Review: Darien: A Journey in Search of Empire

Review: Darien: A Journey in Search of Empire

The Company of Scotland and its attempts to establish the colony of Caledonia on the inhospitable Isthmus of Panama, in South America, in the late seventeenth century is remembered even now as a human and financial disaster in Scottish history.

The grand plan of William Paterson, whose earlier plan led to the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694, was to create a major trading station between Europe and the East.

The proposed venture might have been a triumph, but inadequate preparation and organisation led to a catastrophe. Of the 3,000 settlers who set sail in 1688 and 1699, only a handful returned, the rest having died of disease.

The enormous financial loss from the collapse of the Company was felt across Scotland (not least amongst the members of the legal profession who had invested in it) and it all became a key factor in the arguments for union with England in 1707.

Based on archive research in the United Kingdom and Panama, as well as extensive travelling in and around Darien itself, John McKendrick KC, advocate and barrister, and sometime attorney general of Anguilla, describes the events in their historical context, and present day locations.

The extensive narrative has added to it a selection of modern photographs that give an indication now of the geographical challenges of trade that were insurmountable 330 or so years ago.

This study, perhaps overlooked during the pandemic, deserves to be read as model of what can be done to face up to disasters, and to present them in a different way, as well as ensuring that events of that magnitude are not forgotten.

Darien: A Journey in Search of Empire by John McKendrick

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