Bara Brith on the pampas: the Welsh in Patagonia
In 1865, a Welsh speaking colony was established in the valley of the Chubut River in Patagonia Argentina. The original emigrants sailed from Liverpool on the Mimosa and they were joined in the 1880s by a second wave of emigrants and a further colony was established in the foothills of the Andes. Although measures were later taken to remove some of the colonists to Canada and South Africa, most of the settlers and their descendants remained in Argentina.
The National Archives holds a vast amount of material relating to this relatively unknown but fascinating episode in British history. Bruno Derrick introduces the main records relating to the history and development of the settlement from the earliest days to modern times, and he examines why the Welsh travelled to Patagonia, what they encountered when they got there, and how the colony developed over the years.
The talk this afternoon is about something which isn’t necessarily that well known a subject, as when people think of the British overseas they think of the British who went to Australia and Canada, and New Zealand, South Africa, the United States as well.
But this is about the settlement of Welsh people who went and settled in the south of Argentina in the 19th century, and this is a subject matter which is very well known about in Wales, I think. It’s taught in schools over there, but it isn’t so well known about over in England, and I think it should be because it’s an amazing story of great hardship and endurance against the odds and they came through in the end, more or less…and there are many documents here which record the history of this colony.
So just the background first of all; that’s Argentina. Even today it’s a relatively under populated country; most of the population live in and around Buenos Aires. Argentina itself began its independence movement against Spain on the 25th May 1810. The first government junta was set up, and they then went into a sort of war against the Spanish who were already fighting a war against what they saw as rebel forces elsewhere in Spanish America.
The Spanish weren’t too worried about the area in and around the plate Buenos Aires because it was very much the poor relation of the Spanish empire, but nevertheless eventually they [the Argentines] prevailed over the Spanish, and they declared their independence on the 9 July 1816 at the congress of Tucuman. Those two dates are still very important in Argentina; the 25 May and the 9 of July. Their ships and other things are named after those particular dates.
So Argentina became independent, and then for about 30 or 40 years nothing much really happened. No-one went out there. The population as it was before independence stayed more or less the same. It was mostly people of Spanish descent or officials who’d actually moved out from Spain, quite a number of Indians obviously, and also, which has rather disappeared today, quite a large African slave and ex-slave population, again in and around Buenos Aires.
But later on in the mid 19th century, a decision was made, when they started to realise how the economic potential of the land could be exploited by moving into the pampas and just turning it over to agriculture on an industrial basis. So the decision then was made that, ‘if we’re going to do this we’re going to need loads and loads of European immigrants’ because the Indians who live over in America probably wouldn’t want to do it anyway and were nomadic and were not felt to be up to the task.
Well more to the point, the Argentines wanted to create a Latin American version of the United States because most of Latin America, well Brazil has got a large African population, but most of Latin America is a Mestizo country; mostly mixed Indian and Spanish descent. And they said ‘we’re not going to do that in Argentina, we’re going to create a new country which basically is European in nature’. So they invited immigrants to come over from Europe and millions did, mainly from Italy and Spain but also from Russia, Poland, France, Germany and also from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
So that’s the background to the decision made to emigrate, for the decision for the Welsh to emigrate to Patagonia; the Argentines wanted them out there and were prepared to offer land to them. Now they would probably have preferred them had they been Catholics I suppose but they were European which was the next best thing; they were very keen to have as many Europeans going out there as possible.
And that’s what Buenos Aires looks like today. It’s a very, if you like, southern European city, it’s a very pleasant place really. It’s called the Paris of South America; quite an elegant city.
And this is the chap who oversaw the original, well the expansion of Argentina into what became a very wealthy and rich and powerful country for a time; it’s not now, but it was for a time back in the 20s and 30s. He started the process by opening the land up to European immigrants: Bartholome Mitre.
Basically, British officials are very keen to monitor the development of the colonies, so Foreign Office officials, Royal Naval captains, people from the embassy in Buenos Aires would go down there and would provide lists of colonists living out there; numbers of houses being built; numbers of immigrants arriving; numbers of people who have decided to leave, they didn’t like it; and so there is a great range of documents you can find out there.
If you were going to pursue this research further, I would suggest that you searched on our catalogue, and just put in ‘Patagonia’ and see what comes up; I mean most of it will relate to the Welsh colony.
And of course Welsh, English, Irish, Scottish people were emigrating all over the world at that time, but in the 19th century British people weren’t putting themselves beyond the remit of the British Empire and that’s what they did in Argentina, and I don’t think that was really appreciated back in London. They didn’t mind having a Welsh colony but they thought it should be under the protection of the British flag, if you like, and so until the end of the 19th century there was always this feeling that ‘okay, these chaps have gone out there, they’ve set up this rather good colony which appears to be working but nevertheless we’ll try and encourage them to leave’.
