Darien exhibition opens in Panama
Press release issued: 26 August 2005
A major exhibition of documents and artefacts relating to the Darien scheme, Scotland's failed attempt to establish a colony in the New World three hundred years ago, has opened in the Panama Canal Museum in Panama City.
The artefacts were excavated on the site of the colony by Dr Mark Horton, Head of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University, during the making of a BBC documentary on the attempt to plant a Scottish colony on the Isthmus of Panama in 1698.
These artefacts have been brought together with three recently discovered letters in the National Archives of Scotland, written by one of the planters, George Douglas, which were posted home to Scotland.
The Darien scheme was an attempt by an independent Scotland to create a trading entrepot in south America and so capture the commerce from the East Indies. It was largely promoted by William Paterson, who had earlier founded the Bank of the England, and who spent part of his early life in Bristol where he may have learnt about Darien from merchants and privateers. The failure of the colony in 1700, and the deaths of an estimated 2,500 of the original 4,000 settlers, created huge dismay in Scotland and was a significant factor behind the Act of Union in 1707.
Dr Horton first undertook excavations at the site of the colony in 1979, but was able to return in 2004 with the BBC to make the award winning documentary 'Darien, Disaster in Paradise'. The archaeological researchers have thrown new light on the reasons behind the colony's failure, and the plight of the colonists.
Dr Horton said: "The opportunity to bring together the real artefacts - the pipes, the bottles, the shoe buckles - abandoned by the colonists, with the very letters that they sent home, is like touching history. The jungle where they planted their settlement is one of the wettest and hottest places on earth, and it amazing that so much survives today."
The exhibition, which was opened by the First Lady of Panama, Vivian Torryjos, wife of President Torrijos, has been organised by the British Embassy in Panama and the Panama Canal Museum, and will be open until December.