ON the 11th of April, 1705, the commander of the English trading ship, the Worcester, with two of his crew, were hanged in chains on the sands of Leith, having been convicted by the Scottish Court of Admiralty of piracy and murder. It was a general impression at the time, that their lives were not forfeited to the due administration of justice and the punishment of crime, but that their trial and execution were virtually a retaliation for national injuries, and a flinging of defiance in the face of England. The event thus opened to view so dismal a gulf of national animosity and unscrupulous hatred, that it thoroughly alarmed the friends of peace and progress, and urged them to hurry on and complete with all practical rapidity that legislative union of the two nations which seemed to be the only protection from a deadly war, wherein wealth power and pride on the one side, would be met by courage endurance and unquenchable hatred on the other. It may seem strange that occurrences, in themselves full of incident, and immediately productive of an event, so important in European history as that which, by mutual consent and equal distribution of privileges, made two powerful nations become one, and extinguished the divisions and jealousies incompatible with the existence of a great British empire, should be hitherto so partially and inaccurately known, and should remain to be fully explained in the middle of the nineteenth century. It is not difficult, however, to find the reason of this. After the tragedy was accomplished, no party felt an interest in too minutely examining the affair of Captain Green. Those who were successful in pursuing him to the scaffold could not very decently exult in their triumph, and were not anxious to proclaim, if they could even comfortably pass under self-examination, the motives on which they had acted. The friends of peace and the promoters of the union at the same time desired to bury the past in oblivion. Thus there was a general disposition to “hush up,” as it is termed, this untoward affair; and for long years afterwards it would have been difficult to say what prejudices and animosities a recurrence to it might have aroused. The time has now, however, long arrived when its details may be laid bare without much danger that the inquirer will be misled by national or party prejudices, and with still less danger that he can arouse any latent antipathies in the reader.
Although the fate of Green and his fellow-victims was produced by a national movement – one of those movements in which mercy and justice to individuals are too often trodden under the footsteps of an excited multitude – the event was immediately connected, as its operative cause, with the ruin of that celebrated Darien project, from which Scotland expected so much success, and reaped so much calamity. As the same resources which enable the present writer to let out long buried light on the immediate affair of Captain Green also bear on the events that led to it, there would be much temptation on this occasion to offer an elucidation of them, even if they had less connexion than they have with the trial and execution, which join into the history of the Darien scheme like the last act of a tragedy.1
Soon after the establishment of the revolution settlement, the ardent feelings of the Scottish people were turned out of their old channels of religious controversy and war in the direction of commercial enterprise. When the crimes and conflicts of Queen Mary’s day – the plots that made her son’s reign precarious – the great conflicts of the Commonwealth, the persecutions of the Restoration, and the reaction of the revolution were all over – the vessel of the state, after having been so long tossed and strained, felt itself suddenly in the calm waters of tranquillity and security. Now, if ever, was the time to turn the national energies to those arts of peace, on which the impoverished Scots could not help seeing that the wealth and power of England were based. Nothing but a guiding mind was necessary to concentrate the national ardour, and bear it on upon one great object, and such a mind appeared at the time in that of William Paterson.
A singular mystery hangs over the early history of this man. In the old statistical account of Scotland he is claimed as a native of the parish of Tinwald, in Dumfriesshire; but there is no visible authority for the statement, and no means of knowing that he was a native of Scotland, but the ardent patriotism sometimes apparent in his writings. His conduct in after life showed that he was familiar with distant countries inhabited by savages, and had sailed in unknown seas: but on the capacity in which he had adventured himself among them the assertions of his contemporaries, were so conflicting, that some said he was a zealous Christian missionary; others, that he was a daring pirate, who had returned with the earnings of many frightful iniquities. We find one of the many phamphleteers of the period speaking of him thus:
“William Paterson came from Scotland in his younger years, with a pack on his back, whereof the print may be seen if he be alive. Having travelled this country some years, he seated himself under the wing of a warm widow near Oxford, where, finding that preaching was an easier trade than his own, soon found himself gifted with an Anadabs spirit. Prophets being generally despised at home, he went on the propaganda side account to the West Indies, and was one of those who settled the island of Providence a second time. But meeting some hardships and ill-luck there – to wit, a governor being imposed on them by the King of England, which his conscience could not admit of – the property of their constitutions was altered, and they could no longer be a free port or sanctuary for buccaneers, pirates, and such vermin who had most need to be reclaimed unto the Church. This disappointment obliged Praedicant Paterson to shake the dust from off his shoes, and leave that island under his anathema. He returned to Europe some twelve years ago with his head full of projects, having all the achievements of Sir Henry Morgan, Batt, Sharp, and the buccaneers in his budget. He endeavoured to make a market of his ware in Holland and Hamburg, but without any success. He went afterwards to Berlin, opened his pack there, and had almost caught the Elector of Brandenburg in the noose, but that miscarried too. He likewise imparted the same project to Mr. Secretary Blathwait, but still with the same success.
“Meeting thus with so many discouragements in these several countries, he let his project sleep for some years, and pitched his tent at London, where matter is never wanting to exercise plodding heads. His former wife being at rest, as well as his project, he wanted a help that was meet for him, and not being very nice, went no further than the red-faced coffee woman – a widow in Birchin-lane – whom he afterwards carried to the Isthmus of Darien; and at her first landing thrust her about seven foot under ground, to make the possession de facto of New Caledonia more authentic.”2
Whatever his early life may have been, it was, at all events, apparent that he was a man of correct walk and conversation in his mature years. He gave expression to many noble sentiments, and appeared to be ever under the influence of serious, religious convictions. “Above all things,” he says in one of his letters of private counsel, “endeavour to cultivate the reverence and respect for God and his religion; for in this there is great gain, not only in eternity, but in time.” And his correspondence is full of similar allusions. He had an intellect singularly fertile in projects. He usually is called the founder of the Bank of England. It would be more correct to call him the projector. That he first laid out the design of that great corporation is admitted by all who have written on its history; but his name was not practically associated with it as a director. It has been usual to say that Paterson was heartlessly and ungratefully superseded by the plodding capitalists, for whose slower wits he had designed a fabric of solid fortune; but his connexion with the Darien scheme showed that his capacity lay far more in projecting than in executing, and it is quite possible that his name was unknown in the history of the direction of the bank, simply because his colleagues found it necessary to prevent him from practically obstructing the project he had so ingeniously designed.
In carrying out a new project with which his fertile brain was teeming, Paterson expected, not without reason, to find warmer friends and coadjutors in his own countrymen, and he succeeded at once in securing the resolute championship of Lord Belhaven and Fletcher of Saltoun – two impetuous patriots, who signalised themselves by the tenacious jealousy with which they strove to keep their country free from the influence of England. Their first step was to obtain an act of the parliament of Scotland, incorporating the subscribers as “The Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies.” It was passed in 1695. The act appointed half the shares to be held in Scotland, and by Scotsmen; the other half were open to investment by foreigners, including Englishmen. It was evidently the object of the projectors thus to feed their patriotic project with English capital, – an attempt which led the way to all their subsequent calamities. They immediately opened subscription-books in London, where they held their meetings, and conducted all their central operations. Those who were jealous of the great English trading monopolists – the East India, the Turkey, and the African companies – seized on the opportunity with avidity, and rapidly subscribed the 300,000l. of stock, being the half in which foreigners were allowed to invest. But the great companies became in their turn alarmed and angry. In those days trade jealousies were carried out to an exterminating extent, and there was no cruelty or hardship, slavery included, which men did not consider themselves justified in perpetrating “for the promotion of national trade.” Parliament readily entered on the matter, and the House of Commons appointed a committee “to examine what methods were taken for obtaining the act of parliament passed in Scotland for the company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies; and who were the subscribers thereunto; and who were the advisers thereof.” Many of the English shareholders were examined and thoroughly frightened; for to displease the House of Commons, then fresh in its revolutionary triumph, was to incur a serious calamity. Many excuses were sought for what it was in vain to justify; and one citizen, named Glover, “confessed that he had subscribed to the Scotch East India Company upon this reason, that he thought it better that an Englishman should have the benefit of it than a foreigner.” The committee seized on the minutes and account-books of the company. They brought up their report on the 21st January, 1696, and the house, in great excitement, proceeded to pass angry resolutions. Among these, it was “resolved that the directors of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies under colour of a Scotch act of parliament, styling themselves a company, and acting as such, raising monies in this kingdom for carrying on the said company, are guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour.” They voted the like resolution as to the taking the oath of office, and then followed a string of resolutions to this effect:
“Resolved – That the Lord Belhaven be impeached of the said high crimes and misdemeanours,” and so as to the other directors successively, including Paterson.3
They evaded any subsequent proceedings by retiring to Scotland, where, smarting with the bitterest sense of injury, they proclaimed to their susceptible countrymen the insult offered in their persons to the proceedings of the independent parliament of Scotland, whose solemn statute had been judged and condemned by the commons of England. The English subscribers, with one exception, withdrew, by declining to pay up their first instalments. The directors in Scotland treated this as a mere matter of form, and made an entry on their minutes, “finding that (excepting William Paterson, James Smyth, James Campbell, Daniel Lodge, and Joseph Cohen d’Azevedo, for the sum of 15,000l. sterling, being 3000l. sterling to each) the several persons, subscribers of the sum of 300,000l. sterling to the joint stock of this company at London, have not paid in the first fourth part of their respective subscriptions. Therefore the said court of directors have accordingly vested in themselves, for the use of the said company, the remaining sum of 285,000l. sterling of the subscriptions aforesaid.”