That sort of feeling peters off at the start of the 20th century and hence the records we’ve got on the colony after that date are rather sparse but certainly before that date there are lots of records, as I say ship’s logs from this material – FO6 is the main [record to consult] ..records in Argentine Republic Records pre 1906 – and I would say initially just search on the catalogue under Patagonia and then take it from there – you can always speak to me if you come in.
That’s a group of Welsh women out in the Chubut valley wearing traditional Welsh dress, although perhaps it wasn’t so traditional but it was held to be traditional and so they [chose to dress that way]…of course when they went over there perhaps they doubly reinforced that sense of wearing what was traditional for the mother country.
The main question I get asked about this, well, people say ‘why are you interested you’re not even Welsh’, but beyond that they say, the main question I’m asked is ‘why did they choose to go to Patagonia?’ Well one reason suggested was that of course they were offered land by the Argentine government but the main reason that the leaders of the movement had to go out there was although Wales was overwhelmingly Welsh speaking in the 19th century, the language wasn’t given much recognition.
I think it was still taught in some schools but there were strong moves to say ‘well, they shouldn’t be taught this language in schools, and it’s actually in their own interests not to be taught it’. I mean, the Times newspaper in London said the Welsh language was a curse on Wales, because it ‘holds them back from being absorbed into the rest of Pax Britannica’. They said ‘it’s in their interests not to speak it any more’ and so the leaders of the movement noticed this, and they also noted and objected to the fact that throughout most of the 19th century, the Welsh, being non-conformist, had to pay tithes towards the establishment of the established church of Wales, and most of them weren’t Anglicans so they didn’t like paying those tithes.
So the big impetus behind the movement to move were those I think: language and religion, really. The leaders of the movement had noticed however, because they’d been over to the United States, they’d noticed that Welsh communities had been established in various parts of America. They’d been able to maintain themselves for a generation or two and set up newspapers and publish books and actually have a thriving Welsh community in various parts of America, but within a generation or two it had been absorbed into the thriving population; there weren’t enough of them.
So they wanted to go as far away as possible, just to escape from the English really, some of them anyway. They wanted to move as far away so they could establish a new Wales beyond the seas, where they could maintain their language and traditions, and not be interfered with by the British government.
Now you could say they chose a rather peculiar country to go to, in that case Argentina, but Patagonia at that time was unchartered territory, it was if you like terra incognita, people just didn’t know about it. They weren’t quite sure who owned it, I mean both Argentina and Chile claimed the whole lot of it.
But if they had perhaps looked further into the subject, they’d have seen Argentina, certainly in that period when it was encouraging millions of immigrants from all over Europe, needed something to unify the country, and the two things which really unified the country were the flag, [the] ‘Argentina’ if you like, or the political system over there, and the language, the Spanish language, so they’ll have been given no real encouragement to speak Welsh out there by the Argentine government, and in fact they weren’t. So fundamentally that’s what they noticed, they noticed that when the Welsh went overseas they tended not to maintain their language and not to maintain their traditions.
As I’ve said, the communities in Argentina and Patagonia were at that time the Tehuelche Indians who were sort of nomadic peoples who didn’t sort of build any permanent dwellings; moved around and about, and the land itself was, well, hardly known at all. It was a very sort of mythical land; the term Patagonia actually means, I think it means ‘Land of people with big feet’, and that’s all people knew about it, they said ‘they’ve got big feet over there’, and there wasn’t much else to say!
So, they travelled around Wales recruiting volunteers, and as it happens the volunteers who did decide to go came from those parts of Wales where the Welsh language actually was in relative decline. It actually did partly die out over the next 50, 60 years, places like Mountain Ash, various other towns near the northern border with England up near Liverpool and Manchester.
But they were still Welsh speaking when they went out there, and they tended to congregate in Liverpool, well, some of the settlers actually had moved to Liverpool and Manchester before going out there, but when they’d got enough people who agreed to go out there they all moved up to Liverpool and then basically waited for a ship to be made ready for them and spending money and living in hotels I think, filling grim hotels up until a ship was made available, and eventually one was.
Now this is paraphrasing a bit, because a huge amount of negotiation had to go into this with various authorities, including the Argentine authorities and their agents in this country. But they managed to get hold of this ship eventually, which was a converted tea clipper, which had been chugging around the South Seas over the previous few years.
After lying there in dock in Liverpool for several weeks the ship eventually left and they headed off for South America and almost immediately, the ship almost foundered off the coast of Anglesey, and if it had, they would just have presumably written off the whole idea as a bad idea and just gone home; it’s just down the road! But it didn’t founder and they eventually [arrived]…it took them two months to get there.
