Ceredigion Museum’s collections access officer Andrea DeRome travelled to Patagonia in Argentina in February to research pioneering voyages for a temporary exhibition.
The journey was made with support from the ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant Scheme 2018-19 and the result of Andrea’s research can be seen in the ‘Because it’s There’ exhibition which is now on display at the Aberystwyth museum until October 12.
Ceredigion Museum has an excellent seafaring collection that salutes the history when carts struggled along muddy trails and the iron steam dragon on tracks was still the stuff of imagination; all commerce, journeys and intrepid escapes were made west by boat.
Ceredigion is a coastal county, bordered by 60 miles of the sea along Cardigan Bay to the west.
Andrea explained her fascination with the ocean:
“Lured by tales about maritime wanderers, I imagined voyages at sea, praying to survive a maelstrom, waiting for calmer winds and clearer skies. I became curious about the tools of celestial navigation and exploration, and in awe of those who went to sea.”
One such pioneering voyage began on May 28, 1865, when the anchor was raised on the sailing ship ‘Mimosa’ as it left for Patagonia. It took 60 days for the ship to arrive at its destination, at the mercy of the wind and waves, with four deaths, two childbirths and one wedding along the way.
On board were about 153 resolute Welsh-speaking families seeking to create a Welsh-speaking utopia. They had grown concerned that amongst the many changes of the Industrial Revolution in their homeland, their language and values were being eroded and lost.
When they finally landed, there was nothing. They had arrived on this continent in winter. It was not the fertile land they were passionately promised; they shape their first dwelling in a cave and survive through the kindness and forgiveness of the indigenous people.
Andrea recalled the difference of her 21st century journey to Patagonia.
“I board a plane at London Gatwick. At this point, I have travelled for eight hours from Aberystwyth to London. Fourteen hours later, flying among the stars for 6,910 miles, I land in Argentina.
“When I arrive at my destination, I encounter the infrastructure the pioneers forged – the 430 miles from Puerto Madryn to Trevelin – an enormous land of beautiful, varied terrain. I set foot inside The First House, in the town of Gaiman, built from stone and mud in 1874.
“I meet spirited, proud people who respect Welsh culture and language, who consider the pioneers ‘to be the wheels of Patagonia, they got this area moving’ and I discover communities, chapels and schools working together to keep it all alive. I appreciate the continuing impact of our county’s history on the world.”
Carrie Canham, Ceredigion Museum curator, explains:
“Support from the ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant Scheme 2018-19 has given us, a rural Welsh museum, an international perspective that will benefit both staff and visitors.
“Aberystwyth lies at the end of the rail network, a seemingly dead end, but we are now better able to interpret our locality as the launch site to far-flung destinations for intrepid emigrants undeterred by the unknown.”
The exhibition examines human exploration: the desire to go beyond the horizon, climb the mountain, venture out across the ocean, fly among the stars, to discover something because it’s there, or rumoured to be there.
The exhibition features the tools and machinery that made things possible and uncovers the stories of the brave people who took bold risks in their pursuit of new discoveries.
Launched on July 20, ‘Because it’s There’ is curated by Andrea. For more information, visit www.ceredigionmuseum.wales