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Posted - 19-07-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

Setting foot in Patagonia

This post is part of the Story of Wales series. Click on the Story of Wales category on the right to see all the posts. You can also subscribe to our blog on the right to receive weekly emails of all our posts.

A crowd of over 150 people on the deck of a ship surveyed the land that is to be their new home. It was Thursday 27 July 1865. The Mimosa had dropped anchor at last and the settlers waited eagerly to set foot in Patagonia.

It was almost exactly two months since they had begun their voyage from Liverpool docks, and it was a wonder that the venture had come this far. After years of negotiation with the government in Buenos Aires, the intention had been for them to sail to Patagonia aboard the Halton Castle, a ship twice the size of the Mimosa. It failed to return from its previous voyage and new arrangements had to be made. The settlers – individuals, couples and families from places such as Mountain Ash, Aberdare, Rhosllanerchrugog and Ffestiniog as well as Liverpool and Birkenhead – waited a month while the Mimosa was prepared for the journey.

As for the voyage itself, it began with stormy weather as they left Liverpool, there were strong winds on the way and other days when the sea was calm and the sun was scorching. Three children died on the ship and two were born, and there was a wedding too. Prayer meetings were held daily.

They had arrived in Patagonia despite all, and two leaders of the venture, Lewis Jones and Edwyn Cynrig Roberts, were there to greet them. Joseph Seth Jones, a 20-year-old printer from Denbigh aboard the ship, noted in his diary that Lewis Jones had come to them by boat and that he was welcomed with great joy. ‘His report was satisfactory in general and far beyond our expectations.’ he wrote, ‘He said that he had succeeded in the face of extraordinary barriers.’ The diary is a precious record of the voyage through the passengers, and it is held at the National Library.

A new chapter in the venture began with the landing in Patagonia; they would have to face another journey of 40 miles to reach the Chupat valley (later known as Dyffryn Camwy), not to mention the formidable challenge of making a new home for themselves in such arid and barren land. There would be times when the venture very nearly failed completely, but, to many people’s surprise, the Welsh language is still spoken in Patagonia today.

In terms of the number of Welsh people who went there (a total of about 4,000 by 1900), the story of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia is only a small part in the entire history of migration from Wales during the nineteenth century. Many more went to the United States and Australia, for example, and some of those people relocated again to join the community in Patagonia. But the fascination that surrounds Patagonia continues today and has brought attention to this chapter in the nation’s history. It stems from the romantic depiction of the South-American landscape, from the courage and persistence of the setles, and of course from the vision behind the venture: the desire to establish an independent state where the Welsh language was the primary medium for all aspects of life, including law, politics, education and trade. The ambition of the venture, both practically and ideologically, was both controversial and wondrous then as it is today.

The Library has materials available online to help you to discover more about the story of the Welsh in Patagonia. There is a selection of the 25 most important manuscripts relating to Patagonia, among them the diary of Joseph Seth Jones. There is also a list of books and articles on the Welsh settlement in Patagonia.

Dafydd Tudur, National Library of Wales

This post is also available in: Welsh

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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