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The Darien Adventure

The context

In the 1690s the Scots were peculiarly disposed to express fervent support for a national adventure that would
bring fame and riches to Scotland. Indeed, the origins of the Darien scheme are to be found in Scotland’s
political and economic discontent over many preceding decades.

From 1603, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the King of Scotland also became King of England, although
both countries kept their own parliaments. This was called the Union of the Crowns. James VII of Scotland and II
of England, crowned king in 1685, was unpopular because he was Roman Catholic and also highly autocratic. In
1688 a revolution led to his flight to France and the acceptance of his Dutch son-in-law, William of Orange, as
the Protestant King of both England and Scotland.

King James and his descendants still had supporters in both France and Scotland who called themselves
‘Jacobites’, because the Latin name for James is ‘Jacobus’. They became the focus for opposition to English
rule in Scotland. In 1689 the Jacobites, resentful of the declaration of William as King of Scotland, fought the
royal army at Killiecrankie. The rising melted away, but the Jacobite threat remained. Determined to secure
obedience from the clan chiefs, King William ordered Fort William to be built and garrisoned in the Highlands
and, in 1692, punished the recalcitrance of the Chief of the MacDonalds by the Massacre of Glencoe.

Not only were many Scots unhappy with the political situation, but there was also widespread resentment about
economic affairs. Since the Union of the Crowns, Scotland had become poorer than ever as it was neglected by
the King in London and also dragged unwillingly into England’s wars. In 1632 Scotland lost her only colony -
Nova Scotia in Canada - as a result of an English war with France and later England’s Dutch wars compromised
valuable trading privileges which Scottish merchants had previously enjoyed.

Scottish overseas trading activity was further frustrated by the Navigation Act which forbade goods to be
imported into England or its colonies unless carried in English ships or ships of the country from which they
emanated. To make matters worse two powerful English trading companies, the East India Company and Royal
Africa Company, claimed a monopoly of the rich trade with the East Indies and Africa.
The plan
In 1695 Scottish-born William Paterson thought up a simple but, in theory, brilliant scheme which would remedy
Scotland’s worst ills. He was a prolific ‘projector’, a promoter of speculative money-making schemes, who had
been responsible for the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694. His new plan was that the Scottish
Parliament, following the passing of An Act for Incourageing Forraign Trade in 1693, should grant a monopoly of
trade with Africa and the Indies to a Scottish trading company in a way which would harness the lucrative Far
Eastern trade.

A key part of the plan was the establishment of a Scottish colony in Central America, at a place called Darien
(now part of Panama), so that merchant ships no longer had to make the long and perilous journey around the
Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. Instead, goods would be transported to the colony on the eastern site of
Darien and carried across the narrow isthmus to a port on the western seaboard, where ships with exchange
cargoes from the East Indies and Asia would lie waiting.

The fact that Paterson had never set eyes on Darien did not deter him. ‘The time and expense of navigation to
China, Japan, the Spice Islands, and the far greatest part of the East Indies will be lessened more than half ... ’,
he proclaimed. ‘Trade will increase trade, and money will beget money ... Thus this door to the seas, and the
key of the universe ... will of course enable its proprietors to give laws to both oceans, and to become arbitrators
to the commercial world.’ Many other major European powers were embarking on similar schemes of
colonisation at this time as a means to profit from expanding trade.
The preparation

On 26 June 1695 the Scottish Parliament passed an act establishing ‘The Company of Scotland Trading to
Africa and the Indies’. Its capital was to be £600,000 sterling, half to be subscribed in London and half in
Scotland. English investors soon raised their share, but the powerful directors of the East India Company,
fearing that their monopoly would be broken and their business ruined, turned King William and the English
Parliament against the venture. The King, who was endeavouring to appease Spain, was only too happy to
oppose the planting of a Scottish colony on Spanish-claimed territory. The directors of the Company of Scotland
were threatened with impeachment and English investors quickly withdrew their money.

The Scots, enraged by the duplicity of the King and English Parliament and carried along on a tide of national
pride, determined to raise all the capital alone. By August 1696 the revised target of £400,000 sterling had been
subscribed in Scotland. This was an enormous sum, amounting to about half the country’s available capital. The
company’s directors began to lay plans for the colony and in the meantime effectively used the subscribed
capital, of which £34,000 was held in coin, to operate as a bank by making loans and issuing notes. These
initiatives were not a success and, indeed, much of the subscribed capital was embezzled and never recovered.

