In the late 19th Century, Patagonia, Argentina’s vast southern territories, were still largely a wild frontier, open for European settlement. While Germanic (German, German-Swiss and Austrian) immigration to Argentina in general was already a major factor in the nation’s development, relatively few such settlers had yet come to Patagonia. The present rare work in a collection of two separate titles, by the brothers Moritz and Theodor Alemann, prominent Swiss-born Buenos Aires journalists and promoters of Germanic colonization, who ran the Argentinisches Wochen- und Tageblatt, the country’s premier German language media enterprise.
Each work takes the form of a description of an investigative tour of a key part of Patagonia, undertaken to assess the area’s suitability for Germanic immigration. Moritz Alemann travelled to the Río Negro territory, in northern Patagonia, often riding the newly completed stages of the ‘Neuquen Railway’, which
connected to region to Buenos Aires. In the second work, Theodor Alemann describes his tour of Chubut Territory, a wilder land in central Patagonia that had already been settled by Welsh immigrants.
Both works feature fascinating and valuable insights into early frontier life in Patagonia, including detailed accounts of the region’s common settlers, major business personalities and the nature of industry. In addition to well-reasoned assessments of the measures that prospective German insights would need to take to successfully settle in Patagonia, Theodor Alemann in particular, endeavours to weave these settlement ventures to the greater context of German global imperial-nationalism, adding an intriguing, and potentially incendiary, element to the mix.
All considered, the Alemanns’ works are amongst the most entertaining, highest quality and most authoritative accounts of early immigrant life along the world’s most southerly frontier, and well as a curious exposé on the ambitions of the Germanic diaspora.
The Conquest of Argentine Patagonia and the Arrival of European Immigrants
In the first generation after Argentina’s independence, Bernardo Rivadavia, the country’s first president (serving 1826-7), had a vision of encouraging European immigration to Argentina, to grow its cities and develop its hinterlands with industrious, enthusiastic people, but also to crush the sclerotic Creole caste system that that had long stifled progress in the Río de la Plata region. The great success of mass immigration in the United States was hailed as model. However, it took some years for significant immigration to become a reality, with the first large waves arriving in the Buenos Aires region in the mid-century.
Patagonia, the great southern cone of the Americas was, until the 1870s, scarcely settled by people of European stock, still being controlled by its indigenous peoples. Recognizing the immense latent value of the territories, and not wanting them to fall into the hands of rival powers (notably Chile), Argentina, in what was known as the Conquista del desierto (1870s-1884), seized all of Patagonia east of the Andes, displacing the indigenous nations. This opened vast new realms for development, with millions of acres of ranch land, and fertile valleys, to European settlement. However, Argentina would have to act fast if it was to secure the territory from foreign interference and to convert it from being an economic drag into a boon. In the wake of the conquista, the government enacted the Law of National Territories (1884), which created the new territories (today provinces) of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego.
During the late 1880s, Argentina spent enormous sums to encourage European immigration, opening offices in various European cities, paying agents large bounties, and granting free land and seed capital to immigrants, especially those who wished to settle the virgin territories of Patagonia. Argentina’s attractiveness was augmented by the fact that it was at the beginning of what would become a 50-year-long commodities boom, making it one of the fasted growing economies in the world.
These measures proved highly effective, as waves of immigrants from the German-speaking counties, Italy, Croatia and Britain, settled in Argentina. However, the process of disbursing great sums on immigration opened the door to an astounding amount of corruption, causing a huge political scandal. Consequently, in 1890, the Argentine government changed tack, ceasing to directly fund immigration and leaving the cause to be managed by private immigration societies, although the state was still willing to grant free, or very cheap, land to new settlers. The waves of immigration continued, as the robust economy was able to float private sponsorship.
Enter the Alemann Media Dynasty: ‘Transnational’ Promoters of Germanic Immigration to Argentina
The Alemann Family Dynasty exercised the most important and enduring Germanic influence upon Argentina. It started with Johann Alemann (1826 – 1893), a Swiss German journalist from Berne. Beginning in the 1850s, he was an ardent promoter of immigration from German-speaking lands (Germany, Switzerland and the Austrian Empire) to Argentina. This would provide great advantages for all involved, as many people (especially farmers) in the Germanic lands had been economically displaced by the Industrial Revolution, and were desperate for new opportunities, while Argentina, promised to provide them with endless freedom and bounty. Argentina would benefit from having their countryside populated by industrious settlers. However, Aleman did not see the emigration of thousands of Germans, Swiss and Austrians as being a loss for their home countries. On the contrary, he had a ‘transnational’ vision whereby self-contained Germanic communities in Argentina could help build a global trading empire with their vaterländer, while working the ‘civilize’ their new environment.
Johann Alemann emigrated to Argentina in 1874, accompanied by his eldest son, Moritz Alemann (1858-1908). In 1878, in Buenos Aires, Johann founded the Argentinisches Wochenblat (the Argentine Weekly), which quickly became the leading German language paper in the country; he was assisted by Moritz, who increasingly took a more active role in the paper’s management. In 1879, Johann and Moritz were joined in Buenos Aires by the second son, Theodor Alemann (1862 – 1925), who had been trained as a cartographer. After an apprenticeship at another paper, Theodor joined the staff of the Wochenblat. The Alemann brothers both proved to be enormously talented journalists, public speakers and propagandists, bringing their father’s designs to a whole new level.
