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"A Paradise That Never Was:" Dutch Immigrants in Argentina"

Robert P. Swierenga

Research Professor, A.C. Van Raalte Institute, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA

Twelfth International Economic History Conference, Madrid, Spain, August 28, 1998 (Session C-31)

Abstract: This paper describes Dutch immigration to Argentina during the final phase of the great century of migration, and compares it with the Dutch movement to the United States. The work is based primarily on the historical research of Argentine scholar Gerardo Oberman and my analysis of Dutch nationals in the Buenos Aires ship passenger lists from 1882 to 1926, compiled by the Centro de Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA). During these years, nearly 5,000 Dutch nationals entered the port of Buenos Aires, compared to more than 130,000 who went to the United States. The first wave, 1888-1890, included many farm families sponsored by the Argentine government, but thereafter laborers and businessmen predominated. The Dutch migration to Argentina was an individual movement for labor and trade, in contrast to the North American folk migration for land and family. Protestants predominated in both migration streams, but Argentina attracted proportionally more Catholics and unchurched, and the migration lacked the clerical leadership that characterized Dutch settlements in the United States.


From 1880 to 1920, according to incomplete Netherlands government statistics, South American destinations attracted 8,000 (4 percent) Dutch, South Africa 10,000 (6 percent), and East Asia 36,000 (20 percent)(Swierenga, Table 2, 1993). A few thousand Dutch had settled in Canada by 1871 and by 1930 some 30,000 had immigrated to Canada (Ganzevoort, 2, 36).

The first Dutch immigrants to South America went to the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo between 1858 and 1862, where they founded the settlement of Holanda. This colony of 500 mainly Reformed folk from West Zeeuws-Vlaanderen in the province of Zeeland was a flash in a pan. All further immigration ceased and contacts with the homeland withered. The weak and desperate "lost colony" was only rediscovered after one hundred and ten years, in 1973! (Swierenga, 1997a; Buysse). Except for the pitiful Zeelanders in Holanda, Brazil attracted few Dutch until after 1900. From 1906 through 1913 over 3,500 Dutch emigrated there, mainly in 1908-1909, but the rate of return migration was high (Hartland, 14).

Chilean immigration was restricted until an agreement in 1903 when their consul in The Hague signed personal contracts with a group of forty farm families (Hartland, 224-25; Vande Beek). In 1896, however, sixteen farm laboring families, almost all Groningers, settled in Chile; several more Groninger families followed in 1898.

Until the late 1880s Argentina was "below the radar screens" of Dutch emigrants and remained virtually unknown except for some business and professional contacts after the Dutch government opened its first consulate in Buenos Aires in 1875. The Argentine government hired Dutch engineers and architects for various public works projects. These highly paid professionals joined the "wealthy of Belgrano" in Buenos Aires and in Rosario, some 300 km distant.

The consulate also helped Dutch merchants import alcoholic beverages, tobacco, cheese, and dairy cattle prized by big ranchers (Oberman, 34-35). In an agricultural exposition in 1886 a Dutch bull and cow won first prizes. The next year Vicente L. Casares, owner of the San Martin ranch in Cañuelas, introduced Dutch cattle, which became the antecedent for the famous "Holland-Argentina" breed. In the 1890s Dutch entrepreneurs in Buenos Aires established the Dutch Bank of South America to finance and supervise their enterprises.

Argentine had far less success attracting Dutch farmers than cattle because of its Catholic culture, Spanish language, economic backwardness, and political instability. In the 1850s several families settled in Esperanza, and in the 1860s Buenos Aires attracted an unmarried farmer, a government official with a wife and six children, and a childless couple (Oberman, 98 n187; Swierenga, 1983). But people did eventually follow trade.

In 1871 the Argentine government opened its first immigrant bureau in western Europe in Antwerp, and began recruiting in Belgium, Holland, and northern France. Argentine immigration statistics, which are more accurate than Dutch sources, list only 10,222 Dutch immigrants from 1850 to 1940. Half came before 1925 and half afterwards. In the postwar years, from 1946 to 1981, Netherlands statistics report another 3,645 Dutch leaving for Argentina, which is a small fraction of the 530,000 Dutch overseas emigrants in these years, and less than half the number of Dutch to Brazil (Jongkind, 337).

Then, in 1888, the government of president M. Juárez Celman (1886-1891) stepped up recruitment efforts to populate the pampas with northern European farmers. "Gobernar es poblar" (to govern is to populate) was the famous slogan of the day (Jongkind, 337; Solberg, 74; Adelman, 104-08). This policy initiative sparked the first substantial foreign immigration. The government subsidized at 100 percent the ocean fare for Dutch and other European farmers up to 60 years of age (Law of 3 November 1887). The normal full fare from Amsterdam was f84 ($34). Subsidies for children mirrored the reduced rates of the shipping companies; one-half fare for 3 to 12 years, and one-quarter fare for 1 to 3 years. Children under 1 year went free (van Zeijl, 153). Bureaus of the Oficinas de Información y Propaganda administered the pasajes subsidarios. The government also promised cheap virgin lands and constructed eleven immigrant hotels around the country to house the newcomers.