The voyage itself was recorded in the Illustrated London News, and they give a lot of information about people coming and going. At the end: ‘One ship having on board 148 Welsh passengers’, (in fact there were 153) sailed for Nueva Bay in Patagonia, where it is intended to form a Welsh settlement’. So the actual terms of the colony were known beforehand.
The Mimosa set sail on May 28 1865 and arrived in New Bay, or Nueva gulf, on July 28, exactly two months later, so it was the very worst time to arrive; they arrived right in the middle of the South American winter. They had no provisions with them, they had hardly any food, they had very few farmers on board the ship as well so when they landed there their ability to survive off the land was very much restricted. Now there’s hardly any vegetation in that part of South America, hardly any trees, so all these winds, icy winds coming up from the Antarctic, meant obstacles and they were paralysing them as they were on the beach. Some of them may have had second thoughts but it was a bit late by then!
This is the crew list of agreement of the Mimosa. It hasn’t come out very well there, but what it’s basically saying is this is the agreement underpinning the voyage. They were told to go out to Chubut province and any parts thereof or close by and then come back, basically just to deposit the load there and then leave them there, really, which is what happened.
So it wasn’t the easiest of voyages, and there were births, marriages and deaths on board. Morgan Jones and Rachel Jenkins were born on the voyage going over there. William Hughes and Ann Lewis were married on board the Mimosa, and then Catherine Jane Thomas, James Jenkins, Elizabeth Stollen and John Davies, who were all infants, died on board so they had quite a few casualties even before they started.
So they landed on July 28, and amazingly they survived. There are some documents here with the number of them who died afterwards: one man, David Williams went for a walk and never came back. Now I don’t know where he was having a walk to, but he went for a walk on when they reached land and they found his body 20 years later. He had just walked out into the desert to get some food or fuel possibly and he was never seen again.
In 1866, the year after the colony was set up there actually was a sort of inventory of the population, and it listed the numbers of people who had arrived, and the casualties that had taken place, the number of people who had left the colony, those who had moved on to the Falkland Islands; that can be found in FO6/263.
But just going back to the period before they went out there. This is Michael D. Jones, who was that sort of ‘fiery preacher’ from Bala in North Wales who was the sort of genius behind this movement; he’s completed some sort of question and answer session on behalf of the Foreign Office, and he’s asked, you know, basically, what the plans were for the immigrants, what they were going to be doing when they get there, where they were going to be living. I think he may have perhaps exaggerated the extent to which they would find a sort of land of milk and honey over there, because that’s certainly what they didn’t find.
As you see in this petition which is dated 1866, the following year: when they went out there, they were, if you like, sold a false prospectus of the colony, they were told it was going to be (I don’t know if they actually said a land of milk and honey) but they were told it was going to be, you know, prosperous, good lives out there as farmers living off the land and you can replicate your lives and work back in Wales…as well as you could back home – in fact they didn’t find that at all. So when they landed there, for the first year or so, they were starving.
In those early years of the colony, you find quite a few petitions signed by people living out there. Now you should be fairly careful of petitions because these sorts of petitions don’t tell the whole picture. They might tell what some people were thinking at a particular time, and of course some of these people were illiterate, couldn’t read and write, hence this lady has just left her mark there, so you may be left with a little doubt that they all knew what they were signing up to.
But what they said here was: ‘When we arrived on this colony we expected that every preparation was made to receive us, according to what was published. But to our wonder after a long sailing there was nothing, in short, to comfort the whole party but the open air day and night, and many of this party have been in great need of food, especially those who are situated on the borders of Chupat River. We had nothing there to keep us alive for many weeks, only a few biscuits; barely two of them to each person a day, and at last a small cup of water mixed with tea only for several days, to support our wants and weak constitutions, and we have at present to live on dry bread and water.
In one word we have nothing sufficient as food in any way, but a very short allowance. Neither clothing of any kind. Many of our friends are wearing their last clothing and nothing to depend on but the bare skin towards the winter season. There is here no preparation in any way by the council of this movement to supply our wants and great need. In one word we are in great distress in many ways. We are like slaves in bondage, or prisoners in imprisonment, because there is in this colony no liberty, neither convenience to move us elsewhere, and according as we are situated we are applying to you as a governor of an English colony’ (this is the governor of the Falkland Islands) ‘to sympathise with us, to move us to the Falkland Islands, for God’s sake have mercy upon us and bring us to British liberty.’
So that’s fairly strong stuff. This is 1866, so that’s a year after the colony was set up. What’s interesting is that it does record the names of some of the settlers, and actually does obviously give a clue as to what their circumstances were like at the time. This was a year or two years before one of the settlers found a way to irrigate the land, and henceforth after that, it became a lot easier or just possible in fact, to live off the land down there. But certainly when this was being sent, I mean they obviously were in great distress, but nevertheless at that time the colony’s future was very much in the balance and they were worried about starving to death.
