Darién scheme
The Darién scheme was an unsuccessful attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland
Kingdom of Scotland
The Kingdom of Scotland was a Sovereign state in North-West Europe that existed from 843 until 1707. It occupied the northern third of the island of Great Britain and shared a land border to the south with the Kingdom of England...

 to become a world trading nation by establishing a colony
In politics and history, a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state. For colonies in antiquity, city-states would often found their own colonies. Some colonies were historically countries, while others were territories without definite statehood from their inception....

 called "New Caledonia" on the Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama
The Isthmus of Panama, also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien, is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal...

 in the late 1690s. In practice the undertaking was marked by poor planning and leadership, lack of demand for trade goods, devastating epidemics of disease, and increasing shortage of food; it was finally abandoned after a siege by Spanish forces in April of 1700. As the Darien company was backed by about a quarter of the money circulating in Scotland, its failure left the nobles and landowners – who had suffered a run of bad harvests – almost completely ruined and was an important factor in weakening their resistance to the Act of Union
Acts of Union 1707
The Acts of Union were two Parliamentary Acts - the Union with Scotland Act passed in 1706 by the Parliament of England, and the Union with England Act passed in 1707 by the Parliament of Scotland - which put into effect the terms of the Treaty of Union that had been agreed on 22 July 1706,...

 (finally consummated in 1707). Although the scheme failed it has been seen as marking the beginning of the country's transformation into a modern nation orientated toward business. Within a generation Scotland had one of the most advanced commercial cultures in the world.


The late 17th century was a difficult period for Scotland. The country's economy was relatively small, its range of exports very limited and it was in a weak position in relation to England, its powerful neighbour (with which it was in personal union
Personal union
A personal union is the combination by which two or more different states have the same monarch while their boundaries, their laws and their interests remain distinct. It should not be confused with a federation which is internationally considered a single state...

, but not yet in political union
Political union
A political union is a type of state which is composed of or created out of smaller states. Unlike a personal union, the individual states share a common government and the union is recognized internationally as a single political entity...

In an era of economic rivalry in Europe, Scotland was incapable of protecting itself from the effects of English competition and legislation. The kingdom had no reciprocal export trade and its once thriving industries such as shipbuilding were in deep decline. Goods which were in demand had to be bought from England for Sterling, the Navigation Acts
Navigation Acts
The English Navigation Acts were a series of laws that restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between England and its colonies, a process which had started in 1651. Their goal was to force colonial development into lines favorable to England, and stop direct colonial trade with the...

 further increased economic dependence on England by limiting Scots shipping and the navy
Royal Scots Navy
The Royal Scots Navy was the navy of the Kingdom of Scotland from its foundation in the 11th century until its merger with the Kingdom of England's Royal Navy per the Acts of Union 1707.- Origins :...

 was tiny. Several ruinous civil wars in the late 17th century had squandered the country's human and other resources, the 1690s also saw several years of widescale crop failure, which brought famine. This period was referred to as the "ill years." The deteriorating economic position of Scotland led to calls for a favorable political union, or at least a customs union, with England. However the stronger feeling among Scots - which played to their pride - was that the country should become a mercantile and colonial great power like England.

In response, a number of remedies were enacted by the Parliament of Scotland
Parliament of Scotland
The Parliament of Scotland, officially the Estates of Parliament, was the legislature of the Kingdom of Scotland. The unicameral parliament of Scotland is first found on record during the early 13th century, with the first meeting for which a primary source survives at...

: in 1695 the Bank of Scotland
Bank of Scotland
The Bank of Scotland plc is a commercial and clearing bank based in Edinburgh, Scotland. With a history dating to the 17th century, it is the second oldest surviving bank in what is now the United Kingdom, and is the only commercial institution created by the Parliament of Scotland to...

 was established; the Act for the Settling of Schools established a parish-based system of public education throughout Scotland; and the Company of Scotland
Company of Scotland
The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, also called the Scottish Darien Company, was an overseas trading company created by an act of the Parliament of Scotland in 1695...

 was chartered with capital to be raised by public subscription to trade with "Africa and the Indies".
The Company of Scotland easily raised subscriptions in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

, Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 and London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 for the scheme. The English Government of King William III
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

, however, was opposed to the idea. It was at war with France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and hence did not want to offend Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 which claimed the territory as part of New Granada
Viceroyalty of New Granada
The Viceroyalty of New Granada was the name given on 27 May 1717, to a Spanish colonial jurisdiction in northern South America, corresponding mainly to modern Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. The territory corresponding to Panama was incorporated later in 1739...

