The Welsh Settlement in Patagonia

Y Wladfa

Y Wladfa – The Colony – was established in 1865, when around 160 people from various parts of Wales sailed from Liverpool aboard the Mimosa to settle in the Chubut Valley, in Southern Argentina. A culturally strong Welsh Argentinian population is still centred here today.

The Welsh-Argentinian population is predominantly settled in the Chubut Valley (where the main towns are Trelew, Gaiman and Dolavon) and the Andean Region (including the towns of Trevelin and Esquel).

2015 marked the 150th anniversary, which inspired my curiosity to explore one of the Welsh strongholds in the Andean Region, including the towns of Esquel and Trevelin. I chose to focus my cultural journey around Trevelin, which means the ‘mill town,’ where people still maintain a strong sense of their Welsh roots.

The map here shows its location in relation to the other settlements to the east of the Chubut province.

The approach to the town was breathtaking, with the Andes forming a constant dominant backdrop, as shown in some of the images below.  The images of the lakes were taken in Los Alerces National Park, not far from Trevelin.

I was not instantly made aware of the town’s Welshness, until I started driving around. Then I discovered there were so many street signs with Welsh names, as well as business signage.

On a dirt road on the outskirts of the town I drove past a farm gate with the sign Tir Taid which means ‘grandad’s land’. The Welsh dragon also stood proudly within the Argentinian flag.

Curious to find out more, I entered the farm in my 4×4, where I encountered a stunning fairytale house, which reminded me very much of Lord of the Rings’ Hobbit land.

On my arrival the owner appeared and I asked him in Welsh if he spoke the language. He answered ‘tipyn bach’ which means a little bit.  In conversation, I soon established that his father was fluent and that he sang in Welsh. I asked if it was possible to meet his father, Vincent Evans, which was quickly arranged. This was a true highlight, and I captured portraits of him at his home, Nantfach, as seen here. His own father had emigrated from West Wales to Patagonia. Vincent was born and brought up in Patagonia and is married to Argentinian Clara. What I found so extraordinary that he was as comfortable conversing in Welsh as he was in Spanish.

Vincent was so helpful, giving me an invaluable insight into many of the Welsh sites worth visiting in Trevelin . First stop was the old flour mill called Molino Nant Fach, which now houses a museum telling the story of the area’s Welsh heritage, run by Vincent’s son.

I also visited the La Reserva de Nant y Fall Waterfalls just off a very dusty, bumpy road taking you from Trevelin to the border with Chile.

Ysgol Gymraeg yr Andes

Ysgol Gymraeg yr Andes, the Welsh primary school, was located in the town centre (a second has since opened in 2015 due to increased demand). On my arrival, the school was closed, so I had to resign myself to just capturing the exterior. Whilst doing so a lady came along on her bike and we conversed in Welsh. Fortuitously, she was one of the schoolteachers (see photo here). She invited me in, while the other teachers arrived for a meeting to discuss Christmas plans for the kids, and they allowed me take photographs inside. The images below show the interior of the school and the large collection of Welsh books – some of which I used to read myself as a child, including one designed by my father!

Next to the school was a small chapel called Capel Bethel, built in 1905 on the site of an earlier timber chapel built by the settlers. It is still in use for bilingual Welsh/Spanish Sunday services.