Author Archives: acastaff

The League of Nations Visit to Aberystwyth

Between 20 June and 29 July 2016 a display will be mounted in the Hugh Owen Library, Aberystwyth University, to commemorate the visit of the International Federation of League of Nations Societies to Aberystwyth 90 years ago. Dresden was to have been the venue as part of the celebrations to mark Germany’s admission as a member of the League of Nations. This had been agreed at Locarno in October 1925, but at a special meeting in March 1926 to confirm Germany’s position, objectioLeague of Nationsns were raised that resulted in delaying the decision. This made it difficult for the Federation to meet at Dresden and there was the real possibility that the congress would not be held at all that year.

One of the leaders, and main financial backer, of the League of Nations Societies in Wales and Great Britain was David Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire, grandson of the famous David Davies, Llandinam, and brother of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, Gregynog. As well as being a businessman and philanthropist, he was also President of Aberystwyth University, and in order to save the 1926 congress he offered Aberystwyth as an alternative venue. His offer was accepted, and following three months of preparations by Aberystwyth Corporation, University officials and the ready cooperation of the residents of Aberystwyth and surrounding areas, a successful congress was held between 29 June and 3 July 1926.

The list of places that the Federation visited before and after 1926 shows that Aberystwyth – and Wales – was in very good company: 1919 Paris. 1919 London. 1919 Brussels. 1920 Milan. 1920 Geneva. 1922 Prague. 1923 Vienna. 1924 Lyon. 1925 Warsaw. 1926 Aberystwyth. 1927 Berlin. 1928 The Hague. 1928 Prague. 1929 Madrid. 1934 Brussels. 1936 Geneva.

The Hugh Owen Library is open between 8.30 and 5.30 Monday to Friday during the vacation.


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The world can take your material possessions, even your life, but never your education; it is with you endlessly!

On March 8th 2016 the former Lily Newton Room on Level E of the Hugh Owen Library was renamed the Iris de Freitas room. But who was Iris de Freitas and why was the room named after her?

Our story starts with two emails, both received on April 21st 2015. One from Helen Palmer, the Ceredigion County Archivist and the second from Dr Eva De Visscher, from the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), following a Facebook post from an alumni. Received less than two hours apart, these emails told of a postcard that had been spotted on a popular online auction website. It was a postcard with a photographic portrait of a young black woman. On the reverse there was a handwritten note which read “With love and in memory of an enjoyable session, Iris 1922-23”. The only other information on the card was the name and address of the photographer, one H.H. Davies of Pier Street in Aberystwyth.

De Freitas_Iris

This young woman turned out to be Iris de Freitas, not only the Vice-President of the Students’ Representative Council and the President of the Women’s Sectional Council but a woman who became the first female lawyer in the Caribbean.

Yet on the day that we bought that postcard (without even having to dip into DARO’s newly-established Archives Acquisition Fund) we knew none of this. Our research would follow Iris from British Guiana and back to the Caribbean via Toronto and Aberystwyth, teasing out information, piece by piece, from that lone sentence on the back of a 94-year old postcard.

But how did we begin to piece the story together? It started with the robes. The robes that the young woman in the picture was wearing, and particularly the crest on the ‘scarf’, are distinctive and marked her out as a possible President of a society, the Joint Debates Union (a fact spotted by one of our eagle-eyed former students who posted the picture on the University’s Alumni Facebook page).

Luck was also on our side in that the inscription on the back of the postcard was dated. This allowed us to examine the University’s collections to help determine who the young woman in the photograph was.

Our first port of call was The Dragon, The Magazine of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. In Volume XLV from November 1922 we spotted not only a picture of Iris but the very same picture that was on the postcard. But it was the caption under the photograph that gave us our first proof as to her identity. It reads: “Miss Iris De Freitas B.A. Vice-President S.R.C.” So not the Literary and Debating Society or Joint Debates Union, as first thought, but certainly presidential!

Once we had confirmed that she was a student, we hoped that a student record card would be held in the University archive. Again our luck held. Student record card No. 8004 shows us that Iris De Freitas of 1 Lombard Street, Georgetown, Demerara, enrolled at Aberystwyth in 1919 to study the Arts. We made an educated guess that if she studied here in Aberystwyth then it was likely that she would have lived here too. Once again, the archive did not let us down. Her application for accommodation in Alexandra Hall revealed more information about her. Iris was born on the 29th October 1896 and her father was M. G. de Freitas, a Merchant in British Guiana. Yet the most intriguing item on her accommodation application was that the last school she attended was the University of Toronto, which she left on the 5th December 1918.

de Freitas_hall entrance form

The University of Toronto were able to provide us with some basic information about her time there. She arrived in September of 1918 and withdrew in December of the same year, arriving in Aberystwyth, as we have seen, in the first month of 1919. Her reasons for going to Toronto and subsequently leaving after only three months, remain, for the moment, a mystery.

