Jul 282016


On this date in 1865 Welsh colonists arrived at what is now Puerto Madryn in Chubut in Patagonia to found Y Wladfa (The Colony) in Argentina. In the 19th and early 20th century the Argentine government encouraged emigration from Europe to populate the country outside the Buenos Aires region to buttress claims to Patagonia against Chile https://www.bookofdaystales.com/chile-argentina/. Between 1856 and 1875, 34 settlements of immigrants of various nationalities were established in Santa Fe and Entre Ríos. In addition to the main Welsh colony in Chubut, a smaller colony was set up in Santa Fe by 44 Welsh people who left Chubut, and another group settled at Coronel Suárez in southern Buenos Aires Province. In the early 21st century, according to the census, around 50,000 Patagonians claim some Welsh descent. The Welsh-Argentine community lives primarily in Gaiman, Trelew and Trevelin. Chubut estimates the current number of Patagonian Welsh speakers to be about 1,500, possibly more.


The idea of a Welsh colony in South America was put forward by Professor Michael D. Jones, a Welsh nationalist non-conformist preacher based in Bala who had called for a new “little Wales beyond Wales”. He spent some years in the United States, where he observed that Welsh immigrants assimilated very quickly compared with other peoples and often lost much of their Welsh identity including their language. He, therefore, proposed setting up a Welsh-speaking colony away from the influence of the English language. He recruited settlers and provided financing. Australia, New Zealand and even Palestine were considered, but Patagonia was chosen for its isolation and the Argentines’ offer of 100 square miles (260 km²) of land along the Chubut River in exchange for settling the still unsettled land of Patagonia for Argentina.


Towards the end of 1862, Captain Love Jones-Parry and Lewis Jones (after whom Trelew was named) left for Patagonia to decide whether it was a suitable area for Welsh emigrants. They first visited Buenos Aires where they held discussions with the Interior Minister Guillermo Rawson then, having come to an agreement, headed south. They reached Patagonia in a small ship named the Candelaria, and were driven by a storm into a bay which they named “Porth Madryn” after Jones-Parry’s estate in Wales. The town which grew near the spot where they landed is now named Puerto Madryn. On their return to Wales they declared the area to be very suitable for colonization.

The permanent European settlement of the Chubut Valley and surrounding areas began on 28 July 1865 when 153 Welsh settlers arrived from Liverpool aboard the converted tea-clipper Mimosa. The Mimosa had cost £2,500 to hire for the voyage and convert to passenger use, and the fare from Liverpool to Patagonia was £12 for adults and £6 for children, although anyone willing to travel was taken on the journey regardless of ability to pay. The Mimosa settlers, including tailors, cobblers, carpenters, brickmakers, and miners, comprised 56 married adults, 33 single or widowed men, 12 single women (primarily sisters or servants of married immigrants), and 52 children. The majority (92) were from the South Wales Coalfield and English urban centers. There were few farmers, which was rather unfortunate particularly when they discovered that the attractions of the area had been oversold and they had landed in an arid semi-desert with little food; they had been told that the area was like lowland Wales. At the coast there was little drinking water, and the group embarked on a walk across the parched plain with a single wheelbarrow to carry their belongings. Some died and a baby, Mary Humphries, was born on the march. John Williams was the only colonist with any form of rudimentary medical skill.

Once they reached the valley of the Chubut River, their first settlement was a small fortress on the site which later became the town of Rawson, now the capital of Chubut province. This was referred to as Yr Hen Amddiffynfa (The Old Fortress). The first houses, constructed from earth, were washed away by a flash flood in 1865, and new houses of superior quality were built to replace them. The floods also washed away crops of potatoes and maize. The rainfall in the area was much less than the colonists had been led to expect, leading to crop failures.


