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National Library of Wales journal


Cyf. 27, rh. 2 Gaeaf 1991

A Welsh missionary at Canada's Red River settlement, 1823-38 : the work and character of the Reverend David Thomas Jones /

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1. Introduction
ONE of the recurring themes in the history of exploration, conquest and
settlement of new lands discovered by the European powers from the
late fifteenth century onwards1 was the dominant role often played by
individuals from the periphery of the major states involved. Perhaps best
expressed in the examples of Cortes and Pizarro in colonial Spanish-America
both of whom came from the arid, harsh and unremitting land of Extremadura
in south-west Spain it can also be seen in the numerical dominance of
the Scottish in early British-Canadian history. Yet before the Scots entered
the Canadian scene in large numbers, it is worth noting that the Welsh, also
peripheral in the emerging British state, illustrate the same thesis although
with less impact. For example, it was Thomas Button, from outside Cardiff, in
1612, and Thomas James of Abergavenny in 1631, who established the outline of
the west and south coast of the Hudson's Bay, naming these areas New Wales
and New South Wales respectively. Moreover, among the western interior
explorers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, David Thompson, born the
son of Dafydd ap Thomas in London in 1770, must be considered exceptional.2
It is dubious whether the truth can ever be determined about the Canadian
contribution of even more remote Welsh figures, such as Prince Madoc's
twelfth-century voyages to North America,3 or Professor A. Davies's champion-
ing of both voyages of John Lloyd the Skilful to Baffin Island in the 1470's
and the importance of a Welsh captain 'taking' Cabot to Cape Breton Island in
1497. Yet the probabilities of these voyages being of real rather than mythic
significance do increase through time. What seems unfortunate is that know-
ledge in both Wales and Canada about the contributions of these and other
Welshmen to Canada is rarely acknowledged and is often misunderstood. This
'loss' may be epitomized by an entry in the official town guide of Abergavenny
about its famous explorer born in a neighbouring village:
Captain Thomas James, the famous 17th century navigator, was born in Llan-
vetherine in 1593. When he reached Australia, he named the place where he
landed, New South Wales. (Town Guide of Abergavenny, 1987, p. 64)
Unfortunately for historical accuracy this Australian New South Wales was
discovered almost a century and a half after James' voyages, whilst geographers
may wince that the town guide has James searching the wrong direction. Or
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