Going back to the plans made before the colonists went out there. Again you’re seeing they hadn’t really prepared themselves very well for it. They were told the clothes they’d worn in Wales ‘will do in the settlement but it would be advisable to have light things for crossing the equator.’ (Which wouldn’t have taken very long..!) ‘It is expected that there will be merchants taking out abundance of clothing material for sale’. Well, there wasn’t. I mean it was too far to get down there; you wouldn’t have had merchants travelling back and forth to this part of the world, certainly not over the winter months from about April to October.
‘Every emigrant shall take with him 15 cubic feet of implements free…’ Again they didn’t always take the implements with them. Like a lot of immigrants they took what they thought they needed or they wanted, so you find people taking up things which are rather inadvisable or not needed or not necessary and they hadn’t really prepared themselves for the harsh fact that they would be living, initially anyway, a very bare agricultural existence, living off the land. The land wasn’t giving much in return, so they hadn’t really thought about all that.
‘English money will do in the settlement only let it not be in gold or in notes.’ So…well I think they used a lot of barter at the beginning; money had no value, I mean they were just among themselves really. Though they were able to sell some of the goods to the local Indians, or Quechua Indians who also traded back with them, and some of the Indians actually learnt Welsh. There’s a community of them out there, there’s Welsh speaking Indians living out there; they generally had good relations with the local Indian population and that…was maintained for some long period afterwards.
Then they decided how the settlement would be ruled by a council of 12 members, so from the start it was a Welsh speaking council, [in essence] it was a settlement in Wales, where the actual forms of local government in Wales were replicated over in South America.
One problem they had was that they were very religious, and so the leaders of the movement did say, well you know, we’re not going to eat any food not mentioned in the Bible, in the Old Testament or the New Testament. And in South America where you get these guanacos and these armadillos and other creatures and they wouldn’t eat them! But there’s good meat in them. But initially one of the reasons why they were in rather difficult circumstances was because they weren’t eating food not warranted by scripture, until a few years later some of the other Baptist ministers said well, you know, we can make some allowances…they said well, it’s reasonable to do this given our circumstances, so that particular attitude wasn’t maintained.
And that’s a list of some of the settlers who signed their names to that petition I was talking about just now – gives you the number of cows owned, the numbers of sheep owned, so the more cows you owned the more prominent position you had in the colony.
And this is a further petition here. This is dated a number of years later. Immigrants came and went and later immigrants who came in the 1870s had to move into an area which had already been settled for about ten years, and there were sometimes conflicts between the original settlers and later people who were coming in from Wales, and this one here says – this is another petition to the Queen: ‘We the undersigned, subjects of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, now residing in Chubut in the Argentine Republic, urgently desire that if possible we be removed from the said colony to some part of Her Majesty’s dominions where we may be enabled to obtain employment and necessities of life for in our present condition we are unable to obtain either. We were through false reports induced to come to Chubut colony in hopes of obtaining for ourselves and families comfortable homes, instead of which we have found nothing but want.’
That’s dated 1870, so even after they had worked out how to irrigate the land and how to make a bare living off the land, a number of people were living out there who were not faring at all well.
This is a list, it was commonly called Berwyn’s list – Berwyn was one of the immigrants – and he prepared a list of passengers who arrived, who were aboard the Mimosa and who were still there a year later and so basically it’s an inventory of the colony or a list of all the inhabitants of the colony the year after they first landed so I suppose in a way it’s a bit like passenger lists for the Mayflower, or its equivalent.
It lists occupations. A number of them were called farmers but I think that was really what their occupations were when they got over there; they weren’t by trade or by background farmers but they had to become farmers when they were over there, so it’s more likely to refer to the occupations they had within the colony itself. And then it talks about the various people who left as well:’died in Liverpool’, so he never actually got there, ‘drowned in the Chubut River’, ‘died of whooping cough’, ‘convulsions’. They actually had a doctor who went out there, Dr Green, who decided not to stay, he left the colony as well after a few months.
By the 1870s, though, for a number of reasons, mainly because they were working the land, immigrants were coming in, professionals were coming in from Wales, the community had established itself rather precariously. But from this period onwards you do start to get regular visits from ships, and they employed officers who actually were chartered beforehand, or charged beforehand, with going out there and reporting on the colony and the captain of HMS Volage in 1876 for example, said: ‘Arrived at the mouth of Chubut at sunset on the 16th February. We fired a gun to attract attention but were uncertain as to whether the ship had been seen by the settlers who live some way away from the shore. Soon after dark a signal fire was observed on the hill near the river. Feeling satisfied we’d been seen, and not wishing to run any risk by attempting to cross the bar of the river…at 5.00am we weighed the anchor…and were met by various officials.’
