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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Bearing this in mind, the author of the guidebook estimated 'the yearly expence [sic] of each Indian labourer to an established settler at £13 per annum, and to a new settler at £16 per annum; to which may be added, the additional sum of £4 for provisions, the first year, which will make in all £20 per annum, for the expence of each labourer'.

Some of the settlers, especially those who were artisans, were former soldiers who had served in exotic parts of the world and had been exposed to unfamiliar cultures, but others had never been outside Scotland and were slightly nervous about the prospect of contact with the Poyais natives. Captain Strangeways, though, was reassuring, as those who had a copy of his book could attest.

The Poyers were modest, docile and friendly, quickwitted and keen to learn. Most of them spoke at least a little English, because 'a tradition has long prevailed among them that the grey-eyed people, meaning the English, have been particularly appointed to protect them from oppression and bondage'. Indeed, there was good reason to believe that the Poyers 'were at one period better acquainted than at present with many of the arts of civilization', because many of their customs, and the antiquities found in their country, suggested that they might be descendants of the great Aztec people of Mexico, whose highly developed and sophisticated society had been destroyed by the brutal Spanish invaders.



They have repeatedly shewn an anxious desire to acquire the arts of Europe, as is manifest by their repeated invitations to the English, to form settlements amongst them, as well as by their former offers to cede a part of their country to Great Britain; thereby shewing that their aversion to Spain does not extend to all the other nations of Europe.



That set many minds at rest, but even if the natives were friendly, what about the other inhabitants of Poyais--the wild beasts, the snakes, the insects? The women in particular were worried about this, the mothers among them fearful for the welfare of their children. The place they were going to was called Poyais, but they had heard the sailors referring to 'the Mosquito Coast', and when they looked at the guidebook, they noted that it was entitled A Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, Including the Territory of Poyais. That was a name with unpleasantly suggestive connotations.

Not at all, said the better-informed members of the party. The Mosquito Coast was named, not after the insect--which was actually spelt musqueto or moscheto--but after the cluster of tiny islands and rock formations just offshore, called the Mosquittos. Anyway, that was an old name, given by the Spaniards many years ago. Nowadays, the vast area of which Poyais was a part was more properly referred to as Mosquitia, as was marked on the maps they had been given.

While the working men talked of gold mines and of building sawmills to exploit the virgin forests they would find, the new landowners among the group debated the merits of the various crops they might grow. Indian corn was a staple, of course, and it appeared that three harvests a year might be obtained from the rich soil. But the real money would no doubt come from the coffee and cocoa beans and the sugar cane, for which the land and the climate were ideally suited. There had evidently been highly successful plantations during earlier periods of British settlement, and such ventures were likely to do even better now, with the dramatic increase in European demand. Great fortunes were being made in the West Indies, but they were as nothing to what might be achieved in the even more favourable conditions of Poyais. The wholesale price of sugar was twenty-three shillings and fourpence for one hundredweight, which represented a profit to the producer of thirty-five per cent. According to a certain Mr Ellis, who had grown sugar cane in the region for many years, a planter with 150 acres might expect an annual revenue, after all expenses, of at least £1,200--and the government of Poyais imposed no taxes on income.

Copyright 2003 by David Sinclair. All rights reserved.

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