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Thomas Bridges (Anglican missionary)


Thomas Bridges (18421898) was the first Anglican missionary to succeed in setting up a mission in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The mission was located at what is now the town of Ushuaia. On his retirement from missionary service he received a grant of land from the Argentine government and became a rancher.

The local people in Ushuaia report that he was found on a bridge in Bristol on St Thomas' Day and named after the day and location. Jimmy Burns Jimmy Burns, Beyond the Silver River: South American Encounters states 'In 1851 George Pakenham Despard found a baby boy ... abandoned on a small footbridge in Bristol. There were no messages or documents on the child but he was dressed in an immaculate frock and around his neck was a locket engraved with the letter T. George Despard decided that the child was a catholic and from a rich family and adopted him. He christened him Thomas. The boy was eventually told the circumstances of his adoption and chose for himself the surname Bridges in memory of the meeting that had saved his life'. There are some obviously questionable items in this report. The date must have been closer to 1842 than 1851. Why did George Despard conclude that the boy was a catholic, Despard was an Anglican priest, and what is the relevance? Why would someone found on a bridge choose the name Bridges rather than Bridge? What is clear is that Thomas Bridges was closely associated with George Pakenham Despard but not adopted by him.

George Despard lived in Redland, Bristol where he ran a private school at his home and it seems that Thomas Bridges became a pupil at the school. There is no record of a Thomas Bridges in the 1851 UK census. There is, however, a pupil, George H Bridges, aged about 11 and born in Bristol, in the private school at George Despards house in Redland, Bristol. The entry immediately above that of George H Bridges is another pupil, George H Pope. Given the improbability of two boys in consecutive entries having the same first names it seems likely that the entry for George H Bridges is a transcription error and that he is in fact Thomas Bridges. If so, it is possible that he was put initially into the Clifton Union workhouse at Hudds Vale Road and that George Despard later, on recognizing a gifted pupil, took him into his private school.

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Thomas Bridges

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