A Year in Patagonia – part 2

Continuing the fascinating account from our previous post…..

My father went out hunting sometimes with my cousin and one day killed a puma. Its skin was made into a mat which we girls had in our bedroom. I had four cousins out there living miles away – Mylyrfyn, Reene, Llewellyn, and Callan. Their father was killed by the Indians.  Mrs and Miss Rowlands were other friends of ours from Abercanaid – they lived a long way from us, and father would take us sometimes in a buggy, a farmer had lent it to him, to visit them. I used to stay with them for a holiday sometimes. Miss Rowlands had a sweetheart, a Spaniard named Antonio Miggins – he was much darker than our people I often wondered why. One night when we were sitting round the fire I asked him why he was so dark, the answer was that he always drank strong tea. They all laughed, they were very nice people I did enjoy my visits to them.

One day my father did not go to work as there were many things needing to be done around the home, and he wanted to do some fishing. Being away all the week he could not do much, so he took my sisters and myself with him we gathered a lot of sticks and lit a fire as we were so far away. Father knew mother was very timid so we hurried home. Although we were so many miles away we could see quite plain as the country was so flat, but before we reached our house we saw an Indian ride away. He only wanted to know the way to Chubut, Mother could not understand him so said Lo ken savvy , meaning I don’t understand you, the, Indian made to dismount she got very frightened and went into the house for a gun and showed him she could use it he then rode away. Mother stood the ordeal very well but she was glad when we were all together again.

Every farmer in Patagonia had an enclosure attached to his farm called a corral where he had his cattle put at night to protect them from wild beasts, or when the Indians knew they were well stocked. They were very cruel and would come down from the Andes and steal their stock. there was no way to stop them as they came in large numbers unaware. Father made mother an oven to bake in, it was made in the shape of a beehive it was baked without lime. Mother was very disheartened at times, she would travel for miles to the mill then could get no flour, and butter too she could not buy although she had plenty of money.

Life was not very easy in many ways so when father came home at weekends, they would discuss ways out of the difficulty. They found out there was a sailing vessel leaving Chubut for Buenos Aires. They decided to book a passage on her. Mother sold all our household furniture and we went to the Chubut village for a while until the vessel was ready to sail. I went to school for the first time in Patagonia, the first thing they did was to take my shoes and stocking off to see if my feet were clean, but did not bother about my hair as they do in this country. I learned to count up to ten in Spanish, also to sing Oh click a dak a pana Novama. My father again had a buggy to take us to the vessel at the mouth of the River Plate, and I remember when we reached the ship there, a sailor helped us up a rope ladder as he put us on deck he counted una piccaninny dos piccaninny tres piccaninny, and for mother he said Senorita. It took us less time to get home- about five weeks. Father had to forfeit his £5 guarantee. We eventually reached Pontypool Road Station, where friends and my dear Grandfather who I thought I would never see again were meeting us. There was great rejoicing when we met. Well dear children the year is now up and I do hope I have not tired you so Good night and God bless you.

Martha Thomas (née Protheroe) in later years

Many thanks to Thomas Gwynder Davies for sharing this document with us.

A Year in Patagonia – part 1

This account, donated by Thomas Gwynder Davies, was written by his grandmother, Martha Thomas (née Protheroe) about the year she lived in Chubut, Patagonia. She was born in Abercanaid 1878. Her family were members of Sion Chapel, Abercanaid, and they emigrated to Patagonia in 1887, but returned to Abercanaid in 1888.

One year of my life written by an 8 to 9 year old
Martha Thomas (née Protheroe)
1887 to 1888
in Patagonia, South America

My father and mother often wished to travel. They talked much about it and when father was offered a government job in 1887, to build a railway from Chubut Valley to the Andes Mountain, they decided to accept it. The government wanted £5 from each settler as a guarantee that they would stay until the railway was finished. There was much preparation to be made and although I did not understand much of what it involved, I was very excited. Mother was presented with a Bible from the members of Sion Chapel Abercanaid, and I was presented with a large book on behalf of the scholars of Abercanaid mixed school by Mr Evans, schoolmaster.

I felt the parting very much especially from my dear Grandfather whom I loved very much. He lived next door and we had never been parted before. Well the morning for going away arrived at last. Father and Mother my two younger sisters and uncle and two aunts from Swansea came with us to Liverpool to see us off. We stayed there two days and went to many places of interest. We visited the museum and had our photos taken on the steps outside and when we boarded the ship for Patagonia we again had to part with loved ones and friends who had come to wish us well in our new home and surroundings and a safe journey. It took six weeks to go on our journey.