The journey

Meanwhile, ships and provisions were bought, notably in Holland and Germany, including cannon, guns and
swords, axes, hammers, nails, clothing and household goods. Crews were recruited and the expedition’s five
ships assembled in the Firth of Forth. With the exception of the former French vessel Dolphin, their names -
Caledonia, St Andrew, Unicorn and Endeavour - reflected Scots patriotism and hope. On 18 July 1698 this first
expedition left the port of Leith with around 1,200 people, including William Paterson, on board. At a time when
the total Scots population amounted to only about a million souls, the amount of manpower committed to the
venture was as staggering as that of money.

In order to protect the company’s interests the location of the colony remained a secret to both the emigrants
and the ships’ crews. Once clear of Madeira, however, sealed orders were opened which revealed the ultimate
destination of the expedition for the first time. They were ‘to proceed to the Bay of Darien, and make the Isle
called the Golden Island ... some few leagues to the leeward of the mouth of the great River of Darien ... and
there make a settlement on the mainland’.
The colony

The colonists reached Darien, which they called New Caledonia, in November 1698. There they built Fort St
Andrew and began to erect the huts of New Edinburgh and to clear land for growing yams and maize. However,
agriculture proved difficult and the local Indians unwilling to buy the combs and other trinkets offered by the
colonists. Worse still no fleets of merchant ships appeared to initiate a rich entrepôt trade with Asia and India.
Meanwhile, the King had instructed the English colonies in America not to supply the Scots settlement and
inadequate provisions, combined with the unfamiliar hot and humid climate, soon caused fever to spread and
many settlers died. In July 1699 the colony was abandoned.

Back in Scotland some bad news had been received from Darien, but nobody knew that the colony had been
deserted. A second expedition, with a further 1,300 settlers an board and the newly-built ship The Rising Sun at
its head, set sail in August 1699. The second expedition arrived in November to find the huts of New Edinburgh
in disrepair and the jungle growing again. Nonetheless, the colonists decided to rebuild the settlement and some
survivors of the first expedition returned to Darien from English colonies, like New York, where they had sought

The Spanish, although not interested in settling on the unhealthy coast of Darien themselves, were by now
determined to prevent other European colonists claiming their territory. Learning of this enmity, the exhausted
and hungry Scots launched a successful pre-emptive attack on the Spanish fort at Toubacanti in January 1700.
The Scots settlers subsequently held out bravely against blockade at Fort St Andrew for more than a month
before surrendering. Decimated by disease, the colonists left Darien for the last time in April 1700.

The legacy
The Darien scheme was a complete and disastrous failure. Around one-quarter of Scotland’s liquid assets were
lost in the venture and some two thousand people died. Blame was directed against England which had
withdrawn its financial support at the last moment and had failed to assist the Scots at Darien from its American
colonies. In 1704, when the English merchant ship Worcester was driven into the Firth of Forth by inclement
weather, it was seized and its captain, and two of his men, were later executed for sinking one of the Company
of Scotland’s ships. The charges were unfounded but the Scots wanted revenge for Darien.

For King William and his successor, Queen Anne, who were keen both to avoid war with Scotland and to prevent
the Scottish parliament granting conflicting privileges and interfering in England’s foreign policy, the lessons of
Darien were clear. Both monarchs pressed for union of the Scottish and English Parliaments and after lengthy
negotiations this was finally achieved by the Act of Union of 1707.

Many Scots supported the Union because the Darien disaster, coupled with a series of bad harvests after 1695,
had caused huge distress in Scotland. The Treaty of Union, which provided for free trade and navigation and
payment of £398,000 (a sum known as ‘the Equivalent’) in compensation for the Darien losses and to support
Scottish industries, seemed vital to the country’s economic survival. The last Scottish Parliament met on 25
March 1707 and was not to be re-established in Edinburgh until 1999, almost 300 years after the failure of

The men appointed to distribute ‘the Equivalent’ were known as Commissioners of the Equivalent. The Scottish
Commissioners set up in the old office of The Company of Scotland in Milne Square, Edinburgh, and as only
part of the Equivalent had been paid in cash many creditors were issued with debentures. Two societies of
debenture holders were formed, both of which were wound up in 1724 when the Equivalent Company,
registered in Scotland, was formed. Three years later the new company sought a royal charter to extend the
provision of banking services to those beyond its own membership. The new bank, to which half of the
Equivalent stock was subscribed, was established in 1727 and called The Royal Bank of Scotland.

It is one of history’s curiosities that the origins of this bank, which remains one of Scotland’s most important
companies today, lie in the hot and humid wastes of seventeenth century Panama.

This article is from


The Darien scheme
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Darien scheme was an unsuccessful attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland to establish a
colony on the Isthmus of Panama.


