A Patagonian visit to the Ffestiniog Railway
June 2nd 2015
In July 1865, 153 Welsh settlers left Liverpool aboard the converted tea-clipper Mimosa to set up a Welsh-speaking colony in Argentina in a bid to preserve the Welsh language and way of life.
Two Ffestiniog Town Council representatives accompanied Rawson Councillor Eduardo Gaudiano and Nadine Laporte on the Ffestiniog Railway at the weekend as they explored the area during their official visit as part of twinning Blaenau Ffestiniog with Rawson, capital of Chubut province in Argentina.
Nadine Laporte, a descendant of Lewis Jones, the man who toured Wales to recruit people to form the first Welsh settlements in Patagonia, said that views from the train were spectacular and she particularly enjoyed the first class carriage directly behind the steam engine.
In the 19th and early 20th century the Argentine government encouraged emigration from Europe to populate the country outside the Buenos Aires region; between 1856 and 1875, 34 settlements of immigrants of various nationalities were established in Santa Fe and Entre Ríos. In addition to the main colony in Chubut, a smaller colony was set up in Santa Fe by 44 Welsh people who left Chubut, and another group settled at Coronel Suárez in southern Buenos Aires Province.
The idea of a Welsh colony in South America was put forward by Professor Michael D. Jones, a Welsh nationalist non-conformist preacher based in Bala who had called for a new "little Wales beyond Wales". He spent some years in the United States, where he observed that Welsh immigrants assimilated very quickly compared with other peoples and often lost much of their Welsh identity and proposed setting up a Welsh-speaking colony away from the influence of the English language.
He recruited settlers and provided financing and Patagonia was chosen for its isolation and the Argentines' offer of 100 square miles of land along the Chubut River in exchange for settling Patagonia for Argentina.
Towards the end of 1862, Captain Love Jones-Parry and Lewis Jones left for Patagonia to decide whether it was a suitable area for Welsh emigrants. They first visited Buenos Aires where they held discussions with the Interior Minister Guillermo Rawson and reached Patagonia in a small ship named the Candelaria, and were driven by a storm into a bay which they named "Porth Madryn" after Jones-Parry's estate in Wales. The town which grew near the spot where they landed is now named Puerto Madryn.
The permanent European settlement of the Chubut Valley and surrounding areas began on 28 July 1865 when 153 Welsh settlers arrived aboard the converted tea-clipper Mimosa. The ship had cost £2,500 to hire for the voyage and convert to passenger use, and the fare from Liverpool to Patagonia was £12 for adults and £6 for children, although anyone willing to travel was taken on the journey regardless of ability to pay. Once they reached the valley of the Chubut River, their first settlement was a small fortress on the site which later became the town of Rawson, now the capital of Chubut province.