One morning mother looked very tired and sad and thanked God that we had slept through the night, as there had been a terrible storm in the night, and every passenger and crew had worked very hard, as the implements that the ship was taking as cargo in the bottom of the ship had got loose, and they had to put sand bags between the irons to steady the ship as it rolled so, at the mercy of the storm. At last we reached our Chubut. We were taken in little boats to the landing stage. We still had a long way to reach the village, so were taken in wagons drawn by oxen. We did not travel very fast in those days, and had to sleep in the open three nights, and the men had to light fires to keep the wild beasts away while we slept. By and by we reached the Chubut village where a large tent was put up with long tables and benches where we had tea of bread and treacle, and a beverage called Valka made out of a native tree which we sucked through a straw.

We soon settled when father had a 4 roomed homestead built of mud and straw. Evan Hopkins who came with us from Abercanaid was a carpenter and he made us a table and benches for our kitchen and we had mats made by the Indians of animals skins and dyed with vegetables that grew on the Andes. We had two dogs – ‘During’ a house dog, and pet called ‘Fancy’, two hens and cockerel. Father now  had two horses to take him to work as he worked a very long way from home and only came home at weekends. When he went back to work he rode the one horse until it became tired and picked up the other to ride the rest of the way, so he would have it to ride half the way home next weekend – the first horse having eventually returning to us by itself. My sisters and I would go for long rides as it was quite docile.

The weather was very extreme. When it rained it tore up the earth into holes, and they would soon fill with water, but in a few days it would be quite dry again. When it snowed it came down in great lumps not like our flakes. When there was a thunder storm the lighting was like a huge picture in t he clouds. As the grass grew, the wind and the sand caused it to burn and became yellow. There was little green grass to be seen anywhere, therefore there was no pasture for the cattle to eat and they were very thin. There was very little butter in the shop as the farmers could only make a little in the summer when the grass was at its best.

To be continued in the next post……


Book Launch

One of Merthyr’s foremost historians, Joe England, has written what promises to be a fascinating new book-

“Merthyr: The Crucible of Modern Wales”

The launch of the book will take place on Saturday 23 September at 10.30 at the Old Town Hall (Red House).

Joe England will be discussing the themes of the book with Dai Smith and the audience before signing copies.

Tea and coffee will be provided.

For more information visit –


Councillor Isaac Edwards, J.P.

Today we look at another important Merthyr resident – Isaac Edwards, business man, magistrate and mayor, who died 74 years ago today.

Isaac Edwards was born in Dowlais on 10 May 1872. Educated at the Dowlais Works School, at the age of thirteen he began working at the mill manager’s office at the Dowlais Ironworks.

At the age of 25, he left and opened an accountancy and auctioneering business in Dowlais. Within two years he was joined in the business by his elder brother and they began trading as Edwards Bros. As the business grew they purchased the practice of Mr Henry Lewis, auctioneer in Merthyr and opened a branch office in Market Square Chambers, Merthyr.

In 1910, he accepted an appointment as district valuer for the Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and West Denbighshire area in the Wales Division Board of the Inland Revenue. He remained in the position until 1916 when he returned to Merthyr and acquired the business of Messrs J M Berry & Son.

As a boy and young man, Isaac Jones was a member of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais where he continued to worship until he moved to North Wales. Upon his return to Merthyr he became a member of Zoar Chapel where he was elected as a deacon and became a Sunday School teacher. He was also elected President of the North Glamorgan Association of Independents; president of the Glamorgan County Association; chairman of the Independent Union Sustenation Fund, treasurer of Bangor College and in 1930 was elected president of the Welsh Congregation Union – only the fourth layman to be elected to the position since its formation.

He also made his mark outside the chapel. He was elected president of the Merthyr Chamber of Trade, as well as serving as secretary South Wales and Montmouthshire Federation and vice-president of the National Chamber of Trade. He was also appointed as a magistrate for the county in 1922. An Independent councillor since 1921, Isaac Edwards was elected as mayor in 1938.

Isaac Edwards died on Sunday 19 September 1943.

James Neilson’s Hot Blast: Pierre Armand Dufrénoy and Lady Charlotte Guest – part 2

by Victoria Owens

In September 1836 advertisements for On the use of hot air in the Ironworks of England and Scotland […] appeared in the London newspapers. Published by the august firm of John Murray, it was a modest octavo, priced at 5s 6d. To all appearance, the English text was anonymous, the title page stating only that the work was ‘Translated from a report made to the director-general of mines in France, by M. Dufrénoy in 1834 [sic]’ without naming the translator. The entries in John Murray’s ledgers were equally uninformative about the origin of the English version, referring to the work only as ‘Hot Air (On the use of)’ with a caret mark adding the scribbled note ‘By M. Dufrénoy’. The illustrations, however, carry some mark of Lady Charlotte’s involvement. Murray’s publication re-cycles the engravings which had appeared in Dufrénoy’s Rapport, but with an addition. Examination of the English text reveals the initials ‘C.E.G.’ – Charlotte Elizabeth Guest – in her distinctive handwriting beside each picture, presumably as confirmation to the printer that the image is to be bound in with the text.

