The Darien scheme began in 1695 when the Scottish Parliament
passed an Act for the establishment of a 'Company of Scotland Trading
to Africa and the Indies'. It was founded so that Scottish merchants
could find an outlet for their goods and became known as the 'African'
or 'Indian Company' before becoming the 'Darien Company'. Although
this was a Scottish enterprise much of the money, people and effort
was London based and it was always known as the 'Scottish East India
Company' in England.
A huge fundraising effort was initiated and capital of 400,000,
half the total capital available in Scotland, was raised. There
were no facilities available in Scotland for building the ships
needed for the expedition and so three 500 ton Indiamen were ordered
from Amsterdam and Hamburg to go with two they already had. Although
the destination of the scheme was kept secret supplies were made
ready at the Company's warehouses in Leith and advertisements for
1200 settlers were circulated.
The small fleet sailed on the
12 July 1698 and it was not until they reached Madeira that
their orders to sail to Panama were announced. The particular
destination of Darien seems to have been the idea of William
Paterson, founder of the Bank of England, and he actually
sailed with the expedition. He had got the idea from William
Dampier who had crossed the Panama isthmus in 1679. Paterson
had made some mistakes, however, he underestimated both the
size of the Pacific and the difficulty of crossing the isthmus
in the absence of a canal. His biggest mistake was underestimating
the Spanish who were already in the area at Cartagena in Columbia.
They finally landed on 3rd November at Acla, which was renamed
Caledonia. A site for a fort was chosen and named St Andrews
and a town, named New Edinburgh. The settlers made treaties
with the indigenous people but found the Spanish mobilising
against them and a royal proclamation had disallowed the English,
from Jamaica, from trading with them. The first fighting took
place in February 1699 and then one of the Scottish ships
was taken. Although a report was sent to Edinburgh asking
for supplies and appearing enthusiastic the situation was
already critical - desertions and death from disease were
weakening the colony seriously. By June there was a proposal
to abandon the settlement and only Paterson objected, but
he was to ill himself to do anything.
Map of the Darien isthmus
The return journey was also a disaster, of the 900 who had survived
to make it another 150 died on the way back. They had to abandon
ships at both Jamaica and New York, one had had to be abandoned
in situ. In the end only the Caledonia made it back
Just as they were leaving a second expedition had set out. This
was an even shorter lived enterprise lasting from November 1699
to March 1700 when they had to capitulate to besieging Spaniards.
The Company struggled on for another seven years with continuing
acrimony between England and Scotland over the matter, including
the taking of ships and the executing of sailors, until the Act
of Union when compensation was paid to the Scots involved as
part of the general bribery of the time.
History Books on the Darien Expedition:
History Books on this time period
||Scotland: 1689 - Present
|The four-volume Edinburgh History of Scotland
is the most important project in Scottish historical writing
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an expert on the period who brings to his work the direct
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||Lordship to Patronage: Scotland 1603-1745
|Drawing on political, constitutional, religious, economic
and social studies, Professor Mitchison outlines the growing
bonds between England and Scotland, beginning with James
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