Monday, August 27, 2012

A Radnorian Family in Manitoba

In some ways the Patagonian migration reminds me of the Welsh contribution to the Spanish Civil War.  They were both minor chapters in a much bigger story and their importance has been exaggerated by interested parties for political and romantic reasons.  Just as the 150 or so, overwhelmingly Communist, Welsh volunteers to the International Brigade count for not very much when set beside the hundreds of thousands of Welsh folk who took part in the actual war against Nazism; so the 2000+ migrants to Patagonia were dwarfed in numbers by the tens of thousands who upped sticks for America, Canada, Australia etc.

These less celebrated migrants also have their stories and this one starts with my father, who told me that every Christmas his family would receive a box of apples from Canada.  That was all he knew, but an elderly aunt added that these relations lived in Selkirk, Manitoba and that once a girl called Ann Miller had visited Radnorshire from Canada.  Given the large families common in the late Victorian period, my grandfather was one of nine and his father one of eleven, there was plenty of choice as to who these migrants might have been.  Recently I tracked them down in the Canadian census, a Benjamin Davies who had married my great-great-aunt Anne in Diserth Church in 1836 and who had migrated to Canada in 1881.  And yes, they also had a grand-child - one of around thirty born in Manitoba and British Columbia - called Anne Miller.

Without boring the reader further I'll just comment on a couple of aspects of their lives:  Firstly the pioneering spirit.  We hear a lot about this, but in the case of Benjamin Davies and family, and others like them, I wonder if it was true.  It's not as if they sailed to Patagonia in a 447 ton clipper or crossed the prairie in a covered wagon.  Infact Anne and her children sailed on one of the most modern liners of the day, the Parisian.  The voyage from Liverpool to Quebec taking just eight days and from there to Manitoba, well I guess they would have taken the train. 

Secondly there is the question of ethnicity.  The Canadian census included a question on this topic and it was directed at second and subsequent generation Canadians as much as at recent immigrants.  In the 1891 census Benjamin and his entire family are recorded as ethnicity - English, religion - Baptist, unforgivable!  A weak excuse: at the time of their migration they had infact been farming in Shropshire.  Benjamin and Anne had one son and five daughters, they all married spouses of Scottish descent, except for one who married an Irish Anglican from County Cavan.  In subsequent censuses some of the daughters recorded their ethnicity as Welsh, others as Scotch, perhaps their husbands filled in the forms.  The one son died young and his children also took their mother's ethnicity when it came to completing a census - they too were Scotch.

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