On 28th July 2015 it will be 150 years since the Welsh arrived in Patagonia. Back in 1865, nearly 200 Welsh people arrived by ship from Liverpool to find the “New Wales” in Argentine Patagonia. They came with the idea of starting a new self governing homeland and although that never came to pass, the Welsh influence in the area is still strong. There are still Welsh street names, teashops and music festivals in the province of Chubut.
The anniversary is going to be marked in different ways throughout the year including concerts and even rugby matches. Chubut normally receives around 400,000 visitors per year but it’s hoped more will come this year, especially from Wales coming to see Y Wladfa (their name for the colony). However Chubut might not be able to cope all that well if they get over run this year.
One of the biggest events is going to happen in November – an expedition following in the footsteps of the settlers, 150 people will be trekking 80 miles over 5 days. Each night they will erect a giant tent and locals will entertain the trekkers (who will mainly come from Wales). The money raised will be supporting the promotion of Welsh in Patagonia and organ donation in Wales.
During the early 1800s due to industry developing in Wales the rural communities began to disappear. With the growth of the Industrial Revolution, many of the Welsh felt Wales was becoming sucked into England. When the prospect of starting over in the new world was presented, many Welsh people jumped at the chance to go and seek their fortune elsewhere. Argentina granted their request of settling a large area in Patagonia where they would be allowed to retain their culture, language and customs as the Argentines were in dispute with Chile over this land. Setting sail on board the tea-clipper Mimosa in May 1865 they arrived 8 weeks later in Puerto Madryn.
It wasn’t quite what they were expecting though. Having been told it would be green and fertile like Wales they found a barren and inhospitable environment instead. They received help from the native Teheulche Indians (the only example of non-violent colonisation in the history of the American continent) and also took delivery of some mercy supplies. Without these they surely would have given up but instead they reached their colony site in the Chubut Valley about 40 km away. The first settlement of Rawson was established here later in 1865.
It wasn’t plain sailing at all – they had floods, poor harvests and lots of land disagreements and because there wasn’t a direct route to the coast, bringing in supplies was difficult. However, after a simple irrigation and water management system was implemented things started to look up and more settlers arrived over the years. With the depression in the coalfields in Wales even more arrived, and it seemed they had managed in setting up their Welsh colony on the other side of the world. Since the area had been transformed and was now so fertile and productive, more migrants were attracted but this time from all over the world. Consequently this meant the Welshness of the area was being compromised. By 1915 the population was 20,000 and half were foreign immigrants. It was also around this time that the Argentine government took over direct rule of the colony. The Welsh Utopia dream was no longer alive. But despite this some customs lived on and even today there are still people who speak Welsh even though the Spanish-only education system was implemented many years ago.
During this special anniversary year of 2015, it seems like there is no better time to visit this very interesting pocket of Patagonia. Have a look at Historic Haciendas for some ideas on where to stay in Argentina.
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