The timing was auspicious. Just as the Argentine pampas was opening to wheat cultivation in the 1880s, the grain-growing regions of northern Europe suffered an acute depression and many farm laborers were desperate to leave. Religious and political leaders, such as Abraham Kuyper, leader of the Christian Anti-Revolutionary Party, urged the poor to emigrate. "What other explanation can there be but human foolishness that in some small places of this terrestrial globe we live so heaped, suffocating in cellars and buildings intended for demolition, while other regions in other parts of the world hundreds of times larger than our country, await the plough and the sickle" (quoted in Oberman, 15).

With such pronouncements in the face of overwhelming poverty, the excess farm workers took flight and the cash grain regions of Friesland and Groningen in the north and Zeeland and Zuid Holland in the south became "demographic expulsion zones," to use Wildeboer's phrase (cited in Oberman, 13; cf. Wildeboer, 48). Friesland especially became a hive ready for swarming and Argentina attracted hundreds of families in 1888-1890.

Celman hoped to direct this outflow away from the United States, which had previously attracted 90 percent of all overseas emigrants, and lure up to 10,000 Dutch to Argentina. In 1888 the Dutch Consulate in Buenos Aires received its first letter from Friesland inquiring about conditions for immigrants. Many more letters followed, indicating that the Argentine promotion efforts were getting results in the crisis-ridden northern region. In the three years, 1888-1890, the recruiters snared more than 4,470 Netherlanders, 84 percent (3,742) of whom the Argentine government subsidized, according to J.A. Alsina, director of the Argentine immigration bureau (cited in Banda, 74, 19; van Zeijl, 154). These Netherlanders joined a record 261,000 immigrants in Argentina in 1889 (Oberman, 22, 34-35).

Ocean Passage: Transport and Statistics

The Dutch embarked for Buenos Aires mainly aboard vessels of the Nederlandsch-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschappij [Netherlands-American Steamship Company, or NASM], later (in 1896) the Holland-Amerika Lijn. Anticipating a massive influx, NASM redirected three steamships--Schiedam, Zaandam, and Edam from the New York City service to the Argentine traffic (New York Times, 24 February 1889, cited in Oberman, 37, 98 n194; van Zeijl, 154). The Zaandam set sail from Amsterdam in December 1888 to inaugurate the NASM South American Line, but the big wave began with the arrival of the Schiedam from Amsterdam in March 1889 with 378 Hollanders, which was followed in May by the Zaandam from Rotterdam with another 303 Dutch. Departures alternated between the Amsterdam and Rotterdam terminals.

Eventually, the P. Caland and Leerdam were added to the South American route. Each carried from 300 to 700 passengers in steerage and completed the voyage in five to six weeks, depending on the number of stops in England, Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands to take on more passengers (van Zeijl, 156-57; Oberman, 37, 98 n196). By contrast, NASM ships bound for New York went direct or with one stop (usually at Southampton, England), and they completed the voyage in only 7-10 days; this was one-fourth the time on the Argentine route.

Argentine Immigrant Administration

Upon arrival, the newcomers were given up to five days of free food and lodging at the disreputable immigrants hotels, or ten days if they signed a labor contract to go to one of the agricultural colonies. In the peak year of 1889 more than one-half of all Dutch immigrants spent some time in one of the government-run hotels, which doubled as hospitals for the many who suffered from gastrointestinal infections and other maladies. One in twenty Dutch in 1889 arrived sick, despite free medical care by the doctor on board all NASM ships. Sickness was greatest on passages departing in the dead of winter, when passengers experienced the temperature extremes of crossing the equator (van Zeijl, 159; Banda, 31-32).

In the first big immigrant wave, from December 1888 to December 1890, only farmers and their families were eligible for a fare subsidy, but company officials took little care to screen the immigrants and boarded all comers. As a result, 40 percent of the adults sailing from Dutch ports were not farmers but skilled craftsmen and unskilled laborers who hoped for a better life (CEMLA data file). Even some who stated their occupation as farmer did so falsely. J.A. Alsina, director of the Argentine immigration bureau, rightly complained that many were "not farmers by profession, though they might have declared that they were in order to obtain passage." The list, he said, included former servants, retired soldiers, coachmen, store clerks, hotel porters, butchers and other similar urban occupations" (Oberman, 42; Jongkind, 338).

Argentine officials "helped" the newcomers by signing them to labor contracts with large ranchers in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fé, Entre Ríos, Córdoba, and Corrientes. The labor bureau, the Oficina de Trabajo, provided free railroad tickets. Landowners provided food and other necessities on credit, and settled accounts when the crops came in. Hollanders signed such labor contracts without being able to read the fine print in Spanish, and many ended up being victimized, especially when landowners failed to keep their part (Oberman, 42; Jongkind, 338).

Dutch farm laborers in the interior worked the virgin lands "like slaves" from dawn to dusk under harsh foremen and with unwholesome food. Provisions were ample in beef, corn, and sugar but low in milk, cheese, vegetables, and fruits. The huge hunks of meat and hardtack were not part of the normal Dutch diet and this led to intestinal illnesses, especially among the children.