The settlers first made contact with the local Tehuelche people almost a year after their arrival. After some difficult early years of suspicion and some violence, the Tehuelche people established cordial relationships with the Welsh and helped the settlement survive the early food shortages. The settlers, led by Aaron Jenkins (whose wife Rachel was the first to bring up the idea of systematic use of irrigation canals), soon established Argentina’s first irrigation system based on the Chubut River (in Welsh, Afon Camwy, “winding river”), irrigating an area three or four miles (five or six km) to each side of the 50-mile (80 km)-long stretch of river and creating Argentina’s most fertile wheat lands. Initially the settlers were self-governing, with all men and women of 18 years of age or over having the right to vote. By 1885 wheat production had reached 6,000 tons, with wheat produced by the colony winning the gold medal at international expositions at Paris and Chicago.

The mouth of the River Chubut was difficult to navigate, being shallow and with shifting sandbanks, and it was decided that a railway was required to connect the Lower Chubut valley to Puerto Madryn (originally Porth Madryn) on the Golfo Nuevo on the southern side of the Valdes Peninsula. Lewis Jones was the driving force, and in 1884 the Argentine Congress authorized the construction of a railway, the Ferrocarril Central del Chubut, by Lewis Jones y Cia. Raising funds for the project locally proved difficult, so Lewis Jones went to the United Kingdom to seek funds, where he enlisted the assistance of Asahel P. Bell, an engineer. Work on the railway began in 1886, helped by the arrival of another 465 Welsh settlers on the steamer Vesta. The town which grew at the railhead was named Trelew (Town of Lew) in honor of Lewis Jones. The town grew rapidly and in 1888 became the headquarters of the “Compañía Mercantil del Chubut” (Chubut Trading Company).


By the mid-1880s most of the good agricultural land in the Lower Chubut valley had been claimed, and the colonists mounted a number of expeditions to explore other parts of Patagonia to seek more cultivable land. In 1885 the Welsh asked the governor of Chubut, Luis Jorge Fontana, for permission to arrange an expedition to explore the Andean part of Chubut. Fontana decided to accompany the expedition in person. By the end of November 1885 they had reached a fertile area which the Welsh named “Cwm Hyfryd” (Pleasant Valley). By 1888, this site at the foot of the Andes had become another Welsh settlement, named in Spanish “Colonia 16 de Octubre”. As the population grew here, the towns of Esquel and Trevelin were founded.

This area became part of the border dispute between Argentina and Chile. Argentina and Chile agreed that the United Kingdom should act as arbitrator, and the views of the Welsh settlers were canvassed. In 1902, despite an offer of a league of land per family from Chile, they voted to remain in Argentina.

Serious damage was caused by floods in the 1890s and 1900s, which devastated Rawson and to a lesser extent Gaiman, though Trelew was not affected. There was also disagreement between the settlers and the Argentine government, which introduced conscription and insisted on males of military age drilling on Sundays. This ran counter to the Sabbatarian principles of the settlers and caused much ill-feeling, though the matter was eventually resolved by the intervention of the Argentine president Julio Argentino Roca. These factors, and a lack of unclaimed farmable land, caused 234 people to leave for Liverpool aboard the Orissa on 14 May 1902, with 208 of them subsequently travelling to Canada, arriving at Saltcoats, Saskatchewan in late June, although some of these families later returned to Chubut. Some other settlers moved to Rio Negro Province in Argentina. Many of those who left Chubut were late arrivals who had failed to obtain land of their own, and they were replaced by more immigrants from Wales. By the end of the 19th century there were about 4,000 people of Welsh descent living in Chubut. The last substantial migration from Wales took place shortly before World War I, which put a halt to further immigration. Approximately 1,000 Welsh immigrants arrived in Patagonia between 1886 and 1911; on the basis of this and other statistics, Glyn Williams estimated that perhaps no more than 2,300 Welsh people ever migrated directly to Patagonia.


In time the colony proved remarkably successful, although as immigration to the area after 1914 was mainly from Italy and other southern European countries, the Welsh gradually became a minority. As well as the irrigation system, the creation of a Co-operative Society (Compañía Mercantil de Chubut) was crucial. The Society traded on the settlers’ behalf in Buenos Aires and acted as a bank with 14 branches. The strong chapel-based society was also important, with an emphasis on mutual help and support, social activities and insurance schemes. However, the Co-operative Society collapsed in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and many lost their savings.

