Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1698, the Scottish Empire was founded.

In the late Seventeenth Century, England had prosperous colonies in North America, India and The West Indies, which were a source of great wealth. Scotland, on the other hand, had no colonies and consequently no overseas trade and was slowly becoming bankrupt. 

In 1693, William Paterson of Dumfriesshire, proposed a scheme to establish a new Scottish Colony. Paterson had great experience of international trade in North America and the West Indies and had founded The Bank of England. Paterson proposed a grandiose scheme for Scotland to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Darien, what we now know as Panama. The proposed colony would transport goods by mules overland from the Pacific Ocean to The Atlantic, thereby saving traders vast shipping costs.  

The scheme was a popular success and raised half a million pounds Sterling in share capital and thousands of pioneers volunteered to travel to the colony to settle in a Promised Land of plenty. Five ships set sail from Leith, and landed at the Darien Land on 3rd November 1698. The colony was named Caledonia and its capital New Edinburgh. 

The colony was not entirely the success that had been hoped for. The first task the pioneers had to undertake was to bury the dead from the lengthy sea journey. The land was infested by mosquitoes, there was no food supply available, and the Spaniards in the nearby colonies constantly attacked them mercilessly. After six months, half of the original colonists were dead and most of the rest were emaciated with fever and malnutrition. They were obliged to abandon the scheme and return home. 

But by this time, another expedition had set off carrying another 1500 pioneers and some time later another expedition set sail. These other expeditions suffered the same fate as the original mission and the whole scheme ended in disaster.  

It is estimated that Scotland lost half of its meagre capital in the ill fated expedition and that this was a major factor in Scotland entering into the Treaty of Union of 1707. The Scottish investors were recompensed by the Treaty, prompting Robbie Burns to remark that those who had signed the Treaty had been “bought and sold for English gold”

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