Important acquisitions

An ode made on the welcome news of the safe arrival and kind reception of the Scottish collony [sic] at Darien in America.

Author Anon.
Title An ode made on the welcome news of the safe arrival and kind reception of the Scottish collony [sic] at Darien in America.
Imprint Edinburgh: James Watson
Date of Publication 1699
Language English
Notes This is an extremely rare broadside (ESTC records only one other copy at Brown University library in the USA) which reproduces an anonymous poem of thanksgiving for the safe arrival of the first Scottish expedition to the Bay of Darien in late 1698. The proposed Scottish colony in Darien was the brainchild of the Scottish banker William Paterson. His idea was for Scotland to gain control of the Isthmus of Darien, the narrow neck of land linking Central and South America, now part of Panama. Scotland would thus have a key role in controlling the trade of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Patersons incredibly ambitious plan was conceived as a way for Scotland to alleviate the financial crisis that had gripped the country. It had never really recovered from the civil wars of the 17th century and their aftermath; moreover, a succession of poor harvests in the 1690s had led to famine, and trade had been seriously affected by England's continual wars against Scotland's main trading partners, France and the Netherlands. In 1695 the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies was established to further the scheme. The Company initially attracted interest from the English as well as the Scots. However, the East India Company saw the scheme as a threat to their monopoly on trade, so the English Parliament quickly turned against it, forcing potential English investors to take their money elsewhere. Attempts to raise money in the Netherlands and Hamburg in 1696 and 1697 came to nothing when local investors became aware of the English Government's opposition to the scheme. The financial shortfall was made up by the Scottish people; a wide cross-section - from the nobility to merchants to town burghs pooled their resources. As a result 400,000 sterling, a significant part of the national capital, was invested in the scheme. Hundreds of people volunteered to settle the land, eager to escape the impoverishment of their native Scotland and to get a share of what they imagined would be the treasures of the New World. An expedition set sail from Leith in July 1698, with five ships carrying around 1,200 people, including William Paterson and his family. They arrived in the Bay of Darien in late October of that year. The Scots set foot on the mainland a few days later  the ode gives the date as 4 November, although modern histories now suggest 2 November. They immediately set about creating a fort (Fort St Andrew) to secure the area which was to be called New Caledonia. Plans were also made to build a settlement called New Edinburgh. On December 29, Alexander Hamilton, the accountant-general of the colony, along with other representatives from the expedition, sailed for Scotland via Jamaica on a visiting English sloop in order to bring news of the safe arrival in Darien. Hamilton finally arrived back in Edinburgh on March 25 1699, carrying sealed letters and despatches from the colony, as well as some small pieces of gold sent home by the colonists. His appearance was marked with rejoicing in the capital: gun salutes, bell-ringing and bonfires were organised in Edinburgh. The ode, presumably composed shortly after Hamilton' return, captures the feeling of wild optimism in Scotland on hearing the news that the expedition had successfully negotiated its way past English warships and braved the terrors of the Atlantic Ocean to make landfall in Central America. Thanks are given to God and "His divine pow'r" for the safe journey of the ships, for making the sea "like a level bowling plain", and for soothing the "natives savage breasts", i.e. ensuring that the local Indian peoples were not hostile to the Scots. The poet expresses the hope that Indian gold will soon alleviate Scotlands poverty, "its temporal grand disease". The ode also hints at the rising tide of resentment in Scotland against the English Parliament and King William for their decision not to allow any English American and Caribbean colonies to give any form of assistance to the colony at Darien; a decision made mainly to avoid antagonising the Spanish. The final lines express the hope that the colony would secure Scotlands "liberty from powder-plots and arbitrary tyranny". What the Scottish public did not know was that by March of 1699 the expedition had turned into a disaster. The information William Paterson had received beforehand on Darien, from the London-based former buccaneer Lionel Wafer, who had travelled extensively in the region, namely that it was a sheltered bay, with friendly Indians and rich, fertile land suitable for agriculture, proved to be utterly misleading. The area was in fact a mosquito-ridden jungle, and the Indians had little interest in the trinkets the Scots had brought with them to trade for gold; moreover, the expedition leaders were incompetent and quarrelling bitterly amongst themselves. The Spanish, who were the dominant European power in the region, were implacably hostile to the idea of a Scottish colony being established in the midst of their American territories; they would be a constant menace to the scheme. Many of the settlers, including Paterson's wife and child, were dying from disease and the extremes of the tropical climate, which led to morale further disintegrating among them. Alexander Hamilton would have been aware of some of these problems before he left Darien, but as he had been rewarded by the Company with the huge sum of 100 guineas for his safe return to Scotland, he may have felt it prudent not to dampen the excitement which was sweeping through the country. The colony was initially abandoned in June 1699, less than three months after Hamilton's return to Scotland. The delays in communication from Central America to Scotland meant that the news was only confirmed in October 1699, after a second expedition had already been sent from Scotland to aid the first one. By mid-summer 1700, even before news of the failure of the second expedition had reached Scotland, popular anger about the whole Darien scheme was at its height. The printer of the ode of thanksgiving, James Watson, found himself in trouble with the authorities for printing three works which were highly critical of the way the enterprise had been run, including George Ridpath's "Scotlands grievances relating to Darien". On May 30 Watson caused further aggravation by printing what was in effect a condensed form of Ridpath's pamphlet, a broadside titled "The people of Scotlands groans and lamentable complaints". This broadside, which does not have an imprint, stated bluntly that the political leaders of Scotland had for the last 100 years been little more than servants of England and treated their own people as enemies, never more so than now, by failing to properly support the expeditions or to stand up to the English Parliament. Watson's Jacobite sympathies were well known to the authorities and these publications, printed without license from the Privy Council, were regarded as a step too far. In June 1700 he was imprisoned in Edinburgh's Tolbooth to await trial before the Privy Council. He was briefly released from prison later that month, when news reached Edinburgh of the settlers of the second expedition launching a successful surprise attack on nearby Spanish forces at Toubacanti. The attack, which had taken place in February of that year, was wrongly thought to be a decisive victory, when in fact it only offered temporary respite from the Spanish operations to besiege the colony. The colony was abandoned for good in March, the remaining settlers having surrendered to Spanish, and the survivors were already on their way home. A triumphant mob rioted through Edinburgh on 20 June, forcing the Tolbooth gaol to be opened and the prisoners to be released. Watsons reprieve was only temporary; once order had been restored to the city he was, on 25 June, found guilty of printing libellous material and banished from Edinburgh for a year and a day. He did return to Edinburgh in 1701 and eventually established himself as Scotlands leading printer of the early 18th century, becoming one of the Kings Printers for Scotland.
Shelfmark RB.l.285
Reference Sources W.J. Couper, James Watson king's printer, Glasgow, 1910 (originally published in Scottish Historical Review, April, 1910); D. Wyn Evans, James Watson of Edinburgh: a bibliography of works from his press 1695-1722, Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, Volume V, pt. 2, 1982; D. Watt, The price of Scotland: Darien, union and the wealth of nations, Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2007
Acquired on 31/10/14
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