. It was also under pressure from the English East India Company
East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

, who were keen to maintain their monopoly over English foreign trade. It therefore forced the English and Dutch investors to withdraw. Next, the East India Company threatened legal action on the grounds that the Scots had no authority from the king to raise funds outside the English realm, and obliged the promoters to refund subscriptions to the Hamburg investors. This left no source of finance but Scotland itself.

Returning to Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, the Company raised 400,000 pounds sterling in a few weeks (equivalent to roughly £40 million in 2007), with investments from every level of society, and totalling roughly a fifth of the wealth of Scotland.The Company of Scotland for Trading to Africa was able to raise what was, for Scotland, a massive amount of capital. Scots born trader and financier William Paterson
William Paterson (banker)
Sir William Paterson was a Scottish trader and banker.- Early life :...

 had long been promoting a plan for a colony on the Isthmus of Panama to be used as a gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific — the same principle which, much later, would lead to the construction of the Panama Canal
Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

. Patterson, who had a huge capacity for hard work was instrumental in getting the Company off the ground in London. He had failed to interest several European countries in his scheme but in the aftermath of the English reaction to the Company he was able to get a respectful hearing for his ideas. The Scots' original aim of emulating the East India Company
East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...

 by breaking into the lucrative trading areas of the Indies and Africa was forgotten and the highly ambitious Darien scheme was adopted by the company. Paterson fell from grace when a subordinate embezzled from the Company. The Company took back Patterson's stock and expelled him from the Court of Directors; he was to have little real influence on events after this point.

First expedition

There were a large number of former officers and soldiers who joined happily as they had little hope of any other employment, many were acquainted from serving in the army and several – the best known being Thomas Drummond – were notorious for involvement in the Massacre of Glencoe
Massacre of Glencoe
Early in the morning of 13 February 1692, in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution and the Jacobite uprising of 1689 led by John Graham of Claverhouse, an infamous massacre took place in Glen Coe, in the Highlands of Scotland. This incident is referred to as the Massacre of Glencoe, or in...

, in some eyes they appeared to be a clique and this was to cause much suspicion among other members of the expedition.

The first expedition of five ships (Saint Andrew, Caledonia, Unicorn, Dolphin, and Endeavour) set sail from the east coast port of Leith
-South Leith v. North Leith:Up until the late 16th century Leith , comprised two separate towns on either side of the river....

 to avoid observation by English warships in July 1698, with around 1,200 people on board. The journey round Scotland while kept below deck was so traumatic that some colonists thought it comparable to the worst parts of the whole Darien experience. Their orders were to proceed to the Bay of Darien
Gulf of Darién
The Gulf of Darién is the southernmost region of the Caribbean Sea, located north and east of the border between Panama and Colombia. Within the gulf is the Gulf of Urabá, a small lip of sea extending southward, between Caribana Point and Cape Tiburón, Colombia, on the southern shores of which is...

, 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
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between and , just under 400 km north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union...

 and the West Indies, the fleet made landfall off the coast of Darien on 2 November. The settlers christened their new home "New Caledonia".

With Drummond in charge they cut a ditch 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 50 cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

, on the peninsula behind the canal; the fort did not have a source of fresh water. On a mountain, at the opposite side of the harbour, they built a watchhouse
A watchtower is a type of fortification used in many parts of the world. It differs from a regular tower in that its primary use is military, and from a turret in that it is usually a freestanding structure. Its main purpose is to provide a high, safe place from which a sentinel or guard may...

. Close to the fort they began to erect the huts of the main settlement, New Edinburgh, and to clear land for growing yams
Yam (vegetable)
Yam is the common name for some species in the genus Dioscorea . These are perennial herbaceous vines cultivated for the consumption of their starchy tubers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania...

 and maize
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

. Letters sent home by the expedition created the misleading impression that everything was going according to plan. This seems to have been by agreement as certain optimistic phrases kept recurring, but it meant the Scottish public would be completely unprepared for the coming disaster.

Agriculture proved difficult and the local Indian tribes, although hostile to Spain, were unwilling to buy the combs and other trinkets offered by the colonists. Most serious was the almost total failure to sell any goods to the few passing traders that put in to the bay. With the onset of summer the following year the stifling atmosphere, along with other causes, led to a large number of deaths in the colony. Eventually the mortality rate
Mortality rate
Mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths in a population, scaled to the size of that population, per unit time...

 rose to ten settlers a day. Although local Indians brought gifts of fruit and plantains these were appropriated by the leaders and sailors who largely remained onboard ship. The only luck the settlers had was in giant turtle hunting but fewer and fewer men were fit enough for such strenuous work. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of food mainly due to a high rate of spoilage caused by improper stowing, at the same time King William had instructed the Dutch and English colonies in America not to supply the Scots' settlement so as not to incur the wrath of the Spanish Empire
Spanish Empire
The Spanish Empire comprised territories and colonies administered directly by Spain in Europe, in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. It originated during the Age of Exploration and was therefore one of the first global empires. At the time of Habsburgs, Spain reached the peak of its world power....