Now had come the time for the directors to rouse the national feeling of Scotland – and they did it with effect. The 21st of January was the date of the proceedings of the English parliament. The subscription-books were opened at Edinburgh on the 26th of February. The chief old nobility of the north, as was beseeming in that age, took the lead. The first entry stands:
“We, Anne Dutches of Hamilton and Chastlerault, do subscribe for three thousand pounds stirling.” And then follow the Countess of Rothes, the Earl of Hadington, the Earl of Hopeton, &c.
On the first day the amount subscribed was 50,400l. The capital of the company was limited to 400,000l., and before the end of March the half of it was subscribed. The books were announced to be closed on the 3rd of August, and on the 1st the whole capital was subscribed. Though the railway bills in Scotland for one year – 1846 – authorised the raising of upwards of sixteen millions, yet, so extreme was the poverty of the country before the union, that the engaging for a fortieth part of the amount was considered a greater marvel. Many were the devices adopted and the sacrifices made by those who were most resolute to partake in the scheme. Old family estates were sold or mortgaged, unwilling debtors were pushed for payment, and small driblets of money were collected into one focus. An examination of the books shows that, with every effort that could be made, the amount had slightly exceeded the capacity of the country. Two of the heaviest adventurers appear in the subscription-book to have come forward for second subscriptions of 1000l. each, which they held for the company “to complete the quota of 400,000l. stock.”
While the Scots were urged on by a mixed feeling of enthusiastic patriotism and speculative ambition, they encountered the wrath and ridicule of their haughty neighbours of England. Abundant were the pasquinades heaped on the beggarly rivals of English enterprise. An extract from one effusion, called “Caledonia, or the Pedlar turned Merchant – a Tragi-Comedy,” may suffice as an indication of their spirit:
“Her neighbours she saw, and cursed them and their gains,
Had gold as they ventured in search on’t;
And why should not she, who had guts in her brains,
From a pedlar turn likewise a merchant?
“Such a number of scrawls, and poot-hooks, and marks,
No parish beside this could boast;
As the knights of the thistle, fine blew-ribband sparks,
Set their hands with the knights of the post.
“The nobles, for want of the ready, made o’er
Their estates to promote the design,
And in quality capitals owned they were poor,
And perfectly strangers to coin.
“The clergy (mistake me not), those who could read,
Sold their Calvin, and Baxter, and Knox;
And turning the whites of their eyes to succeed,
Blessed the pieces, and paid for large stocks.”
To the question, what was to be done with the money thus collected? the answer might be given in the brief expression – Everything. The company were to trade in all kinds of commodities to all parts of the world. They were to be ship-owners, agriculturists, and manufacturers. The minute-books show, in rich confusion, engagements for the purchase or making of serges, swords, pistols, stockings, shoes, nails, combs, buttons, knives, barrels of ale, hides, horn-spoons, and hunting-knives. They begun to build warerooms beyond the city wall of Edinburgh, and close by the Bristo Port. Conducting all their operations on a grand and liberal scale, their edifices were erected in the style of the French palaces. A fragment of one of them, noticeable for its commanding and symmetrical design, still exists, and, alas! too characteristically serves the purpose of a pauper lunatic asylum for the city of Edinburgh. The company were to be the general underwriters and bankers for Scotland. While the present writer was examining their books, a hard, metallic substance dropped out of one of them, and rung upon the floor; it was the copper plate on which the blank for their banknotes was engraved. A check-book showed that they had issued them to the extent of several thousands of pounds.
But the grand project of the company, and that in which it suffered so disastrous a shipwreck, was announced in these terms:
“Resolved, that a settlement or settlements be made with all convenient speed upon some island, river, or place in Africa or the Indies, or both, for establishing and promoting the trade and navigation of this company.”
Here we find abundant traces of the restless organising spirit of Paterson. The committee of foreign trade have repeated entries in their minutes about “several manuscript books, journals, reckonings, exact eliminated maps, and other papers of discovery in Africa and the East and West Indies, produced by Mr. Paterson,” and “upon hearing and examining several designs and schemes of trade and discovery by him proposed,” it was resolved, “that some particular discoveries of the greatest moment to the designs of this company ought to be committed to writing and sealed by Mr. Paterson, and not opened but by special order of the court of directors, and that only when the affairs of the company shall of necessity require the same.”
It was not wonderful that a mysterious grandeur surrounded the secret suggestions of the schemer, and that a whisper went abroad that Scotland was about with ease to achieve one of the greatest commercial triumphs since the discovery of the New World. The project still charms us by its greatness, and notwithstanding its failure at that time, its practical wisdom is attested by the fact that Britain and the United States are now occupied in carrying it out. The plan was to take possession of the Isthmus of Darien or Panama, establish free ports on either coast, and be the channel of all the commerce between the cast and the west of the Old World, and the two seaboards of the New. Two paragraphs selected from the many documents written by Paterson, will serve to show the vastness of his views, and the persuasive power with which he expressed them:
“The time and expense of navigation to China, Japan, the Spice Islands, and the far greatest part of the East Indies, will be lessened more than half, and the consumption of European commodities and manufactures will soon be more than doubled. Trade will increase trade, and money will beget money, and the trading world shall need no more to want work for their hands, but will rather want hands for their work. Thus this door of the seas and key of the universe, with anything of a reasonable management, will of course enable its proprietors to give laws to both oceans, and to become arbitrators of the commercial world, without being liable to the fatigues, expenses, and dangers, in contracting the guilt and blood of Alexander and Cæsar. In all our empires that have been anything like universal, the conquerors have been obliged to seek out and court their conquests from afar; but the universal force and influence of this attractive magnet is such as can much more effectually bring empire home to the proprietor’s door.
“But from what hath been said, you may easily perceive that the nature of these discoveries are such as not to be engrossed by any one nation or people with exclusion to others; nor can it be thus attempted without evident hazard and ruin, as we see in the case of Spain and Portugal, who by their prohibiting any other people to trade, or so much as to go to or dwell in the Indies, have not only lost that trade they were not able to maintain, but have depopulated and ruined their countries therewith; so that the Indies have rather conquered Spain and Portugal than they have conquered the Indies. For by their permitting all to go out and none to come in, they have not only lost the people which are gone to these remote and luxuriant regions, but such as remain are become wholly unprofitable and good for nothing. Thus, not unlike the case of the dog in the fable, they have lost their own country, and yet not gotten the Indies. People and their industry are the true riches of a prince or nation; and in respect to them all other things are but imaginary. This was well understood by the people of Rome, who, contrary to the maxims of Sparta and Spain, by general naturalisation, liberty of conscience, and immunity of government, far more effectually and advantageously conquered and kept the world, than ever they did or possibly could have done by the sword.”4
Such were the preliminaries on which a small fleet sailed from Leith Roads on the 26th of July, 1698, under propitious sunshine, and amidst the plaudits of an excited multitude, congregated from all the southern districts of Scotland.
On the 30th of October, a passenger who kept a diary records that they “anchored in a fine bay, about six leagues to the west of the Gulf of Darien. There came two canoes, with several Indians on board. They were very free, and not at all shy. They spoke some few words of English and indifferent Spanish. We gave them victuals and drink, which they used very freely, especially the last. In their cups we endeavoured to pump them, who told us they had expected us these two years; that we were very welcome; and that all the country was at war with the Spaniard. They got drunk and lay on board all night. In the morning, when they went away, they got each an old hat, a few twopenny glasses and knives, with which they seemed extremely pleased.”