The people were housed in flimsy mud huts until they could build their own homes. A leader in the Gereformeerde Kerk [Reformed Church] of Buenos Aires told of the consequences: "Because of disease, hunger and poverty a third of the colonists died." In one congregation some 100 persons, mostly the young, died within a few months after arrival. This same cleric charged that some families survived only by prostituting their daughters to the ranch foremen (Oberman, 42-43, 101 n234, 103 n248). Inhospitable places where the Dutch found themselves were forest lands in the northern province of Chaco and ranch lands in Mendoza, Córdoba, and Entre Ríos.

Those who were greater risk takers signed share cropping contracts, either as cash tenants or more often on shares, in which case landowners provided tools, seed, and oxen in exchange for a 50/50 split of the crops. On the pampas in 1895, half of the farmers were tenants and the proportion increased over time to 70 percent by 1914 (Solberg, 60; Adelman, 131). A fortunate few had the means to buy the virgin lands. But few succeeded as farmers in the first wave and the quality of life for the rural proletariate was poor (Jongkind, 338-39; Adelman, 127).

Agricultural Colonies

The main Dutch rural colonies took shape in the agricultural projects of Micaela Cascallares, La Hibernia, and La Colina near Tres Arroyos, La Fortuna near Bahia Blanca, and Felix Lynch near Chacabuco. Tres Arroyos, a regional market center and railhead, had 4,000 inhabitants in 1889. The fortunate Dutch with some capital ended up on this fertile pampas and the surrounding areas of San Cayetano and Claromecó.

At Tres Arroyos the largest Dutch colony in Argentina developed. Virgin government land was available in 50-hectares (125 acre) parcels for $5,000 ($100 per hectare or $40 per acre). This price for viable farmland was considered fair for such productive lands, according to Alsina, the government official (Oberman, 43, n246). But it was expensive compared to the free land policy the United States government had followed since 1862, and where $40 in the 1880s would buy improved farms near railroads throughout the plains states.

Few Dutch in the early years climbed the agricultural ladder from tenancy to land ownership. According to the Second Argentine National Census of 1895, only 121 of 2,880 Dutch, or one in twenty-five, owned real property. In Santa Fe Province, a mere 7 of 405 Dutch (less than one in fifty) owned real estate. This was fewer than the ten Dutch prostitutes that worked the streets of Buenos Aires at the time (Oberman, 44-45).

The agricultural colony of Micaela Cascallares was the most important settlement in the Tres Arroyos district. The impresario Don Benjamin del Castillo opened this 21,000-hectare (52,500-acre) project in 1889, just at the time the first contingent of sixty Frisian and Groninger families arrived. Castillo parceled the fertile lands into 381 plots of 25 to 50 hectares (62 to 125 acres), and offered them for 1-3 peso per hectare to work his land. Many of the initial families did not remain on the harsh frontier but left for larger towns, or moved to distant parts of the country; some returned to the Netherlands. Nine families are known to have remained in Tres Arroyos. They survived by finding work on the newly-opened railway as station employees and porters, and by doing carpentry, electrical work, butchering, and even digging graves.

Three other colonies--La Hibernia, La Colina, and La Fortuna--were short-lived. La Hibernia covered only 5-6,000 hectares (12-15,000 acres) and attracted mainly Flemish Belgians and Netherlanders, but it was poorly planned and did not thrive. In 1891 most of the people moved to Tres Arroyos and Micaela Cascallares. La Colina, some 200 km distant, failed even sooner. The La Fortuna project of 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) began in 1889 with 128 families, two-thirds (79) Dutch, totaling 442 persons. One-third of the Dutch were Frisians; Catholic French, German, and Italians made up the remaining workers. The developers had financial difficulties from the outset and did not provide the necessary provisions to their workers, who were forced to leave.

Félix Lynch in the district of Chacabuco had 25 Dutch families (134 persons) in 1890, 7 of whom were Frisian. The Protestant Dutch lived in one neighborhood and an equal number of Catholic French, Belgians, Germans, and Swiss congregated in another. All raised wheat, corn, and linseed on parcels ranging form 60 to 92 hectares (150-230 acres). This small settlement fared better than those near Tres Arroyos in the south (Banda, 21, 62-63, 80-84; Oberman, 42, 46).

Comodoro Rivadavia had a unique origin as a colony of South African Boers, consisting of thirty-three families, all members of the arch-conservative Nederduitsch Gereformeerde Kerk, who after the debilitating Boer War emigrated to Chubut between 1902-1905, under the leadership of the Reverend Louis P. Vorster. Vorster organized a Nederduitsch congregation in Comodoro Rivadavia in 1903 and served it until 1906, when the Reverend A.J. Jacobs took his place until 1910. In 1912 the Reverend A.C. Sonneveldt founded a Gereformeerde (Reformed) Church, which eventually merged with the Nederduitsch congregation (Oberman, 6-7; De Bruijn). The colonists primarily raised sheep.