Illustration of the Dundivan Heating Apparatus from On the Use of Hot Air in the Iron Works of England and Scotland […] (London: John Murray, 1836). The initials ‘C.E.G’ and date ‘March 1836’ appear below the engraved diagram.
To remain anonymous may have been her choice. Not only were mid-nineteenth century publishers apt to view women writers dismissively – it was why the Bronte sisters took masculine pen-names – but her mother had been less than happy about her marriage. For all his acumen, the industrialist John Guest was not the husband she would have chosen for her daughter – she preferred Robert Plumer Ward, a barrister-cum-novelist, whose proposal Charlotte resolutely declined. Charlotte, what was more, had loved South Wales from her first sight of the ‘blazing furnaces’ of Dowlais and the ‘broad glare of the fires.’ By contrast, when Lady Lindsey visited in August 1834, she thought the Glamorganshire countryside ‘wild enough for banditti’ and likened the ironworks to ‘a den of thieves.’ It seems unlikely that she would have viewed her daughter’s work on the Rapport sur l’emploi de l’air chaud with much enthusiasm. Nevertheless, Charlotte’s achievement did not remain secret for long. In December 1836 the local newspaper jubilantly identified her as the translator of On the Use of Hot Air and carried a story full of praise for her disregard of all ‘temptations to indolence’ and ‘frivolities of fashion,’ and ready devotion of her ‘time and talents to useful […] works by which mankind may be benefitted, and the interests of Science advanced.’

Her book had a print run of only two hundred copies but in iron manufacturing circles, it sparked considerable interest. On 1 October 1836, when it had been out for less than a month, John Wilson, co-proprietor of the Clyde Ironworks and member of the syndicate which held the patent rights to the Hot Blast process, called on Lady Charlotte to request a copy of her translation. He was apparently ‘anxious to see [it], as he did not understand French.’

If it yielded little financial return, the engagement with Dufrénoy’s survey of the British iron trade nevertheless set the course of Charlotte’s future. It is no coincidence that in her journal entry for 26 September 1836 – just when the book went on sale – she should mention having ‘undertaken the office of Merthyr’s secretary, to write all his letters and keep them copied and arranged.’ It was, she thought, a ‘beginning in earnest’ for which she had ‘been training for some time.’ Her remarks were prescient indeed, for on John’s death in 1852, she succeeded him as head of the works, and would soon have to bring all her acuity to bear on resolving a strike. Disputes aside, commerce gave her immense satisfaction. ‘I am happy to see we are at the head of the iron trade,’ she wrote in April 1839. ‘Otherwise I could not take pride in my house in the City, and my works at Dowlais, and glory (playfully) in being (in some sort) a tradeswoman.’

James Neilson’s Hot Blast: Pierre Armand Dufrénoy and Lady Charlotte Guest – part 1

by Victoria Owens

Many thanks to Victoria Owens who provided the following fascinating article.

When James Beaumont Neilson, engineer of the Glasgow gas works, patented his ‘hot-blast’ of 1828 – the system of pre-heating air by passing it through a hot ‘vessel or receptacle’ before it entered the blast furnace – he was confident that it would save fuel and reduce costs. Encouraged by three Scots iron manufacturers – Colin Dunlop of Tollcross, Charles McIntosh of Crossbasket, and John Wilson of Dundyvan, all of whom acquired shares in his patent rights – Neilson conducted  experiments at the Clyde Ironworks which demonstrated that use of the hot blast could reduce fuel consumption by about a third. News of its merits spread fast. Not only did many English, Scots and Welsh ironmasters adopt Neilson’s system, but the French inspector of mines, Ours-Pierre-Armand Petit-Dufrénoy, (1792-1857), visited Britain to analyse the economic and metallurgical consequences of its application.

Ours-Pierre-Armand Petit-Dufrénoy

Dufrénoy’s Rapportsur l’emploi de l’air chaud dans les mines à fer de l’Ecosse et de l’Angleterre’ appeared in the 1833 issue of the French Annales des Mines. By chance, Edward Hutchins, nephew of Josiah John Guest of the Dowlais Iron Company, obtained a copy, in autumn 1834 and, recognising the British iron trade’s likely interest in its content, asked his uncle’s wife Charlotte to translate it into English.

