On 28th May 1865 the Mimosa, with 153 Welsh people on board, sailed from Liverpool for Argentina, arriving at the Nueva Bay, where Puerto Madryn is today, on 28th July. Puerto Madryn had been named after the home of Love Jones-Parry from Pen Llŷn who had travelled with Lewis Jones to Patagonia in 1862 to assess the suitability of the land for a settlement. Following a favourable report (far too favourable a report according to some) by Lewis Jones a number of Welsh people had been persuaded to settle there. This was a part of the large migration from Wales during the nineteenth century when thousands left the country in an attempt to escape poverty, oppressive landlords and obtain freedom of worship.
After overcoming their initial disappointment with the quality of the land, the families endeavoured to settle in their new country, and through hard work establishing a network of irrigation canals, they succeeded in transforming a barren country into productive land. The good relationships that had existed from the beginning between the Welsh and the native Tehuelche Indians had also been vital to their success.
The settlers quickly established townships in the country: Rawson (1865), Trelew (1871), Gaiman (1875) and Dolavon (1880), and by the mid 1880s the majority of the land of the Chubut Valley had been irrigated and was producing wheat of the finest quality that won gold medals at international exhibitions in Paris and Chicago.
In 1885 the settlers wanted to move further west and establish stronger settlements inland and were granted permission by the Argentinian government to explore the land towards the Andes. In November the group, or Rifleros as they were called, reached a fertile area which they named Cwm Hyfryd (Pleasant Valley). On 16th October 1888 the region was officially established, and as the population grew, so did the towns of Esquel and Trevelin. (See map)
The period of large migration from Wales had come to an end by 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War, but by that time it has been estimated that nearly 2,500 Welsh people had settled there and that about 4,000 people of Welsh descent were living in Chubut.
Shortly after their arrival in 1865 the first settlers had sworn allegiance to Argentina, and despite maintaining a close relationship with Wales, many now considered themselves to be Argentinians. But despite this they were determined to preserve the Welsh language along with other traditions that they had brought with them from Wales. Much of their social life centred around the chapels that had been built in the towns as well as the rural areas, and many of the eisteddfodau that they had established in the Chubut Valley, Puerto Madryn and the Andes remain popular to this day, with special emphasis on Eisteddfod yr Ifanc (the Young People’s Eisteddfod) which is held in September, and Eisteddfod y Wladfa which is held in Trelew on the last weekend in October.
Between the 1920s and 1960s contact between Wales and Patagonia had waned, with the Second World War an important factor, but the centenary celebrations of 1965 rekindled interest between the two countries with an increase in the number of people from Wales visiting Y Wladfa and a number coming from Patagonia to Wales in search of their roots. In 1997, under the leadership of Robert Owen Jones, a programme of teaching Welsh was implemented that enabled teachers from Wales to teach in some of the schools in Chubut.
This year’s 150th anniversary of the first settlement is another opportunity to bring the two countries together to celebrate the relationship and connections that remain as strong as ever. But it isn’t only those who have links with Wales and Patagonia that have become interested in the settlement’s history.
Bruno Derrick was a student in the Department of History and Welsh History, at Aberystwyth University between 1982 and 1985. In 1987 he joined The National Archives, initially at Chancery Lane before moving to Kew in 1993. He worked in a number of departments, including Record Copying and E-Access and as a Reader Adviser in Advice & Records Knowledge, before becoming Records Specialist, Maritime and Transport. As part of his work Bruno was invited by the Welsh community in Chubut to attend two International Conferences in 2004 and 2006 on the Settlement of Patagonia (you can hear his 2010 address, Bara brith on the Pampas – the Welsh in Patagonia, on the National Archives website). Bruno Derrick died suddenly in December 2012 and his family has donated his collection of material on Patagonia to the Hugh Owen Library in his memory, and apart from the Welsh language books all the items in the current display on Level D of the Hugh Owen Library are from that donation.
Information regarding The National Archives’ display commemorating the Welsh settlement in Patagonia may be seen on their blog: