|55811. Mon Feb 27, 2006 2:40 pm
|Question: What was the last country invaded by Scotland?
Forfeit: England, Ireland, Norway….
Answer: Panama, specifically the Darién isthmus.
One of the last acts of Scotland, before the 1707 Act of Union joined it to England and Wales to form Great Britain, was an attempt to colonise Darien, an isthmus in Panama.
The idea was that of William Paterson, the founder of the Bank of England. He saw the opportunity of a trading post in Central America which could act as a precursor to the Panama canal, and the idea of annexing the isthmus soon caught the Scottish imagination.
The English were at war with France at the time, and did not want to get the Spanish back up (who already had claims on Panama), so when the government heard of the scheme it barred Englishmen from investing; as a result Paterson turned solely to the Scottish people, and before too long they had raised £400,000, approximately 30% of the collective assets of the people of Scotland
In 1698 the first fleet set sail for Panama, arriving at what they named New Caledonia, and setting up their colony, however before long it turned out that they were woefully under prepared. What they had hoped to be a perfect area to settle was actually a mosquito-infested scrap of land, and by spring 1699 more than 200 of the 1200 settlers had died. Power-fuelled arguments ensued, and if that, the loss of life, and the swampy conditions were not bad enough, worse news was on its way. The English colonies in the region were forbidden from trading with the new settlement, and the Spanish were about to attack.
One settler wrote of his living on mouldy flour:
|'When boiled with a little water, without anything else, big maggots and worms must be skimmed off the top... In short, a man might easily have destroyed his whole week's ration in one day and have but one ordinary stomach neither... Yet for all this short allowance, every man (let him never be so weak) daily turned out to work by daylight, whether with the hatchet, or wheelbarrow, pick-axe, shovel, fore-hammer or any other instrument the case required; and so continued until 12 o'clock, and at 2 again and stayed till night, sometimes working all day up to the headbands of the breeches in water at the trenches. My shoulders have been so wore with carrying burdens that the skin has come off them and grew full of boils. If a man were sick and obliged to stay within, no victuals for him that day. Our Councillors all the while lying at their ease, sometimes divided into factions and, being swayed by particular interest, ruined the public... Our bodies pined away and grew so macerated with such allowance that we were like so many skeletons.' |
It wasn’t long until the settlers gave up the venture, less than 20% of the original party setting sail back to Scotland. A second ship-full fared just as badly, and by the early 1700s the country was financially reeling from the debacle.
A few years later in 1707, the impoverished country was forced to sign the act of Union, foregoing its independence and becoming part of the United Kingdom. If the Darien debacle was not the only reason behind the unity, it was certainly a major issue - the Scottish decision was almost entirely financial. The English agreed to pay off £400,000 worth of debt incurred by the Scottish in Panama as well as distibuting a favourable percentage of the new country's tax. English trade embargoes in 1705 showed the fragility of the Scottish economy, and how much it relied on trade with their sassenach cousins; the union would give the Scots a piece of what was to become one of the largest trade areas the world had ever seen.
That said, the Scottish people were not happy with the union and riots occurred. The Scottish nobles however were more easily swayed. Many Scots nobles who took part in the negotiations were bribed, (a practise not unusal for the time) one according to some accounts for the shockingly small sum of £11. Later that century, Robbie Burns summed up the feeling of the Scottish People.
|What force or guile could not subdue
Thro many warlike ages
Is wrocht nou by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages
The English steel we could disdain
Secure in valour's station
But English gold has been our bane
Sic a parcel o rogues in a nation!
Over a hundred years later, a man claiming to be a descendant of one of the Darién survivors, Gregor MacGregor, copied the scheme but with not quite the same good intentions as Paterson. He set up offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and attempted to find investors for a fictional country in the Panama area called Poyais, presenting himself as the self-styled Cazique.
Of course this was nothing more than a Deception, and the people who invested in this scheme lost their money; that though was nothing compared to the 180 would-be settlers, many from Scotland, who lost their lives in the inhospitable climate of the mosquito coast.
The area of Darien has always been a pretty inhospitable place covered as it is with dense jungle, after the Scottish scheme it became a haven for pirates and buccaneers, and even today, the inter-american road which will eventually connect Alaska in the north to Argentina in the south is interrupted here.
Links: Deception, death.
Poyais, The land that never was. D Sinclair