I quite like the idea of these people going down to the river and lighting fires to attract the attention of the visiting vessel. ‘The country through which we rode was most uninteresting, being arid and covered with stunted brushwood.’ Which it still is today.
But they were well received by the locals and they were hospitably treated, in so far as they could be hospitable given their circumstances.
The files that we have here don’t necessarily show an acrimonious relationship with the colony and authorities back in London…it could be argued that some people had actually seen it only as a movement to establish independent Welsh identity well away from the rest of Britain. But the records don’t seem to show that; and of course it could be argued that when you actually get down to South America, that’s when you start to feel perhaps more British than you realised you were back home because the environment they were in was so hostile really, and hardly anyone was living down there, and even the local Indian population was only barely able to sort of live off the land down there.
So when they had actually been out there a few years, whatever their feelings beforehand, they tended to welcome these ships coming over with letters and news from back home and also supplies, and also people they could talk to about their condition.
Again, these are lists of all the settlers in the colony; this particular list is from 1875, giving the number of calves owned, pigs, milk cows, basically showing their whole goods and chattels and how wealthy they are, and that’s in ADM 147/1. Their lists have all got solidly Welsh names, most of them anyway. This one…1875: 412 [people] turned up unannounced in 1874, and it created one or two problems, because no provisions had been made to look after them, or give them shelter or give them housing, because by then they actually were building fairly basic housing structures to live in.
But these 412 entrants did turn up and they are partly recorded in these names here – these aren’t the same names you’re going to see on the divisional list of settlers back in1866; these are mostly new names who are just arrived out there, and there were one or two problems which occurred as a consequence of that. And on the same voyage, someone…reported on the sanitary conditions of the colony which makes very interesting reading. Their diet – well, they tended to have intestinal problems because of the nature of their diet out there, because they said, there was a heavy reliance on bread and jam.
But they also recall, you know, the numbers of women dying in childbirth, and other illnesses as well, and what sort of ailments they tended to be prone to, and it does make rather interesting reading. On the whole, the doctor says at the end, rather patronisingly: ‘Well, I think they’ve done quite well’, because they aren’t actually dying of starvation, but their diet wasn’t great and when this doctor of course went there, they rushed up to him to complain about their ailments.
The colony developed and new immigrants continued to come in from Wales. People were also leaving the colony as well. In 1886, a large shipment of, well a large number arrived from Wales, mainly to build a railway linking the chief Welsh towns, which were called Trelew and Gaiman with Puerto Madryn on the coast, which was where the Welsh originally settled. And the railway was built; it actually was still in use until about 30 years ago.
But the settlers who came out to build the railway – often many of them stayed on afterwards, even though obviously their reason for going out there was nothing to do with the preserving the Welsh language or Welsh identity; they were going out there purely because they had been employed to build the railway.
This is about the same time you’re noticing how the population is changing really. So in the area of the Chubut colony, they are getting 12,000 Welsh, some other British people, plus some Italians coming in and Argentine born people as well, but you can see how the colony was developing, and the crops they grew were actually winning prizes in various competitions held abroad.
So some of the settlers were doing very well indeed, and a number of them actually were sending their children back to Wales to be educated in Welsh schools and then returning to Argentina afterwards, and this is quite a good ‘snapshot’ towards the end of the 1880s, giving all the different religious denominations out there. British newspapers; the Java, which was edited by one of the founders of the colony, Mr Lewis Jones…So it was a small settlement, but it was beginning to be self governing by this stage, so the original plans or ideals which underpinned the colony were to a large extent being met.
Well, the Argentine government was involved in virtually everything really, right from when they gave the land to the original settlers, which created difficulties if you like, which is reflected in our document, a number of years later, because they had a vested interest in this, and this was pointed out to the Welsh settlers that the government in Buenos Aires had actually been helping to establish and maintain the colony although it was with Welsh hard labour that it was really maintained on a day to day basis, nevertheless it was being subsidised by the government in Buenos Aires to an extent and also they provided supplies.
Money would have been raised back in Wales as well for projects such as the railway, and partly, I mean the thing is because they were by this stage producing lots of wheat and goods; there you can see – this is ostrich feathers, guanaco rugs; this kind of thing was being sent by the trains to the coast, and then being sent back to Europe or being exported all over the world, so there was an economic interest in actually helping to finance the railway as well, so it was a fairly extensive economic output really by the 1880s/1890s, and this information was again supplied to the Captain and senior officer on HMS Sirius in 1893.
