In 1865, the deserted plains of Patagonia Argentina become the new home to Welsh nationalists. Thus started a new chapter for the Welsh. Explore here what became of those 153 pioneering souls.
What is Patagonia?
Patagonia refers to an area of land which spans the southern parts of both Chile and Argentina, south of the Rio Negro. In the context of the Welsh Colony, it refers to the upper half of Patagonia where the Welsh colonized the lower Chubut Valley, westwards to Esquel and Trevelin (Cwm Hyfrd area in the Andes). The main settlement area in the lower Chubut Valley is not very large – some 40-50 miles east to west, and 10-20 miles north to south.
Migration to Chubut, Patagonia
Welsh nationalists were behind the emigration movement to Chubut, wanting to escape the persecution of the English and to preserve their language, culture and religion. The Industrial Revolution and an increase in population in rural Wales placed stresses on the economic life of the Welsh peasant. The motivation behind the continuing migration of the Welsh to Chubut was to because of rising unemployment, and a desire to enjoy a better quality of life and economic stability. Michael Daniel Jones (1822-1898, of Bala), a Welsh conformist, was the ‘father’ of the Chubut colony. He had spent three years in Ohio which had been settled by the Welsh, but thought that the Welsh had become too assimilated into the culture, thus losing their own. He wanted to found a completely autonomous community for the Welsh, and to do this he realized he would have to put up physical and psychological barriers to assimilation. At this time the Argentine Government were calling for expressions of interest for European settlers to its southern ‘unconquered’ areas – Patagonia.
Michael Daniel Jones was thus instrumental in assisting the emigration of the Welsh to Chubut.
In 1865, 162 Welsh family members and crew sailed off from Liverpool on the Mimosa to Patagonia to start a new “Welsh Colony” in the unexplored area south of Buenos Aires.T. As reported in the book “In Search of the Red Dragon”, they sang the following song:
We have found a better land
In the far south
It is Patagonia
We will live there in peace
Without fear of treachery or war
And a Welshman on the throne
Praise be to God
On 15 September 1865 the first town in the Chubut colony was named Rawson, after the Argentine minister who negotiated the emigration of the Welsh.
Two families settled in Gaiman in 1874, with a minister. Other families joined, most of whom had been members of the Ministers’ congregation in Wales, so that by 1875, the town of Gaiman was established 21 miles west of Rawson.
Trelew was established in 1871 and Dolavon in 1880. In 1884, Chubut was declared a province of Argentina. From about 1885 onwards, the Welsh started settling south and west of Rawson to the foothills of the Andes mountain. They undertook a number of explorations to the western part of Argentina, to the foothills of the Andes. It was through these explorations that the Andes were settled, so that in 1894 the new settlement in Cwm Hyfrd numbered 100 people.
The Chubut colony was not the first nor the last of the settlement attempts by the Welsh. Indeed many of the Welsh who went to the Chubut Valley were disappointed in some way and left again to go back to Wales or to take up land elsewhere, either in Argentina or in other countries.
James Rowland published his memories of the ‘Vesta’ in Y Draford of 6 September 1946 (and the next or previous edition) entitled “Diwed Hanes Mintai’r Vesta”. He noted the destination of the following people:
- Esquel – Daniel Gibbon, Jacob Morgan, Solomon David
- Trevelin – Morgan R Davies, Evan Hopkin
- Valle Frio – John Samuel, James Williams
- Andes – Ben Roberts, James Rowlands
- Southside – William Owen, Roger Vaughan, Tom Lewis, David Humphreys, Robert Evans, Thomas Owen
- Northside – Thomas A William and brother, Anthony Hutchings, John J Williams, Owen Cox Jones
- Gualjina (near Esquel) – Tom O. Roberts
- Cabo Raso (coast) – William J Williams (of Bangor)
Sarmiento with their families – Davydd Jenkins, William Waters, Evan Coombes, Willy Jones (Liverpool), Bob Roberts, William Jones (painter) and brother Johnny.
In the book “The Search for the Red Dragon” (Carol Bennett 1985), a special committee of Welshmen went to Canada in 1899 to check out further settlement possibilities for not only the Welsh Patagonians, but all Welsh. The Committee comprised of David Lloyd George MP, W.J. Rees, ex-mayor of Swansea, and Llewelyn Williams, a Cardiff lawyer and writer.
In May 1902 about 320 Welsh left Patagonia to Liverpool on board the Orissa – about 20 people stayed in Wales, and the remainder went to Canada on the Numidian to arrive in Canada on 28 June 1902, at an area later to be known as Bangor Saskatchewan. Some of the people who went to Canada were: Henry Davies, Robert and Catherine Roberts, Anne William, William and Mary Jones .
The Welsh also went to Collie in Western Australia, Leeton in New South Wales, and investigated the possibility of colonising the Northern Territory in Australia. There was also the possibility of settling in South Africa.
1885 Expedition to the Andes
In 1885 John Murray Thomas (who came to Chubut on board the ‘Mimosa’ in 1865), organised an expedition to the Andes led by the Governor of Chubut, Luis Jorge Fontana. The other members of the party were: John Henry Jones, John T Davies, soldier, Henry Davies, David P Roberts, John Owen, Thomas Jones, plasterer, John T Evans, James Thomas, William Katterfeld, engineer, John Evans, James M Wagner, Captain Gregorio Mayo, William Lloyd Jones “Glynn”, Herman Faesing, Pedro Derbes, clerk ,Antonio Miguens, William I Thomas, Robert Jones “Bedol”, R G Jones “Pant y March”, Jenkin Richards, John Wynne, Eduard Jones “Bagillt”, Evan Jones, Tommy Davies, Ramon Calvo.
Economic stability of the Chubut colony depended on being able to quickly transport their wheat to market. To do this a railway project was undertaken between Trelew to Puerto Madryn. The need for labour to construct the railway was the reason that the biggest shipload of immigrants from Wales arrived on board the Vesta in 1886. About 300 of the 450 passengers were skilled craftsmen of labourers. The railway was completed between Trelew and Puerto Madryn in 1889. In 1909 the railway reached Gaiman, and in 1917 it reached Dolavon. It goes for 30 miles up the Chubut Valley.
Today the railway has ceased running. The station at Gaiman is now the historical museum, and the station at Rawson is also a museum. Tegai Roberts is the Chief Curator at the museum, and is an expert on the history of the colony.
By 1885, all of the irrigable land in the lower Chubut Valley was occupied. This meant that there was little to offer the Vesta passengers after the railway was completed in 1889. According to James Rowland only 2 people from the Vesta got farms in the Lower Chubut Valley – Lewis Humphreys and Peter Jones. The remainder were offered farms halfway between Gaiman and Esquel. Some took up the offer, but most didn’t because it was too far to cart produce to the coast for export. Other men rented farms while many single men returned to Wales. Others took the opportunity to go north to Rio Negro or to Buenos Aires (via the ships). Several men got ‘corner’ blocks out of the surveyed blocks at the edges of the valley.