An expedition of five ships was sent on 14 July 1698 to create a Scots colony on the Isthmus of Panama. It was hoped that the colony of ‘New Caledonia’ would generate trade with the Far East.
The Company of Scotland raised investments totalling around a fifth of the wealth of Scotland - 400,000 pounds sterling – to pay for the Darien scheme. The doomed expedition became a financial disaster.
Environmental conditions and the English colonies’ instructions to withhold aid (so that Spain would not be offended) conspired to make the Scots’ efforts tragically futile. Fever spread through the colony and only a quarter of the original 1,200 settlers survived and returned to Scotland.
News of the failure did not reach Scotland in time to stop a second expedition of more than 1,000 people setting out in January of 1699. Of a total of more than 2,500 settlers only a few hundred survived.
Some believe that this tragic endeavour led to Scotland believing it could not survive without English assistance, thus leading to the 1707 Acts of Union.
Listen to an account of life in the Darien Colony by Roger Oswald.