You can see a little map of the colony, drawn about that time as well, in the mid 90s. David Lloyd George went out there in the mid 1890s when he was a young man, to visit: ‘little Wales beyond Wales’ as he called it, and he was quite keen on them leaving…he had no problems at all with the Welsh settlement but he thought it should be within the umbrella of the British empire.
But there you see the extent of the communities in and around those places called Rawson…Gaiman, on the Atlantic coast near the peninsula Valdez, then you’ve got the River Chubut, which leads right up to the border with Chile, and in the 1880s a second community was established, close to the Andes, called Cwm Hyfryd which means pleasant valley and I went there a couple of years ago, and it is actually, it is rather, a lot nicer, I mean, well it’s not, well it’s different anyway! It’s very much more mountainous, and lots of valleys and rivers, it actually does resemble Wales much more than the original settlement does.
So, by the 1880s/1890s the communities were well established enough for them to establish an offshoot colony over near the border with Chile; which again pleased the Argentine government because that meant they had settlers living across the whole of the valley, across all the pampas and the middle of the Patagonian desert right up to the Chilean border, and these people were Argentine citizens, or were in theory Argentine citizens, so helped to reinforce Argentine claim to the whole of that land, because Chile wanted to grab it off them, but in the end it stayed with Argentina.
But (this is in the same document we saw just now) talking about people who were of the opinion that whatever the virtues of the colony perhaps it would be better if they left, this is one of the bones of contention: ‘The subject of religion brings me to a grievance which appeared to be general with the colonists, and more or less connected with their religion. It is in reference to the service in the National Guard, which is compulsory for all males of Argentine birth between the ages of 18 and 31 years. Drilling takes place once a week for three months of the year, the day selected by the authorities being Sunday.’
Now, of course, the Welsh being non-conformists would object to doing anything like that on a Sunday, and from 7.00am to 11.00am, so that would coincide with their morning service. That created a lot of bad feeling but …given to what you were saying, it really was the Argentine state saying, you know, we’ve helped to finance and set up this colony…they were more or less saying ‘you are going to have to become part of the Argentine state’.
Heavy emphasis on the use of the Spanish language; schools in the 1890s would have been teaching in Welsh only, and so the Argentines said ‘well, this is not good, you should be teaching in Spanish only’. That was the line they took. So these difficulties were arising by the 1890s. This was certainly one aspect of it.
But at the same period of time you see this, which is a loyal petition, sent to Queen Victoria, on behalf of the inhabitants of the Chubut Welsh colony on her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. This is signed by a large number of people, but it was generally signed by the leaders of the colony who had fairly prominent positions in business or in the municipality, and they were expressing their loyalty to Queen Victoria, again, so you’re getting perhaps mixed messages coming out of this.
[Quotes from report]
‘The other colony I told you about, which is near the Chilean border, presents a very different appearance to that part of Patagonia which I just crossed, and the broad valleys which are watered by the melting snows and the springs from the hills form as good grazing land as any to be found in the country. The colony on the 16 October is combined with a neigh of 50 leagues of measured land, only 30 of which have been taken up, 20 to the south east of Rotherhithe is composed of several valleys, the two most important being drained by the rivers Esquel and Alojamientos, The letters being cushioned by the Welsh Cwm Hyfryd, or pleasant valley, and extends 90 miles east and west with a breadth of one and a half to three miles. The colony is bound on all sides by lofty hills, many of which are snow capped even in summer. The valleys are about 1,300 ft above sea level.’
So, he’s greatly struck by the beauty of the scenery there, so this is very different from the original settlement, and quite a few of the colonists did move there, but it didn’t have quite the same overall Welsh character as the original settlements did, because not enough of them moved over there, really, but it was certainly part of the way they were developing and exploiting the land round there.
‘Wild berries and especially alpine strawberries grow in great abundance, with the slopes of the mountains are covered with thick forests of pine…’ And that would have been land which in those days would have been hardly ever visited beforehand, except by obviously the native Americans.
This is the log of the RMS Orisa; now this ship left Port Madryn, taking…Welsh people, well with Welsh names anyway, we can assume their background; and they went back to Liverpool and two or three days later they sailed to Canada, so they became Welsh Patagonian Canadians. They might as well have stayed back in Wales!
What’s interesting about this is this represented the biggest mass migration from the colony…first of all to Wales and then to Canada, and a number of issues were coming up; one was the Sunday drilling for the National Guard, the other was a whole series of disastrous floods towards the end of the 1890s, so a number of people lost their land, and there was a big movement in Wales, and England, at the time, in London especially, to say ‘well, we should encourage them to end this experiment, and we’ll encourage them to leave; either go back to Wales or go back to another British colony, and this resulted a number of years later, in these settlers leaving the colony and going to Canada.
