BLOG Lee Tisdale

NWR Issue r36

Patagonian Bones

26th February, 7:20 PM. The information desk at Ceredigion Museum had no lights on, and the streets around it were almost empty. Standing in front of the door felt forbidden since the place looked as though it was closed. Anyone unaware of the event would have walked past, no intention of even looking twice at the place, but I knew better and stepped inside. I felt as though the dark reception may have made the event a little less enticing to people, but upon arriving into a full theatre I cast that thought aside. After I had sat down, every single seat was taken.

Patagonian Bones (2015) by Ricardo Preve is a documentary based on real historical events. Nominated for the “Best Scientific and Educational Film” by Fusion Award in 2019, it presents the voyage of a ship called the Mimosa, which carried Welsh emigrants to South America. On its journey to the region of Patagonia (1865), an emigrant called Catherine Davies died a month after reaching Argentina, her three children dying shortly before and after her. Her unidentified bones were unearthed in 1995, and a Welsh woman named Nia, a relation of Davies’, must travel to Argentina to possibly create a positive DNA identification.

The documentary is a great staple of Welsh history, using many historical sources to keep the memory of Catherine Davies and her children alive. They use the only known picture of Davies which re-appears several times. The audience is reminded of Welsh culture through this and the colonisation of Puerto Madryn. During the Industrial Revolution, the natives of Wales felt that their traditions were being threatened as their country appeared to be merging with England. In particular, their language, as people were being pressurised into learning English in both Wales and already existing American colonies. As a result, they immigrated to Patagonia. I felt as though discovering the identity of the bones was symbolic of unearthing old Welsh culture that people felt had been slipping away.

I was particularly fond of the cinematic scenes in the documentary, in particular the re-imagined death of Catherine Davies. The lighting was a deep cold blue and, as the woman lay shivering on the sand, blood spilt in a line from her mouth. The two boys behind her were distraught. These visuals capture the terrifying feeling of a two-month-long boat ride in which a child is lost and

Afterwards, screenwriter Ricardo Preve, who had attended the event, gave a speech and mentioned that the piece touches on the issue of safety concerning immigration, a prevalent issue to this day. The youngest of Catherine’s children, John (eleven months of age), passed away on the voyage due to an illness. The documentary brings this fact to light and serves as a reminder that deaths like John’s pave the way to greater travel precautions and methods. This is a tragic but heart-warming take on the child’s death. I like that Preve has given significance to the deaths of nearly-forgotten people.

Ultimately, Patagonian Bones stands as a brilliant documentary of cultural significance to Wales. It is well worth watching if you are interested in science, Welsh culture or the highly topical and, at times deadly, the theme of migration.

Lee Tisdale is one of this season’s Digital Cultural Correspondent in a new partnership with Aberystwyth University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.


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