutchinson, 1981.

Harper, Marjory. Adventurers and Exiles: The Great Scottish Exodus. London: Profile, 2003.

Richards, Eric. Britannia’s Children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1600. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.


[1] “He dejado de ser Escoces y he adoptado una patria nueva.” Steward, Iain. Don Heriberto: Knight of the Argentine. Ely: Melrose Books, 2008. 99

[2]  Gibson, Herbert. The History and Present State of the Sheep-Breeding Industry in the Argentine Republic. Edinburgh: Ravenscroft & Mills, 1893.

[3] Correspondence and papers of George, Robert, and Thomas Gibson, MS 10327, National Library of Scotland.

[4] Stewart, Don Heriberto.

[5]  Graham-Yooll, Andrew. The Forgotten Colony: A History of the English-Speaking Communities in Argentina. London: Hutchinson, 1981.

[6] Pooley, Colin G. Migration and Mobility in Britain since the Eighteenth Century. London ; Bristol, Penn.: UCL Press, 1998; Erickson, Charlotte. Leaving England: Essays on British Emigration in the Nineteenth Century. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

[7] Belich, James. Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Cover Images Attribution:

Ben Brooksbank / Southward view, east of Wilsontown, near site of former Haywood station / CC BY-SA 2.0 (left)

Claudio Elias/ Sendero Valle de las Pinturas en el Parque Nacional Lihué Calel, La Pampa, Argentina (right)