In a short time, the most brilliant hopes of the adventurers appeared to be more than realised. The settlers wrote home about the gold dust found on the shore, deposited from the sand taken up in wooden ladles. They mentioned the excellent game and the pleasant hunting parties. One writer not unpoetically described a pleasure party resting at night in hammocks of silk grass: “The night was pleasant and refreshing, and everybody slept as well as if he had been in the best furnished chamber; there was all round a mighty silence, and the pleasant murmuring of the wind in the tops of the trees gently moved us to sleep.”5 He spoke of “that delicious fruit called the pine-apple, shaped something like an artichoke, as big as a man’s head,” which grows wild and ripens abundantly at all times of the year, “and seems to taste of all the delicious fruits together;” and the vegetable marrow, which “has a thousand delights in its taste, and may supply the defects of all sorts of fruits.”6 With such luxurious commodities were mingled many of a more vulgar but not unimportant order – sugar-canes, spices, and dye-woods.
On the 28th of December, 1698, a despatch from the council of the colony stated that its “health, fruitfulness, and good situation,” exceeded their expectations.
“In fruitfulness this country seems not to give place to any in the world; for we have seen several of the fruits, as cocoa-nuts, whereof chocolate is made, bonellos, sugar-canes, maize, oranges, plantains, mango, yams, and several others, all of them of the best of their kind anywhere found.
“Nay, there is hardly a spot of ground here but what may be cultivated; for even upon the very tops and sides of the hills and mountains there is commonly three or four feet deep of rich earth, without so much as a stone to be found therein. Here is good hunting and fowling, and excellent fishing in the bays and creeks of the coast.”7
Paterson gave assurance of that most tempting of all glittering bates – gold – being abundant in the colony. “Besides the mines,” he said, “already discovered and wrought, the gold found in the sands of almost every river near your settlement, and other things observable, do sufficiently demonstrate that there still remain other great and valuable discoveries to be made.” We now, at all events, know that the precious metal is found at no great distance from Darien; and as a colony of the Scottish or any other persevering people settled there must have in time discovered the neighbouring mines of metallic riches, one cannot help feeling that the untimely fate of this enterprise may be said to have changed the history of Europe, by delaying for upwards of a century and a half the development of a source of enterprise, which, if possessed by Britain in William III.’s reign, might have materially affected the character and progress of British colonisation and commerce. The deposits of gold dust in the sand taken up in wooden ladles are entirely in accordance with Californian experience, and one would readily and naturally believe in such a feature, if told of Darien and its neighbourhood, at the present day. Yet so had fate determined to blast all the brilliant visions of these adventurers, like the fiends who turn ill-gotten wealth to heaps of rubbish, that what had been mistaken for gold dust was found – at least so the colonists in their disappointment said – to be nothing more valuable than a glittering micacious schist.
The first calamities suffered by the colonists were from the enmity of the Spaniards. Treaties were made with the neighbouring chiefs – willing, like all savage leaders, to make with any one any kind of agreement that promised immediate profit. But the Spaniards professed to have an indefinite empire in Central America, and it was clear that if they could they would drive out any other nation endeavouring to settle there. They maintained that the settlement was an infringement of the treaty of Ryswick, and it was natural that they should be unable to comprehend that Scotland was a free country with an independent legislation, not bound to fulfil the conditions undertaken for England. The Spanish ambassador presented a formal memorial against the colony at the court of St. James’s; and it is said that he was induced to do so, not by the instructions of his own court, but through English and Dutch trade influence. At the commencement of the year 1699 an engagement, or rather a skirmish, took place between the colonists and a party of Spaniards, in which, according to the Scottish accounts, the enemy were signally beaten. Still a return of two killed and twelve wounded was made, which stung the national feeling with a sense of outrage unavenged. A vessel belonging to the company, having stuck on a rock near Carthagena, was seized by the governor, and the crew were imprisoned. The company sent a messenger with credentials to complain of this outrage; but as the council reported to their constituents at home, “the governor having called a council, and broke open our letters, threw them away, with the act of parliament and letters patent, in a most disdainful manner, calling us rogues and pirates.” In the mean time the crew of the vessel were sent to Spain, where they were formally tried and condemned to death as pirates. They were not executed, the affair of the trial evidently being intended more for diplomatic than judicial purposes, but they were subjected to all the hardships and ignominies of criminals, and the exasperation of their countrymen was fed by the intentional publicity given to proceedings which it was known that the king would not resent. Copies and translations of the judicial documents are among the business papers of the company, and some of them seem to be odd enough. Thus a document professing to be a judgment of a Spanish court, after a preamble, proceeds thus:
“The declaration being perused, we find that we ought to condemn, and do condemn, Captain Robert Paton, B. Spence, John Malach, and James Graham to die: the form how, is reserved to us; and that David Wilson be set at liberty for being under age; and we do confiscate all the goods of the said four persons, and all the merchandise of the ship Dolphin: and to the intent it may be executed so, ‘tis ordered that a copy of this sentence, authenticated, be sent to Carthagena, and that the goods being sold to be at the king’s disposal, &c., and finding by said declaration, &c., to be guilty the Duke of Hamilton, my Lord Pemur [Panmure], the Marquis of Tevathall [Marquis of Tweeddale], and the rest of the persons in Scotland who formed this company without the king’s leave to invade and settle, ‘tis just they should be punished for the preservation and good peace of the two crowns Spain and England; all which ought to be made known to the King of England by the ambassador there, and the ill consequences that may follow to all Europe by such proceedings.”
But the poor colonists had to encounter enemies worse even than the Spaniards. While their fellow-countrymen of Scotland, on hearing of their safe and triumphant arrival, were holding illuminations, ringing bells, and returning thanks in the churches, disease was breaking the spirits and thinning the numbers of the adventurers. The hardy Scots were prepared for danger and conflict – for all that the courage of man could accomplish, and all that a frame braced by the north wind and the storm could meet and resist. But they were not prepared for the insidious miasmas of the tropics – the deep masses of rotting vegetable matter which steam forth poison under the burning sun – for the jungles where
“The deadly vines do weep
Their venemous tears, and nightly steep
The flesh with blistering dew.”
For such an evil they seemed to have been totally and recklessly unprepared. In the depression produced by sickness and misfortune, the colonists now began to ask each other for what they had emigrated? They were, it is true, to be the great channel of the world’s trade, but somehow or other it was not coming their way. In fact, they were isolated from all the world; for not only the Spanish, but even the French, who were contemplating settlement in Central America, counted them interlopers, while their English fellow-subjects, as we shall see, were their worst enemies. No arrangement had been made rapidly to supply them with necessaries from home. The intervening season was one of scarcity and hardship in Scotland, and in the earliest despatches which the settlers received, they were told that they could get nothing from the scanty stores of their own country, but were furnished with letters of credit on the English colonies – letters which were not honoured, for the reasons presently to be mentioned.
The policy and schemes of King William were greatly disturbed by this project. He could not afford to quarrel with the great mercantile interests of England, which, as we have seen, declared deadly hostility to the new adventure, and, indeed, to any attempts on the part of Scotland to compete with them in trade and colonisation. To the address of the House of Commons against the company already mentioned, he made answer, “That he had been ill served in Scotland, but he hoped some remedies might be found to prevent the inconveniences which might arise from the act.”8 The king dismissed some of his Scottish ministers, and endeavoured to adjust the official administration of the country to his views, but no minister dared to check the national feeling, or was prepared to purchase the countenance of the king by services which would be branded as the grossest national treachery. Thus the king could not oppose the movement in Scotland, but he was resolved that it should have rather discouragement than assistance elsewhere. The remonstrances of Spain justified his severity, and completed all that was wanting to his determination to baffle the project, and undermine the company. He would not have permitted any interest, which he viewed even with partiality, to interfere with his European policy. His great aim was to destroy the continental preponderance of France, and he would not at that time have permitted the most cherished national interests of Scotland to involve him in a dispute with Spain. He therefore unhesitatingly abandoned the projectors to the mercy of that power, and allowed it to be understood that the Scottish act of parliament and letters patent were mere waste paper. But not content with thus abandoning them, he instructed the governors of the colonies in the Atlantic, through the English secretary of state, to issue proclamations against them. The form of proclamation adopted was: “I do strictly charge and require all and every his majesty’s subjects that upon no pretence whatever they hold any correspondence with the Scots aforesaid, or give them any assistance with arms, ammunition, provision, or anything whatsoever, either by themselves, or any other for them; nor assist them with any of their shipping, or of the English nations, upon pain of his majesty’s displeasure, and suffering the severest punishment.”
