The name comes from the name Patagones – some of the first people to reach South America 10,000 years ago. Patagonia includes both Argentina and Chile, the region from the Rio (river) Negro down to Tierra Del Fuego.
Liverpool, May 1865
159 Welsh men, women and children travelled in a ship call ‘Mimosa’ to Argentina in South America. They were leaving behind their homes in Wales and the problems of poverty to start a new life in Patagonia. Their leader was the Reverend Michael D Jones.
On 29 July 1865 the Welsh arrived in a quiet bay where two men, Edwin Cynrig Roberts and Lewis Jones, were waiting for them. Here too was food and shelter – in holes in the cliffs. The Welsh called this place Porth Madryn and its name today is Puerto Madryn – a very busy port and a popular beach in summer. People also come here to watch the whales between May and December.
Chubut is the region where the Welsh settled down. It is a huge region, from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the mountains of the Andes in the west. Running through this area is Rio Chubut, the river the Welsh called Afon Camwy. The river valley is green but on either side the prairie stretches far to the horizon and beyond!
Life was very hard at first but the people worked hard to create a new life for themselves. They did this by building ditches or canals to carry water to the farms in the valleys and made they their homes in places such as Rawson – the capital of Chubut province – Trelew, Gaiman and Dolavon in the east, and also Trevelin and Esquel in the Andes.
Today, about 150,000 people live in Chubut. About 20,000 of these people are descendants of the Welsh settlers and about 5000 of them speak Welsh. At present about 700 people – both old and young – are learning Welsh in Chubut in schools and night classes as part of the National Assembly Scheme to promote Welsh in Argentina.
The place which feels most Welsh is Gaiman, a town of about 6000 people. This is the home of Ysgol y Camwy (school), Capel Bethel (chapel), Tavarn Las (pub), The Welsh Museum, a number of Casa de Te Gales (Welsh tea houses), and shops with Welsh names. But the most notable thing about Gaiman is the warm welcome and Welsh spoken with a lovely South American accent.