Welsh settlement in Argentina

Welsh settlement in Argentina

Infobox Ethnic group
group = Welsh-Argentines

poptime = 20,000 [http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1163503]
popplace = Chubut Province.
langs = Spanish; about eight percent also speak Welsh
rels = Christianity (mostly Anglicanism and Presbyterianism)
related = Welsh, English Argentine, Welsh American, Welsh Canadian, Welsh-Australian, British Latin American

The Welsh settlement in Argentina began in 1865 and occurred mainly along the coast of Chubut province in the far southern region of Patagonia. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Argentine government encouraged the immigration of Europeans to populate the country outside the Buenos Aires region; between 1856 and 1875 no fewer than 34 settlements of Welsh immigrants were established between Santa Fe and Entre Rios. In addition to the main colony in Chubut, a smaller colony was set up in Santa Fe by 44 Welsh people who left Chubut, and another group settled at Coronel Suárez in southern Buenos Aires Province. [cite book | editor= Diarmuid Ó Néill (ed.) | first=Paul W. | last=Birt | year=2005 | title=Rebuilding the Celtic Languages | publisher=Y Lolfa | location=Talybont | pages=146 | chapter=Welsh (in Argentina) | isbn=0-86243-723-7] In the early 21st century, in Patagonia the Welsh-Argentine community numbers about 20,000. The community in Chubut's own estimate of the number of Welsh speakers is 1,500. ["Western Mail", 27 Dec 2004]


First settlers 1865

The idea of a Welsh colony in South America was put forward by Professor Michael D. Jones, a nationalist non-conformist preacher based in Bala who had called for a new "little Wales beyond Wales". He spent some years in the United States, where he observed that Welsh immigrants assimilated very quickly compared to other peoples and often lost much of their Welsh identity. He proposed setting up a Welsh-speaking colony away from the influence of English. He recruited settlers and provided financing. Australia, New Zealand and even Palestine were considered, but Patagonia was chosen for its isolation and the Argentines' apparently generous offer of 100 square miles (260 km²) of land along the Chubut River in exchange for settling the land of the still-unconquered Patagonia for Argentina.

Towards the end of 1862 Captain Love Jones-Parry and Lewis Jones (after whom Trelew was named) left for Patagonia to decide whether it was a suitable area for Welsh emigrants. They first visited Buenos Aires where they held discussions with the Interior Minister Guillermo Rawson then, having come to an agreement, headed south. They reached Patagonia in a small ship named the "Candelaria", and were driven by a storm into a bay which they named "Porth Madryn" after Jones-Parry's estate in Wales. The town which grew near the spot where they landed is now named Puerto Madryn. On their return to Wales they declared the area to be very suitable for colonization.

The permanent European settlement of the Chubut Valley and surrounding areas began on July 27, 1865 when 153 Welsh settlers arrived aboard the converted tea-clipper "Mimosa". The "Mimosa" had cost £2,500 to hire for the voyage and convert to passenger use, and the fare from Liverpool to Patagonia was £12 for adults and £6 for children, although anyone willing to travel was taken on the journey regardless of ability to pay. [cite web |url=http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/casamirror/mimosa1.htm |title=Welsh immigrants in Patagonia: Mimosa, the old ship that sailed into history |accessdate=2007-01-05 |last=Wilkinson |first=Susan |date= |year=1998 |month=September |work=Buenos Aires Herald ] The "Mimosa" settlers, including tailors, cobblers, carpenters, brickmakers, and miners, comprised 56 married adults, 33 single or widowed men, 12 single women (usually sisters or servants of married emigrants), and 52 children. There were few farmers, which was rather unfortunate particularly when they discovered that the attractions of the area had been oversold and they had landed in an arid semi-desert with little food. They had been told that the area was like lowland Wales. At the coast there was little drinking water and the group embarked on a walk across the parched plain with a single wheelbarrow to carry their belongings. Some died and a baby was born on the march, called Mary Humphries. John Williams was the only colonist with any form of rudimentary medical skill.

