Story of the Welsh in Patagonia revealed by archives

South America may not be instantly associated with Wales, however documents at The National Archives in Kew reveal an unusual story of the Welsh in Patagonia.

To tie in with the Archive Awareness Campaign theme, Take Flight, The National Archives is hosting a special talk using material from the archives to highlight migration of the Welsh to Patagonia over a century ago.

In 1865 a group of Welsh emigrants left Liverpool on the tea clipper Mimosa bound for the New World to establish a Welsh speaking colony in the valley of the Chubut River in Patagonia, Argentina. After initial hardships, including lack of vegetation and food, they successfully established their colony literally called, Y Wladfa or “The Colony” which is still a thriving community today.

Y Wladfa, as its name suggests, was almost completely Welsh in character; the language was used in church, schools and by the municipal authority. In time a second colony was established in the foothills of the Andes, east of the Argentine border with Chile, and this was called Cwm Hyfryd („Pleasant Valley‟). For some fifty years, the language and traditions and laws of Wales remained current across a swathe of Argentine Patagonia, and many Welsh traditions live on today.

Within the numerous documents detailing the history of the colony at The National Archives are the names of settlers, their descendents, as well as emigration to and from the colony. It is also clear from these records that relations between the Welsh and the local native Patagonians were very good and that the descendents of the settlers regard themselves as Welsh Argentines.

Bruno Derrick, Records Specialist with The National Archives, said, “Archives are breathtaking in their power to speak across the centuries. This is a story of hardship and heroism and these documents, some not seen by the public until today will enable visitors to explore the remarkable hidden history of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia during the second half of the nineteenth century.”

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