Now a lot of these people would have come in later; some of them had come in to build the railway in the1880s and it was felt that they weren’t necessarily as committed to the settlement as other people were, but anyway they had found it very difficult to make it on the land over there, so they left and went to Canada.
After that, the British government said ‘well, we’ve given you every incentive to declare your wish to leave’, in fact they helped to finance this trip as well. Those who hadn’t taken it up were felt to have declared themselves de facto Argentine citizens, and therefore they were no longer of interest to anyone, so that was the dividing line. It was 1902 when the ship left and [as for] those who stayed behind, the British really lost interest.
There you are: that’s the names of the people who went to Canada. The ones who went to Canada initially tried to recreate what they’d left behind in South America, but because there were so few of them and they were scattered over a wide territory they lost their language pretty quickly, I think, because they married [outside their culture] – there weren’t enough people who went over there and they tended to marry other people who had no knowledge of Welsh at all, so they used English, as you’d expect.
Although when they had the 100th anniversary of the Welsh colony in 1965, a number of people did come down from Canada and by doing so suddenly remembered the Welsh and Spanish they hadn’t spoken for 60,70 years, but they went back there and they suddenly remembered it all – that’s quite a nice story.
But people/immigrants were still going out there, and…this is another passenger list. 1911 was the last major migration out there, and these people were I think some of them were and perhaps are still alive now, but they’d be pretty old if they were…certainly some of them who went out as children were still around fairly recently.
This was the last major migration because when the First World War came along, it effectively stopped mass migration out there, and you can find details of incoming and outgoing people going to Patagonia, online now, whereas if you were just searching for anyone who’d gone abroad, say Australia or Canada or New Zealand, it’s rather difficult doing that online now if you don’t know where they went or when they went or which place the ship went to, but with Argentina you can do it quite easily, because if you just narrow the search to Argentina and Puerto Madryn, I’ll tell you the only people going to Puerto Madryn before 1914 were Welsh people going to live there – there’s no other reason for going there!
So you can actually look at the lists of all people who went out there, on line, from about 1890 onwards, and of course you can do it free if you come to the Archives here.
By this stage they actually were getting more people who were proper famers and quarrymen; people who would be very useful for working on the land over there. …I haven’t been able to find out very much more about it over the next 30, 40 years…
Come the Second World War, you find…This chap here is making enquiries about the Welsh speaking community in Argentina but partly because they wanted to see where their sympathies lay in relation to the war at the time, and Argentina was certainly neutral – [it] declared war on Germany about two months before the war ended – but throughout the war…the British government was wary in case it did decide to side with the axis side and so one reason was to find the level of sympathy of Britons down over there in southern Argentina.
Thereafter the officials in Buenos Aires would go down there and would send back reports on a community which had really been absorbed into Argentina, and they would consider themselves Argentine by this stage. This note here says: ‘The Argentine government’s proposal to amend the constitution to compel foreigners arriving in this country to obtain Argentine nationality and naturalisation caused great anxiety among the British community in Patagonia’, but someone wrote: ‘This is not correct’ on there, so I’m not sure what the correct truth is on that point.
But certainly by the 1960s (This file dates from the late 1940s) you’ll find that you are talking of people who were born over there; their parents were probably born over there; maybe their grandparents were, so that’s possibly where their natural allegiances lay, although that said, the very last survivor of the crossing on the Mimosa only died in 1950. He went over as a small child and lived to his 80s or so, and died about 1950.
Then throughout the 1950s and 60s there was sporadic interest in the colony. I don’t know if anyone here can read Welsh, but this is a telegram sent out there in 1965 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the settlement, and there was a big sort of jamboree over there in 1965, and lots of people went out from Wales, and that really marked the sort of beginning of revived interest in the Welsh colony especially over in Wales itself.
And they had various cultural gatherings at the time…you’ve got a meeting of the sort of Welsh liking of Eisteddfodau and singing and music, they combined that with the Argentines, they enjoyed ‘asados’ or having meals outs or eating out or barbecues basically, so there was lots of that stuff going on in the 60s, so it did help to reunite that part of Argentina with the mother country as they might see it.
And by the late 60s, they are declaring the Welsh have practically lost all ties with Britain: ‘Although none now speak English, except what they may have learnt in Argentine schools, there’s only a minority, mostly from the older generation who speak Welsh, although many are able to sing it. They receive the pilgrims warmheartedly, but if in many cases it was difficult to estimate how much the visit really meant to them as hosts, this may have been because they already felt themselves more Argentine than Welsh. For the pilgrims themselves,’ (this would be the visitors from Wales – this actually is1965) ‘on the other hand, the occasion was a unique and unforgettable experience tinged with emotion.