. The only reward the council had to give was alcohol, and drunkenness became common, even though it speeded the deaths of many men weakened by dysentery
Dysentery is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine, especially of the colon, that results in severe diarrhea containing mucus and/or blood in the faeces with fever and abdominal pain. If left untreated, dysentery can be fatal.There are differences between dysentery and normal bloody diarrhoea...

, fever and the rotting, worm infested food. After eight months the colony was abandoned in July 1699 apart from six men who were too weak to move. Deaths continued on the ships, and those who managed to survive the journey and returned home found themselves regarded as a disgrace to their country and even disowned by their families.

Only 300 of the 1,200 settlers survived and only one ship managed to return to Scotland. A desperate ship from the colony that called at the Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

n city of Port Royal
Port Royal
Port Royal was a city located at the end of the Palisadoes at the mouth of the Kingston Harbour, in southeastern Jamaica. Founded in 1518, it was the centre of shipping commerce in the Caribbean Sea during the latter half of the 17th century...

 was refused assistance on the orders of the English government, which feared antagonising the Spanish.

Second expedition

Word of the first expedition did not reach Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 in time to prevent a second voyage of more than 1,000 people. The second expedition arrived on November 30, 1699 and found two sloop
A sloop is a sail boat with a fore-and-aft rig and a single mast farther forward than the mast of a cutter....

s there; one with Thomas Drummond from the original expedition. Some men were sent ashore to rebuild huts, which caused others to complain that they had come to join a settlement, not build one. Morale was low and little progress was made. Drummond insisted that there could be no discussion, the fort must be rebuilt as the Spanish attack would surely come soon, but he clashed with the merchant James Byres who maintained the Counsellors of the first expedition had now lost that status, and consequently had Drummond arrested. Initially bellicose, Byres began to send away all those he suspected of being offensively minded – or of being allegiant to Drummond. He outraged a Kirk
Kirk can mean "church" in general or the Church of Scotland in particular. Many place names and personal names are also derived from it.-Basic meaning and etymology:...

 Minister by claiming it would be unlawful to resist the Spanish by force of arms, as all war was unchristian. He then showed his real concern was for his own personal safety by deserting the colony in a sloop. The colonists sank into apathy until the arrival of Alexander Campbell of Fonab, sent by the company to organize a defence. He provided the resolute leadership which had been lacking and took the initiative from the Spanish by driving them from their stockade at Toubacanti in January 1700. However, Fonab was wounded in this daring frontal attack and became incapacitated with a fever. The Spanish force – who were also suffering serious losses from fever – closed in on Fort St Andrew and besieged it for a month, although disease was still the main cause of death during this time. The Spanish commander called for the Scots to surrender and avoid a final assault, warning that if they did not no quarter
No quarter
A victor gives no quarter when the victor shows no clemency or mercy and refuses to spare the life in return for the surrender at discretion of a vanquished opponent....

 would be given. After negotiations the Scots were allowed to leave with their guns, and the colony was abandoned for the last time. Only a handful of those from the second expedition returned to Scotland

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

Reactions to the disaster

The failure of the scheme provoked tremendous discontent throughout Lowland Scotland where almost every family had been affected. Many held the English responsible while believing that they could and should assist in yet another effort at making the scheme work. The company petitioned the King to affirm their right to the colony however he declined replying that, though he was sorry that the company had incurred such huge loses, to claim Darien would mean war with Spain. The continuing futile debate on the issue served to further increase bitter feeling.

Hoping to recoup some capital by a more conventional venture, the company sent two ships from the Clyde, the Speedy Return and the Continent, to the Guinea coast laden with trade goods. Sea captain Robert Drummond was the master of the Speedy Return, his brother Thomas, who had played such a part in the second expedition, was supercargo on the vessel. Neither ship was seen in Scotland again. Instead of seeking to sell for gold as the company's directors intended the Drummonds exchanged the goods for slaves which they sold in Madagascar. Carousing with the buccaneers for whom the island was a refuge, the Drummonds fell in with the pirate John Bowen of Bermuda who offered loot if they lent the Scots ships to him for a raid on homeward bound Indiamen. Robert Drummond was initially persuaded but backed out of the agreement, only for Bowen to appropriate the ships while he was ashore. The Continent was lost to fire on the Malabar coast and Bowen scuttled the Speedy Return after transferring to a merchant ship he had taken. The Drummonds decided against returning to Scotland to explain the loss of the ships they had been entrusted with and no more was ever heard of the tough-minded brothers.