Many poor Dutch collected in Buenos Aires and Rosario where they lived in tenements in the factory districts of Barracas, la Boca, and Barracas al sur (Avellaneda), and readily found menial factory jobs until they could pick up enough Spanish to get by (Oberman, 28). Working seven days a week was the norm for many.

Dutch Reformed Churches

Only immigrants of the Reformed faith managed to create Dutch ethnic congregations in Argentina, and these were limited to four churches--Rosario (1893), Buenos Aires (1900), Comodoro Rivadavia (1903), and Tres Arroyos (1908). The first two places were urban, and the latter two rural (Oberman, 6; Rooy). The Dutch colonies were widely dispersed and lacked clerical leadership for years. Families assembled in private homes, and elders led worship. The faithful repeatedly appealed to the mother church in the Netherlands, the Gereformeerde Kerk, to send a minister but were ignored until 1908, when the Reverend John van Lonkhuijzen established a small congregation with seventeen adult members in the town of Tres Arroyos.

Before Van Lonkhuijzen arrived, many had given up hope and joined the Baptist Mission. The Dutch Reformed congregation in Buenos Aires had earlier sent elder Fritz Bening to Tres Arroyos to encourage the lay leaders there to organize a church and Christian school in the Dutch language "so that the Dutch nation not be lost," but the settlers were too disjointed to act.

This same lack of consensus in religious matters plagued the Reformed in Rosario and other settlements (Oberman, 7-8; te Voortwis). In Van Lonkhuijzen's words, the state of the Reformed community was one of "hopeless division, endless confusion, and limitless decline" (Van Lonkhuijzen, 10). Despite the religious apathy, the Dutch in Argentina held on to their Dutchness for a time. The 1895 national census reported only 38 men and 15 women had married persons of other nationalities (Oberman, 51).

First Wave Immigration Collapses

In June 1888 the Argentine stock market crashed and this triggered a severe depression, made worse by endemic political corruption. Standard rents on share-cropped farms rose to 70 percent by 1890. Tenant farmers, including the Dutch who had just arrived, abandoned the land and fled to the cities, but hyper inflation, unemployment, and labor strikes made times hard there as well. The Argentine government did not offer a social "safety net," as in the Netherlands with its unemployment insurance and workmen's compensation programs.

More than 300 desperate families from the failed agricultural colonies, as well as the city Dutch, massed at the door of the Dutch consul, Leonard van Riet, in Buenos Aires to complain bitterly about the bad treatment and ask for funds to return to the Netherlands. The consulate assisted some families, mainly widows with small children, but it was left to an association of wealthy Dutch in Buenos Aires, who formed the Wilhelmina Society, to provide charity (Banda, 59-61, 79; Oberman, 45-46).

Alsina sharply criticized the government's policies for creating an "artificial immigration." These people took passage "lightly," declared Alsina. Thus, they "have only themselves to blame if their situation has not turned out to be prosperous" (quoted in Oberman, 38). Consul Van Riet concurred with Alsina. In an 1889 article in De Standaard, the Reformed newspaper published in Amsterdam, he had advised prospective immigrants to emulate the successful North American Dutch transplanting of the 1840s. Immigrants must save at least 200 guilders ($80) and form "associations of small farmers whose goal should be the group purchase of land in Argentina so as to then, with the necessary knowledge, exploit it" (quoted in Oberman, 47-48). Unfortunately, his advice was ignored.

Alsina and Van Riet put their fingers on a weak point in the promotion effort, but their remarks must also be seen as an attempt to exculpate their respective governments for shortcomings in implementing the assistance programs. The officials could also blame the unforeseen collapse of the Argentine economy.

By July 1891 the Argentine people took to the streets and rebels tried to topple the government by force. Soldiers restored public order after two days of bombardment in the capital, but the Celman government fell a week later. A decade of political instability followed until the Centennial year, 1910, when the old oligarchy collapsed and a new reform government came to power (Oberman, 22-25).

In May 1891 the Celman administration discontinued its subsidized fares and this virtually ended Dutch immigration after only two years. The word in the Netherlands was to avoid Argentina, because the government had failed to meet its obligations to the new agricultural recruits. In one instance the Schiedam arrived at Buenos Aires in December 1890 with only one Dutch passenger. The Holland-America Line had no choice but to stop its Argentine passenger service. Thereafter, in the 1890s more Dutch remigrated to the Netherlands than arrived from there. It was 1907 before another vessel from Rotterdam or Amsterdam arrived in Buenos Aires with Dutch passengers, although the Koninklijk Hollandsch Lloyd Lijn had in 1900 begun regular freight service between Amsterdam and Buenos Aires (Van Zeijl, Table 1, 162).

The end of the fare subsidy program was a blessing in disguise; it spared more people from disappointment (Oberman, 37-38, 97 n175, 99 n203). Gerardo Oberman, a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church in Argentina and a student of its history, is very harsh in his evaluation of national policies in the 1880s. The Dutch came to a "convulsed and unstable" land, Oberman states, and they "suffered in their own flesh the consequences of a disastrously planned immigration and of a policy condemned to failure" (Oberman, 33). Oberman paints too dark a picture; the United States economy also collapsed in 1893 and for several years immigration ceased and the Dutch there suffered greatly. New immigrants caught in the undertow of an economic tsunami always bear the brunt of the wave.