They were able to see the contribution which their ancestors had made to the development of a fabled land, but they could not fail to realise that in a few years the Welsh characteristics of Chubut society which they saw today would be a thing of the past, and that as the Argentine people pushed on, as ultimately they must, with the exploitation of their southern provinces, the racial and cultural dilution of Patagonia’s Welsh heritage, would one day make it no longer recognisable.’
So rather a gloomy outlook at that time, but in fact that wasn’t what was going to happen. When I was out there I noticed that the language is still spoken, especially by older people; they were quite proud of the fact that younger people also speak it – but the trouble is that they speak it as a language learnt at school, because whereas the Argentine authorities in the past weren’t very keen on it, now they are, but only as a language taught to children at school; it’s not ‘their language’, it’s not an organic language you are naturally speaking in the home.
So to that extent they were telling the truth, if you like, but whatever your background over there, and there are lots of Indians who’ve moved into the land from further north who are basically re-colonising the land, which you might say was originally theirs anyway, but there are lots of people down there now; Arabs have moved down there, lots of Italians, Slavs, lots of people.
If you send your child to school over there, they’ll learn Welsh, so it’s a sort of unifying thing; it’s part of the cultural history of the area.
This document here is dated 1970, and it says: ‘I’ve been told I might encounter some anti-British feeling among the Welsh; I found no evidence of this. Their love is of course for Wales, but I’ve discovered no resentment of connection to any other parts of Britain…’
This is 1969, and in the same report he says: ‘…there are three things which hold the community together, religion, the language and music. Both the first two are in danger, United Church of the Valley which groups into various Welsh potting denominations, consists of 13 chapels in the valley, and two in the hills around Eskell,’ (that’s near the Andes.) But a lot of the Welsh chapels over there are closing, or under threat, aren’t being used anymore, I’m afraid, or they’re not being used as much as they were.
But the ambassador’s representative who went down there had a good time, and he thanked the colony for their kindness and hospitality, and for the festival he attended which concluded with a traditional Oes y byb ir iaith Gymraig, which is ‘Long live the Welsh tongue’, and then they had a choir which sang Judas Maccabea later on, so they maintained the singing traditions of Wales.
As I said our catalogue here has details of over 10,000,000 document descriptions. You could, as I said earlier on, initially search just under Patagonia and see what comes up.
That’s one example of what does come up: FO37174320. You could also search online using the census returns, because quite a number of the migrants would have returned to Wales, and would have put down Patagonia or perhaps Argentina as a place of birth. Unfortunately if you’re searching on census returns you need to put a first name in. You need to put a name in so a typical, if you want to get an idea of what is says, so a Welsh name like Jones, and then born in Patagonia, and then you get that file there on Taliesin Jones, who may have been born over there and was an Argentine subject, but by 1901 was back as a coalminer back in Wales.
This is the passenger lists I was mentioning earlier on. It is a lot easier searching for people who went to specific colonies, not just the Welsh one but any other parts of the world, rather than destinations which attracted people from all over the place and they’ve been made available via Ancestors on Board. It is a free to search website, there’s a charge for viewing the full entry and downloading the images of the passenger lists, although there’s no charge for searching onsite here at Kew.
There’s ancestorsonboard.com which do outward bound passengers. You can search out all our passengers online as well up to 1960 and again the same applies, you can download this information free of charge by coming to the office here at Kew.
That’s an example of what I meant earlier on, so again, you can use the name Jones, going to Argentina, destination port, Puerto Madrin.
There’s a couple of books you might like to read: a very good study of the community over there, ‘The Desert and the Dream: a study of Welsh colonisation in Giburate’ by someone called Glyn Williams, and then another book by Susan Biggleton, which was published a couple of years ago, is ‘The Life and Times of the Ship that sailed to Patagonia’, which gives a complete history of the ship itself, and an account of the voyage, and a description of what happened of the ship afterwards when it was finally broken up and abandoned; it certainly gives an idea of what it was like sailing on converted tea clippers in the middle of the 19th century.
And that’s it really. There are many documents on this subject…you can order them up and have a look at them. I can think of no instance of when the British went abroad where their fortunes were monitored so closely as this one here, especially for those first 40 years of the colony, after which they lost interest, really, but for those first 40 years there’s a huge amount of information, and it’s not available online, well the passenger lists are, but were you to come in here and root around you can be surprised what you find.
These aren’t records like the diaries and letters and photographs you might get at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, which were sent back and forth from the colony, these were the official records, but as we saw in those petitions, these actually list the names of people and give an idea of their social status; the number of cows they owned, the number of pigs they owned, and what sort of life they lived when they were over there. So if you’re interested I do suggest you pursue this subject.