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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August 2005, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Darien letters on loan to Panama
Panama coast
Scotland hoped a Panama colony would increase its wealth
Recently uncovered documents relating to a failed attempt to create a wealthy Scottish empire in the jungle are being sent to Panama for an exhibition.

A collection of three letters, which recently resurfaced at the National Archives of Scotland, shed fresh light on the infamous Darien scheme.

The 300-year-old documents are thought to be the only original, surviving letters sent from Darien.

They were found after the archives catalogue was computerised.

The 17th century scheme - known as the Darien Venture - cost 2,000 lives, lost about half of the country's wealth and is said to have changed the course of Scotland's political history.

Computer-generated image by Dr Mark Horton, University of Bristol
Computer-generated images show what the area may have looked like

Many historians believe it also led many Scots to support the Act of Union and the abolition of the first Scottish Parliament in 1707.

Three letters written from Darien by a Scottish settler in 1699 are being loaned by the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) to the International Canal Museum in Panama.

The original letters, sent by George Douglas from Isthmus of Panama to Fife, will form the centrepiece of an exhibition on the Darien settlement.

Alison Lindsay, outreach officer for NAS, will travel to Panama to lecture on Darien.

She will also visit the original site of the colony, on the north coast of Panama, to see the ruins left by the Scots when they abandoned their camp.

Computer-generated image by Dr Mark Horton, University of Bristol
These letters embody the hopes, drama and ultimately the heartbreak of the Darien expedition
George MacKenzie
Keeper of the records

She said: "This really is the opportunity of a lifetime. I learned about the Darien company at school but I never dreamed that I might one day visit it.

"One of the leaders of the Darien settlement was a Major John Lindsay, so I feel I have a small direct connection to this momentous episode in Scotland's history."

George MacKenzie, keeper of the records of Scotland, added: "These letters embody the hopes, drama and ultimately the heartbreak of the Darien expedition.

"They are the authentic voice of the past, speaking to us down the centuries.

"I am delighted we are lending them to this important exhibition marking a historical connection between Scotland and Panama."

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