THE Sunday National and I have in recent weeks been telling the story of the Darien Scheme to mark the 325th anniversary of the establishment of Scotland’s foreign colony in what is now Panama.

I ended the series with the collapse of the colony and the hurried departure from New Edinburgh and Fort St Andrews in the summer of 1699, with the graves of 400 of the 1200 would-be colonists left behind.

Also left behind were six men who considered themselves to be terminally ill and wanted to die in the land they had called Caledonia. I suspect they knew they were going to suffer agonies and die on the sea voyage and preferred to pass their remaining hours on land rather than be swallowed up by the sea.

Shortly afterwards, the Spanish fleet sent a ship to the settlement. Its commander, Juan Delgado, found nothing but the 400 graves, plus two more inside the former township, where all the huts were flattened and the grandly named Fort St Andrews was all but washed away, with Captain Thomas Drummond (he of Glencoe infamy) having proven yet again his capability as a soldier by getting the 30 cannon away.

Incredibly, one of the six men left behind had survived, having been rescued by the local natives. They produced him for Delgado – who, it should be said, seems to have treated the Scot kindly.

When they left for Cartagena, the Spanish force demolished what was left of New Edinburgh and Fort St Andrews.

It was a warning to any would-be colonist that the vast and powerful Spanish Empire would not tolerate any incursion into its claimed territories, certainly not by Protestants.

The English Empire arguably treated the Scottish colonists even worse. The proclamation against the colony inspired by King William III of England (styled King William II in Scotland) was issued by the local governors of every English-controlled island in the Caribbean.

On their horrendous voyage home, the five Scots ships met with disaster at the hands of gales and storms, losing many hundreds more men and officers to disease, including Commodore Robert Pennecuik.

The remaining men were in desperate straits, many of them hardly able to stand as provisions rotted away. Despite officials acknowledging their plight, the ships were banned from entering harbours, such as Port Royal in Jamaica – actions by people, who, don’t forget, shared thewere ruled by the same monarch as the Scots.

The Company of Scotland’s directors had pleaded with King William for assistance but he refused to entertain them, which is why I blame the usurper king him more than anyone else for the Darien Disaster.

Only one ship, the Caledonia, made it home to Scotland, arriving in late November 1699. The rest either sank or were beached. The death toll was now of the order of 75% to 80%, and all Scotland was shocked to learn of the catastrophic fate of this first colonial expedition.

That shock was partially due to the rapture which had greeted the first dispatches from Caledonia the previous December, which confirmed Scotland had a colony.

Reality struck home hard, however, and the fate of the colony agonised Scotland. William Paterson, who had somehow survived his mental and physical derangement, was reviled and the Company of Scotland’s days were surely numbered.

Yet it is unfair to say that the Company had not properly planned the Darien project – I hope I have shown how Spain, England and King William were much more to blame.

It is the ultimate irony of Darien that just as the colony was collapsing in the late spring and summer of 1699, the planned second expedition was under way. Even before that the Company had equipped a ship and filled it with supplies for the colony.

In January 1699, the Dispatch left from Leith and again due to fear of interception by the Royal (i.e., English) Navy, the ship had to go round the north of Scotland, and was caught in terrible weather which saw it wrecked on the coast of Islay.

TWO ships, the Olive Branch and the Hopeful Binning, were sent out by the Company with 300 settlers. They made it to Darien and found the colony destroyed.

Here again the Scots had seriously bad luck – the Olive Branch caught fire and was wrecked on the beach, forcing the captains to abandon Caledonia and make for Jamaica, leaving behind a dozen of the fittest fighting men. They were the fortunate ones, as the Hopeful Binning was again denied succour by English authorities in Jamaica and almost everybody aboard died.

It seems almost incredible, but the dozen were joined by men commanded by Thomas Drummond, who had made it to New York and then been able to charter two sloops.

With other colonists he had returned to Darien, determined to start again. The Spanish had tried to stop Drummond but on board the Ann of Caledonia with a crew of just 13 he had fought a running battle against a much larger and heavily armed Spanish warship, finally escaping by night to make landing at the former colony.

Completely unaware of these developments, the Company went ahead with the second expedition to Darien, which had always been planned to follow up the establishment of Caledonia.

This second expedition is rarely covered in any brief history of the Darien Scheme and the reason for that, I feel, is that it does not fit with the Unionist view that Scotland could not mount such a project on its own.

As I am showing, the English and Spanish empires between them were determined to stop Caledonia in its tracks, while King William had become virulent in his desire to end the colony so that he could continue his wars with France without fear of the Spanish becoming allies of Louis XIV.

At one point, the Spanish ambassador in London submitted a formal protest about the invasion of “their” territory in Panama, and that gave the well-informed Secretary of State James Vernon the excuse to redouble his orders about offering no help for the Scots.