In these circumstances, the failure to supply the colonists with provisions was equivalent to leaving them to starvation, since the English colonies dared not if they would supply them according to the credit sent out from Scotland. After having remained for seven months, every day seeing their numbers decrease, the abject remnant took to their ships as the last resort. A fellow-countryman, who saw some of them seeking refuge in New York, observed that the necessity which had driven them forth could easily be inferred, “for famine and death were discernible in their countenances at the first aspect.” Paterson’s spirit stood out to the last. Even in the death-blow of the proclamations he could see no absolute reason for abandoning the enterprise, and proposed that the colonists should take to the vessels, “and live upon turtling and fishing for some time, till we should see if any news or recruits came from Scotland.” In his official report to his constituents he gave this pathetic account of his difficulties: “Although considering our low and depressed condition for want of supplies, the prohibiting the king’s English subjects from trading, or so much as corresponding with us, was very discouraging, yet the declaring we had broken the peace, and by consequence declaring us pirates before we had been once heard or summoned to answer, so very contrary to the usual proceeding even in case of real piracy, was most of all surprising, and became the general occasion of people’s concluding, that the long silence of our country proceeded from no other cause but that they were browbeaten out of it, and durst not so much as send word to us to shift for ourselves.” When the final departure took place, his spirit, so long unnaturally maintained, broke at once, and in the expressive terms of a bystander, “The grief has broke Mr. Paterson’s heart and brain, and now he’s a child, they may do what they will for him.”
The fugitives embarked, without any distinct intentions, “for the first port Providence might carry them to,” as one who witnessed their departure expressed it. They set sail in three ships, which from sickness and extermination they were unable to manage in any but the finest weather. Of the first of the vessels which reached New York, the company’s correspondent said: “The Caledonia, which weighed anchor first, has thrown overboard one hundred men who died since they left Darien, their whole complement or equal share of men being but three hundred in all. And yet they reckon themselves the healthiest ship of all the three; and, notwithstanding of all this, they have loosed and are loosing men who are dying daily in this place since their arrival.”
It was made a question of difficulty whether, after the king’s proclamations, the unfortunate fugitives could be on any terms supplied with food. It was at once decided that they could not traffic for it: and it was only at last by humanity prevailing over prudence that they were permitted to purchase, on the credit of the company, the food necessary to sustain life. In the West Indies, the proclamations were more sternly interpreted, and one of the vessels landing at Port Royal was seized and condemned as a prize; but this proceeding was not sanctioned by the home government, and the vessel was subsequently released.
So far the history of the Darien expedition appears to be a narrative of pure oppression by a strong country on a weak. Justice, however, requires the investigator, writing after the lapse of a century and a half has buried the sufferings and animosities of persons and nations, to show that the company were not utterly blameless martyrs. They had mistaken their capacity when they tried to compete with the long-practiced traders of England. Their goods were ill-sorted; they did not know how to trade in them; they wanted extravagant profits, and did not readily adopt the merchants’ doctrine of submitting to fate and selling off miscalculated merchandise at what it will bring. Worse still – instead of having the government of their colony firmly attached to a predominant home administration – at least, until it could govern itself – it was embarked with a general license to make a constitution for itself. It might be maintained that there was in this more of necessity than choice; since the king had cast off, instead of cherishing and protecting, the infant colony. This should have rendered it more imperative on those who managed the expedition to have a system of government organised beforehand, which – if it were not enforceable by a central regal authority – might at all events have the sanction of the holders of the purse at home, who should aid the colony with the large funds subscribed to the company, so far as it followed the constitution under which it was despatched, but no further. A very ingenious constitution was framed for the colony, but it was unfortunately framed by the colonists themselves, instead of by those who had sent them out, and thus wanted central controlling authority. Each member of the colony was at liberty to struggle for power and emolument; and the conflict was one in which the unscrupulous appear to have often gained their ends, by the submission of those who thought that any system of rule was better than anarchy. An elective president was appointed. Paterson desired that this officer should at least hold power for a month. But he was among spirits too impatient to submit to even so long an inequality, and the insane arrangement of shifting the president every week was adopted. Selfish as they were, the aims of the leading colonists naturally grouped themselves into partisanship; and among others there were the seamen’s and the landsmen’s parties, each hating and undermining the other. In the midst of their common miseries they could not abstain from treasuring up accusations against each other to perplex and further distress their fellow-sufferers in Scotland.
But an investigation of their private papers gives reason for suspecting that they were not entirely free of the great maritime vice of the age, which simply consisted in those who had a force on the high seas confounding friends and enemies. One of the great causes of alarm to the colonists – one of those things which seem to have so utterly paralysed them – was a rumour, which some of them mention in their private letters, that the harshness of William III. towards them was merely a preparation for their being, so soon as they could be apprehended, tried and hanged as pirates. Now, singular as it may appear, since no such charge against them seems ever to have been made even by their enemies – a charge which one would think the government of William would have followed up with the utmost rigour – there is reason, from their own private papers, to believe that they were not quite clear on this matter, and that conscience made cowards of them. Not that, supposing the inference from what we are going to quote to be even of the most unfavourable kind, it is to be confounded with ordinary robber piracy. In the high seas at that time there were alliances and conflicts, peace and war, without reference to treaties and declarations issued at Paris and London. Each European war lingered and died gradually away in the conflicts of half-privateer, half-pirate vessels, among the keys of the American gulfs, and some European wars had their first commencement in like distant conflicts. The Darien colonists were, perhaps, no nicer than their neighbours; and it was difficult for them to point out their friends – easy enough to find their enemies. French and Spanish vessels they appear to have seized when they could; they considered themselves at war with these nations. But they appear also to have laid hands on an English colonial vessel – a daring act, to say the least of it. Paterson, in his private report, speaks of it as a matter deeply to be regretted, and explains how he himself had been involved in it. A boat’s crew from a Jamaica vessel had been detained on shore, under the plea that a boy belonging to the colony was confined in the vessel. The boy made his appearance, either having been released or never having been kidnapped, but still the boat’s crew were detained. Paterson then proceeds to relate what followed in a manner which leaves much to be inferred:
“Mr. Wilmot stayed till the afternoon; and before he went away I came to Mr. Mackay’s hut, and Mr. Wilmot came also to take his leave. The rest of the councillors were then together, and upon my coming they call me in, and Mr. Mackay presents me a paper to sign, which contained a warrant to Captain Robert Drummond to take boats and go and bring in Captain Mathias his sloop. When I asked what reasons they had for it, Mr. Mackay answered, that they were informed that this sloop was a Spanish sloop, and was fraughted by three Spanish captains now on board her, and bound for Portubell, with I know not what, for a treasure of gold and silver bars; and added, I warrant you will not meddle, for your friend Mr. Wilmot is concerned. This usage did not please me. But, however, I told them if she was a Spanish sloop I was as ready as they; but if belonging to any other nation I would not be concerned. But, however, I signed the warrant to bring in the sloop. When she was brought, instead of a Spanish we found her a Jamaica sloop with two Spanish passengers, and, as I heard, about eighty or one hundred pounds value in pieces of eight, Spanish pistolls, and gold dust. When I found this I must needs say I was very angry, and endeavoured to get the sloop and men discharged next day, as being an English bottom. To this effect I laid the law before Pennicook, and afterwards to Mr. Mackay, who, by this time, had brought the men and money out of the sloop. Upon this I said I would write home on this matter, and then left them. Upon this occasion, God knows, my concern was not upon my own account, or any humour of my own, but the true love of justice and good of the colony; in which concern and spirit I heartily wished that they might not have cause to repent of their inhuman usage of those before any other friendly strangers came to visit them – or to this effect. When I was gone, there was a council called, consisting of Pennicook, Mackay, Montgomery, and Jolly, where, as the secretary told me afterwards, they confirmed the taking of the two Spaniards and the money from on board the Jamaica sloop.”
