Welsh first arrived in Patagonia in 1865. The reason for this first migration
of Welsh settlers was to protect their culture and language. Professor Michael
D Jones was a Welsh nationalist Preacher who came from the town of Bala. This
town is located in Snowdonia at the head of Llyn Tegid, in countryside of
outstanding natural beauty. Indeed today it falls within the confines of the
Snowdonia National Park.
was dismayed by the encroachment of the English language and culture and
called for the creation of a ‘Wales beyond Wales,’ where the people could
flourish and keep their language and traditions free of the powerful English
considered where this new Welsh homeland could be created he eventually
settled upon the region of Patagonia in Argentina. This area would be
ideal as it was remote from the influence of English and held much potential
for agriculture. The Argentine government also provided a very generous
package of 100 square miles of land along the Chubut river for the
establishment of settlements. This was also a good deal for the Argentines as
it helped to cement their territorial claims over land that was to become a
point of dispute with neighbouring Chile.
1862, Welsh representatives of Michael D Jones visited the area to check its
suitability and viability for settlement. Having been satisfied that
settlement would be feasible, the venture was duly funded and organised. On
July 27th 1865 the first group of 153 settlers arrived from Wales on the
converted tea clipper, ‘Mimosa’.
with so many settlement ventures in the new world the arrivals from Wales
found that they had been sold a dream that had all the potential to become a
nightmare. Having been told that the area was like lowland Wales, they
discovered that it was in fact a semi arid desert along the coastal plain with
no available drinking water. They had to then set out on the arduous trek
inland to the Chubut river valley where conditions were far more amenable to
beginning a new life.
reaching the valley they established the first settlement that was to grow
into the modern town of Rawson. The first year was a difficult one in which
there were floods and crop failures but despite all that, the hardy Welsh
the following couple of years and with the help of the local Indian
population, with whom they had established cordial relations after some
initial friction, the settlement became established. It began to really
flourish when a system of irrigation was introduced which greatly increased
crop yields. It was in fact the very first irrigation system in Argentina and
became the most productive wheat growing area in the whole of Argentina.
Welsh settlers were self-governing in the beginning and had little
interference from the national government in far off Buenos Aries. In 1886
another 465 settlers arrived from Wales and that year also saw the
construction of a railway that connected the Chubut valley settlement with the
settlement of Porth Madryn on the coast. This allowed for greater ease of
agricultural exports out of the valley. The construction of the railway also
saw the development of the new Welsh town of Trelew.
about 1880 all the good productive land in the Chubut valley had been
allocated and the Welsh settlers sought permission from the Argentine governor
to mount an expedition of exploration into the Andean part of Chubut. This was
granted and led to the discovery of fertile land where another Welsh
settlement was established.
area of land became a subject of dispute between Argentina and Chile and
brought the two nations to the brink of war. To avoid conflict, a vote was
given to the people who had settled the area, overseen by the British
government who were acting as an ‘honest broker’. Despite blandishments of
larger areas of land being offered to each settler by the Chilean government,
they voted to remain in Argentina, the nation that had helped them establish
the first Welsh settlement all those years ago.
the next couple of decades up until the outbreak of the First World War,
development continued apace. There were disputes on occasion with the
Argentine government, who introduced conscription that caused a lot of bad
feeling in the Welsh community, due to its insistence upon conducting military
drill on a Sunday. Despite that the settlements grew and prospered, and by the
beginning of the 20th century there were some 4,000 people of Welsh descent in
the First World War there was a lot of migration to the area but not from
Wales. Most of the new settlers arrived from Italy and other parts of southern
Europe and it did not take long for the Welsh to become a minority. Due to an
absence of direct contact with Wales, the Welsh language gradually declined
until 1965, when once again links became strong as the centenary of the
establishment of the first settlement in Chubut was celebrated, and a large
group of people visited from Wales. Those links have remained strong and
grown ever since.
In 2004, the Welsh community of Patagonia asked the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff if they could be provided with Welsh television programmes. Around 1,500 people in Chubut still speak Welsh and programmes in the language would help to encourage its growth and keep it alive. It is a remarkable achievement that such a small community has been able to keep its native tongue alive whilst being surrounded by a sea of Spanish. It is a tribute to the tenacity of the Welsh spirit and the endurance of the Celtic people in general who are certainly no strangers to adversity and struggle.
A BBC documentary made in the 1960's about the Welsh in Patagonia
©Copyright - James of Glencarr