The paper vigorously promoted Germanic immigration to Argentina, and the interests of the diaspora community, while seeking to maintain the links between the immigrants and their homelands. It ramped up is presence in 1889, when it became a daily, the Argentinisches Tagesblat, and had a regular readership of many thousands.
The Argentinisches Tagesblat assumed a distinctly liberal editorial stance (ex. secular, socially democratic, anti-militarism) that rankled both conservate members of the German community and the Argentine establishment. Yet, it headed a powerful lobbying group in Buenos Aires which, due to its stellar organization and the wealth and political connections of some members of the German-speaking community, exercised great influence in the national corridors of power. The lobby often successfully pressured the Argentine authorities to approve policies favourable to the Germanic immigrants, sometimes even in cases where these measures departed from the government’s pre-existing plans.
The Argentinisches Tagesblat ran innumerable stories and published pamphlets (of which the present titles were especially important) that aimed to inspire and aide prospective German, Swiss and Austrian immigrants, extolling the virtues of regions such as Patagonia, while still cautioning them as to the potential difficulties they faced.
The Allemanns helped to raise large sums of money to support Germanic immigrants, funds which became particularly important after 1890, when the Argentine state scaled back its direct support for such endeavours.
The paper, and related enterprises were taken over by Moritz and Theodor upon Johann’s death in 1893. While the Alemanns’ editorial stance continued to assume an overall liberal course, it came to increasingly promote an ethic of ‘pan-Germanism’, advocating that German-speaking immigrants to Argentina should bury the various cleavages that existed between them in Europe, to create a shared national destiny in their new home. This had a chauvinist element in that it was implied that the Germanic culture (Deutschtum) was inherently superior to the prevailing Argentine Creole, or Latin, culture (Kreolentum), and that Argentic would benefit from being ‘civilized’ and modernized by Germanic peoples. Moreover, the Alemann bothers envisaged that most of the German settlements, particularly in rural areas such as Patagonia, would remain ‘close communities’, preserving their Germanic identities for generations, while facilitating trade and cultural exchanges with their home countries as part of an informal Germanic global empire. Theodor subsequently even wrote a treatise on this topic, Die Zukunft des Deutschtums in America (1917). While such sentiments would have clearly annoyed non-German Argentines, whey tolerated them as the benefits of the German presence were seen to far outweigh the negatives.
In part due to the Alemann’s efforts, Germanoc immigration to Argentina, and to Patagonia in particular, proved to be a resounding success. Many areas of the southern territories were settled by Germans, and they proved to be amongst the wealthiest and most orderly parts of the country (for example the important cities of San Carlos de Bariloche, Neuquén,
and San Martín de los Andes, Río Negro, were largely established by German immigrants).
German Argentines played a vital role in the country’s economic and overseas trade, but inevitably not in the quasi-imperial manner as envisaged by the Alemann brothers. While many Germanic communities retain elements of their cultural identity up to the present day (German schools, societies, festivals, etc.), most German-Argentines are well integrated into the general society, as opposed to maintaining ‘closed communities’.
The Argentinisches Tagesblat, still operates today, under the direction of the Alemann family, with daily readership of 15,000.
The Kolonisations-Gebiete im Süden der Argentinischen Republik in Focus
The present work, entitled Kolonisations-Gebiete im Süden der Argentinischen Republik [The Colonization Zone of Southern Argentina], is a collection of two separate titles (or here, parts), Moritz Alemann’s Die grosse Neuquen-Bahn und der Rio Negro [The Great Neuquen Railway and Rio Negro] and Theodor Alemann’s Ein Ausflug nach dem Chubut-Territorium [A Tour to the Chubut Territory], published for the authors by the press of the Argentinisches Tageblatt. To clarify the publication history, both works first appeared in print serially within issues of the Argentinisches Tageblatt in the austral autumn of 1898. Both titles were also published as separate pamphlets around the same time as the present collection was issued.
The first work, Die grosse Neuquen-Bahn und der Rio Negro, written by Moritz Alemann, recounts his tour of the Río Negro, a fertile territory in northern Patagonia, located between the Pampas and Chubut. Notably, the region already featured a well-established ‘Kolonizations-Gebiet’ (Colonization Zone), in the upper Río Negro valley, that was being opened for much greater development by the progress of the lines of the Ferrocarril del Sud (Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway). The rail system, which having reached Bahía Blanca, in Buenos Aires Province, in 1884, constructed a westward-reaching spur, informally referred to as the ‘Great Neuquén Railway’, which reached the colonization zone of the Río Negro valley just before Alemann’s tour.
In the work, Alemann recalls that he set out upon his tour in the company of a new acquaintance, Charles Dufour, a French Swiss man who had resided in Argentina for 37 years. He writes engagingly about the places he encounters, the people he meets, the local enterprises and the fledgling state of the existing German colonies in Río Negro. His tour features two major legs, one heading inland, mainly along the Great Neuquén Railway, from Bahía Blanca to the Río Colorado, and then down into the heart of the colonization zone of the Río Negro territory. The other leg sees him heading down the coast by boat from Bahía Blanca to Carmen de Patagones, located just across the river from the capital of Río Negro territory, Viedma, and then up the Río Negro River, so forming a full circle with the other leg.
