Darien , The Scottish Colony
The ships set sail from Leith harbor on 4th July 1698, under the command of Captain Robert Pennecuik. They made landfall at Darien, Panama on 2nd November, having lost only 70 people during the voyage. Full of optimism, they named the peninsula New Caledonia, and set to work building a settlement
Within the fort stockade, they began to erect the huts of New Edinburgh. However, they soon found that the land was unsuited to agriculture and the Indians were uninterested in the trinkets they had brought with them. Spring 1699 brought torrential rain, and with it disease. By March 1699, more than 200 colonists had died, and the death rate had risen to over 10 a day. To make matters worse, the ships sent out to trade for supplies returned with news that all English ships and colonies were forbidden to trade with the Scots by order of the King. One ship did not return at all. The Spanish captured the Dolphin and had its crew imprisoned.
'By March 1699, more than 200 colonists had died, and the death rate had risen to over 10 a day.'
They were the lucky ones. Roger Oswald, a young gentleman who had joined the venture full of hope and optimism, wrote a harrowing account of what life was like that Spring on the Darien Peninsula. They lived on less than a pound of moldy flour a week: 'When boiled with a little water, without anything else, big maggots and worms must be skimmed off the top Our bodies pined away and grew so macerated with such allowance that we were like so many skeletons.'
The final straw was news that the Spanish were planning an attack on the colony. The settlers took to the sea in panic, abandoning the settlement. Of the four ships that fled the colony, only the Caledonia made it back to Scotland, with less than 300 souls on board.
A second expedition left Scotland in August 1699, knowing nothing about the fate of the first colony. Three ships, led by The Rising Sun, carried a further 1,302 settlers, of which 160 died in the crossing. Finding the colony abandoned, they set about rebuilding it; but the second colony fared no better than the first. The men and women sent out to Darien were completely unprepared for the harshness of the territory in which they found themselves. On top of this, they faced the constant threat of attack from the Spanish, with absolutely no support from the English colonies, which had been ordered not to aid them.’ The men and women sent out to Darien were completely unprepared for the harshness of the territory in which they found themselves...'Seeing this, one newly-arrived young officer, Captain Alexander Campbell of Fonab, persuaded the colonists to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Spanish forces massing at Toubacanti on the mainland. The attack was outrageously successful, but only served to sting the Spanish into concerted action. Under the command of Governor-General Pimiento, a massive fleet and army besieged Fort St Andrew, which finally surrendered in March 1700. The surviving colonists were permitted to vacate the fort on board their remaining ships. Only a handful ever made it back to Scotland.
The Darien Venture was a complete disaster for Scotland. The blow to Scottish morale was incalculable. Those colonists who returned found themselves cast as pariahs in their own land. It was an economic disaster too. The company had lost over £232,884, made up of the life savings of many of the Scottish people. Scotland was now completely incapable of going it alone. Just 7 years after the failure at Darien, it was forced to concede to the Act of Union, joining Scotland with England as the junior partner in the united kingdom of Great Britain.