The Welsh have left their mark on the landscape, with windmills and chapels across the province, including the distinctive wood and corrugated zinc Capel Salem and Trelew’s Salon San David, an attempt to reproduce St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire. Many settlements along the valley bear Welsh names.


Over the years use of the Welsh language declined, and there was comparatively little contact between Wales and Chubut for many years after 1914. I don’t believe that there are many, if any, native Welsh speakers left in the region, but between 1500 and 5000 claim some fluency. Centenary celebrations in 1965 began increased contact with Wales and started a revival of language and culture. Since then a few teachers travel from Wales to assist in keeping the language alive, and some locals take an interest in learning the language in order to hold on to or learn about their Welsh roots.


The links between Chubut and Wales are slender, but enduring.  Perhaps mostly because of tourism, there are signs of “Welshness” in the region, including flags and street signs, weekly chapel, occasional displays of folk dance in costume, and “Welsh” tea shops. It’s all superficial, of course. The locals speak Patagonian Spanish in everyday life, and are indistinguishable from other Argentinos of European heritage, except that you will on occasion hear Welsh spoken. The dance and costume are no more “authentic” than their Welsh counterparts – invented in a supposed revival in the 1960s, during a wave of nationalist fervor. The tea shops are tourist traps but they maintain vestiges of Welsh tradition. The following is a good video about one such tea shop that highlights torta negra.

You’ll note that the owner is descended from Welsh immigrants and is proud of the fact. But her first language is Spanish. The torta negra she describes, though, as well as tea time, are certainly Welsh enough as you can see. She mentions that Argentinos are used to drinking yerba mate in the afternoon, so tea time is unusual for them, and a treat if they visit as tourists.


It’s often claimed that torta negra or torta galega is a version of Welsh bara brith (tea loaf), but it looks like a standard British fruit cake to me – except for the overnight marinating of the fruits in tea. Original settlers must have used whatever was locally available in the way of nuts and fruits, but now use conventional ingredients. Here’s a basic recipe.


Torta Negra


For the Cake

1 cup chopped mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts)
½ cup raisins
½ cup sultanas (golden raisins)
½ cup chopped candied fruit peel
1 cup dark rum
1 cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cup dark brown sugar
5 eggs, separated
2 tbsp molasses
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp mixed spice (cloves, nutmeg, allspice)
2 tsp baking powder
2 ½ cups flour

For the Icing

1 ½ cups icing sugar
4 tbsp fresh orange juice


Soak the nuts, raisins, and candied fruit in the rum overnight. Drain the nuts and fruit and reserve the rum.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Cream the butter with the brown sugar.

Gradually beat in the five egg yolks, molasses, honey, and reserved rum.

Sift the flour with the cinnamon, mixed spice, and baking powder and add to the batter. Mix well. Stir in the nuts, raisins, and fruit.

In a separate, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites gently into the batter.

Pour the batter into a 9 x 5 inch bread pan, or 10 inch diameter cake pan.

Bake for 45 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

To make the icing, place 1 ½ cups powdered sugar in a bowl. Whisk in the orange juice 1 tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. The icing should be slightly runny.

Drizzle the icing over the top of the cake. Some cooks decorate the icing with extra fruit and nuts.

Jul 232016


The Tratado de Límites (Boundary Treaty) of 1881 between Argentina and Chile was signed on this date in Buenos Aires by Bernardo de Irigoyen, on the part of Argentina, and Francisco de Borja Echeverría, on the part of Chile, with the aim of establishing a precise and exact borderline between the two countries based on the uti possidetis juris principle (designed to assign uncolonized territory). The main point of the treaty was to divide Patagonia between the two countries for fear it would be grabbed by foreign powers such as Britain, but there were also issues concerning trade routes between the Atlantic and the Pacific via the channels between Tierra del Fuego and the mainland. The treaty needed to be renegotiated several times, but the basics are still in place demarking Chile’s and Argentina’s current 5600 km of shared borders.