It is singular that through all the fierce controversy of the day, the admission of a charge making apparently a close approach to piracy, should lie among the private papers of the company unnoticed until the middle of the nineteenth century; but a reason for this has been already suggested. On poor Paterson this affair appears to have pressed along with his other troubles; and he speaks with all the true pathos of simple sincerity about the condition to which personal disease, the misfortunes of his friends, and his own baffled hopes, had conspired to sink him:
“About the 5th of June, I was taken very ill of a fever; but trouble of mind, as I found afterwards, was none of the least causes thereof. By the 9th or 10th of June, all the councillors and most of the officers, with their baggage, were on board the several ships, and I left alone on shore in a weak condition. None visited me except Captain Thomas Drummond, who, with me, still lamented our thoughts of leaving the place, and praying God that we might but hear from our country before we left the coast; but others were in so great haste, that all the guns in the fort, at least those belonging to the St. Andrew, had been left behind but for the care and vigilance of Captain Thomas Drummond.
“In my sickness, besides the general concern of my spirits, I was much troubled by a report spread abroad of Captain Pennicook as designing to run away with the ship, on pretence that we were proclaimed pirrots (pirates), and should be all hanged when we came home – or, at least, the company would never pay the seamen their wages.”
It was in the latter end of the month of June that the shattered remnant of the colony left their forts and huts. The heads of the company at home, who had heard little but exulting news from the expedition, were in the mean time fitting out a reinforcement. The vessels were just about to depart from the west coast of Scotland, when the directors received through private and circuitous sources indirect mutterings, which gradually grew into distinct announcements of some terrible calamity having swept their original colony from the spot on which they were supposed to be lengthening their ropes and strengthening their stakes. But while they were yet unauthenticated, the new expedition were warned not to believe in these idle rumours. The directors thus address them when wavering on departure (22nd September, 1699): “We are advised of a story made and propagate in England, viz., that the Scots have deserted their colony of Caledonia for fear of the Spaniards at Cartagena, an enemy that take much tyme before they be ready to make any attack, and of whom we never heard that our people were afrayd. The story is altogether malicious and false, and is contrived on purpose to discourage people to go to our colony with provisions, &c., since they find their proclamations in the West Indies, and all their other methods against, has not had the designed effect.” But when the rumour was confirmed, and the new expedition had sailed, they had to send after it despatches of a different character, – which yet, in the admission of disaster, bore a tone of high resolution and proud defiance, – instructing them, should the fort be in possession of enemies, immediately to besiege it and attempt its recovery. This second detachment came, however, to a more rapidly fatal termination than the first. The solitude and silence, where they expected to find a busy, prosperous colony, sent an immediate chill to their hearts, with which they were unable to combat. Illness and mortality attacked them; their best vessel was burned, and speedily they resolved to depart from the scene of disaster; all, save eight, who bravely determined to cast their lot with a third detachment, whom they believed to be then in the Atlantic.
This last body was of a thoroughly warlike character, for it was fitted up after the news of Spanish, French, and even English hostility to the project had reached Scotland. The commissions granted to the commanders of the vessels had an evident reference to the probability of hostile encounters with English vessels. They were in these defying terms:
“You are hereby ordered not to suffer, so far as you are able, the said company’s ship under your command to be insulted during the voyage by the ships of war of any nation, nor to search your said ship, nor suffer your men to be pressed on any pretence whatsoever. But by force of arms, if need be, you are to defend your trade and navigation pursuant to the powers and privileges granted to our company by the act of parliament herewith delivered unto you. Nor are you to have regard to any order which the commanders of any ships of war or others may happen to pretend for searching, pressing, or detaining, as aforesaid, unless the same be signed by the king, and countersigned either by the king or his secretary of state for the kingdom of Scotland, – for doing whereof this shall be to you a sufficient warrant.”
This third detachment appears to have started in ignorance of even the first desertion of the colony. They were prepared to see the original settlement flourishing and augmented. What they found may be told in the words of one of their chaplains:
“Upon our arrival in this new world we met with a sorrowful and crushing-like dispensation, for, expecting here to meet with our friends and countrymen, we found nothing but a waste, howling wilderness – the colony deserted and gone – their huts all burned – their fort most part ruined – the ground which they had cleared adjoining to the fort all overgrown with shrubs and weeds. We looked for peace, but we found war; and for a time of health and comfort, but behold trouble. Our arrival at this place was much like David’s coming with his little army to Ziklag of old, where, expecting to meet with their friends and relations in peace, they found the town burnt and laid waste, their relations all gone they knew not whither, so that the people lift up their voice and wept sore. Our disappointment was like theirs in Job vi., 19, 20: “The troops of Tema looked, the companies of Sheba waited for them. They were confounded because they had hoped; they came thither, and were ashamed.” It was, therefore, no wonder that our people were sadly discouraged upon their coming thither, and the rather because they were ill-fitted and furnished to begin a new plantation, and had not materials suitable to such a design, which they expected to find here before them. Our party were not sent forth to settle a colony, but only to be a recruit and supply to a colony which we expected in some measure already settled, and sufficiently furnished with tools and instruments for such a design.”9
The reverend gentleman who thus writes was sent, with others, by the Church of Scotland, to take the spiritual command of the new empire. They received a pretty broad commission “to take charge of the souls of the colony, and to erect a presbytery, with a moderator, clerk, and record of proceedings, to appoint ruling elders, deacons, overseers of the manners of the people, and assistants in the exercise of Church discipline and government, and to hold regular kirk sessions.” According to Sir John Dalrymple, the clergymen endeavoured to stretch their discipline very far. He says – what, however, we have not seen any earlier authority for – that “they exhausted the spirits of the people, by requiring their attendance at sermon four or five hours at a stretch, relieving each other by preaching alternately, but allowing no relief to their hearers. The employment of one of the days set aside for religious exercise, which was a Wednesday, they divided into three parts – thanksgiving, humiliation, and supplication, in which three ministers followed each other. And as the service of the Church of Scotland consists of a lecture with a comment, a sermon, two prayers, three psalms, and a blessing, the work of that day, upon an average of the length of the service of that age, could not take up less than twelve hours, during which space of time the colony was collected, and kept close together in the guard-room, which was used as a church, in a tropical climate, and in a sickly season.”10
These clergymen appear to have been influenced by a very honest and sincere zeal, but, far from being able to make a presbytery with its kirk services, they got no better accommodation than the cabins in which they had sailed; and Mr. Borland almost poetically says, “When the ministers here did meet, it was ordinarily in the dark and silent woods – inter densas umbrosa cacumina sylvas11 – where, I suppose, such guests and exercises never had been before.” The rev. gentleman indeed appears to have seriously lost his temper under the slights and hardships which he endured. The absence of any great predominant power at sea, such as Britain now wields, made almost all the colonists and distant traders of that day lax, rough-handed, and unscrupulous. Yet let us hope that the rev. gentleman’s account of his fellow-colonists must be at least as great an exaggeration as Sir John Dalrymple’s accusation of clerical domination. “The source,” he says, “and fountain, and cause of all our miseries, we brought from our own country with us, arising from the inconsiderate choice that was made there of the worst of men to go along with us, that ever were sent to command or serve in a colony, which, in the judgment of God, our land hath spewed forth as its scum; and no spot on God’s earth can retain or receive, but as a burthen to it.” And he and his brethren, reporting to their constituents in Scotland, summed up the iniquities of the spot in these forcible words: “There have abounded, and do still remain among us, such abominations as the rudest heathens, from the light of nature, do abhor; such as atheistical swearing and cursing, brutish drunkenness, detestable lying and prevaricating, obscene and filthy talking, mocking of godliness; yea, and among too many of the meaner sort, base thieving and pilfering, besides Sabbath-breaking, contempt of all Gospel ordinances, &c., which are stumbling to the very Indians, opprobrious to the Christian name, and reproachful to the Church and nation to which we belong.”12
It would be uncandid to represent this as an unsupported condemnation by the clerical ministers of the colony. Four of the council, reporting to the directors at home, complain of some of their servants who have “proven knaves;” and this prompts them to say: “We are vexed beyond measure with hearing, judging, and punishing them and other rascals, of which kind there was never so great a collection among so few men.” But, in truth, they were all disappointed and desperate – they had gone where all example was that of the buccaneer and pirate; their own country’s government could not protect them – the hands of all others were against them. They were driven into ruffianism; and an attempt made by some of the sailors to seize one of the vessels and make off with it, was but a natural result of the chaotic and helpless condition of this poor colony from the beginning. Everything was again involved in miserable and palpable mismanagement. “Whereas,” says one of the reports, “there were ample accounts given of the natives being at war with the Spaniards, and that they were our fast friends, we find two of their captains, viz., Pedro and Augustine, with silver-headed staves as Spanish captains, willing, notwithstanding, to go with us and plunder the Spaniards, as, no doubt, they would do us, if the Spaniards would help them.” And, in another report, with many complaints of embezzlements and dishonesties, they thus speak of their commercial position with a kind of ludicrous helplessness: “We cannot conceive for what end so much thin grey paper and so many little blue bonnets were sent here, being utterly useless, and not worth their room in a ship. It cannot be unknown to your honours that we have not 50l. sterling of vendible goods belonging to the company, and therefore our relief – if we get any – must come from Scotland, either in provisions, or credit which can be effectual, ere we starve for want.” The directors at home, however, still talked big; and there is something sadly ridiculous in the antithetic tone of the communications which crossed each other, and now lie side by side in the old press. “Amongst many others,” the directors say, “there was one particular error which the old council was guilty of, namely, their coming away in the manner they did, without ever calling a parliament or a general meeting of the colony, or consulting their inclinations in the least: but commanding them to a blind and implicit obedience, which is more than they can ever be able to answer for. Wherefore we desire you would constitute a parliament, whose advice you are to take in important matters; and, in the mean time, you are to acquaint the officers and planters with the constitutions, and with the few additional ones sent by Mr. Mackay; and that all and every person in the colony may know their duty, advantages, and privileges; and to the end that God may give you a blessing to all your endeavours, we earnestly press and recommend it to you, that you study all reasonable measures to discountenance and suppress all manner of riots and immoralities; but especially that you encourage virtue and discourage vice, by the example of your own lives; and give all the necessary assistance to your ministers, in establishing discipline and good order among your people.”
