Monday, March 04, 2013

The Colony That Died: Gatamoix

In the mid-nineteenth century, two laws were passed by the national government which paved the way for the creation of agricultural colonies in Mallorca. These laws of 1855 and 1868 were what brought about Colonia Saint Pere, Colonia Sant Jordi and Colonia de Nostra (aka Porto Cristo). The colonies came into existence as a response to demands of a growing population to feed itself and to have somewhere to live. Much coastal land had until then been looked upon as being worthless, owing to problems of cultivation caused by natural obstacles: forest, dunes, salt marshes. And there was no marsh that represented a greater challenge for development than the wetland of Albufera.

Though Alcúdia (and later Sa Pobla) didn't acquire a settlement with "colonia" in the name, one was created. Gatamoix. It was later to get a "colonia" in its title when, in 1892, its name was changed to Colonia de Sant Lluís. Gatamoix was, by population, one of the largest of the colonies, but it, as with others, such as Els Fusterers, the smaller, later colony in Sa Pobla, died out, whereas those right by the coast, like Colonia Sant Pere, were to eventually become tourist centres.

Gatamoix has perhaps the most poignant tale to tell of these colonies. At one time, there were more than a hundred people living there. Over 40 families in more than 20 houses. By the time of the outbreak of the First World War, there were a mere seven people left. Within ten years, there was not a soul left. Gatamoix's decline was not as sudden as its creation had been, but the lingering death that it experienced was attributable in part to the death of the projects that the British civil engineer, John Frederick Bateman, had initiated.

Bateman, as you may know, was responsible for the project to drain Albufera. This project had been first mooted at the end of the eighteenth century. It was finally given the green light through a royal order of 1851. Bateman, through his New Majorca Land Company, won the tender to undertake the drying-out, a scheme that was felt to be essential primarily on public health grounds. Albufera was a breeding-ground for disease, including malaria.

Bateman was also instrumental in the founding of the Gatamoix colony. The people who came to live there - and they were primarily from Pollensa - formed part of the drainage workforce and were those who set about commercial cultivation on Albufera.

Gatamoix was (is) behind the Puig Sant Martí, the brooding presence that looms over the current-day Bellevue Mile and main Alcúdia tourist centre. It was some distance from work that was being done on Albufera; even if work had to be performed under less than totally healthy conditions, the hope was that the colony wouldn't be as affected by mosquitoes or by the diseases that Albufera bred.

The drainage project and Gatamoix were both relatively successful, but only relatively. Bateman is recognised as having achieved much, one of his achievements having been the creation of the original bridge (the bridge of the English - Pont dels Anglesos) over another creation, the Grand Canal, which offered a means of movement between Alcúdia and communities further east along the coast. But despite Bateman being remembered with a degree of reverence, the project was far from wholly successful. Albufera was still liable to being inundated and to having salt water come into it. The land for cultivation was, as a consequence, not as extensive as had been hoped.

Nevertheless, Gatamoix thrived for a while, new crops being introduced to Mallorca for the first time - peanuts and sweet potatoes - to supplement the farming of wheat and maize. And Bateman's son, Lee, to whom ownership of Gatamoix was passed three years before his father died in 1889, set about further development. A school was built, as was a church. It was Lee who had the name of the colony changed by royal decree - Lluís for Lee. Unfortunately for Lee, he had enormous debts, mainly because the returns from the cultivation had not lived up to expectations. Gatamoix, by now popularly referred to as Poble Nou rather than Colonia de Sant Lluís, was sold in 1896 to a Palma nobleman, Joaquim Gual de Torrella, who chose to close the colony.

The buildings were systematically demolished over several years. The material was used, among other things, for developing the road between Sa Pobla and Alcúdia. As the buildings were demolished, so the people left, and ninety years ago, Gatamoix became totally de-colonised. All that remained was what is now the refuge of Poble Nou, the new town that died. 

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