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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Closing the lid on economic disaster
Bank of Scotland
The Bank of Scotland had owned the chest
Two relics from an economic disaster believed to have changed the course of Scotland's political history have been reunited - after almost 150 years apart.

The box and lid of the historic Darien Chest have gone on display at the Museum of Scotland in a section commemorating the ill-fated Darien Scheme.

The failure of the attempt to set up a colony in Central America in the late 17th century cost 2,000 lives and lost Scotland a quarter of its cash assets.


It's of great historical importance for the history and material culture of Scotland

Mark Jones, National Museums of Scotland
The financial disaster, which coincided with a series of bad harvests, caused widespread distress in Scotland.

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

The Scottish Parliament was re-established almost 300 years later.

Company failure

The 4ft by 2ft iron chest was used by the Darien Company to store its funds, holding up to 50,000 at a time.

It was acquired by the Bank of Scotland after the company failed and was used to store gold, silver, bank notes and accounting records.

The two relics were separated in 1864 when the lid, with its elaborate locking mechanism, was gifted to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. It is not known why it was split from the box.

Museum of Scotland
Museum of Scotland: Relic's new home
But they have now been reunited permanently after the bank donated the box to the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The two relics were together briefly in 1995 during a temporary exhibition to mark the bank's 300th anniversary.

Bank of Scotland Governor Sir John Shaw explained that the Darien Company was formed in the same year as the bank.

"Fortunately any similarity ends there, but the chest, stored by the bank until today, has been a tangible link with an important part of Scotland's economic and social history," he said.

Mark Jones, director of the National Museums of Scotland, said the donation was "of great historical importance for the history and material culture of Scotland".

The Darien Scheme was an attempt to take advantage of the trading opportunities in Africa and the Indies in the late 1690s by setting up a Scottish colony in Central America.

The plan was doomed by the inhospitable climate, inadequate supplies and competition from Spain.

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12 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Hold history in your hand
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