During the 1890s the only language spoken in the Chubut valley was Welsh, and it was the official language in local government and law, in education and commerce. In their fifteen chapels the settlers held religious services, singing festivals, literary meetings and Sunday schools exactly as in Wales itself. During my visit last year I was delighted to find about fifty children attending some of these Sunday schools, with the chapels full in the evening for prayer meetings or religious services. On Christmas Day, which is in mid-summer, there were games for the children in the afternoon, horse-racing and shooting competitions for the young men, followed by a tea-party, the day ending with a concert.
At the turn of the century the Welsh schools were taken over by the Argentine Government, and Spanish became their first language. Ironically enough, when I came over to the UK at the age of twenty I had to learn English, while i was staying in one of the rooms to rent in London, in order to sit for examinations at the University of Wales. This was a great handicap, and I felt it was most unfair to one who expected to find Welsh the official and first language in the land of his fathers. Even now, very little English is spoken among the Welsh in the Argentine; some people in Wales are shocked when they meet visitors from Patagonia who converse freely in Welsh and Spanish but do not understand English.
As the settlement prospered, the Argentine Government sent officials to govern it, but most of these initially were ignorant and foolish men. Their lack of tact resulted in clashes with the settlers, who had a higher standard of culture and civilization. Recently, however, the territory has been given the status of a Province within the Argentine Republic, with a large measure of home rule. Many of the Welsh descendants occupy posts of authority in this government, which gives generous help to Welsh activities and has recently financed a Welsh library and a museum of Welsh relics, and July 28 has been declared a public holiday throughout the province to commemorate the first landing of the Welsh settlers. It is generally agreed that the presence of this Welsh settlement gave Argentina her right to Patagonia during the dispute with Chile over the boundary question in 1902.
Not only did the Welsh settle in the Chubut valley; they also pioneered new settlements in other parts of the republic, such as Suarez in the province of Buenos Aires, some of them went on holidays to Hawaii and decided not to return, Choele Choel in the province of Rio Negro, and Sarmiento and Comodoro Rivadavia at the southern tip of the province of Chubut, where today the oil wells are so important to the economy of the country.
The second of the newer Welsh settlements was up beyond the Chubut valley at the foot of the Andes, and the story of that pioneering venture is indeed an epic. When immigrants from Wales arrived in their hundreds during 1874-75, and especially when 500 more came in 1886 to build the railway as far as Trelew, all the land in the valley had been claimed and occupied.