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 by David Sinclair X
The Land That Never Was by David Sinclair
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 384 pages
    Jan 2005, 384 pages

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In fact, there was plenty to occupy the minds of the emigrants as each day brought them closer to their future home. They pored over the maps given to them by officials at the Poyaisian Land Offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and speculated about what the countryside might be like. All they had actually seen was an engraving of the port of Black River, which was where they were to make their landfall. The picture showed a peaceful lagoon, its entrance formed by two spits of land covered with palm trees and profuse vegetation. In the distance, behind a neat, well laid out little town, loomed a great mountain, known as the Sugarloaf, its lower slopes thickly forested, and beyond that more mountain ranges could be seen disappearing into the distance. As for the rest of Poyais, its appearance was left to the imagination of the colonists, based upon what some of them had read in the guidebook, what they had been told by Sir Gregor MacGregor and his agents, and descriptions published in the promotional leaflets and advertisements.

'The Face of the Country', an announcement in the Glasgow newspaper the Sentinel declared, 'is beautifully varied by Hill and Valley, and likewise abounds with fine Savannahs and Plains, and in Forests of the most valuable TIMBER, such as Mahogany, Cedar, Santa Maria Wood, Rose Wood, Zebra Wood, Pitch Pine, and many others.' To which the guidebook added that the coasts were generally flat, and surrounded with reefs, while the interior was 'full of large rivers, that run some hundred miles up into a fine, healthy and fruitful country'. The climate was described as 'mild for those latitudes, and being continental, not nearly so hot as the islands in the same parallel'. The guidebook went on:

The great salubrity of the air of this delightful and most valuable country, supplies a constant fund of health and activity to the European settler, a blessing which is seldom enjoyed in the same degree in any other part of North or South America. With the exception of a few months in the year, this country is constantly refreshed by regular sea breezes, accompanied by an average of heat that may be taken at the temperature of 80 degrees. The temperature of the air varies indeed considerably according to the elevation of the land, but with this exception, the medium degree of heat is much the same throughout the country.

At this point, the author of the guidebook--Thomas Strangeways, a captain in the 1st Native Poyer Regiment, and an aide-de-camp to the Cazique--seemed to forget the practical purpose of his work and his language soared as he described the seasons of the year. The travellers, who were refugees from the Scottish winter, read it over and over again:

The Spring or vernal season may be said to commence with the months of April and May, when the foliage of the trees evidently become[s] more vivid, and the savannahs begin to change their russet hue, even previous to the first periodical rains, which are now daily expected, and compared with the autumnal rains, may be said to be gentle showers. After these rains have continued a short time, the weather becomes dry, settled and salutary; and the tropical summer or dry season, reigns in full glory. The sun, during this space, is always most powerful, and its vivid rays are not mitigated by the same uniformity of breeze that prevails during the other months of the year. Not a cloud is to be perceived; and the nights at this season are transcendently beautiful. The clearness and brilliance of the heavens, the serenity of the air, and the soft tranquillity in which nature reposes, contribute to harmonise the mind, and produce the most calm and delightful sensations.

The moon, too, in these climates, displays far greater radiance than in Europe. The smallest print is legible by her light, and in the moon's absence, her function is not ill supplied by the brightness of the milky-way, and by that glorious planet Venus, which appears here like a little moon, and glitters with so refulgent a beam as to cast a shade from trees, buildings and other objects, making full amends for the short stay and abrupt departure of the crepusculum or twilight.

Copyright 2003 by David Sinclair. All rights reserved.

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