Alas, poor fellows, instead of offering an example in their own lives on this high scale, they were but seeking to preserve their lives; and while their constituents talked largely of a parliament, they were thinking where they would get food. Yet one gleam of heroic sunshine flashed over the dreary struggle of this third body of emigrants. An experienced and daring soldier, Campbell of Finab, was sent over as their military leader. He brought them in contact with the Spaniards; and, discouraged and broken as they were, they fought with the old fierce determination of their race, and were victorious. Through some almost accidental means, an account of this affair reached Scotland separately from the disastrous history which followed it; and none of the great British victories of the last European war excited so hearty a fit of national rejoicing as this minute skirmish called forth throughout the nation. Arnot, the local historian of Edinburgh, says that, “Upon the news being received of the defeat of the Spaniards, a mob arose, obliged the inhabitants to illuminate their windows, committed outrages upon the houses of those who did not honour them by compliance, secured the avenues to the city, and proceeded to the tolbooth, the doors of which they burnt, and set at liberty two printers, who had been confined for printing pamphlets reflecting on the government.”13
But this gleam of success was brief indeed. A Spanish force, so powerful as to render resistance preposterous, invested the colony by sea and land, and, with resignation to their fate, the haughty Scots had to capitulate.
It was the fate of the company ever to make efforts at the wrong time. When the capitulation was signed, a reinforcing expedition – the fourth in number – was on its way out, full of hope and ambition. One of those who had gone with the first expedition accompanied this as supercargo. He preserved a diary of the voyage, in which, after some ordinary perils and uncertainties, we find him thus describing his arrival at his place of destination:
“We made Golden Island of a truth, and all its marks were known plainly to me. We then sent away our boat, and I wrote two letters along with it; one to the council of the colony, showing them where we were, and from whence, and desiring a pilot to conduct us in. I wrote another to Captain Andrew Stewart, the Earl of Galloway’s brother. By the time we judged our men had got in we heard two cannon from the fort. We fired one, and they another, as we supposed in return. We then no longer doubted but our countrymen were there, and so set out our boat to tow us in, for it had been calm some more than an hour before; otherwise I am persuaded we had gone in, and the Lord knows what might have been the event. * * * But before we could come near the black rock, or in sight of the garrison, we saw our boat returning, yet dreaded nothing of the fatal news they brought us. On the contrary, we were big with the fancy of seeing our countrymen in general in quiet possession of the place, and especially some of us were full of the expectation of seeing our dear friends, comrades, and acquaintances. In short, there was nothing but a general mirth and jollity amongst us. But, alas, it was soon damped when our boat came aboard, giving us the lamentable and dismal account of the Spanish ensigns on our fort, with that nation in possession thereof; and that the guns we had imagined fired by our countrymen in token of gladness at our arrival, were, by the Spaniards, shot at our boat when she was making her escape from them, after having discovered who they were, both by their ensigns and speech, having answered them in Spanish to what they demanded of them. When our men rowed close to their fort, not doubting but they were our friends till such time as they came to discover so many different sorts of liveries, as red, blue, grey, and yellow; – then beginning to doubt, considering their ensigns, they lay off upon their oars, and our chief mate, James Knight, asked in English to whom that place belonged, and all that he could understand of their answer was venica fruanna,14 which signifies, “come here, good man.” Then our men began to put off, which they no sooner see but they begun to fire, which were the shots before mentioned.”
The narrator – a certain Captain Patrick Macdowall – determined to approach with a boat and test the accuracy of this information. He saw on his approach the Spanish colours pulled down, but no response was made to his own flag of truce, nor could he extract from them anything to break an obdurate and suspicious silence, under which he rowed back to his vessel, making the following note of what he observed:
“While we lay closest to the fort, I made it my business to observe the posture of things ashore as narrowly as possibly. I observed a great part of the rampart intire towards the look-out, and perfectly our postern gate. I observed several very good houses, and a fort where Mr. Mackay’s house stood. I saw some guns on the point battery; but how many I could not well distinguish. I observed the men in vast numbers and their several liveries. Where their look-out can be I cannot tell, but there is no watchhouse where ours stood.” Such was the last glimpse which the adventurers obtained of their El Dorado – the mart that was to conjoin the trade of the Pacific and Atlantic – the land of delicious fruit and turtles – of spices and gorgeous dyes – of silver and gold.
It is now time to turn to the national storm which was brewing in Scotland. The feeling of indignation against England was almost nationally unanimous. The rich felt it both in their mortified pride and their lost fortunes; and the humbler classes, down to the lowest street-rabble of Glasgow and Edinburgh, joined in the general shout, that the nation had been sacrificed to the greed of the English traders and the ambition of the revolution monarch. Every calamity – whether caused by elemental disturbance or the folly and vacillation of the inexperienced speculators – swelled the tide of wrath; and the Jacobites saw a reactionary force gathering against the revolution too naturally strong to need their aid. It was better that they should merely look on. The records of parliament and the privy council show traces of deep perplexity in those official persons who had sworn to serve the king, yet could not be the true ministers of his wishes without something like national treachery. On the 17th of January, 1701, a long series of resolutions of the Scottish parliament was embodied in an address to the king, in which the proceedings of the company were pronounced lawful and justifiable; the proclamations against them by the governors of English colonies were denounced; and it was declared that the proceedings of the English parliament on the subject were “an undue intermeddling in the affairs of this kingdom, and an invasion upon the sovereignty and independence of our king and parliament.” Some of the more violent spirits wished to add a clause, that the advisers of the proceedings in the English parliament and of the proclamations “have done what in them lay to create jealousies and animosities betwixt the two kingdoms – and, if subjects of this kingdom, are traitors to the king and country – and, when discovered, ought to be prosecute accordingly;” but this clause was withdrawn. A more formidable proposal, that instead of an address to the king, which he might answer as he saw fit, its terms should be embodied in an act of parliament, came to a division, but was lost by 108 to 84. The minority became popular heroes; and a caricaturist so offensively represented the majority, that a state prosecution was attempted; but the jury would not convict him.