Once they reached the valley of the Chubut River, their first settlement was a small fortress on the site which later became the town of Rawson, now the capital of Chubut province. The first houses here were washed away by a flash flood in 1865, and new houses were constructed. The floods also washed away crops of potatoes and maize. The rainfall in the area was much less than the colonists had been led to expect, leading to crop failures.

Consolidation 1866–1888

The settlers first made contact with the local Tehuelche people almost a year after their arrival. After some difficult early years of suspicion and a small amount of violence, the Tehuelche people established cordial relationships with the Welsh and helped the settlement survive the early food shortages. The settlers, led by Aaron Jenkins (whose wife Rachel was the first to bring up the idea of systematic use of irrigation canals), soon established Argentina's first irrigation system based on the Chubut River (in Welsh, "Afon Camwy", "winding river"), irrigating an area 3 or 4 miles (5 or 6 km) to each side of the 50 mile (80 km) long stretch of river and creating Argentina's most fertile wheatlands. Initially the settlers were largely self-governing, with all men and women of 18 years of age or over having the right to vote. By 1885 wheat production had reached 6,000 tons, with wheat produced by the colony winning the gold medal at international expositions at Paris and Chicago.

The mouth of the River Chubut was difficult to navigate, being shallow and with shifting sandbanks, and it was decided that a railway was required to connect the Lower Chubut valley to Puerto Madryn (originally Porth Madryn) on the Golfo Nuevo on the southern side of Península Valdés. Lewis Jones was the driving force, and in 1884 the Argentine Congress authorised the construction of the Ferrocarril Central del Chubut by Lewis Jones y Cia. Raising funds for the project locally proved difficult, so Lewis Jones went to the United Kingdom to seek funds, where he enlisted the assistance of Asahel P. Bell, an engineer. Work on the railway began in 1886, helped by the arrival of another 465 Welsh settlers on the steamer Vesta. The town which grew at the railhead was named "Trelew" (Town of Lew) in honour of Lewis Jones. The town grew rapidly and in 1888 became the headquarters of the "Compañía Mercantil del Chubut" (Chubut Trading Company).

Expansion towards the Andes 1885–1902

By the mid 1880s most of the good agricultural land in the Lower Chubut valley had been claimed, and the colonists mounted a number of expeditions to explore other parts of Patagonia to seek more cultivable land. In 1885 the Welsh asked the governor of Chubut, Luis Jorge Fontana for permission to arrange an expedition to explore the Andean part of Chubut. Fontana decided to accompany the expedition in person. By the end of November 1885 they had reached a fertile area which the Welsh named "Cwm Hyfryd" (Pleasant Valley). This became the site of another Welsh settlement, named in Spanish "Colonia 16 de Octubre". As the population grew here, the towns of Esquel and Trevelin were founded.

This area became the subject of a dispute between Argentina and Chile. Initially the border was defined by a line connecting the highest peaks in the area, but it later became clear that this line was not the same as the line separating the watersheds, with some of the rivers in the area flowing westwards. Argentina and Chile agreed that the United Kingdom should act as arbitrator, and the views of the Welsh settlers were canvassed. In 1902, despite an offer of a league of land per family from Chile, they voted to remain in Argentina.

Setbacks in the Lower Chubut Valley 1899–1915

Serious damage was caused by floods in the 1890s and 1900s, which devastated Rawson and to a lesser extent Gaiman, though Trelew was not affected. There was also disagreement between the settlers and the Argentine government, which introduced conscription and insisted on males of military age drilling on Sundays. This ran counter to the Sabbatarian principles of the settlers and caused much ill-feeling, though the matter was eventually resolved by the intervention of the Argentine president Julio Argentino Roca. These factors together with a lack of unclaimed farmable land caused 234 people to leave for Liverpool aboard the "Orissa" on 14 May 1902, with 208 of them subsequently travelling to Canada, arriving at Saltcoats, Saskatchewan in late June, [cite web |url=http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/ecp/content/welsh.html |title=Multicultural Canada — Welsh |accessdate=2007-07-01 |last=Williams |first=Colin H. |work=Multicultural Canada Project, Simon Fraser University ] although some of these families later returned to Chubut. Some other settlers moved to the Rio Negro area of Argentina. Many of those who left Chubut were late arrivals who had failed to obtain land of their own, and they were replaced by more immigrants from Wales. By the end of the 19th century there were some 4,000 people of Welsh descent living in Chubut. The last substantial immigration from Wales took place shortly before World War I, which put a halt to further immigration. Approximately 1000 Welsh immigrants arrived in Patagonia between 1886 and 1911; on the basis of this and other statistics, Glyn Williams has estimated that perhaps no more than 2300 Welsh people ever migrated directly to Patagonia. [cite journal | author=Glyn Williams | year=1969 | title=The Welsh in Patagonia: A Demographic Note | journal=Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap | pages=238 | volume=Supplementary volume ]

