20th June 2022   Wales to Patagonia’’ by Barbara Beard

This was Barbara’s 4th visit. (For information on Barbara, you can refer to her talk on 11th Feb. 2019)

157 years after a group of Welsh people emigrated to Patagonia, todays talk posed the question as to whether it had turned out to be a success or a disaster.

     The incentive to emigrate was poverty, and opposition to the Welsh language by the English, and some Welsh. A ‘’Welsh Not’’ used to be hung around the necks of children to shame them if they spoke Welsh.

     From 1617 a group of Welsh speakers went to  Newfoundland, which was a disaster, and failed. Later, a group went to America, where they assimilated into the population and lost their Welsh identity.

     So, in 1847, when The Blue Books were published about the Non-Conformity and morals of the Welsh and the drawback of the Welsh language, Rev. Michael D. Jones (born 1822), considered to be the greatest Welsh Nationalist since Owain Glyndwr, decided to find a place to build a free Welsh speaking community with a Welsh National identity.

     He chose Patagonia, because it was unknown territory and the Argentinian government wanted increased population there to deter Chile from colonising the area.

     Edwyn Roberts founded the Liverpool Emigration Society, having read an advert in The Times for free land in Patagonia. He toured Wales to get support and recruited Sir Thomas Love Jones and Lewis Jones, who went to see what Patagonia had to offer.

     Having first gone to Buenos Aires to speak with the Argentinian Government, they then went by boat to Port Madryn, in Patagonia, on the Chubut river and reported back to Wales that there were ‘’tufts of grass, the area was suitable for light crops, there was ample anchorage but no sheep, just wild guanacos’’.

     Eventually on 28th May 1865 the sailing ship ‘’Mimosa’’ left Liverpool docks with Edwyn Roberts and Lewis and Ellen Jones. They had 6 months provisions, an assortment of livestock, and 155 Welsh speaking passengers. There were very few farmers amongst them.

          The Argentinian government had allotted 100 acre plots per family which they hoped to exchange for the Falklands!!

     The trip was tough, and 5 children died on the voyage, but their religion and dislike of the English sustained them throughout. They even took a piano and rewrote the words of ‘’God Save the Queen’’.

     They landed on 28th July 1865 at Port Madryn. The local Teheulche people taught them to hunt and they made shacks from driftwood and lived in caves, but the hardships, deaths, and lack of water drove them to move by ship 6 miles down the coast to a new settlement Trerawson (named after the Interior Minister Mr. Rawson) where there was more water.

     In 1867 they constructed water channels to store and distribute flood waters and in 1872 this irrigation system produced wheat crops for Bara (bread). The first proper house was built in 1874 and another town Gaiman was founded with a teacher for the children.

     In 1875 the Welsh were granted ownership of the land by the government, and there have been Eisteddfods ever since.

     In 1886 the railway linked Gaiman to Port Madryn, so more Welsh and non-Welsh came, and Trelew was established.

     In 1889 the first bridge over the Chubut river was constructed.

     With numbers increasing, the demand for minerals drove some to go west. With this expansion, the Argentinians became less co-operative with the settlers. So, in 1896, Spanish law was introduced into schools, and in 1904 only children over 14 had a Welsh education.

    In the west, the Teheulche attacked the founder, John D Evans, of a new town Trevelin in the Andes, but he survived and the town still managed to build a mill. A border treaty was signed between Argentina and Chile in 1881, and there was a plebiscite in 1902 to decide whether Trevelin was in Chile or Argentina. They voted for Argentina.

    In 1911 more immigrants, Welsh and non-Welsh came, so that only half of the 20,000 immigrants were now Welsh speakers.

     In 1997, there was a Welsh Language project to maintain the language, with an input from the Welsh UK government, and nowadays the schools are bi-lingual with Welsh and Spanish.

     Commemoration events were held 100 and 150 years after the first settlers arrived, and there are monuments to the pioneers in Port Madryn and Gaiman. The Welsh language is now thriving.

     Is it a success? Answer – Yes, thanks to help from the Welsh government.

     A very enjoyable and interesting morning. Diolch yn fawr.