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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Even the tropical winter, or wet season, would apparently hold few terrors for those who had just weathered one of the worst blizzards for years.



At the beginning of November, what are called the norths, north winds, commence, and generally continue, with little variation, till the return of the month of March. Whilst these winds last, the mornings and evenings are cold, frequently unpleasantly so; and what in this country is understood by a wet north, might perhaps furnish no very imperfect idea of a November day in England; a dry north, on the contrary, is healthful, agreeable and invigorating. The north wind having acquired sufficient force, the atmosphere is cleared; and now comes on a succession of serene and pleasant weather, the northeast and northerly winds spreading coolness and delight throughout the whole of the country. If this interval, therefore, from the beginning of December to the end of April, be called winter, it is certainly the finest winter on the globe. To valetudinarians and persons advanced in life, it is the climate of Paradise.



It would be almost springtime when the ship arrived at the Black River, according to the estimate of the Captain, who had made this journey many times. The weather should be kind, not too hot yet for the hard labour of building houses, warm and dry enough to live comfortably in the open while the work went on. But what would the place really be like? From the mass of information that had been disseminated, there were almost as many impressions as there were settlers, and these were endlessly compared during the long days at sea.

One of the cabin passengers, Andrew Picken, the young man who had been appointed to manage the national theatre of Poyais, spoke about what he had learned of the capital city, St Joseph, just a few miles from the Black River settlement, on the western side of the bay. It was a place of broad boulevards and colonnaded buildings in the classical European style, with a splendid, domed cathedral, an opera house as well as the theatre, a royal palace, the headquarters of the Bank of Poyais (whose currency many of the settlers had in their purses) and, of course, the seat of the parliament. Not only that, declared another of the elite group--soon to be an official of the Poyaisian civil service--but St Joseph was also home to the impressive offices of the few merchant adventurers who had already seized the opportunities Poyais offered, and who had built themselves grand riverside mansions on the proceeds.

The rest of the party listened enthralled, looking forward to their arrival in this utopia, and dreaming of the mansions they themselves might eventually build with the wealth they would acquire. That they would become rich seemed beyond doubt. It was not simply the fertility of the soil, the abundance of natural resources, and the kindness of the climate that would work to their advantage, but the minimal cost of native labour, as Captain Strangeways made clear in his observations on the agriculture of Poyais:



The native Indians readily engage themselves to any of the settlers, for a given time, and at a fixed price. Their wages, in general, are about twenty-five shillings sterling per month; but as they commonly prefer receiving clothing and other articles in lieu of money, the most advantageous way for a settler is to keep a supply of such articles always by him, which if he purchases with ready money, will prove a considerable saving to him, and consequently reduce the price of labourage. It is customary for the settlers to feed their Indian labourers, but this after the first four months, by which time he will have a crop of Indian corn, will amount to almost nothing, as the only articles necessary for him to purchase are rum and ammunition: one Indian in a single day's hunting or fishing, being able to supply the whole family, however numerous, with provisions for a week, consisting of venison, wild hogs, game, turtle, fish, oysters, &c.


Copyright 2003 by David Sinclair. All rights reserved.

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