Argentina declared its independence in 1816 and Chile followed suit in 1818. Once the Spanish had been expelled, relations between the two nations soured primarily due to a border dispute: both claimed to have inherited overlapping parts of Patagonia. Independence movements in South America were catalyzed in the early 19th century by the weakness and instability of Spain and Portugal caused by the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Before that time South America was loosely divided into very large and unwieldy viceroyalties, which broke apart as successive regions fought for and won their independence. Then they set about fighting each other for land. The 19th century was a bloodbath all across the continent.

The Chilean constitution of 1833 established the Andes as its eastern boundary. This view of Chile’s borders was challenged in 1853 by Miguel Luis Amunategui in Titles of the Republic of Chile to Sovereignty and Dominion of the Extreme South of the American Continent, in which he put forward the notion that Chile had valid arguments to claim all of Patagonia. He traced Chilean claims back to the conquest of Chile in the 16th century by Pedro de Valdivia, arguing that de Valdivia obtained rights from the Spanish crown to establish a captaincy limited by the Strait of Magellan to the south. De Valdivia subsequently founded several cities through southern Chile with the goal of reaching the Strait of Magellan. However the remoteness of the region and the Mapuche in the War of Arauco limited further expansion to the south. The Republic of Chile founded Fuerte Bulnes in 1843, and later Punta Arenas in 1847, giving strong assistance to steam navigation through the Strait of Magellan and probably averting the occupation of the strategically crucial strait by the European powers or the United States.


In 1865 Welsh immigrants began to settle around the lower part of Chubut Valley. This colonization, supported by Argentina, meant that Argentina got a new exclave in Patagonia apart from Viedma-Carmen de Patagones, which had been founded in 1779. While the economic and geopolitical impact of this settlement was less than that of Chile’s Punta Arenas, it soon became a starting point for further colonization toward the Andes.

Chilean trade and culture were oriented towards Europe and therefore the complete control of the Strait of Magellan was a core Chilean interest. Chilean politicians saw control of the strait as vital to the survival of Chile as a nation. In contrast, the rest of Patagonia was seen by Chilean politicians as a worthless desert. This view was shared by Diego Barros Arana and was inspired by Charles Darwin’s description of the area as a useless moorland.

Mapuches and other indigenous groups had for a long time pillaged the Argentine southern frontier in search for cattle that was later taken to Chile through the Camino de los chilenos. The cattle were traded in Chile for weapons and alcohol. These groups had strong connections with Chile and therefore gave Chile certain influence over the pampas. Argentine authorities feared an eventual war with Chile over the region in which the indigenous locals would side with the Chileans, and that the war would be fought in the vicinity of Buenos Aires.

In the 1870s, Argentina built a more than 500-km long trench called Zanja de Alsina, which Argentina had undertaken during the Conquest of the Desert from 1876 to 1878 to defeat the indigenous people occupying northern Patagonia, and which was intended to control the eastern third or, at a minimum, the eastern mouth of the strait.

Great Britain and the USA did not directly intervene in the distribution of land and maritime areas, but the U.S. ambassadors in Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires, Thomas A. Osborn and Thomas O. Osborn (stupendous coincidence of names), did serve as mediators. The concern of the great powers was free navigation through the strait. The U.S. administration declared immediately before the negotiations leading to the treaty that:

The Government of the United States will not tolerate exclusive claims by any nation whatsoever to the Straits of Magellan, and will hold responsible any Government that undertakes, no matter on what pretext, to lay or impost or check on United States commerce through the Straits.

The colonial powers, United Kingdom and France, viewed Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego as terra nullius (unclaimed territory) and were active in land grabs. This was evident in the Malvinas, which Argentina claimed under papal concessions dating back to the 15th century, but which Britain occupied in 1833, expelling the Argentine colony of the time – making the assertion that no one owned the islands. Argentine fears about Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego were therefore well justified.