Social Characteristics of the First Wave Immigrants

The Buenos Aires ship lists reveal three high points of Dutch arrivals--1888-1890, 1905-1917, and 1920-1925, with the peaks in 1889, 1911, and 1925. This trend line closely tracks Dutch immigration to the United States in these years, although it was thirteen times less in raw numbers (Table 1, Figure 1). The parallel cyclical pattern suggests that similar economic conditions were at work in the Netherlands and in both receiving countries, even though they were on opposite sides of the equator. The United States and Argentina offered cheap lands on the frontier and industrial development that was gathering momentum.

Over time, the nature of the Argentine arrivals changed from families to singles, just as in the United States, but to a far greater extent. Families predominated in the first wave; from 1882 to 1890, 74 percent were married. In the next decade, 1891-1901, 55 percent were married. This number dropped to 47 percent in the years up to World War One. During the war years 1915-1918, only 37 percent were married, but afterwards, from 1919 to 1926, the number increased again to 47 percent. Overall, 55 percent were married, compared to 70 percent among Dutch to the United States (Table 2, Figure 2).

Men outnumbered women by two to one, compared to a more balanced six to four ratio among U.S. immigrants (Table 3, Figure 3). This indicates that the migration to Argentina was a more pronounced labor migration than among the Dutch entering the United States. The average age of the Buenos Aires arrivals hovered around 30 years, but in the peak year of 1889 it fell to only 20 years because of the large number of families with small children (Table 4, Figure 4).

Protestants outnumbered Catholics by 58 to 32 percent; another 2 percent were Jewish. This closely approximated the religious census in the Netherlands, but stood in sharp contrast to an Argentina that was 99 percent Catholic. The occupational distribution among the two religious affiliations, however, was the same. One-fifth were professionals and directors, another one-fifth farmed, one-third were agents and brokers, one-sixth were skilled craftsmen, and one-tenth unskilled laborers. Over two-thirds of Protestants took passage directly from Dutch ports, whereas two-thirds of Catholics embarked from non-Dutch ports, mainly in Belgium and France (Table 5). Many were merchants traveling on business.

In the first years, when the Argentine government provided free tickets in steerage, 62 percent of the passenger arrivals came directly from Dutch ports (Table 6), and three quarters (76 percent) traveled in that most spartan class (Table 7). They shared berths in large compartments with little privacy and poor sanitation with only one bathroom for every 100 men and 50 women. Although sickness was rampant, the death rate was low--less than 1 percent (Oberman, 37, 39). Some 70 percent on the Dutch ships were children and youths under age 20, coming in families with parents (CEMLA data).

Second and Third Wave Migration

After a fifteen-year lull in immigration, a second wave began in 1905 and ran until 1917, totaling 2,200. This was followed by a third spurt after the war, from 1920 to 1926, totaling another 1,200 (Table 1). In the second period, the Dutch increasingly were merchants and traders coming temporarily for business purposes. More than one-third (37 percent) embarked on ships elsewhere in Western Europe, and another one-third arrived from South American, African, or Asian ports (Table 6).

The main non-Dutch carriers were the Norddeutscher Lloyd Lijn via Antwerp, the Hamburg-Südamerikansche Linie or Hamburg-Amerika Linie, and the Royal Mail Steam Packet via Southampton. By this time the Koninklijke Hollandsche Lloyd Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Lloyd Company) had established the Zuid-Amerika Lijn to carry passengers from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires. Prices were comparable to competing lines.

In those years from 50 to 80 percent of all arrivals were businessmen and professionals, and in 1917 the proportion was as high as 90 percent (Table 9). Farmers made up more than 25 percent only twice, in 1908 and 1912 (when they numbered 26 and 34 percent, respectively). Unskilled laborers predominated only once, in 1905, when almost one-half (46 percent) were in this category. Ordinarily, less than 10 percent of arrivals were day laborers and about 20 percent were skilled craftsmen, although in 1907-1909 skilled worked numbered 30 percent (Table 8). The literacy rate among persons above age 14, which ordinarily surpassed 90 percent, dropped to 79 percent in these years, which coincided with a rise in petty traders and peddlers.

In the third period, 1918-1926, farmers made up a mere 14 percent, as did skilled and unskilled workers. Commercial persons had become dominant, and nearly one-half sailed from ports other than Holland. Of these, two-thirds came from elsewhere in Europe and one-third from South America, Africa, and Asia. Most traveled in luxurious first and second class accommodations. Proportional to their share of the arriving passengers, Protestants sailed from Dutch ports more than did Catholics; 70 percent were Protestant and 25 percent Catholic, compared to the overall passenger ratio of 62 percent Protestant and 33 percent Catholic. One-half from Dutch ports were married, compared to only one-third from non-Dutch ports.

