Skip to main content

The Dwynwen Belsey collection includes photographs and slides of Patagonia taken by W. R. Owen, a BBC Wales radio producer, in 1955 during a visit to research and record radio programmes for the BBC, and in 1965 during the centenary celebrations of the migration to Patagonia.

William Richard Owen, 1906-1982

William Richard Owen was born in Holyhead in 1906. He was educated there, and at Birkenhead. The family moved back to Wales when he was about 18 years old, and he trained as a Librarian at Bangor University. He was Bangor City Librarian until 1941. Due to eyesight problems he was refused entry to the armed forces, and joined the BBC at Cardiff. W. R. Owen was instrumental in establishing the Recorded Programmes and Overseas Departments, setting a solid foundation for the development of modern broadcasting in Wales. He had an interest in broadcasting and current affairs, and was involved in recording and broadcasting the main events in Wales.

The Overseas Department broadcasted radio programmes on current affairs and Welsh issues in a programme called ‘Welsh Magazine’, which initiated W.R. Owen’s interest in Patagonia. He spent some time there in 1955 researching, recording and producing the first Welsh programmes from Patagonia. He came into contact with leaders of the Welsh communities and influential figures of the province, and three programmes were broadcast – Dwynwen Belsey presented these early recordings to the Library in 2012.

These programmes re-ignited the interest and contact between both countries, and committees were established to organize the centenary celebrations of the migration. This re-connection stimulated the pilgrim’s descendants to regain an interest in their heritage and ancestors, and some young people travelled to Wales to learn more about their heritage. W. R. Owen returned there with a group of prominent Welsh people for the centenary celebrations in 1965.

W. R. Owen moved to BBC Bangor in 1963 to take charge of their offices, and retired in 1971 following a successful career. He remained in Bangor with his wife Nell until his death in 1982. They had two daughters, Rhiannon and Dwynwen.

Dwynwen Belsey Collection

This collection was given to the Library by W. R. Owen’s daughter, Dwynwen Belsey, in 1995.

The collection includes photographs and slides of Patagonia which he owned or photographed during his visits there in 1955 and 1965. He records everything – the flight and the tourists, official dinners, singing festivals, services, dances, concerts, dramas, asados, and the memorials unveiled during the three weeks’ celebrations. There are also some postcards showing area views and buildings, as well as images collected by W. R. Owen as part of his research.

The Library also received a collection of manuscripts relating to the history of Patagonia and it’s people (NLW MSS 19100B, 19101E), and a film, 'Patagonia '65', that he created during his visit in 1965 (Title number 6332115)

Migration to Patagonia

Many Welsh people emigrated to Patagonia during the nineteenth century hoping for a better life – there was no work, and many lived in poverty. Many flocked to America, where Michael D. Jones set up societies to keep their identity but realized the only way to safeguard the Welsh language and culture was to establish a colony, and his sights were drawn towards Patagonia. He sent representatives to Buenos Aires to discuss terms with the Argentinian government, and guaranteed 25 cuadra (approx 100 acres) land to every family. In 1865, about 150 first Welsh immigrants sailed on The Mimosa, but it soon became apparent that the country wasn’t as ideal as was suggested. The situation improved slowly as they learnt to hunt, and dig canals to help irrigate the fertile land.

Even though they moved to Patagonia to safeguard their language and traditions, by 1950 communication was in Spanish outside the home and chapel and the Welsh at home forgot about the Welsh settlement in Patagonia.

The awareness and interest in the history of the emigrants increased as a result of the reports of the centenary celebrations in the Welsh press in 1965. Welsh tourists travelled there, and teachers went out voluntarily to start classes for Welsh-learners. As the link grew, the Welsh Office sponsored Welsh teachers to strengthen the language, train local Welsh language tutors, and to develop cultural activities. As a result, Welsh was taught as a subject in the schools for the first time in a century.

Bibliography and further reading

  • R. Bryn Williams, The Welsh colony in Patagonia 1865–2000, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2000
  • Y Wladfa, Wikipedia [accessed 3 March 2013];
  • Y Wladfa - (Patagonia), extracts from 'The Desert and the Dream' a documentary by John Ormond for the BBC in 1961, about the Welsh colony founded in the Chubut, [accessed 3 March 2013]. The National Screen and Sound archive have a copy of the complete film, as well as a fuller Welsh language version, 'Y Gymru Bell';
  • Information from Dwynwen Belsey.