The previous year, John Guest had married Lady Charlotte Bertie, daughter of the late ninth earl of Lindsey. An able linguist, she was fluent in Latin, Greek, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew. Soon after her marriage, she began to learn Welsh from the Revd. Evan Jenkins, Rector of Dowlais, and would in time publish a best-selling translation of the mediaeval Welsh story-cycle known as the Mabinogion. That she had a fair working knowledge of French goes without saying.

She started work on her translation of Dufrénoy’s article on 3 December 1834, while John Guest, MP for Merthyr Tydfil, was canvassing votes for the coming general election. She found the text ‘full of technicalities’ and foresaw that producing an English version would take a long time. Nevertheless, she continued throughout the following day, and calculated that by the evening, she had completed about a sixth of it. Here, to give some flavour of the task, is Dufrénoy’s description of Neilson’s methods:- ‘Dans la première experience,’ he writes

l’air fut chauffé dans une espèce de coffer rectangulaire en tôle de 10 pieds de long, sur 4 pieds he haut et 3 de large, semblable aux chaudières des machines à vapeur. L’air provenant de la machine soufflanteé tait introduit dans cette capacité, oùil s’échauffait avant de sa render dans le haut-fourneau. Malgré l’imperfection de ceprocédé, qui ne permit d’élever la temperature de l’air qu’a 200⁰ Fahrenheit (93.3 cent), on pouvait déjà pressentir que l’idée de M. Nielson était destinée à produire une revolution dans le travail du fer.

‘In the first experiment,’ offers Lady Charlotte, ‘the air was heated in a kind of rectangular box of sheet iron, ten feet long, four high and three wide, similar to the boilers of steam engines. The air proceeding from the blowing machine was introduced into this space, where it was heated, previous to being conveyed into the blast furnace. Notwithstanding the imperfection of this process, which did not admit of the air being heated above 200⁰ Fahr, it became immediately apparent that Mr Neilson’s idea was destined to produce a revolution in the manufacture of iron.’

If terms such as tôle [sheet metal] and chaudières [boilers] sent her to the dictionary, her rendition of the idiomatic phrase on pouvait  déjà pressentir, [literally, ‘one could already foresee’] as ‘it became immediately apparent…’ shows her ready command of the syntax.

Lady Charlotte Guest. Photo courtesy of Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery

First caught up in the excitement surrounding the election and, later, dismayed by an outbreak of cholera, Charlotte does not mention the hot blast again in her journal until February 1835. By this time, she and John and their infant daughter Maria were visiting Charlotte’s mother and step-father at their Lincolnshire home – Uffington House near Stamford. ‘Wet Day,’ Charlotte wrote on Friday 13 February; ‘Merthyr (her private name for her husband) […] corrected iron hot air [sic] for me.’

For all its brevity, her statement raises intriguing questions. That John Guest should have been interested in the observations of a highly qualified mining engineer from a rival nation upon the production process of every ironworks from Calder to Merthyr Tydfil by way of Monkland, Codnor and Wednesbury was understandable. Whether he also wished to explore Dufrénoy’s account in the hope of discovering some means of using the hot blast technique without having to pay Neilson royalties is a matter for speculation. The fact that on 12 March 1836 an injunction was issued against Guest and partners restraining them from infringement of Neilson’s patent suggests that by the time Lady Charlotte was translating the French treatise, the Dowlais Ironworks had already introduced the hot blast. In the event, John Guest, was quick to settle with Neilson and his fellow patentees, and pay the shilling-per-ton royalty on iron produced by their method.

Furthermore, Lady Charlotte’s reference to her husband’s ‘correction’ of her work, suggests that, rather than treat her translation of the treatise as a work of private reference, the two of them thought it deserved publication. Certainly the English edition of On the use of hot air includes a number of observations – each designated ‘Note by the Translator’ –which, to judge from their detailed knowledge of the ironworks and coal deposits of South Wales, are the work of an industry insider. The remark, for instance, that before they introduced the hot blast, both Guest at Dowlais and Samuel Homfray of the Penydarren ironworks were using raw coal rather than coke to fuel their furnaces evinces considerable local knowledge. Incidentally the concluding ‘Note by the Translator’ not only gives a complete overview of the hot blast apparatus in use respectively at Dundivan in Scotland and Pentwyn, Clydach and Dowlais in Wales but also appraises the efficiency of the system and the quality of the iron produced in each place. Dufrénoy includes no corresponding commentary and this state-of-the-art survey of British iron manufacture offers an authoritative epilogue to the English version of his treatise.

To be continued in the next post……