The Bay of Caledonia, west of the Gulf of Darien.
The late 17th century was a difficult period economically for Scotland. The country's economy
was relatively small, its range of exports limited, and furthermore Scotland was in a weak
political position in relation to the great powers of Europe. In this era of economic uncertainty,
rising tariff walls, and trade rivalries in Europe, Scotland was incapable of protecting itself
from the effects of these trade wars. The kingdom had a tiny navy, and her merchants did not
trade in any luxury goods which were in great demand. The 1690s also saw several years of
widescale crop-failure, which brought famine and led to this period being christened as the "ill
years." This only helped to further exacerbate the deteriorating economic position of

a New Map of ye Isthmus of Darien in America, The Bay of Panama, The Gulph of Vallona or St.
Michael, with its Islands and Countries Adjacent. In A letter giving A Description of the Isthmus of
Darian, Edinburgh: 1699.

Confronted by this alarming situation, a number of remedies for the desperate situation were
enacted by the Parliament of Scotland; In 1695 the Bank of Scotland was established; the Act
for the Settling of Schools established a parish-based system of public education throughout
Scotland; and the Company of Scotland was chartered with capital to be raised by public
subscription to trade with "Africa and the Indies."

In attempts to expand, the Scots had earlier sent settlers to the English colony of New Jersey
and had established an abortive colony at Stuart's Town in what is now South Carolina. The
Company of Scotland soon became involved with the Darien scheme, an ambitious plan
devised by William Paterson to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama in the hope of
establishing trade with the Far East – the same principle which, much later, would lead to the
construction of the Panama Canal. The Company of Scotland easily raised subscriptions in
London for the scheme. The English Government, however, was opposed to the idea, since it
was at war with France and did not want to offend Spain, which claimed the territory as part
of New Granada; as a result, the English investors were forced to withdraw. Returning to
Edinburgh, the Company raised 400,000 pounds sterling in a few weeks, with investments
from every level of society, and totalling roughly a third of the wealth of Scotland.

First expedition
Route of the first expedition in the Carribbean.

The first expedition of five ships (Saint Andrew, Caledonia, Unicorn, Dolphin, and Endeavour)
set sail from Leith on July 14, 1698, with around 1,200 people on board. Their orders were to
proceed to the Bay of Darien, and make the Isle called the Golden Island ... some few
leagues to the leeward of the mouth of the great River of Darien ... and there make a
settlement on the mainland. After calling at Madeira and the West Indies, the fleet made
landfall off the coast of Darien on November 2. The settlers christened their new home "New

There they cut a canal through the neck of land that divided one side of the harbour in
Caledonia Bay from the ocean, and constructed Fort St Andrew, equipped with fifty cannons,
on the peninsula behind the canal. On a mountain, at the opposite side of the harbour, they
built a watchhouse. Close to the fort they began to erect the huts of the main settlement, New
Edinburgh, and to clear land for growing yams and maize. Unfortunately, for the majority of
the settlers who arrived at Darien, the expedition would prove to be a disastrous and tragic

Agriculture proved difficult and the local Indian tribes, although friendly, were unwilling to buy
the combs and other trinkets offered by the colonists. With the onset of summer the following
year, the stifling atmosphere, added to other causes, caused a large number of deaths in the
colony. The mortality rose eventually to ten a day, despite the care and assistance of the local
Indians. Meanwhile, King William had instructed the English colonies in America not to supply
the Scots' settlement, and inadequate provisions, combined with the unfamiliar hot and humid
climate, soon caused fever to spread and many settlers died. In July 1699 the colony was

Only 300 survived and only one ship managed to return to Scotland. A desperate ship from
the colony that called at the Jamaican city of Port Royal was refused assistance on the
orders of the English government.

Second expedition
Route of the first and second expeditions across the Atlantic .

Word of the disastrous first expedition did not reach Scotland in time to prevent a second
voyage of more than 1,000 people leaving Scotland. It arrived on St Andrew's Day in 1699.

Of the total 2,500 settlers that set off, just a few hundred survived.[1]

Consequences of failure
The failure of the Darien scheme has been cited as one of the motivations for the 1707 Acts
of Union. The English agreed to cover the Scottish Government's debt to its people, and this
was likely one of the main reasons the Acts of Union were not as heavily resisted by the
government of Scotland as they had with other English attempts to amalgamate the two
countries, although prevailing public opinion in Scotland was overwhelmingly against it. See
Acts of Union 1707.

See also
• Lionel Wafer, a surgeon and buccaneer marooned for four years on the isthmus hired as an
adviser by the Darien Company.
• Gregor MacGregor a Scottish adventurer who claimed to be a descendent of a survivor of the
scheme and cazique of Poyais.