The few farmers in the third wave made a significant impact on the Tres Arroyos colony. These were sons of wealthy landowners from the Haarlemmermeer Polder near Amsterdam who arrived in 1924 with their substantial inheritances. They had been recruited by the Reverend A.C. Sonneveldt, the Dutch Reformed church minister in Buenos Aires and Chubut, who regularly visited Tres Arroyos. In an Argentine promotion meeting in 1923 at Aalsmeer, a village on the Polder, Sonneveldt presented such a glowing picture of Tres Arroyos that twenty young farm laborers decided to try their luck for a season. Their favorable reports then prompted a number of farmers' sons to emigrate the next year. Nearly all married daughters of first wave 1889 immigrants and prospered (Jongkind, 339).

These innovative farmers introduced new agricultural crops and techniques, established the renowned Alfa farmers co-operative, and mastered the challenges of big-time farming in an inflationary business environment. They also supported the Reformed Church and its parent-run Christian school. Jan Verkuyl, one of the most successful of the 1924 contingent, rose from managing the Alfa Co-operative to leadership in the national organization. As chairman of the Committee for Immigration, established in 1933, he frequently returned for recruiting trips to the Netherlands and migrants kept coming until the early 1950s (Jongkind, 339).

It was the religious, economic, and social efforts of the 1924 migrants that enabled Tres Arroyos to survive and prosper as a Dutch community. It was virtually the only Dutch enclave to do so. The others withered away.

The social status of the Dutch arrivals clearly had risen after 1904; more than three-quarters traveled in first and second class accommodations (Table 7). Poor farm laborers had given way to businessmen and professionals. Half of the Dutch arrivals in the period 1905-1917 took passage from ports other than Rotterdam and Amsterdam. They were business travelers carrying on their enterprises. After 1890 the nature of the Dutch movement to Argentina changed from a folk migration to a commercial exchange. Instead of immigrant families, most arriving passengers were adult singles in transit for business activities. They were itinerants and not immigrants. In the 1920s, however, the proportion of families increased again to one-half, because entry into the United States was blocked by the new quota laws.


Dutch migration to Argentina was an individual movement for labor and trade, instigated by government fare subsidies. But the program ran amok due to rose colored promises by Argentine officials, chronic political instability, and the economic crisis of the early 1890s. General economic development and industrialization in Argentina fell far behind that in North America. This made advancement more difficult for immigrants as well as for nationals. Argentina was "a paradise that never was" (Oberman quote, 47). The government promised too much and the immigrants expected too much. Neither realistically faced the difficulties of pioneering on the pampas. It is also a truism that government can instigate a migration stream but cannot sustain it.

Unlike the United States, where the Dutch were led by their pastors to plant Reformed and Catholic colonies, in Argentina they came as singles or family clusters without clerical leadership. They were "like lambs without a shepherd," in the biblical imagery of Diego Zijlstra, a immigrant diarist who survived the harsh years. The mother church in the Netherlands did not send a pastor to Argentina for nearly twenty years, until 1908. In contrast, Dutch immigrants to North American settled in hundreds of church-based colonies, led by their pastors, which places were nourished by a continuing flow of family and friends in a typical folk migration.

The sense of aloneness for Protestants in Argentina was all the more vivid because the country was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Instead of implicit, if not explicit, government support of Protestant churches, as in the United States, Argentine policy was inimical to them. This made it far more difficult for Dutch Calvinists to transplant their churches and uphold the formal "requirements" of the faith. It also led to inevitable intermarriage with Catholics and to Catholic baptisms of the children.

&#Argentina as a Catholic country could never rival North America as a home for Protestant Hollanders. The social and political culture was too different. In the United States the Dutch Reformed Church was one of the oldest denominations, dating from the founding of the New Netherland colony in the 1620s. "Old Dutch" members of this denomination warmly welcomed the "Young Dutch" arrivals in the mid-nineteenth century and served them with advice and financial help. Argentina had no such welcoming party of religious brothers and sisters for Reformed immigrants. They had to survive as best they could as individuals or clusters of families.

Nor was there the chain migration that so characterized the North American story and is vital for continuing a migration tradition. Argentina continued to be "terra incognita" for Netherlanders. So few Dutch settled there that they lacked the critical mass needed to build viable communities. In the United States the Dutch were colonists; in South America they were immigrants or simply migrants. Colonists transplant themselves and their institutions and maintain their ethnoreligious identity for generations, whereas immigrants leave the old ways and assimilate rapidly into the host culture. Or they remigrate. In the years 1897-1905 53 percent of all Argentine immigrants remigrated. While the Dutch rate was likely less, it certainly far surpassed the North American rate estimated at 15 percent.

In 1969 nine Dutch Reformed churches remained active in Argentina, totaling 1,600 members (Base Firme, Anuario 1969). The viable congregations were those in Trey Arroyos (540 members) and Tandil (84 members) in Buenos Aires Province, Buenos Aires city (319 members), Sarmineto (249 members) and Diadema Argentina (50 members) in Chubut Province, Mar del Plata (120 members), and the South African enclave of Comodoro Rivadavia (272 members). As Dutch ethnic churches, all were threatened with stagnation and remained financially dependent to some degree on outside support, especially from their sister denomination in the United States, the Dutch immigrant-based Christian Reformed Church, and from mother churches in the Netherlands. Diversify or die was the choice they faced, but to break out of the ethnic mold was too difficult for most (Hutt).

