The Welsh had been leaving the land for a hundred years before the Mimosa set sail, if not for the coal mines of South Wales or the factories, mills and docks of London, Liverpool or Manchester, then for the lands of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, Canada or America.
More often than not they were driven by poverty. Small hill farmers couldn’t support their families. Crops were poor, taxes were heavy, rents were raised by their newly-wealthy English landlords. Their children, who spoke Welsh, were offered what little schooling there was in English only. Should they speak Welsh to one another, a piece of wood was hung around their necks with the words Welsh Not written on it.
But they weren’t content just to make a new life for themselves. They wanted to keep something of their old life, their culture. In America, they formed Welsh societies, built their own Nonconformist chapels, held Eisteddfodau and printed books and newspapers in Welsh. But in that melting pot of Irish, Italian, German, Danish, Polish, Swedish and every other immigrant, their children soon shed their Welsh identity.
In 1859, Michael Daniel Jones, an Independent church minister from Bala in north Wales, proposed the idea of Y Gwladfa, a Welsh colony, a new homeland. A Colonial Society was formed in Liverpool by a dozen young Welshmen, among them Lewis Jones, from Caernarfon and Edwyn Roberts, just 21, who had been born in Flintshire but brought up in Wisconsin.
At that time, the Argentine government was keen to settle the far south of its country before Chile could lay claim to it. Native Indians wandered the land but there was no settlement below Patagones. Jones travelled there in 1862 and got as far as the estuary of the Chubut river where he found a flat, fertile valley he called the Vale of Camwy. A deal was struck with the Argentine government and Jones returned to Wales to sell the dream.
A river filled with fish, a valley of lush grass and fruit trees, thousands of wild sheep and ostriches – not just the Promised Land but the Garden of Eden.
On the windswept coast, the new colonists were wondering why Patagonia didn’t look like the brochure.