December 18, 2017
Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tegai Roberts (1927-2014)

By Susan Wilkinson
For the Herald
The death of Tegai Roberts (photo) April 23 at the Sanatorio Trelew, following a short illness, has prompted tributes from all parts of Patagonia, Wales and beyond. Many who have visited Gaiman will have known the gracious, quietly-spoken octogenarian as the curator of the Museo Histórico Regional de Gaiman, located in the old railway station. She was that and much more. Her ancestors were among the first Welsh settlers; streets in the cities and towns of Chubut are named after them, and she herself was one of the finest interpreters of the history of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia.

Her great-grandfather was the Reverend Michael D. Jones whose efforts in Wales and Liverpool led to the establishment of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia. Her grandfathers were Lewis Jones, first leader of the Welsh colony, whose single-minded perseverance saved it from dispersal and disintegration in the early years of its existence, after whom the town of Trelew is named; and Llwyd ap Iwan, engineer, geographer, explorer, manager of the Mercantile Company of Chubut and son of Michael D. Jones, who was brutally murdered by the North American bandits of the Butch Cassidy gang, Wilson and Evans, in the co-operative store in the foothills of the Andes which he managed. The late Dr. Trefor ap Iwan, Chief of Surgery at the British Hospital, was her mother’s first cousin.

Tegai Roberts was born in Gaiman, in the house, Plâs y Graig, in which she lived and later shared with her younger sister, Luned Roberts de González, until her death. Her first memories were not of the rocky landscape of Chubut, however, but of the red earth of Misiones where her father, Arturo Roberts, was Director of Schools in Posadas. Yet Gaiman was always home. The family returned there and was influential in preserving all aspects of Welsh culture.

It is impossible to over-emphasize Tegai’s dedication to fostering the history of the Welsh settlement through her work in the Museo Gaiman. She was part of the museum since its inception in 1960 by Virgilio Zampini, a local historian and then-director of Culture in the province of Chubut, when a few artifacts relating to the Welsh settlement in the Chubut valley were acquired and exhibited three times a week in the bilingual school where Tegai taught: Colegio Camwy. She was later given charge of convincing families to donate their memorabilia, documents and diaries to the museum. In 1965 the Gaiman railway station house was acquired as a permanent museum, with Tegai Roberts as curator.

As well as artifacts relating to home and farm life of the early settlers, the museum houses a large collection of old photographs, maps, documents and issues of the Welsh-language newspaper, Y Drafod. Over the years of its existence countless writers, historians and academics of Welsh-Patagonian history, documentary film-makers and artists such as the famed Welsh artist, Kyffin Williams, later Sir John Kyffin Williams, whose works constitute a unique record of the rocky landscape and people of Y Wladfa, as the Welsh settlement in Patagonia is known in Wales and Patagonia, have consulted Tegai. Few pass through Gaiman without visiting the museum. My son, who spent part of his honeymoon in Patagonia, walked into the museum with his wife, and spent hours in conversation with Tegai as together they pored over maps and documents. There was no discernible filing system, yet one only had to mention a past event, a desired photograph or article and Tegai would immediately retrieve it from one of the many cardboard boxes in her little office. Her knowledge of events and genealogies was prodigious. (Her nephew, Fabio González, began taking the load of running the museum from Tegai’s shoulders some years ago and, it is to be hoped, will assume the role of custodian and curator of its valuable artifacts.)

Tegai was a member of the Bardic Circle (gorsedd) of Chubut and attained the prestigious white robes of the gorsedd of Wales, an honour given to few. In 1996 she was invited to give a lecture on the Welsh settlement in Patagonia at the Argentine Embassy in London, when an exhibition, “Patagonia: a British Link” took place. The former Gwent-born British ambassador to Argentina, Dr. John Hughes, attended the eisteddfod in Trelew in October, 2008, at which time he went to Tegai’s house in Gaiman to present her with the OBE. In accordance with Tegai’s wishes, the ceremony was private since she wanted no publicity.

Tegai was predeceased by her elder sister, Mair, and is survived by her sister, Luned Roberts de González who is herself a recipient of the OBE for her work in fostering the Welsh language in Chubut, by her brother, Arturo Roberts of the United States, founder and proprietor of the monthly North American Welsh newspaper, Ninnau & Y Drych, and by her nephews and nieces in Patagonia and the United States.

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia