Scotland and Darien display

Historical papers tell story of Darien expedition

The story of the ill fated Darien exhibition which sought to establish Scotland as a colonial power is told in a fascinating new exhibition at the National Library of Scotland that features the most complete historical record ever assembled.

Documents from the archives of The Royal Bank of Scotland have been brought together for the first time with papers from the Library's own collection to record how soaring ambition turned to ignominious failure.

The exhibition, 'The key of the universe: Scotland and Darien 1695-1707' runs from 1 July to 31 August 2011 and tells the story of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies. The Company of Scotland's plan to establish trading a colony on the Isthmus of Darien in Central America is linked to the very existence of RBS. As a consequence of the financial losses incurred by the failure of the Darien expeditions, the Acts of Union granted compensation to Scotland in recognition of its losses and fund managers were appointed to administer payments. They went on to establish The Royal Bank of Scotland in 1727.

The exhibition has been jointly created by RBS and National Library of Scotland. RBS has worked with the National Library of Scotland before, when the Company of Scotland archives held by both institutions were recognised as being of exceptional importance by inscription on UNESCO's inaugural UK Memory of the World Register in 2010.

Laura Yeoman, Archivist at RBS, said: 'The records of the Company of Scotland are not just important in the history of RBS; they are important to Scotland as a whole. The collapse of the Darien Scheme was a key contributing factor in the formation of Great Britain, the consequent dissolution of the independent Scottish Parliament, and the resulting shift in Scots identity which – as Robert Burns saw it – turned his beloved homeland into 'England’s province'. They also tell a fascinating story of adventure, dedication, courage and disaster. It's a story that deserves to be told.'

Robin Smith, Manuscript and Map Collections Manager at the National Library of Scotland, said: 'The Darien papers are an important record of a significant period in Scotland's history about a bold attempt to establish a Scottish colony in Central America. We are delighted to be working alongside RBS to bring the fascinating story of the expedition to life through a variety of remarkable items, including private record books, minute books, maps, journals and letters from colonists who travelled to the New World. These are priceless documents which record a key moment in Scotland's economic history.'

The records on display include the illustrated minute book of the company's directors, a subscription book listing the huge number of Scots who invested in the venture and a personal letter from one of the colonists describing his first impressions of the New World.

1 July 2011

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