Page last updated at 12:54 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 13:54 UK

Lost section of Darien colony petition found

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland news website

The Act of Union of the Scottish Parliament 1707
The failure of Darien played a part in Scotland signing the Act of the Union

Part of a lost petition relating to Scotland's ill-fated attempt to establish a colony in Central America has been uncovered by a historian.

Nothing was believed to exist of the National Address, which appealed to King William to lift a ban on English colonies trading with the Scots.

Blair Kerr found the Angus and Dundee section while researching for a degree.

The collapse of the Darien Venture in April 1700 played a part in the signing of the Act of Union in 1707.

The National Address was organised as the second of the Company of Scotland's two expeditions to the Isthmus of Panama to establish the trading colony began to founder in 1699.

This discovery increases understanding of an interesting period in Scotland's history
George MacKenzie
National Archives of Scotland

Names were gathered in districts across Scotland.

Mr Kerr found the part relating to Angus and Dundee while researching opposition in Scotland to the Darien scheme for his Masters of Research degree at the University of Stirling two years ago but has only now made his discovery public.

The single sheet of paper has signatures gathered by the Earl of Panmure, a leading Jacobite and a member of the Company of Scotland.

Mr Kerr found the page among archive papers relating to a prominent Angus family held by the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The discovery has been confirmed by Alastair Mann, a lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Stirling and co-editor of the Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707.

The chosen site on the Isthmus of Panama was surrounded by Spanish colonies
The Company of Scotland proposed taking goods across land from the Pacific coast and then ship them to Scotland
It was planned to establish a free port trading with the rest of the world
Native Indians were said to have been unimpressed with the offer of woollen garments by the newly-arrived Scots

George MacKenzie, keeper of the records at the National Archives of Scotland, has welcomed the discovery in a collection described as the papers of the Earl of Dalhousie.

Mr Kerr, now the manager at Historic Scotland-owned Edzell Castle in Angus, said: "I couldn't believe what I had found.

"This is the only part of the National Address to have turned up in more than 300 years.

"For years historians have been speculating what was contained in the National Address."

He added: "I was researching opposition to the Darien Venture. It was considered unpatriotic not to support it, but there were people saying: 'you shouldn't go'."

The Angus and Dundee page provides a list of more than 350 names - many of them considered at the time to be "men of note and consideration".

Dundee Town Council refused to sign the National Address, but those behind the petition appeared to have then encouraged Dundonians to put their names to it to help swell the number of signatures.

The town council had given £100 towards the £400,000 cost of the venture.

But Mr Kerr said councillors may have declined to sign the petition to avoid offending King William.

Lifesavings invested

The National Address in its entirety would have run to several pages and contained about 10,000 names.

Its plea was rejected by the king and his government.

English colonies in America were ordered not to trade with the Scots in Darien amid concerns it would become a rival in the trade of spices and slaves.

William Paterson, a wealthy businessman from Dumfries, was a leading light and a driving force behind the Company of Scotland which was set up to establish the trading post and revive Scotland's ailing economy.

Darien. Image: Scotland's Empire: The Americas
Two expeditions attempted to establish the colony at Darien

Many Scots, inspired by talk of lucrative trading across the Pacific Ocean, invested their lifesavings in the venture.

There were two expeditions to Darien. The first left Leith in July 1698.

The second group set sail in August 1699 unaware the first colonists had been ravaged by disease and had abandoned Darien.

Those who survived the journey and harsh conditions at the site surrendered to Spanish colonial forces.

They were later allowed to return to Scotland.

About 2,000 Scots - including Paterson's wife and son - died during the venture.

Its collapse left Scotland with crippling debts. These were paid off by England as part the deal for Scotland signing the Act of Union.

Mr Kerr, from Monifieth in Angus, said the National Address is a key part of the Darien story.

He now plans to write a PhD on the Angus and Dundee section.

Mr MacKenzie, of the National Archives, said: "We're delighted when researchers can shed new light on important documents in the National Archives of Scotland.

"This discovery increases understanding of an interesting period in Scotland's history.

"We always welcome any information that enables us to enhance our catalogues for the benefit of all our users."

Print Sponsor

The Little Ice Age and Scotland
26 Apr 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Darien letters on loan to Panama
09 Aug 05 |  Scotland


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific