Mid Wales

Brazil's Welsh colony items online at People's Collection Wales

Thomas Benbow Phillips Image copyright Silvia Elvina Williams
Image caption Thomas Benbow Phillips (1829 - 1915) later moved to Patagonia after the Brazilian settlement failed

Many people have heard of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia - but less seems to be known about an earlier attempt for a "little Wales" in Brazil.

But now a project to digitise photographs and documents on Welsh history could shed more light on it.

Items belonging to Thomas Benbow Phillips, pioneer of the Welsh colony in Brazil, have been put online for the People's Collection Wales.

His settlement started in 1850, 15 years before the one in Patagonia.

Image copyright Silvia Elvina Williams

Staff from the library travelled to Patagonia last month to teach communities there how to upload photographs and documents about the migration to the Welsh government-funded website, which provides a digital archive on Welsh history and culture.

While there they met Silvia Elvina Williams, a descendant of Benbow Phillips, who showed them a photograph of him and documents about the Welsh emigration to southern Brazil.

They have now gone online - the first digitized items about the settlement, which was named Nova Cambria (New Wales).

Image copyright Silvia Elvina Williams

Dr Dafydd Tudur, who oversees digital access at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, said they could now be accessed and studied by all.

"There's not much literature on that community in the English language - there's a bit more in the Welsh language," he said.

"These documents are of an interest because they pre-date the Patagonia settlement.

"Unlike other Welsh settlement to places in north America, where people joined in the local culture, a lot of the rhetoric about the Brazil settlement was very similar to that with Patagonia.

"This was a project to establish a Welsh community and build a society where the Welsh language and culture would thrive."

A number of other documents and photographs from the visit to Patagonia, which was funded by the British Council, will also be on the People's Collection Wales website.

What was Nova Cambria?

Thomas Benbow Phillips was born in London but his parents were from mid Wales.

When he was 21 he attempted to establish a Welsh colony in southern Brazil, called Nova Cambria (New Wales)

He led a Welsh community there, setting sail in 1850.

It is unclear how many people were in the settlement but Dr Tudur said it is believed there were 41 people living there in the first year.

The aim of the settlement was to establish a community where the Welsh language and culture could thrive - the same ideology as with the establishment 15 years later of Patagonia.

Dr Tudur said the reason for this sort of migration could have been because people in Wales at the time were beginning to see the effect of migration on the country and the growth of heavy industry and the spread of the railway. They wanted to preserve the Welsh language and culture.

Benbow Phillips' settlement lasted four to five years. Dr Tudur said some settlers moved to a nearby thriving coal mining area to work.

A lack of support by the Brazilian government was also another reason why the settlement did not prove successful.

Benbow Phillips stayed in Brazil until 1872 before moving to Patagonia.

Image copyright Silvia Elvina Williams

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