Today the only bonafide Dutch immigrant enclave is the closed community of Tres Arroyos with its 400 members, which survives as an ethnic island, but it too is threatened by endogamy and cultural assimilation into Argentine life. Thousands of second and third generation Dutch from Tres Arroyos, who are spread across the country, maintain some regular contact with the mother colony, which Netherlands field sociologist C.F. Jongkind described in 1983 as a "positive, prestigious entity" (Jongkind, 340-41). But its days as a Dutch enclave are also numbered.


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Table 1: Dutch in Buenos Aires Passenger Lists, by Year and Time Periods

Year     No     Year     No

1882     17     1905     125

1883     2     1906     115

1884     9     1907     133

1885     7     1908     168

1886     21     1909     208

1887     7     1910     228

1888     82     1911     345

1889     745     1912     134

1890     270     1913     199

1891     --     1914     173

1892     23     1915     157

1893     10     1916     111

1894--1917     107     2203 44%

1895     28     

1896     5     1918     42

1897     39     1919     46

1898     44     1920     218

1899     59     1921     101

1900     11     1922     167

1901     18     1923     197

1902     19     1924     152

1903     9     1925     295

1904     48     1473     30%     ;1926     68     1286     26%


Source: CEMLA file

Table 2: Dutch Percent Married in Buenos Aires Passenger Lists and Netherlands Immigrants to the USA, 1882-1926


1882 59 87 1906 #9; #9; 51 #9; #9; 67

1883 #9; #9; 0 85 1907 #9; #9; 48 #9; #9; 67

1884 #9; #9; 0 83 1908 #9; #9; 46 #9; #9; 70

1885 33 79 1909 #9; #9; 41 #9; #9; 67

1886 21 78 1910 #9; #9; 49 #9; #9; 69

1887 #9; #9; 0 83 1911 #9; #9; 40 #9; #9; 67

1888 67 84 1912 #9; #9; 58 #9; #9; 66

1889 82 86 1913 #9; #9; 54 #9; #9; 65

1890 62 79 1914 #9; #9; 54 #9; #9; 65

1891 -- 79 1915 #9; #9; 34 #9; #9; 67

1892 48 80 1916 #9; #9; 32 #9; #9; 61

1893 40 75 1917 #9; #9; 44 #9; #9; 49

1894 -- 66 1918 #9; #9; 48 #9; #9; 51

1895 29 71 1919 #9; #9; 30 #9; #9; 60

1896 40 76 1920 #9; #9; 47 #9; #9; 65

1897 51 70 1921 #9; #9; 46 #9; #9; NA

1898 52 70 1922 #9; #9; 38 #9; #9; NA

1899 58 73 1923 #9; #9; 51 #9; #9; NA

1900 64 76 1924 #9; #9; 51 #9; #9; NA

1901 61 72 1925 #9; #9; 44 #9; #9; NA

1902 21 72 1926 56 #9; #9; NA

1903 22 73 All Years 53 70

1904 50 70

1905 46 72

Source: CEMLA data file; Central Bureau for Statistics (Netherlands), Annual Reports [Bijdragen], 1881-1900, 1901-1920.

Table 3: Dutch Percent Male in Buenos Aires Passenger Lists and Netherlands Emigrants to the USA, 1882-1926


1882 65 61 1906 73 61

1883 100 62 1907 72 61

1884 89 61 1908 67 58

1885 86 61 1909 74 60

1886 71 62 1910 64 60

1887 86 61 1911 68 60

1888 63 62 1912 64 59

1889 57 60 1913 65 59

1890 68 61 1914 57 57

1891 -- 62 1915 71 55

1892 78 61 1916 61 58

1893 70 65 1917 64 61

1894 -- 62 1918 71 60

1895 86 64 1919 74 62

1896 80 63 1920 65 60

1897 59 61 1921 65 NA

1898 73 66 1922 62 NA

1899 68 63 1923 67 NA

1900 55 60 1924 68 NA

1901 50 60 1925 70 NA

1902 84 59 1926 71 NA

1903 67 -- All Years 66 60

1904 75 --

1905 87 61

Source: CEMLA data file; Annual Reports [Bijdragen], Central Bureau for Statistics, 1881-1900, 1901-1920.