The company sent out another ship but it was lost at sea. Not being able to afford the cost of fitting out yet another ship the Annandale was hired in London with the intention of trading in the Spice Islands, but the East India Company had it seized on the grounds that the venture was a contravention of their charter. This provoked uproar in Scotland, greatly aided by the inflammatory rhetoric of the company's secretary, and relentless enemy of the English, Roderick MacKenzie. Fury at the country's impotence led to what followed: the scapegoating and hanging of three innocent English sailors.


Thomas Green was the twenty-five year old master of an English merchant ship, the Worcester, which he brought into Leith in July 1704, he had been given the command aged twenty-one. A liking for strong drink was to be Green's downfall. Mackenzie convinced himself that Worcester was an East India Company ship and should be seized in reprisal for the Annandale. He succeeded in getting legal authority and Green watched over the next three months as the cargo was impounded and the sails, guns and rudder were stripped. In December the crew was arrested for piracy. Although all Scotland was delighted it soon became clear to the directors of the Darien company that Mackenzie's charges were not supported by any kind of valid proof and it seemed the men would be released. However Mackenzie suddenly claimed to have ascertained from the crew of the Worcester that Green had drunkenly boasted of taking the Speedy Return, killing the Drummonds and burning the ship. Despite a total lack of real evidence Green and two of his crew, John Madden and James Simpson, were sent for trial.

The prosecution case, which was made in medieval Latin and legal Doric
Doric may refer to:* Doric Greek, the dialects of the Dorians* Doric order, a style of ancient Greek architecture* Doric mode, a synonym of Dorian mode* Doric dialect...

, was unintelligible to jury and accused alike, the defense advocates seem to have presented no evidence and fled after the trial. There was hardly anyone in Scotland who was disinterested but some jurors resisted bringing in a verdict of guilty, the men were convicted nonetheless and sentenced to death by hanging. The Queen advised her 30 Privy Councillors in Edinburgh that the three men should be pardoned but the common people demanded that the sentence be executed. Nineteen of the councilmen made excuses to stay away from the deliberations on a reprieve, fearing the wrath of the huge mob which had arrived in Edinburgh to demand that the sailors be put to death. Although they had affidavits from London by the crew of the Speedy Return which proved Green and his crew had no knowledge or involvement in the fate of the ship the councillors declined to pardon the men.

Green, Madden and Simpson were subjected to derision and insults by the mob before they were hanged, being mockingly huzza'd by the huge crowd on the way to the gallows on Leith sands. Green had complete faith that, as an innocent man, he would be reprieved and was still looking to the Edinburgh road for a messenger as the hangman placed the hood over his head.

Consequences of failure

The failure of the Darien scheme has been cited as one of the motivations for the 1707 Acts of Union. According to this argument, the Scottish establishment realised that it could never be a major power on its own and that if it wanted to share the benefits of England's international trade and the growth of the English Empire, then its future would have to lie in unity with England. More so, Scotland's nobles were almost bankrupted by the "Darien Fiasco". Some Scots nobility petitioned Westminster to wipe out the Scottish national debt and stabilise the currency. The first request was not met though the second was and a Scottish Pound
Pound Scots
The pound Scots was the national unit of currency in the Kingdom of Scotland before the country entered into political and currency union with the Kingdom of England in 1707 . It was introduced by David I, in the 12th century, on the model of English and French money, divided into 20 shillings...

 was given the fixed value of a shilling. Personal Scottish financial interests were also involved. Scottish Commissioners had invested heavily in the Darien Scheme and they believed that they would receive compensation for their losses. The 1707 Acts of Union, Article 14, granted £398,085 10s sterling to Scotland to offset future liability towards the English national debt.

See also

  • Lionel Wafer
    Lionel Wafer
    Lionel Wafer was a Welsh explorer, buccaneer and privateer.A ship's surgeon, Wafer made several voyages to the South Seas and visited the Malay archipelago in 1676. The following year he settled in Jamaica to practise his profession...

    , a surgeon and buccaneer marooned for four years on the isthmus hired as an adviser by the Darien Company.
  • Gregor MacGregor
    Gregor MacGregor
    Gregor MacGregor was a Scottish soldier, adventurer, land speculator, and colonizer who fought in the South American struggle for independence. Upon his return to England in 1820, he claimed to be cacique of Poyais...

     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
    Province of New Jersey
    The Province of New Jersey was one of the Middle Colonies of Colonial America and became the U.S. state of New Jersey in 1776. The province had originally been settled by Europeans as part of New Netherland, but came under English rule after the surrender of Fort Amsterdam in 1664, becoming a...

    • Perth Amboy
  • Nova Scotia
    Nova Scotia
    Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

External links

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