Other Scottish settlements in America:

• Darien, Georgia
• Province of New Jersey
• Perth Amboy
• Nova Scotia

1. ^ How Scottish independence
died in Panama
External links
• Darien Expedition
• The Darien Scheme - The Fall of Scotland
• The Darien Adventure
• Pathfinder Pack on The Darien Scheme

Further reading
• Insh, George Pratt, (editor), Papers Relating to the Ships and Voyages of the Company of
Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, 1696-1707, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh
University Press, 1924.
• Prebble, John The Darien Disaster, Pimlico, 2002 (originally published in 1968)
• Devine, Tom Scotland's Empire 1600-1815, 2003.
• Hidalgo, Dennis R To Get Rich for Our Homeland: The Company of Scotland and the
Colonization of the Darién, Colonial Latin American Historical Review, 10:3 (Summer/Verano
• Fry, Michael The Scottish Empire, 2001
• Galbraith, Douglas The Rising Sun (fictionalization)

Categories: Former Scottish colonies | History of Scotland | History of Panama | Scottish
political scandals

Retrieved from ""


The Darien Scheme - The Fall of Scotland

Some have said: 'The Darien venture was the most ambitious colonial scheme attempted in the 17th century…
The Scots were the first to realise the strategic importance of the area..." Whilst others claimed: "They were
plain daft to try…. It was disaster. They never had a chance." T'is for you to decide!
William Paterson, a Scot who's other major claim to fame was the foundation of the Bank of England, was born
in Tinwald in Dumfriesshire in 1658. He made his first fortune through international trade, travelling extensively
throughout the America's and West Indies.
John Senex. A new map of ye Isthmus of Darien in America, the Bay of Panama...
Scale: 45 miles to 1 inch. 47 x 28 cm

Upon his return to his native Scotland, Paterson sought to make his second fortune with a scheme of epic
proportion. His plan was to create a link between east and west, which could command the trade of the two
great oceans of the world, the Pacific and Atlantic. In 1693, Paterson helped to set up the Company of Scotland
Trading to Africa and the Indies in Edinburgh to establish an entrepot on the Isthmus of Darien (the narrow neck
of land separating North and South America now known as Panama). It was claimed that the company would
prosper through foreign trade and promoted Darien as a remote spot where Scots could settle.

The original directors of the Company of Scotland were Scottish and English in equal numbers, with the risk
investment capital being shared half from the English and Dutch, and the other half from the Scots. However
under pressure from the East India Company, afraid of loosing their trade monopoly, the English Parliament
withdrew its support for the scheme at the last minute, forcing the English and Dutch to withdraw and leaving the
Scots as sole investors.

No shortage of takers though as thousands of ordinary Scottish folk invested money in the expedition, to the
tune of approximately £500,000 - about half of the national capital available. Almost every Scot who had £5 to
spare invested in the Darien scheme. Thousands more volunteered to travel on board the five ships that had
been chartered to carry the pioneers to their new home where Scots could settle, including famine driven
Highlanders and soldiers discharged following the Glencoe Massacre.
But, who had actually been out to see this Promised Land, this remote spot where Scots could settle? Well not
Paterson apparently! The pioneers had wrongly believed, on the basis of sightings by sailors and pirates, that
Darien offered them a colony where entrepreneurs could establish trading links with the world and bring prestige
and prosperity to their country. And so it was much fanfare and excitement that the ships sailed from Leith
harbour on 12 July 1698 with 1,200 people onboard.
Click on map for larger image

It was however, a depleted and less excited group of pioneers that arrived on the mosquito-infested scrap of
land known as Darien on 30 October 1698. Many were already sick and others were quarrelling as power
struggles arose among the elected councillors. They struggled ashore and renamed the land Caledonia, with its
capital New Edinburgh. The first task was to dig graves for the dead pioneers, which included Paterson's wife.
The situation grew worse because of a lack of food and attacks from hostile Spaniards. The native Indians took
pity on the Scots, bringing them gifts of fruit and fish. Seven months after arriving, 400 Scots were dead. The
rest were emaciated and yellow with fever. They decided to abandon the scheme.
Sadly, news did not travel quickly in the 17th Century, and six more ships set sail from Leith in November 1699
loaded with further 1,300 excited pioneers, all blissfully ignorant about the fate of the earlier settlers. And
whoever said that bad news travels fast was obviously not a Scot as a third fleet of five ships left Leith shortly

Only one ship returned out of the total of sixteen that had originally sailed. Only a handful survived the return
journey. Scotland had paid a terrible price with more than two thousand lives lost. Together with the loss of the
£500,000 in investment the Scottish economy was almost bankrupted. It has been argued that the Darien
Scheme crippled the country's economy to such an extent that it triggered the dissolution of the Scottish
Parliament and led to the 1707 Act of Union with England. A mere coincidence, or had the English withdrawal
from the scheme been deliberately engineered to ensure its failure?
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