Summary and book reviews of The Land That Never Was by David Sinclair

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
    Paperback:
    Jan 2005, 384 pages

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Book Summary

The bizarre tale of a 19th century land swindle by 'Sir Gregor MacGregor', who conned hundreds of people into buying land in a country that didn't exist; a fact they didn't discover until they'd traveled half way round the world to Central America to claim their property.

Once upon a time, in the heart of Central America, there was a country named Poyais. It was exceptionally rich in natural resources, civilization, and culture and was ruled by the brave and enlightened Scottish soldier, Sir Gregor MacGregor, who became its ruler after his heroic exploits in the fight for South American independence. On a cold January morning in 1823, a group of Scottish immigrants looking for a new life set sail for this tropical Eden called Poyais.

The only catch was that it didn't exist.

Two months later the ship landed on the swamp-infested Mosquito Coast and the settlers realized that they had become the victims of one of the most elaborate hoaxes in history. The land they had been sold was nonexistent, the banknotes and guidebooks they carried with them were forgeries, their documents were worthless. Poyais was a fiction. The man responsible? Sir Gregor MacGregor. Who was this eccentric, scurrilous man? And why is he such a loveable rogue?

Chapter 1
THE PROMISED LAND

The new year of 1823 announced itself in violent fashion with a vicious storm that battered the east coast of Britain for a fortnight. Scotland suffered the worst of it, lashed by gales and snow that trapped people in their homes, brought mail deliveries to a halt, and made travelling by coach too dangerous even to think about. At sea, the weather was lethal. The American ship Elizabeth, out of Boston, running for shelter off the Scottish coast, sank with all hands, while just a single survivor was washed ashore from the Russian vessel Eolus when she went down. A local packet boat, the Betsy Crook, almost made it to the Firth of Forth, but was blown on to rocks and wrecked at the entrance to Crail harbour, below Fife Ness.

In the comparative calm of the port of Leith, on the Firth a mile from Edinburgh, Henry Crouch watched the weather with anxious eyes. He was the captain of the Kennersley Castle, an armed merchantman, due to sail on 14 January ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
Sinclair ably turns MacGregor's hoax into a sinister marvel.

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Daniel Dyer
Sinclair writes with brio and with the confidence born of intimate knowledge of his subject. Only when he attempts to display all the myriad and sometimes twisted threads of MacGregor's financial machinations does his prose become an attractive but confusing cat's cradle.

Library Journal
Although the book advertisement suggests that MacGregor was an eccentric rogue as lovable as he was scurrilous, Sinclair is not very successful--to this reviewer, at least--in making MacGregor and his land scam very lovable. Perhaps more useful is Sinclair's well-researched and clearly presented mini-portrait of the economic and social conditions of Britain in the 1820s and 1830s-conditions that made hoaxes such as MacGregor's imaginary Poyais seem attractive and persuasive.

Publishers Weekly
....the outrageous and tragic story of Poyais, a South American nation that, as the subtitle indicates, never actually existed....While the book suffers from a cumbersome foreword... Sinclair provides a fascinating glimpse into 19th-century conquest, warfare and utopian ideals.

Kirkus Reviews
The bizarre tale of a Central American land swindle that rivals for implausibility those country song lyrics about ocean-front property in Arizona. ....Sinclair does a masterful job explaining the intricacies of the swindle, though the absence of maps is regrettable. A top-notch survey of the vast dimensions of human greed.

Booklist
Starred Review. It's a yarn so remarkable that many wouldn't swallow it as fiction. Yet one devours Sinclair's limpid prose to find out whether and when MacGregor got his comeuppance...Hollywood couldn't create a more reprehensible, or more effective, scoundrel.

Reader Reviews

Graeme Foster

The Innocence of the Regency Period.
'The Land That Never Was', David Sinclair's astonishing account of the career of Gregor MacGregor, possibly the greatest swindler of his day, makes one incredulous at the credulity of those of another age. MacGregor was successful in convincing ...   Read More

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