Chapter 33

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Down Under

After the United States, notwithstanding the fulfillment of the dreams concerning Patagonia, it was Australia that beckoned the largest group of Welsh emigrants. Figures for Australians of Welsh descent are hard to come by, especially since so many emigrants from Wales were simply classed as being from "England and Wales" (or from the United Kingdom). As in the United States, however, Welsh people played a very important part in the development of their new country in many diverse areas. In the early 1990's, about 30,000 Australians were Welsh-born, the majority sailing down under after World War II.

The first known Welsh people to arrive in Australia came on the "First Fleet" of 1788. They were convicts, two men and two women. Even before this time, however, Welsh crews were present on James Cook's voyages. The medical officer aboard the Discovery, in fact, was Dafydd Ddu Feddyg (Black David the Doctor). In the 1830's more Welsh convicts arrived, including leaders of the fledgling Trade Union movement and the Merthyr Riots of 1831, including Lewis Lewis (Lewsyn yr Heliwr ) who had been sentenced to death along with Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn), but who had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

These so-called "rebels" were followed by the Chartist leaders Frost, Williams and Jones for their part in the Newport Rising of 1839. While Frost eventually returned to Wales, Williams became a highly regarded industrial magnate in Launceston. One of the most famous of all Welsh emigrants, however, whose exploits as "the jolly swagman" of song earned him a prominent place in the pantheon of Australian folk heroes, was Joseph Jenkins, the farmer who left his native Cardiganshire because of a nagging wife.

It was the great Australian Gold Rushes of the 1850's that brought a sizeable number of Welshmen (and women) to Australia. Before this time, however, many copper miners had helped settle the new colony of South Australia, particularly the towns of Kapunda and Burra. William Meirion Evans of Llanfrothen, Merioneth, is believed to have been the first person to hold religious services on the Australian continent in the Welsh language when he preached at Burra in 1849. Evans also founded and edited the Welsh-language periodicals Yr Awstralydd (the Australian) and Yr Ymwelydd (the Visitor) that acted a link among all the Australian Welsh communities throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

The gold fields of Victoria attracted many miners (mostly single men) to the Ballaret-Sebastopol area, which benefited greatly in later years from Welshmen who became political leaders, business managers and storeowners. David Jones, from Barmouth in North Wales became owner of the largest drapery store in the area. Also of Carmarthen was David John Thomas, who became Melbourne's most eminent surgeon and founded the Melbourne Hospital. In Victoria, as in other territories, the Welsh set up their chapels almost as soon as they arrived, and the eisteddfodau, Cymanfaoedd Ganu and other Welsh cultural activities were welcome diversions from the drudgery of the mines and factories.

In New South Wales, many Welsh coal miners found ready employment. The names of towns in the Newcastle coalfield include Swansea, Cardiff, Neath, Aberdare, and others. A Welsh scientist, Edgeworth David, discovered and developed the major coal seams, and another David Jones (of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire) became the leading draper of first, New South Wales, then of all Australia. Coal was also a magnet for many Welsh to move north into Queensland in the 1860's, when the first Welsh chapel was founded in Gympie.

Chapter 33 Continued
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