In 1874 Chilean minister Guillermo Blest Gana and the Argentine Minister of Foreign Relations Carlos Tejedor agreed to put the question to arbitration. However, the new Argentine president Nicolás Avellaneda, boosted by internal popularity, cancelled the agreement in 1875. Attempts to clear up the dispute about Patagonia were unsuccessful until 1881, when Chile was fighting the War of the Pacific against both Bolivia and Peru. At that time Chile had defeated Bolivia’s and Peru’s regular armies and had large contingents in occupying Peru and fighting Andrés Avelino Cáceres’ guerrillas. In order to avoid fighting Argentina as well, Chilean President Aníbal Pinto authorized his envoy, Diego Barros Arana, to hand over as much territory as was needed to avoid Argentina siding with Bolivia and Peru.

According to the Argentine view of the treaty, called the Magellan/Atlantic transfer, the general agreement was that Argentina was an Atlantic country while Chile was a Pacific one. Chile has never accepted that view. In the main the treaty is simple – the highest peaks of the Andes form a natural border between Argentina and Chile, down to latitude 52°S. There it gets a little contentious. Both countries wanted control of navigable waters between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Border disputes concerning Patagonia continued after the treaty because large parts were still unexplored. The concept of the continental divide based on highest points and drainage was easy to apply in northern regions, but in Patagonia drainage basins crossed the Andes leading to disputes over whether the highest peaks would be the frontier (favoring Argentina) or the drainage basins (favoring Chile). The Argentine explorer Francisco Perito Moreno suggested that many Patagonian lakes draining to the Pacific were in fact part of the Atlantic basin but had been moraine-dammed during the quaternary glaciations, changing their outlets to the west. In 1902, war was again avoided when British King Edward VII agreed to mediate between the two nations. He established the current border in the Patagonian region in part by dividing many disputed lakes into two equal parts and most of these lakes still have different names on each side of the frontier.

Navigation was basically sorted out by making the Strait of Magellan neutral and carving up the offshore islands between the two nations but minor disputes lingered for decades. This map (click to enlarge) shows some of the claims.


Argentina started to establish its right to the whole of Tierra del Fuego in the 1870s by proposing the building of a penal colony in Ushuaia, modeled on the British colony in Tasmania, but only really got going on the project after the 1881 treaty.  If you visit Ushuaia, as I did in 2011, you can ride the railway built by the prisoners and visit the remains of the colony. It is a bleak place.


The ubiquitous plant of the southern reaches of Patagonia in both Chile and Argentina is the calafate, also known as Magellan barberry, which has a characteristic yellow flower and bears a distinctive blue-black fruit. The plant has many close relatives in the Old World, but the Patagonian calafate has a unique flavor. It is commonly made into jellies and preserves, or a flavoring for ice cream and cocktails. The common legend is that if you eat calafate berries in Patagonia you will return. I have, and I will.


The hardest thing about recipes for calafate is getting hold of the berries themselves. No doubt you can get preserves and cordials easily enough online. To get the actual berries I expect you would have to go to Patagonia. They are everywhere. I doubt that they are grown commercially because they grow like weeds on any available land. You can pick them at will. In La cocina del fin del mundo, Jesús Fernandez, gives a recipe (in Spanish) for calafate jelly. I’ve not tried it, but I’ll give some pointers, and make some additional suggestions based on my general experience with jams and jellies.

First I note that Fernandez uses no pectin, but he does include apples whose juices will help set up the finished product. If you’re lazy, though, you can just add pectin according to the instructions on the package. I think the recipe would make a decent preserve as well as a jelly.

Calafate Jelly


1 kg calafate berries
½ kg green cooking apples
700 gm sugar


Wash the berries well in cold running water. Peel and core the apples and cut them in chunks.

Place the berries and apples in a heavy pot and cover with water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and add the sugar. Stir well and let the fruit cook to a pulp, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently as the fruit softens – about 2 hours.

Test the gel by taking a small amount of the liquid with a spoon and placing a drop on a cool saucer. If it beads up and keeps its shape it is ready. If it flows outward you need to keep cooking. This step is critical. If the liquid does not gel it will never set up when cooled. There are no rules at this point except to keep cooking until you get the desired gel.

Now you have two choices. You can press the mixture through a conical jelly sieve to extract the liquid which will make your jelly, or you can just leave it as is and use it as a preserve. In either case, divide your product between air tight jelly jars and keep them in a cool place.