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
    Paperback:
    Jan 2005, 384 pages

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For those trapped in Leith, though, paradise continued to be postponed. The blizzard raged along the Firth of Forth throughout Wednesday and Thursday, and it was not until the weekend that Captain Crouch could begin to complete the loading of his ship. By Monday, the hold of the Kennersley Castle was filled with enough beef, pork, flour, rice, oatmeal, pot-barley* and other provisions to sustain the colonists for twelve months, together with 'good English' horsehair mattresses, blankets, pillows and an extensive selection of tools for house building and agriculture-but the emigrants' hopes of departure suffered another blow as the weather closed in again. It was not until Wednesday, 22 January, that the passengers could finally bid emotional farewells to hundreds of relatives and friends gathered on the dockside and board the boats to take them to the ship, now riding gently at anchor in Leith Roads.

His Highness the Cazique came aboard to wish them well, and to ensure that their accommodation was comfortable. He delighted many of them by announcing that, since this was the pioneering voyage from Scotland to Poyais, he had decided to give free passage to all the women and children. As MacGregor was rowed back to shore, the colonists broke into spontaneous, rousing cheers. Captain Crouch fired a broadside of six guns in salute, and hoisted the flag of Poyais, a green cross of St George on a white background.

At last they were on their way, with favourable winds and fair weather, and nothing more than a heavy swell to trouble them. Two days' sailing brought the ship round Duncansby Head, by John O'Groats, and into the Pentland Firth, the narrow channel that separates the Orkney Islands from the Scottish mainland. Two days more took the vessel past Cape Wrath and the Butt of Lewis, and down the north-western coast of the Outer Hebrides, so that, by 27 January, the passengers were watching the little island of St Kilda fade into the distance as they headed out into the Atlantic.

It was to be their last glimpse of land for more than a month, yet the time passed pleasantly enough. Some of the better-off emigrants had their own cabins, but even those who traveled steerage found nothing to complain about in the space and quality of their quarters. The food on board was good and plentiful, and the captain spared no effort in maintaining the well-being of his passengers, so that when his prudent attempts to conserve the ship's supply of fresh water seemed to result in short rations for the children, he responded without demur to the concern expressed by the parents and increased the daily allowance.

There was just one unpleasant incident, when a man travelling in steerage so far forgot himself as to make improper advances to a young woman. His neighbours convened an impromptu trial in their quarters and, after considering the evidence, sentenced the man to a flogging, not only to punish him but also to warn others whose strength of character might be found wanting under the pressure of confinement and boredom.

The guilty party, however, was not prepared to accept the punishment imposed by his peers, and he appealed to the cabin passengers, whose social standing and future prospects in Poyais made them the natural leaders of the group. These worthies consulted the Captain, but he refused to become involved, merely pointing out that while he was not responsible for discipline among the passengers, he would be compelled to take action if their behaviour threatened the safety and smooth running of the ship. The gentlemen, fearing that the flogging might inflame the victim's friends, decided that it was in the interests of good order--with several weeks of the voyage still ahead--to set aside the sentence. It was a judgement that dismayed some of the self-appointed lawyers of the lower deck, who muttered darkly that such a failure of will among the leading citizens of the new colony would not be forgotten by 'bad characters' who might be inclined to cause trouble once they were ashore. For the time being, however, harmony was maintained, and the Kennersley Castle ploughed on uneventfully through the Atlantic rollers.

Copyright 2003 by David Sinclair. All rights reserved.

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