Informed by English spies and Scots in his pay about the formation of the second expedition, he issued instructions that it should be stopped as soon as it left Scottish waters.

The preparations for the second expedition caused great excitement among ordinary Scottish people who, of course, were unaware of the catastrophic end of the first expedition.

Meanwhile, the enmity of the king was really troubling many senior Scots. Lord Advocate Sir James Stewart recorded: “I am truly grieved at this matter. The nation is bent one way and the King is of another persuasion; and whether it succeed or not it is like to have ill consequences.”

Four ships were built or bought for the second expedition. They gathered in the Clyde, led by the flagship: the brand-new Rising Sun, which was commanded by Captain James Gibson, commodore of this small fleet. Two other ships were substantial vessels of more than 300 tons, the Duke of Hamilton and the Hope o’ Bo’ness, with another smaller ship, the Hope, joining them.

The directors of the Company of Scotland had been made aware of the faction fighting in the leadership of the first expedition and were determined to avoid a repeat, so their selection of officers was careful. The directors were still capable of self-delusion, however, sending out a goldsmith to deal with the precious metal which they were convinced would be found in Darien.

A sizeable proportion of the travellers were of Highland origin, including officers and men proven in battle. The second expedition would also have a goodly number, perhaps a hundred in all, of women accompanied by their children.

Tragically several of them were women sailing out to join their husbands already in Caledonia – who were already dead.

BY the time the ships were ready to sail there were actually more people on-board than had sailed in the first expedition, 1300 souls in all. On Friday, August 18, 1699, the second expedition set out from the River Clyde – but got no further than Rothesay Bay on the Isle of Bute when the wind changed and becalmed them. It was surely a bad omen and they were unable to continue for a month.

Even as they began to head south into the Atlantic, rumours were spreading back in Scotland that the colony of Caledonia had been abandoned. The Company would eventually admit the disaster, and heaped the blame on the late Commodore Pennecuik.

Out at sea, the small fleet made good progress across the Atlantic, but the seeds of doom had already been sown. Disease, usually dysentery, had begun to infect people back at Bute, and now it raged through each vessel, killing dozens and sparing neither women or children.

The fleet arrived at Antigua, but once again the English governor refused them any help, even banning them from refilling water barrels. They sailed on and arrived in the bay of Caledonia on St Andrew’s Day, November 30.

There to greet them was Thomas Drummond, who promptly picked a fight with the expedition’s de facto leader, the merchant James Byres, that would have major implications for the second expedition.

For the would-be settlers, the sight that greeted them was beyond shocking – remember they had no idea the colony had been abandoned.

As stated in John Prebble’s The Darien Disaster, one of the four kirk ministers, the Rev Francis Borland – whose account of the second expedition we must relyhistorians rely on – wrote: “Expecting to meet with her friends and countrymen, we found nothing but a vast howling wilderness, the Colony deserted and gone, their huts all burnt, their fort most part ruined, the ground which they had cleared adjoining to the fort all overgrown with weeds, and we looked for Peace, but no good came, and for a time of health and comfort, but beheld Trouble.”

The same old problem of faction fighting engulfed the ruling council, with James Byres enforcing his own will on the rest except Drummond.

Probably to distract people from their own problems, the council arranged the arrest and execution for mutiny of a carpenter, Alexander Campbell, whose main fault seems to have been voicing criticism of the council.

The new settlers’ morale disintegrated – no wonder, as their rations had been cut to two biscuits a day and several diseases were rife and invariably fatal.

Drummond had repeatedly and correctly warned that the Spanish would attack, so Byres had him flung in jail. Fortunately for Drummond and the rest of the revived colony, Byres developed cowardice and sailed away in early February.

On February 11, the man Prebble calls “the Hero” arrived in Caledonia. Highland laird and veteran soldier, Alexander Campbell of Fonab, took charge and learning that a Spanish infantry contingent was camped at Toubacanti just a few miles away, he led an astonishing raid on the Spanish force.

He led the charge himself and the Spanish fled, but Campbell of Fonab had been wounded and his subsequent infection and fever rendered him hors de combat.

The Spanish fleet came up and the Spanish army arrived en masse. Though they held out for a month, the Caledonians eventually had to surrender and were allowed to march away with their guns.

The second Darien expedition ended like the first, with the survivors making their way slowly back to Scotland, with the Rising Sun and the Duke of Hamilton sunk by a hurricane off Charleston in early September. Of the 2500 men, women and children who took part in the Darien Scheme, just a few hundred survived.

Next week I will tell the story of the end of the Company of Scotland, and how even just two years before the Union of the Parliaments, England was hated in Scotland – with disastrous consequences for three English sailors.