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The Welsh in Patagonia

In the 19th. century many Welsh people, unhappy with conditions at home, left for new pastures overseas. Most of these headed for America but just a few sailed for the even more exotic destination of Patagonia in South America.

Why Patagonia? Michael D. Jones was a nonconformist minister whose mother had been evicted by a great Welsh landowner, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. In those days landlords had no compunction in evicting farming tenants who did not support their political views or ambitions and were notorious for their rigid interpretation of the game laws. Catching a rabbit for the pot on one of the great estates could be a very risky activity. Like many other religious leaders of his day Jones looked to emigration as a solution for the problems of his flock. He had come to realise that in the second generation Welsh emigrants to America tended to lose their language and some of their national characteristics, so decided to locate his flock in Patagonia which was thought to be fertile and known to be sparsely populated. He sent out two people to report and based on their findings made an arrangement with the Argentine government to reserve land in a place called Chubut Valley. 

On the 24th May 1865 the ship Mimosa, of 450 tons, left Liverpool for South America carrying 163 (or according to some accounts 153) men women and children. The cost for a ticket was 48 British pounds and this price included food, although passengers had to bring their own mess utensils and bedding. The ship arrived at Golfo Nuevo on 28th July 1865 and the party landed to begin their lives as agriculturalists in a new land. Strangely enough, there was only one farmer in the group and this might explain some of the problems they were to face. Drought and occasional flooding made their work difficult and there were times when the enterprise seemed doomed. Despite this a second ship brought more emigrants from Wales and both the Argentine and the British governments aided the colony. It survives to the present day.

Michael Jones seems to have been right in his assessment of the language issue since a Patagonian correspondent tells me that her father and grandparents still keep the language although this is interspersed with some Spanish - and English names for fruit and vegetables. Patagonia also has some bilingual schools.


 

 John Weston / Data Wales 2001

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