In the mean time, the death of the Princess Anne’s last child suggested that act of security, which was afterwards passed to the consternation of English statesmen. It settled the succession of the crown, on the principle that he who was monarch of England should be disqualified by that fact to succeed to the crown of Scotland, until the national grievances were redressed. After the fashion of the English parliament, war was made on pamphleteers obnoxious to the prevailing party. A surgeon named Walter Harris had favoured the king’s side of the question in a pamphlet called “A Defence of the Scots Abdicating Darien.” This the parliament directed to be burned by the common hangman as “a blasphemous, scandalous, and calumnious libel;” and a reward of six thousand pounds in Scots money was offered for his apprehension. The Scottish secretary of state had to issue a proclamation in the king’s name to apprehend and prosecute the man who had vindicated the king; and the printed placard to that effect may yet be seen. In the fierce debates which attended these proceedings, the lord commissioner – the representative of majesty – was sore perplexed, and literally wist not what to do. The minutes of the parliament of the 13th of June, for instance, contain an adjournment by him thus prefaced: “I am troubled with such a cold and hoarseness, that not being able to speak much, nor in a condition to stay any time here, I shall therefore only tell you that, as I was ever firm and faithful to my king, so I was ever zealous for the honour and interest of my country; and at this time I hoped to have done acceptable service to both.”
The Dutch monarch met the storm with his usual imperturbable firmness both of nerve and temper. But there were feelings and principles actuating the Scottish nation which could not but meet with respect by one who had fought like him against arbitrary power. The historians of the period have preserved an anecdote about the many addresses from all quarters which were poured in upon the monarch. One was to be presented by an enthusiastic young nobleman, Lord Basil Hamilton. The king refused him access.15 Lord Basil took an opportunity, as the king was leaving the place of audience, to stop him and present the address with some sharp comments. “That young man is too bold,” said William; but then his sympathy with a gallant spirit triumphing, he continued – “if a man can be too bold in the cause of his country.” William, in fact, showed, even in the reserve of his communications to the Scottish privy council and parliament, a real sympathy with the nation and its calamities. He coupled these expressions with some vague desires “to grant what may be needful for the relief and care of the kingdom, and the advancement and welfare of all its concerns.” Doubtless in his busy brain he was endeavouring to reconcile justice to the Scots with the necessary deference to the interested prejudices of the English merchants, and the strength of his game in European politics, when his active life was terminated by a fall from a horse, at an age eight years less than that reached by a British statesman of late times, whose death, occasioned by the same form of accident, was lamented as cutting off many years of valuable existence.
With the accession of Queen Anne came a movement towards a legislative union of the kingdoms. This promised a final settlement of all difficulties, but it was in itself so difficult an object to accomplish, that the events which we are going to narrate, driving the dispute to a more fierce and critical juncture, seem to have been absolutely necessary to the result, which has conferred on Britain so great and lasting a blessing. In 1703 a Jacobite plot was discovered. It raised indignant remarks in the English parliament. These in their turn were treated by the Scottish parliament as an act of national aggression. The Act of Security was brought in and passed, and the supplies were suspended until it should receive the royal assent. This assent was refused through the influence of the English statesmen on the queen. It was repassed by the Scottish parliament, where Fletcher and others began to teach the formidable doctrine that the royal assent was a mere matter of form not necessary to the validity of the acts passed by the Scottish parliament. The act at last (1704) received the royal assent, and thus it was decreed that on the queen’s death the two crowns of Scotland and England should descend to different heirs unless such concessions were made as should satisfy the Scots.
In the mean time, the English trading corporations, actuated by the spirit of commercial jealousy, did some things which justified in its most offensive form the complaint of the Scots, that England would neither permit them to make separate trading alliances, nor to participate in her own colonial commerce.
It was among the projects of the Scottish company to trade with India, where they encountered in rivalship that great corporation which was destined to fill so large a place in the world’s history. India was not yet, however, an English possession, nor was it a country at war with England; so that there were no diplomatic grounds on which an independent state like Scotland, in alliance with England, could be driven out of that trade. The Darien company, however, got a vessel, called the Annandale, fitted up in England for the India trade, employing an English commander and some English sailors. It appears to have been their intention to proceed straight to India, but seeing that this would be a direct infringement of the privileges of the East India Company, the vessel was, in the first place, cleared for Scotland. The Scottish company had the misfortune to quarrel with their commander, Ap Rice, who supplied the English company with information to suit their purposes. While the vessel was in the Downs, she was boarded by custom-house officers, aided by the armed crew of a man-of-war. The vessel was taken possession of, and the cargo, including, according to the statement of the Scots company, certain chests of treasure, seized, and put under guard. The supercargo said, that when he showed the queen’s commission as Queen of Scotland, to the tide surveyor in command of the invaders, “he said that he valued it not a pin. for that he had the English East India Company’s warrant to indemnify him, and that they had a long purse to defend themselves in Westminster Hall.” The Scottish ministers of course interceded for restitution; but this was only one of many instances in that reign, where English law was too strong to be modified by any such diplomatic expediency as might have suggested the propriety of avoiding, at that time, acts calculated to increase the irritation the Scots. After a tedious litigation, in which there were nine counsel employed by the English, and eight by the Scottish company, the ship Annandale and her cargo were forfeited by the Court of Exchequer, under the statutes in favour of the East India Company.
It so chanced that at this juncture, a vessel called the Worcester, attacked by foul weather near the east coast of Scotland, ran into the Frith of Forth, and cast anchor in the harbour of Burnt Island, right opposite to Edinburgh. While mens’ minds were full of the national insult offered to the country in the condemnation of the Annandale, it was whispered that the Worcester belonged to that very East India Company at whose instance the Scottish vessel had been condemned; and, as the rumour grew, people exulted in the retributive providence that had sent that vessel to the very spot where it could be made the instrument of avenging the national wrongs of Scotland. It may be mentioned that the Worcester does not appear to have belonged to the old East India Company, at whose instance the Annandale was condemned, but to have been rather connected with its new rival, called the Two Million Company; but the distinction was one easily obliterated by those who addressed a people burning with patriotic indignation.
It is singular that an event of so much importance in British history as the seizure of this ship – of so much importance, since it was the crisis which rendered the union necessary – should have been so little noticed by historians. It is stated in all the histories of the period that the vessel was seized by the Scottish government; but it has now to be shown how the official staff of the Darien Company performed that service. In a corner of the oaken press containing the books and documents of the company, the writer of this account found a crumpled, unsorted series of letters, seemingly huddled together as useless papers. He was tempted to employ some leisure hours in unfolding them, and was pretty well rewarded, since, along with many documents of little interest, he found among them a series of letters from Mr. Roderick Mackenzie, secretary of the company, containing an account of the manner in which he seized and kept possession of the ship. This story is a little romance in itself, the more active portion of which, at least, had better be told in his own words. Among these documents there is a warrant by the court of directors, authorising Mackenzie to take measures for seizing the vessel by force of arms if need be, “in name, and for the use of, the said Scots company; not only for having, contrary to the rights and privileges of the said Scots company, without their license and authority, imported and clandestinely sold East India goods into this kingdom, but likewise upon account of reprisal, as belonging to the English East India Company.”
In a long letter addressed to the directors, Mr. Mackenzie gives an account of the manner in which he fulfilled his commission. It is dated 2nd September, 1704, but the seizure took place on the 12th of August. The first part of the letter contains many reflections, and some observations on the nature of the duty he had undertaken. All these we may pass over, and come at once to the scene of action:
“The chief and almost only difficulty that remained with me was how, with secrecy and despatch, to get together a sufficient number of such genteel pretty fellows as would, of their own free accord, on a sudden advertisement, be willing to accompany me upon this adventure, and whose dress and behaviour would not render them suspected of any uncommon design in going aboard; nor had I a power to compel any man.
“For this end, the day happening luckily enough to be Saturday (the general holy-day or rather play-day in this place), I stept immediately towards the City Cross, with the most unconcerned air that I could put on, and ask’t such of my acquaintance as I met, and thought fitt for my purpose, whether they would not go and take a Saturday’s dinner somewhere in the countrey, with me and and a friend or two of mine? I made use of the same general topick to all of them, for distinguishing such as were not then engaged about any particular business; and to these only I addressed myself further, with more or less freedom, according as I found their several pulses beat.
“I shall not trouble you with a recital of all the diverting humours that I observed in ingaging such as I thought fitt persons to bear a part in our little adventure; but, in short (without naming of names), some persons to whom I had cautiously enough drop’t my mind, and who had condescended to go along, gave me the slip at Edinburgh, and others did the like after they had gone as far as Leith and Newhaven. Yet, after all, there remained with me still eleven persons, who, tho’ most of them be as good gentlemen and (I must own) much prettier fellows than I pretend to be, yet, through mere commeradship to myself, and love to the design they saw me ingaged in, they not only frankly and freely condescended to bear a share in my fate that day, but likewise, seeing I was the only person directly commissioned by our company, they generously subjected themselves to my conduct and directions, as implicitly as if they had belonged to some disciplined troop under my command; for which cause, and for their subsequent behaviour, I question not but that my constituents will, in due time, enable and impower me, in their names, to make these gentlemen some acknowledgment suitable to the merit of their services.
