Page last updated at 06:02 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 07:02 UK

Welsh settlers in web biography

Reconstructed mill at Trevelin in the Andes
Welsh communities in Patagonia, like this reconstructed mill in Cwm Hyfryd ('Beautiful Valley'), helped Argentina strengthen its claim on land they settled

The two founders of a Welsh colony in Patagonia have been added to the online version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Writer Lewis Jones, from Caernarfon, and church minister Abraham Matthews, born in Llanidloes went to Y Wladfa (the colony) in Argentina in the 1860s.

They are among 96 people included in an update in the web archive's fifth year.

Welsh names already included are the late "Gentle Giant" footballer John Charles and banker Sir Julian Hodge.

In 1862, Jones sailed to Buenos Aires and struck a deal with the Argentine government for the establishment of a Welsh colony in Patagonia.

He was alarmed at how quickly earlier migrants to the US had abandoned Welsh customs and wanted a location where settlers could speak their own language and practise their nonconformist religion in peace.

Asociacion San David building in Trelew
Trelew, named after Lewis Jones, is the main regional town in Welsh Patagonia

The first settlers arrived in 1865 and colonised the lands which today form part of the province of Chubut.

Jones became the first elected president of a self-governing council, establishing the first railway and publishing the region's oldest surviving newspaper, Y Dravod.

His contributions to Y Wladfa were vital for its development and survival during its difficult periods, particularly its early years and there is a town named after him, Trelew (Welsh for 'Lewis's Town').

He was said to be heartbroken when, in 1899, tragedy struck when a flood destroyed the settlement and with it the results of more than 30 years of constant toil. He retired from public life.

Colony's bishop

He was survived by his wife and two children, one of whom - his daughter Eluned Morgan - went on to become one of the greatest literary talents of Welsh Patagonia.

Congregational minister Abraham Matthews travelled out to Patagonia in 1865 and also inspired 15 settlers from the Aberdare area to join him.

In his first sermon delivered there he likened the Welsh settlers to the Israelites in the desert.

For a number of years he was the sole religious leader of the settlement and became known as the bishop of y Wladfa.

He received no payment for his services and earned a living from labouring on his farm and hunting with his dog.

His zeal for preaching resulted in his characteristic limp: in his haste to deliver a sermon in one of the chapels of the Chubut Valley, he prematurely discarded a plaster cast placed around his broken leg after a horse-kick.

Trips to US

It was thanks to Matthews that the population of the settlement, which had been in decline, tripled during the early 1870s due to his self-funded canvassing trips to Wales and the US.

The Oxford DNB online is available free to most library users in the UK. Some library members can also access the biographies from their home computers.

It is published by Oxford University Press and is a joint project between Oxford University and Oxford University Press.

The next update, which appears in January 2010, will include biographies of more than 200 people who died in 2006.



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