Later development

In time the colony proved remarkably successful, though as immigration to the area after 1914 was mainly from Italy and other southern European countries the Welsh gradually became a minority. As well as the irrigation system, the creation of a Co-operative Society "(Compañía Mercantil de Chubut)" was crucial. The Society traded on the settlers' behalf in Buenos Aires and acted as a bank with 14 branches. The strong chapel-based society was also important, with an emphasis on mutual help and support, social activities and insurance schemes. However, the Co-operative Society collapsed in the Great Depression of the 1930s and many lost their savings. The construction of a dam on the Rio Chubut 120 km west of Trelew, inaugurated on 19 April 1963, removed the risk of flooding in the Lower Chubut Valley.

The Welsh have left their mark on the landscape, with windmills and chapels across the province, including the distinctive wood and corrugated zinc Capel Salem and Trelew's Salon San David, an attempt to reproduce St David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire. Many settlements along the valley bear Welsh names.

Over the years use of the Welsh language has declined, and there was comparatively little contact between Wales and Chubut for many years after 1914. Things began to change when a large number of Welsh people visited Patagonia in 1965 for celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the colony. Since then there has been a great increase in the number of visitors from Wales. Teachers are sent to assist in keeping the language alive, and there is some social cachet in knowing the language — even among people who are not of Welsh ancestry. There are still important cultural activities, including chapel, poetry and Welsh teas served in teahouses alongside the river in Gaiman and Dolavon. In 2006, the links between the Chubut Valley and Wales were again underscored, this time in a sporting context. The first of a two-Test tour to Argentina by the Wales national rugby union team was played in Puerto Madryn, a 27–25 win for Argentina. Another example of the Argentina-Wales connection is that Welsh Centre in London has been for many years one of the main venues for dancing Argentine Tango.

Principal settlements in the area are Puerto Madryn, Trevelin ("Milltown"), Rawson, Trelew, Dolavon and Gaiman.

Welsh language names for Argentine places

See also

* British Latin American
* Eluned Morgan
* Welsh colonization of the Americas
* Welsh Tract
* "A Swiftly Tilting Planet"



*"Western Mail" (Cardiff, Wales). 27 Dec 2004. [http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/tm_objectid=15015947&method=full&siteid=50082&headline=hola--plans-for-patagonia-welsh-to-watch-gente-de-valle-and-other-s4c-shows-to-improve-their-language-skills-name_page.html Patagonia Welsh to watch S4C shows.]
*cite book | author=Glyn Williams | title=The desert and the dream: a study of Welsh colonization in Chubut 1865-1915 | publisher=University of Wales Press | year=1975 | isbn=0-7083-0579-2
*cite book | author=R. Bryn Williams | title=Gwladfa Patagonia 1865–2000 = La colonia galesa de Patagonia 1865–2000 = The Welsh colony in Patagonia 1865–2000 | publisher=Gwasg Carreg Gwalch | year=2000 | isbn=0-86381-653-3

External links

* [http://www.glaniad.com/ Glaniad - A website that tells the story of the Welsh Settlements in Patagonia]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1163503 h2g2 Y Wladfa — The Welsh in Patagonia.] h2g2 online encyclopedia. BBC.
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/migration/pages/patagonia.shtml BBC Wales History on the Welsh migration to Patagonia]
* [http://www.andesceltig.com Andes Celtig] A trilingual website with information, maps and photographs of the Welsh settlements in Patagonia

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