Table 4: Mean Age by Year, Dutch Arrivals in Buenos Aires Ship Passenger Lists

Mean Mean

Year Age Year Age

1882 31 1906 31

1883 38 1907 27

1884 29 1908 25

1885 28 1909 29

1886 23 1910 28

1887 27 1911 29

1888 23 1912 27

1889 20 1913 29

1890 24 1914 29

1891 -- 1915 32

1892 28 1916 30

1893 33 1917 31

1894 -- 1918 31

1895 30 1919 31

1896 33 1920 31

1897 30 1921 34

1898 30 1922 31

1899 32 1923 30

1900 36 1924 30

1901 20 1925 34

1902 30 1926 33

1903 31

1904 28

1905 31

Source: CEMLA data file

Table 5: Religion of Dutch Arrivals by Ports of Departure (in percent)

Ports of Departure

Religion Dutch Europe Non Europe Totals

Protestant 68 22 #9; #9; #9; 10 2888

Catholic 37 51 9; 12 1613


Dutch ports are: Amsterdam and Rotterdam

Europe ports are: Barcelona (SP), Bordeaux (FR), Boulogne (FR), Bremen (GER), Brest (FR), Cadiz (SP), Cardiff (WAL), Cherborg (FR), Coruna (SP), Dover (ENG), Falmouth (ENG), Genoa (IT), Hamburg (GER), Le Havre (FR), La Pallice (FR), La Rochelle (FR), London (ENG), Marseilles (FR), Naples (IT), Plymouth (ENG), Santos (SP), Southampton (ENG), Valencia (SP), Vigo (SP), Villa Garcia (SP)

Other ports are: Bahia Blanco (ARG), Bilboa (BRZ), Ciudad del Cabo (S AF), Dakar (FWA), Durban (S AF), Georgia del Sur (BR G),

Gibralter, Kobe (JAP), Las Palmas (CI), Madeira Islands (W AF), Montevidio (URG), New York (USA), Pernambuco (BRZ), Porto Alegre (BRZ), Puerto Argentino (ARG), Rio Grande (BRZ), Rio de Janeiro (BRZ), Singapore (NEI), Santa Cruz (CI), Uruguay, Valparaiso (CHL)

Source: CEMLA data file

Table 6 Dutch in Buenos Aires Passenger Lists by Time Period and by Ports of Departure

Time Periods

Ports* 1882-1904 1905-1917 1918-1926 Totals

Dutch #9; 908 33% 1097 #9; 40% #9; #9; 740 #9; 27% ; 2745 100%

62% ; ; 50% ; ; 57% 55%

Europe #9; 516 31% #9; #9; 817 #9; 50% #9; #9; 307 #9; 19% ; 1640 100%

35% ; ; 37% ; ; 24% #9; #9; 33%

Other 9; 49 9; 8% #9; #9; 289 #9; 50% #9; #9; 239 #9; 41% 577 100%

3% ; ; 13% ; ; 19% #9; #9; 12%


Totals #9; 1473 2203 1286 ; 4962

100% 9; 9; 100% 9; 9; 100% 100%


* See table 4 for list of ports.

Source: CEMLA file

Table 7: Ticket Class by Time Periods (in percent)

________Ticket Class_____________

First #9; Second ; Third

Periods % % % Totals

1882-1904 9; 9; 21 3 76 1134

1905-1917 9; 9; 40 ; ; 24 37 2181

1918-1926 9; 9; 56 ; ; 27 17 1169

Totals 1765 9; 864 ; 1855 4484

39% 9; 9; 19% 41%

Source: CEMLA data file

Table 8: Occupation of Dutch Arrivals in Buenos Aires, 1882-1926

Category No %

Professional #9; #9; (attorney, priest, pastor, professor, engineer, etc.) 239 9; 7


(Artist, govt official, nun, scholar, etc.) 9; 9; 84 9; 2 9; Owner-entrepreneur 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 9;

(banker, capitalist, exporter, etc.) 9; 9; 9; 9; 61 9; 2


(director, manager, etc.) 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 57 9; 2

Employee, clerical #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; 106 9; 3

Farmer, dairyman, etc. #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; 512 #9; 14

Farm Labor 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 75 2

High commercant

(agent, broker, dealer) #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; 834 #9; 24

Shopkeeper 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 9; 13 9; 0

Peddlar, vendor ; ; ; ; ; ; ; 2 9; 0

Skilled crafts #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; 388 11

Semi-skilled crafts

(domestics, coachman, governess, waitress, etc.) 9; 9; 46 1

Unskilled laborers #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; #9; 183 5

Not employed

(gentleman. lady, student,Independent means) #9; #9; 194 5

No occupation 756 21

Total with occupation 2,794 100


Missing data 1412

Source: CEMLA data file

Table 9: Occupation Rank Categories by Time Periods

(employed persons only)

Rank Categories* 1882-1904 1905-1917 1918-1926 Totals

N % N % N %

Professional 59 11 263 49 ; 219 40 #9; 541

10% 22% 30% #9; #9; 21%

Commercial 106 13 434 52 ; 303 36 #9; 843

17% 36% 41% #9; #9; 33%

Agricultural 273 48 187 33 ; 105 19 #9; 565

44% 16% 14% #9; #9; 22%

Skilled 110 28 212 55 66 17 #9; 388

18% 18% #9; 9% #9; #9; 15%

Unskilled #9; #9; #9; 68 30 114 50 46 20 #9; 228

11% 9% 6% 9%

Totals 616 24 ; 1210 47 ; 739 29 2565


* Rank Categories are:

professional (professional, sub-professional, owner/entrepreneur, sub-managerial)

Commercial (Employee/clerical, high commercant, shopkeeper, peddler)

Agricultural (farmer, farm laborer)


Unskilled (semi-skilled, unskilled)

Source: CEMLA data file