Manuscripts and Special Collections

On this day in the archives…

July 14th, 2011 at 12:07

Today sees the 313th anniversary of the Kingdom of Scotland’s attempt at colonisation. The ‘Darien Scheme’ as it was known was intended to create an overseas colony for Scotland on the Isthmus of Panama called New Caledonia. The hope was that New Caledonia would be a stopping point and important intermediary in trade between Europe and the developing market of the Far East.

Subscriptions were raised in Edinburgh in order to finance the expedition to the new colony and the first ship set sail on this day in 1698. The colony was a disaster: agriculture was poor, the local tribes refused to purchase the trinkets offered by the colonists and disease was wiping out settlers at the rate of ten a day. Moreover, the English colonists in America and the Caribbean were ordered not to come to the aid of the Scots to prevent antagonising their Spanish allies in the region.

In July 1699 the colony was abandoned and Scots colonialism came to an end.

The Darien Scheme is noted in a few interesting passages in the collections here at Manuscripts and Special Collections, in particular relating to the diplomacy between the Spanish and English courts that meant the Scots were not supported by their English neighbours. Pw A 2675 is a formal complaint from the Spanish Ambassador in which he asks Mr Vernon to convey to the king [William III] the Spanish king’s [Charles II] displeasure at the insults suffered from Scottish ships in the Americas, in particular in relation to the Darien affair. The English responded affirming how enthusiastic they were for their alliance with the Spanish and insisting that they would prevent the Scottish planting any colony upon land belonging to an ally (Pw A 2676). Diplomatic relations were tense at this time and later correspondence between William III and the Duke of Portland show how England was poised between conflicting Spanish and French interests and his relief that the Darien affair was over, despite the fact that he pitied the Scots for their loss and expense (Pw A 1825).

The Darien Scheme was one of the major precursors to the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 and the Portland of Welbeck Collection contains some of the most important documents for this critical juncture in British history.

STOP PRESS:

Other records of the Darien Affair currently housed at the National Library of Scotland have just been awarded UNESCO Memory of the World status.

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