Excerpt from The Land That Never Was by David Sinclair, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Land That Never Was

Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History

by David Sinclair

The Land That Never Was
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 384 pages
    Jan 2005, 384 pages

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This earthly paradise was called the Territory of Poyais, and it was described as 'a free and independent state situated on the mountainous side of the Bay of Honduras; three or four days' sail from Jamaica; thirty hours from the British Settlement of Balize [sic] in Yucatan; and about eight days from New Orleans, in the United States of America'. The Territory lay between the Spanish South American provinces of Honduras and Nicaragua, from which it was separated by a chain of almost inaccessible mountains. Its natural defences had preserved it from Spanish domination and, in fact, the country had been sporadically settled by British people since its discovery by West Indies pirates in the late seventeenth century. For political reasons, Poyais had never been officially claimed as a British colony, in spite of close links between its native rulers and the British West Indies, and several approaches by Poyaisian kings to the government in London with offers to attach their country to the Empire. As a result, the immense natural resources of Poyais--its extremely rich and fertile soil, its luxuriant forests, its gold and its abundant marine life--had been left largely undisturbed.

As the official guidebook put it, under the heading of 'Commerce':

The Geographical position of this hitherto neglected country, being in the vicinity of some of the richest provinces of Spanish America, at nearly an equal distance between the southern part of the United States on the one hand, and the new Republic of Columbia on the other, being also within a convenient distance of the West India Islands, and close to the British Territory in Yucatan; together with the immense variety of exceedingly valuable commercial commodities, which are the natural production of the soil, present of themselves, even independent of the operations of the planter or cultivator, a rich field for successful commercial industry . . .It has been computed that, even in the uncivilized state of the country, and independent of the native consumption, manufactured goods to the value of upwards of fifty thousand pounds pass annually into the Spanish American provinces through this territory alone, yielding, under every disadvantageous contingency, a very large profit to the adventurers; and there is no doubt that this trade, protected by a wise and liberal policy on the part of the Government of Poyais, may be carried to an extent, much beyond any calculation which can at present be formed, and that it will amply remunerate those who may become interested.

Best of all, however, for the prospective settlers waiting impatiently in Leith, was the understanding that the risks of emigration to Poyais were negligible. Apart from the fact that the natives--known, apparently, as Poyers--were Anglophiles, after more than a century of contacts with the British, there was the reassurance of knowing that their new land was governed by one of their own: a distinguished Scotsman who had been given the responsibility by the Poyer king. Some of them had even met the man, General Sir Gregor MacGregor, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and a hero of South America's struggle to liberate itself from Spain, who had subsequently been honoured with the title of His Highness Gregor, Cazique of Poyais (cazique being equivalent to 'prince', from the Spanish-American word for a native chief).

His Highness had travelled to the United Kingdom for the specific purpose of recruiting officials for his government, and encouraging immigration by people with the sense of adventure and the skills to exploit the riches of his territory and nurture in it the roots of European civilization to which the natives aspired. And, as he told the members of the Leith party who had been introduced to him at his Edinburgh lodgings, they would not be the first. A group of seventy colonists had already arrived in Poyais to begin the work of developing the country.

Copyright 2003 by David Sinclair. All rights reserved.

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