Pleased though we were with what we found out about Iris and her University career, it is her activities subsequent to her time here at Aberystwyth that really excited us. Thanks to the work of Joan Brathwaite and her book Women and the Law, which includes a section on “Some Firsts for Women in the Law”, we know that on the 18th September 1929 Iris was admitted as the first woman to practice law in the Caribbean. Not only that, but research conducted by Drs. Susan and Brian Davies using a variety of online sources revealed, among other things, that Iris was the first female prosecutor of a murder trial in the Caribbean, and that she had followed her brother, Stanley, into the legal profession.

Obviously we were delighted with these findings and this led to the decision to honour Iris by naming a room in the Hugh Owen Library after her. We hope, though, that Iris’s story does not end there. We have little information on her life and career from 1929 to her death in 1989 but recent contact with various members of the extended de Freitas family is already proving to be a fruitful avenue for further information on one of our most ground-breaking and distinguished alumna.


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Work Continues on the Flora Collection

British Flowering Plants Title Page

We have recently catalogued a lavishly illustrated four-volume, limited edition, of British Flowering Plants. The book contains 300 full-page coloured plates reproduced from drawings by Mrs. Henry Perrin (Ida Southwell Robins Perrin). Pictured here, and, we hope, giving some indication of how accomplished and attractive the drawings are, is The Common Yew.

The Common Yew


British Flowering Plants Edition Statement


The plates are accompanied by an Introduction and extensive descriptive notes by Professor George Simonds Boulger, F.L.S. Published by august bookselling firm, Bernard Quaritch, in 1914, this set is number 526 of an edition limited to 1000 copies and remains in its original white buckram binding. Formerly belonging to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, details of this beautiful set of books can be found here.


Buchanan Title Page

From the other side of the world, and at the other end of the spectrum in terms of condition, comes The Indigenous Grasses of New Zealand illustrated by John Buchanan, F.L.S. Although the initial extent of the work was to be five parts, this title was finally completed in six parts contained within three volumes. It was published in Wellington, New Zealand, between 1878 and 1880. Gutta percha bindings are prone to perishing and this one, unfortunately, is no exception. We collated the book and happily all of the 64 leaves of plates are present and intact (if now loose from their binding!).

Buchanan Image

These three fragile folio volumes are now housed in, what I would guess is, a relatively contemporaneous and wonderfully entitled “Instantaneous Binder”. This too is now showing significant signs of wear. This copy was formerly in the possession of the Imperial Bureau of Plant Genetics and details and can be found in the library catalogue here.

Buchanan Instantenous Binding

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Never Judge a Book By Its Covers!

Whilst cataloguing books from the Old College Library we came upon a couple of pamphlets which, as you can see from the pictures below, might not have warranted a second glance. Stained, frayed at the edges, and faded by the years, they could have easily been overlooked. Appearances can be deceptive though, and a closer inspection of these two fragile books revealed their true worth.

Uncle TomIt would appear that they are one of the two earliest translations into Welsh of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This abridged translation by Y Lefiad (a pseudonym of William Williams) was published in Abertawy in 1853 just one year after the very first printing in Boston.  They are scarce items and from our preliminary research we have only been able to locate one other copy and that is just of Volume Two.
These are rare and important works then. They may be a little frayed around the edges but as Shakespeare reminds us in The Merchant of Venice, “not all that glisters is gold”, and their worth is reflected by the fact that they are now housed safely in the Rare Book Room of the Hugh Owen Library.

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Thomas Gywnn Jones 1871-1949

We have recently catalogued a small collection of Irish-Gaelic books that were donated to the University by T. Gwynn Jones, a former member of the Welsh Department at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and holder of the Gregynog Chair of Welsh Literature from 1919 until his retirement in 1937. The collection reflects Jones’s interest in Celtic languages and his long-standing affinity with Ireland, cemented by three visits there in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

There were some really interesting finds amongst the collection including this 1922 edition of what we understand to be the first (partial) translation of Don Quixote into any Celtic language by Peadar Ua Laoghaire (Peter O’Leary).

Don Quixote T.G.J.

Also in the collection is a signed 1943 edition of: Danta eagsamla agus beanla cunta onta ag Dubglas de h-ide (Miscellaneous poems translated into English by Douglas Hyde). Hyde was the first President of Ireland, serving between 1938 and 1945 and there are a number of his books in the collection.
Other titles from the T. Gwynn Jones collection include:

Oċt sgéalta ó Ċoillte Máġaċ. An Craoiḃín Aoiḃinn; do scríoḃ ó ḃéal Tomáis Uí Ċaṫasaiġ.

Aḃráin ġráḋa ċúige Ċonnaċt / ar n-a gcruinniuġaḋ agus ar n-a ḃfoillsiuġaḋ de’n ċéad uair le Duḃglas De h-Íde (an Craoiḃín Aoiḃinn) ; ar n-a gcur amaċ anois arís agus tuilleaḋ aḃrán leó.

An gráḋ agus an ġruaim / Seosaṁ mac Grianna do scríoḃ.

Sgealta a fili na Romha

T.G.J. SignatureFurther titles from the collection can be found by searching for T. Gwynn Jones in Primo and looking for: T Jones (Thomas Gwynn), 1871-1949 former owner, in the listings. Look out for his signature in the books.

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The Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Y Wladfa, Patagonia


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 DerrickBruno 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:

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