Preparing for the arrival of the first settlers
'... I am anxious when I think of the emigrants who will arrive here expecting that arrangements will have been made on their behalf ...' Edwin C. Roberts, July 1865
As the 'Mimosa' left Liverpool docks carrying the group of Welsh emigrants who were to pioneer the Welsh Settlement, two men had already travelled to Patagonia to oversee the necessary preparations for their arrival. Edwin Cynrig Roberts and Lewis Jones (accompanied by his wife Ellen) left for Buenos Aires in the steamship 'Córdoba' on 12 March 1865. They had a long and difficult voyage due to bad weather and mechanical problems, and they spent 45 days at sea before finally arriving at their destination on 27 April.
On their arrival in Buenos Aires, it soon became evident that the Argentine government would not be in a position to assist the Welsh emigrants. The country had become embroiled in a bloody conflict with Paraguay, and had few resources to offer the Welsh. In a letter to Michael D. Jones, Lewis Jones acknowledged that the situation was difficult: 'The major problem is the shortage of time. It is now obvious that I will not be able to carry out my work as I had wished, but I remain confident that I can protect the emigrants from any danger, despite the inconvenience.'
As the situation began to look desperate, a generous offer came from Thomas Duguid, the agent who had acted on behalf of the Welsh in Buenos Aires. J. H. Denby, an Englishman who was a partner in Duguid's company, had secured a ship called 'Juno' to carry Edwin and Lewis to Patagones. A second ship, the 'Mary Helen' (or 'Mary Ellen') was also hired to carry timber and transport the emigrants to the banks of the Chupat River.
The 'Juno' set sail on the 600-mile journey along the coastline, arriving at Patagones on 24 May. There, Lewis Jones met his old friends, the Harris brothers, and the local military leader, Julián Murga. A cargo of livestock, food and other goods were secured in preparation for the final 300-mile voyage to New Bay, where the emigrants were expected to arrive within a few weeks. Unfortunately, during their stay in Patagones, Ellen (the wife of Lewis Jones) had been thrown by a horse and was not well enough to leave with the others. On 10 June, Edwin, Lewis, and small crew of servants set sail for New Bay with a cargo of livestock and supplies. There was not enough room on the ship for all the cattle, and some 500 were herded across the land. The 'Juno' landed at New Bay on 14 June - the supplies were unloaded and the sheep were penned. Lewis returned to the ship and Edwin spent his first night on Patagonian soil guarding the sheep from any wild animals and possible attacks by the indigenous people. Over the following days, the rest of the animals were unloaded and work began to build pens, a storehouse and a row of houses. Initially, the local 'tosca', a soft white clay, was used to build the houses but when it became apparent that it would take far too long to complete the work, a decision was made to use timber to build the remainder of the constructions. Lewis and Edwin were both very conscious of the fact that the provisions being made for the emigrants were wholly insufficient and that a great deal of work would have to be completed before the arrival of the first contingent. It had also become clear to them exactly how difficult it would be to move everyone from the bay across the barren land to the Chubut valley. They had little time to dwell on such problems, however, as the emigrants were expected to arrive before the end of the month.
Lewis returned to Patagones on 5 July to collect more livestock and supplies, leaving Edwin and the servants to continue with the construction work. On his arrival in Patagones, Lewis learned that the cattle which had been sent across the land had been stolen by Indians, who had also killed the 'gauchos'. As he prepared to leave for the New Bay on 18 July, he received the news that the emigrants were on their way, on board the 'Mimosa' (rather than the 'Halton Castle') and much later than expected.
Lewis Jones reached the New Bay on 24 July, where it became evident that Edwin had experienced his own problems during his absence. Following a disagreement with some of the servants, he had spent two nights stranded down a well. His spirits were low as there continued to be no sign of Lewis Jones or the emigrants. With the return of Lewis and the news that the contingent were on their way, Edwin's spirits lifted. Three days later, however, Lewis Jones left for Patatgones on board the 'Juno' to collect another load, leaving Edwin alone with the servants once more. As he looked out towards the Bay around lunchtime that day, he suddenly noticed two ships approaching - the 'Juno' and the 'Mimosa'. The emigrants had arrived. Lewis Jones was to be seen on board the 'Mimosa' embracing the passengers who were shouting and waving their arms. Cannons were fired and Edwin replied by firing a cannon from the shore. He then rowed out to the 'Mimosa' to greet the emigrants and welcome them to their new home.
R. Bryn Williams, Y Wladfa (Cardiff, 1962)
E. MacDonald, Yr Hirdaith (Llandysul, 1999)