Archives par étiquette : Darien colony

Darien Project documents in archives

Darien Documents Return to Panama

In the late 17th century, Scotland was being kept out of English colonies in America and India and a project was formulated which saw a group of Scots sailing for Darien in Panama to establish an overseas colony. A combination of disease, Spanish attacks and a lack of support from England resulted in the failure of the settlement. 2,000 Scottish settlers died and many wealthy Scots, who had put substantial amounts of capital into the project, were facing ruin. It was this which motivated many of the Scottish aristocracy to support the Act of Union in 1707. In addition to dissolving the separate Scottish parliament, it provided £400,000 to repay those who had lost money from the disaster. Over 300 years later, the National Archives of Scotland is loaning historic letters to Panama a part of an exhibition on the Darien colony. Three letters written from Darien by a Scottish settler in 1699 are being loaned by the National Archives of Scotland to the International Canal Museum in Panama and will form the centrepiece of their exhibition on the Darien settlement. They are the only surviving letters sent home from the Darien venture. The Keeper of the Records of Scotland says “These letters embody the hopes, the drama and ultimately the heartbreak of the Darien expedition. They are the authentic voice of the past, speaking to us down the centuries.”

Darien documents go on display in Edinburgh

Documents relating to the failed Darien scheme have been handed over to the National Library of Scotland

A collection of key documents detailing the failed Darien project has been put on show at the National Library of Scotland for the first time.

The key of the Universe display shows documents belonging to both the Royal Bank of Scotland and the library.

Inspired by banker William Paterson, Scotland invested a large proportion of its wealth in setting up a colony in Central America in 1698.

It turned out to be a disaster. The exhibition runs until August.

The plan was to set up a trading colony in Darien, now Panama, in 1698. Thousands died during the expedition and Scotland was plunged into economic crisis.

Ultimately the failure of the scheme led to the Act of Union in 1707 and some academics have drawn parallels to the economic crisis of the present day.

Now, for the first time, rare documents that tell the story of the Darien project and its demise are on display at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh

Darien project, 1707 Act of Union and Scottish Independence debate


The parallel between the reasons for the 1707 Union due to losses made with the Dariaen colony and the losses made by the Royal Bank of Scotland in the recent financial crisis was drawn by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in the debate  in  the House of Lords on Scottish Independence Referendum on 30 Jan 2014.

“(…) I know that it is a cliché to say, “United we stand, divided we fall”, but it applies to companies, political parties and families, and it certainly applies to countries. That is what is at stake here. It is important that we remember how this union came about in 1707. The truth is that it was an arranged marriage. It was a deal, and the deal was that the English got defence and the Scots got money.

They needed money because of the disastrous experience of the Darien project, where Scotland tried to build its own empire, its own colonies, and failed. One-quarter of the money in circulation in Scotland was lost, along with thousands of lives, in that failed venture where Scotland and England tried to continue to compete with each other. The brilliance of the Act of Union was that a partnership was formed and we started to work together, rather than against each other. And, hey ho, after about 20 years of misery—because the Scottish economy was protectionist and we had to adjust to free trade—suddenly prosperity bloomed. We had the Age of Enlightenment. Scottish philosophers such as Adam Smith, Scottish engineers and Scottish architects were dominating not just the United Kingdom but the globe.

It is very important to remember the financial aspect. All that money, one-third of the GDP, had been lost on the Darien scheme. A new institution, the Royal Bank of Scotland, was formed on the back of that scheme. Today, 300 years later, the Royal Bank of Scotland, with £40 billion lost—nearly one-third of Scotland’s GDP—again was rescued by the union. With 300 years’ experience, what kind of madness is it that cannot look to the past or to the present and conclude that the United Kingdom needs Scotland and Scotland needs the United Kingdom?

I said that the other half of the deal was defence. What happens if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom? Where will our nuclear deterrent be? That is let alone the effect on Scotland of the loss of 10,000 jobs at Faslane, and the loss of future defence contracts for the shipyards, with a further loss of jobs and everything else. But what about the position of the United Kingdom, which would be forced in practice to give up its nuclear deterrent? Where would Scotland be if it was cut off from the intelligence sharing and resources that we have, when we can see the threat that we face from terrorism? What of the British Army and the other armed services? Are we to say, as Mr Salmond proclaims, to the Scots men and women who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq so bravely with the union flag on their shoulders, “You have got to choose between the British Army and Alex’s Dad’s Army. You have got to choose whether you wish to be, in effect, mercenaries working for a foreign country or go off on this half-baked idea which Salmond proposes”. It is insulting. The lesson of the union and the prosperity that came was that free trade and a global outlook—not an inward-looking outlook—are the keys to success. (…)”

See also   The banker who led Scotland to disaster