Welsh settlers to settle in Chubut in Argentina.
The first group of settlers, nearly 200 people gathered from all over Wales, but mainly north and mid-Wales, sailed from Liverpool in late May 1865 aboard the tea-clipper Mimosa. Blessed with good weather the journey took approximately eight weeks, and the Mimosa eventually arrived at what is now called Puerto Madryn on 27th July.
Unfortunately the settlers found that Patagonia was not the friendly and inviting land they had been expecting. They had been told that it was much like the green and fertile lowlands of Wales. In reality it was a barren and inhospitable windswept pampas, with no water, very little food and no forests to provide building materials for shelter. Some of the settlers’ first homes were dug out from the soft rock of the cliffs in the bay.
Teheulche nativesDespite receiving help from the native Teheulche Indians who tried to teach the settlers how to survive on the scant resources of the prairie, the colony looked as if it were doomed to failure from the lack of food. However, after receiving several mercy missions of supplies, the settlers persevered and finally struggled on to reach the proposed site for the colony in the Chubut valley about 40 miles away. It was here, where a river the settlers named Camwy cuts a narrow channel through the desert from the nearby Andes, that the first permanent settlement of Rawson was established at the end of 1865.
The colony suffered badly in the early years with floods, poor harvests and disagreements over the ownership of land, in addition the lack of a direct route to the ocean made it difficult to bring in new supplies.
History records that it was one Rachel Jenkins who first had the idea that changed the history of the colony and secured its future. Rachel had noticed that on occasion the River Camwy burst its banks; she also considered how such flooding brought life to the arid land that bordered it. It was simple irrigation and backbreaking water management that saved the Chubut valley and its tiny band of Welsh settlers.
Over the next several years new settlers arrived from both Wales and Pennsylvania, and by the end of 1874 the settlement had a population totalling over 270. With the arrival of these keen and fresh hands, new irrigation channels were dug along the length of the Chubut valley, and a patchwork of farms began to emerge along a thin strip on either side of the River Camwy.
In 1875 the Argentine government granted the Welsh settlers official title to the land, and this encouraged many more people to join the colony, with more than 500 people arriving from Wales, including many from the south Wales coalfields which were undergoing a severe depression at that time. This fresh influx of immigrants meant that plans for a major new irrigation system in the Lower Chubut valley could finally begin.
There were further substantial migrations from Wales during the periods 1880-87, and also 1904-12, again mainly due to depression within the coalfields. The settlers had seemingly achieved their utopia with Welsh speaking schools and chapels; even the language of local government was Welsh.
In the few decades since the settlers had arrived, they had transformed the inhospitable scrub-filled semi-dessert into one of the most fertile and productive agricultural areas in the whole of Argentina, and had even expanded their territory into the foothills of the Andes with a settlement known as Cwm Hyfryd.
But it was these productive and fertile lands that now attracted other nationalities to settle in Chubut and the colony’s Welsh identity began to be eroded. By 1915 the population of Chubut had grown to around 20,000, with approximately half of these being foreign immigrants.