The work is divided into five sections tracing Alemann and Dufour’s itineraries: I. Bahía Blanca to the Río Colorado; II. the Río Colorado Valley; III. Fortin Uno, on the Río Colorado, to Chelforó, on the Río Negro River; IV. Chelforó and its environs;
- up the Río Negro from Carmen de Patagones (across the river from Río Negro’s territorial capital, Viedma); and VI. Río Negro to the ‘Kolonizations-Gebiet’ (the ‘Colonization Zone’ in the Upper Río Negro extending from the towns of General Roca to General Conesa), while travelling upon a newly completed stretch of the Neuquen Railway.
The second work, Ein Ausflug nach dem Chubut-Territorium, is a highly entertaining and clever piece of propaganda. It recounts the tour that the author, Theodor Alemann, made of Chubut, the Argentine territory that lay between the 42nd and 46th degrees South latitude, and which extended from the Andes to the Atlantic. While home to the odd fort or mission in earlier times, the first Europeans to settle en masse in the region were Welsh immigrants, beginning in 1865 (even in advance of the Argentine conquista of Patagonia). While the Welsh settlers and some other small groups had come to prosper in Chubut, the region was not yet a popular destination for Germanic immigrants. Indeed, Chubut was little known to most Argentines, let alone the global Germanic community, something that Alemann sought to redress.
In a first-person narrative, Alemann recounts that in January 1898, aboard the vessel Primero de mayo, he visited the established Chubut immigrant communities of Puerto Madryn, Craker Bay, Cabo Raso, Camarones, Rawson, Trelew and Gaiman. His purpose was to assess the territory’s suitability for Germanic immigrants. While he had a propogandist purpose, Alemann’s account is imbued with credibility, as he was a keen and candid observer, imparting measured and well-conceived insights.
Alemann admits that he was initially skeptical of the merits of Chubut, finding it at first to be a rough and cold country, perhaps too harsh for those used the relatively mild climes of Germany. He also bemoans the lack of official support from the Argentine government for immigration in the region and cites the significant amount of seed capital needed to establish a homestead there.
However, as his tour progressed, Alemann gradually changes his view, and comes to see Chubut as land of great opportunity for German immigrants, but only if they are well prepared. He admired how the established Welsh immigrants were flourishing, and he saw no reason why Germans could not achieve the same success.
Alemann provides details regarding the specific types of industry that already thrived in Chubut, mentioning specific business leaders, landowners, and political figures and companies. He also carefully outlines the costs of travel, land, supplies and food in the region, and helpfully provides a model business plan for how to start a sheep farm in Chubut (one of the enterprises ideal to the area). He believes that successful mass German settlement, particularly in Chubut’s fertile valleys, to be quite possible with the right capital and sponsorship; he especially wished that the Argentine government would become more engaged.
In a bold twist, Alemann leans heavily into German nationalist rhetoric, encouraging German-speaking settlements in Chubut, and in Patagonia in general, to become part of an informal Germanic global trading empire. He envisages these ‘colonies’ as being largely self-contained from the rest of Argentine society. While he greatly admires the British settlers in Chubut, he sees them as the Germans’ natural “imperialist” competitors and urges the Germanic setters to not only match, but to exceed their efforts. This vision was, of course, in sharp contrast to the agenda of the Argentine government, which held that all immigrants should progressively integrate into the country’s ‘Latin’ general society.
Alemann also relates the details of a ‘dream of the future’, supposedly experienced by a German friend in Chubut, who envisages the territory as one day soon being full of prosperous Germanic villages and farms, a virtual paradise on the frontier.
The work is capped by a lovely little untitled map of Chubut (measuring 30 x 21 cm), likely drafted by Theodor Alemann, a professionally trained cartographer. It shows the eastern two-thirds, or non-Andean portion, of the territory, divided into even grids for the purpose of cadastral division, with the Rivers Chico and Chubut traversing the country. All major ports and towns are maked, while the ‘Colonia Chubut’, the established settlement zone, in the lower Chubut valley towards the coast, is clearly marked. The Ferrocaril central del Chubut (Central Chubut Railway), is shown to run from Trelew, in the Colonia, up to Port Madryn.
A Note on Rarity
The work is rare, we can trace around half a dozen or so examples in institutional holdings, while we cannot trace any other examples as having appeared on market in almost 50 years. The separate issues of the constituent titles are likewise rare.
References: Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut (Berlin): Arg gi 142 ; New York Public Library: HKY (Alemann, M. Kolonisations-Gebiete im Suden); OCLC: 1068123969, 866578649, 47253377; Cf. Jennifer M. VALKO, ‘Soñar con el futuro. Proyectos inmigratorios para la Patagonia argentina en Teodoro Alemann y Roberto J. Payró’, Iberoamericana, VIII, 30 (2008), pp. 27-45.
There are no reviews yet.