“My eleven companions and I, having soon concerted measures, and being all of us armed with swords, pocket pistols, and some with bayonets too, three of them and myself and servant only, went first of all aboard, with the very first of the evening tide, in a boat from Leith, taking along with us some wine, brandy, sugar, lime-juice, &c., to pave the way for those that should come after us; four more followed some time thereafter, in a boat from Newhaven; and while I was tongue-pading and entertaining the ship-officers with a hearty bowle in the cabin, my friends got aboard unsuspected; the third boat, with the last four of our friends, made a faint towards the man-of-war that lay then in the road; and calling for the captain (whom they knew to have been ashoar), made some pretence to go aboard out of curiosity, to view the ship; and, in a short time thereafter, came from the man-of-war towards the East India ship. By this time we were all very busy aboard, some drinking and others merchandising, till these who were in the third boat got likewise easily aboard unsuspected. We seemed to be very little acquainted with them, till that the boatswain, happening to complain that they had but little room and small conveniency aboard for entertaining persons of quality, and that several gentlemen were drinking between decks, I took occasion to say that I believed we had taken up too much of their room, and desired him, therefore, cause make ready our boat, that we might give way to others by turns; which the boatswain and other officers would not hear of, but said I was heartily welcome to stay as long as I pleased; I told them, since the incommoding of their friends was occasioned by our possessing the cabin, the least reparation we ought to make was to invite them and their friends to partake of our bowle, especially seing we had more liquor than we could well drink during the short time that we were to stay on board; whereupon, with abundance of thanks, ceremony, and complement, they introduced into our company our own friends under the notion of theirs.
“We projected likewise to ourselves, for the greater security, to have got one of the best ferry-boats of Burntisland well manned, with design to have her lying off at some distance, till we had given some signal from the ship to clap us immediately aboard; and we who had got first aboard, should in the mean time give such diversion, one way or other, to the ship’s crew, as might disable them from firing any great gunns at the boat. But the shortness of time to which I found myself limited, could not possibly admitt of any such formal preparation, so that we who were got aboard, being fairly without suspicion, joined together in manner foresaid; what then remained only to be thought of was to put our design in execution the best way we could, since we were to expect no other help.
“I saw that (small and great) there were about double our number on board, so that before we could attempt anything, it was absolutely necessary to decoy all the officers into the cabin, thereby to render the common sailers headless without command, which at last we got done by lulling all the crew into a full security, with drinking, singing, &c.
“At my first coming on board, I took (as it were) out of curiosity a survey of the ship’s condition, and would needs see what conveniences they had got between decks, in the gun-room and forecastle, &c. Some of my companions were now and then for an amusement stepping out upon deck, and we agreed upon a watchword, when we should plant ourselves thus: two to guard the gun-room door, two on the main-deck, by the forecastle, two on the quarter-deck, and the other five with myself in the cabin. And really were you to be entertained with all the several humours and little pleasant interludes that happened before, at, and after the time of our going on board, till the end of the show (besides their mistaking me, forsooth, for some lord, and their treating me as such, and my taking upon me accordingly), I am persuaded you’d think the whole a most compleat scene of a comedy, acted to the life; and to conclude the story, I may say, the ship was at last taken with a Scot’s song.
“It’s true the carpenter and some others of the crew attempted to give us a pretty rugged chorus, by laying hands on some brass blunderbushes that hung ready charged in the cabin, but they were quickly made to lose their holds, and about nine a clock at night we became absolute masters of both ship and crew, without any bloodshed on either side. We immediately turned most of all the ordinary sailors ashoar, and after securing all the small arms, I sealed the hatches, gun-room, lazaretta, chests, cabinets and other keepings, with our company’s seal, in presence of two of the queen’s waiters, the boatswain, gunner, carpenter, stewart, gunner’s mate, and others of the crew, whom I keep still on board as witnesses to all that has been, or shall be acted, till the event of the cause in debate.
“After having sealed and secured the hatches, and other keeping, as aforesaid, I despatched an express to our court of directors to give them an account of our success, which you may easily believe was very agreeable news to all of them.
“I sent likewise by the same occasion a line to a skipper of my acquaintance in Leith to come aboard the next day, and bring twenty or thirty able trusty sailers along with him, which he did accordingly on Sunday, towards the evening, and upon Monday we weighed anchors, but wanting wind to fill our sails, we towed the ship with oared boats into Bruntisland harbour, where she lies now, without sail or rudder, as secure as a thief in a mill.
“We have likewise landed eight of the ship’s guns, and planted them upon a fort that commands the entry into the harbour, hired a gunner, and a competent number of stout pretty fellows to keep guard there both night and day to prevent our being surprized by any that may have a counter design upon us till we get the ship condemned and unloaded by a judicial sentence; an account of all which proceedings being reported at large to our court of directors, on the twenty-fourth, and to the council general of our company on the twenty-sixth of the last month (where a considerable number of our chief nobility, barons, burgesses, and members of parliament were present), they all, to my great satisfaction, approved the same, nemine contradicente, and a process is now commenced in my name, as our company’s factor, for obtaining a decreet of reprizal before the high court of admirality for condemning the ship Worcester and her cargo, to make good the dammages sustained by our company upon account of the ship Annandale.
“Our lybel is founded likewise on two separate grounds, vizt., their importing and vending East India goods here, without any licence or permission from our company, and their having on board the tipe, or counterfeit of our company’s seal.
“I have been some days ago over at Bruntisland searching the captain’s cabinet, chest, and writing-desk, by the judge admiral’s warrant, with a macer of court, and two publick notaries in company, besides the magistrate of the place, and several other witnesses then present; and by the transient view which I have already had of the captain’s books and papers, and by some very odd expressions dropt now and then from some of the ship’s crew, I have reason to suspect him as guilty of some very unwarrantable practices.
“It is now so late that I cannot enlarge on the particular remarks that I have made on some passages of the papers; but with my first conveniency I shall inform you from time to time of all the material occurrences relating to any part of this whole affair; and the return which I expect from you, is a frequent account of what you hear the English East India Company, and the immediate owners and freighters of this ship, are doing, or shall do upon this occasion.”
Thus was carried out a scheme of great audacity – one such as probably never man proceeded on from the three-legged stool of a joint-stock company’s office. The risk run by Mackenzie and those who aided him was imminent, not only in the unequal contest of his small civic force with a vastly preponderant body of hardy seamen, but in the certain wrath of the English government, and the questionable support of his own. And though the whole narrative has an air of gross treachery, yet, if it be looked upon not as a private transaction, but a national operation, it will bear comparison with the old-established British system of a seizure of foreign vessels as the first announcement of war. The letters sent day by day from Mackenzie to his constituents, show his sense of responsibility and his keen anxiety; but they deal too much with small details to admit of being here quoted at length. His new duties, as commander of a captured vessel, naturally taxed the capacity of the joint-stock secretary; and his earliest desire, “Pray order some of your servants to acquaint my wife where I am,” naturally recals to us the astonishment of the secretary’s wife, on finding that the husband for whom she had been waiting dinner had become a naval commander. “The ship, I believe,” he says to his constituents, “is the foullest in the narrow seas. There is a discreet man – one Skipper Hodge, a pilot, from Frasersburgh, on board. I have his advice quietly; and by both his and Skipper Mills’ joint advice, we design (God willing), to-morrow early, to endeavour to get her into Bruntisland harbour, which they seem doubtful of performing if it be not fair weather, because she will not answer her rudder, her rudder being prodigiously overgrown with oysters, muscles, &c.” Having got over his many difficulties, he next says: “This is to inform your honors further, that (thanks be to God) I am here now well arriv’d, with my masters’ prize, in better condition and much sooner than was expected by any on board except myself. We are got safe within the heads, but can get no further up the harbour (it being exactly nip-tide) till to-morrow or next day. I design to cause carry here sails ashoar to-morrow morning, for the greater security. I know there are little plots hatching against me as to my present charge, but I hope I shall be aware of them. The truth is, I cannot say I have sleept (yea, scarcely slumbered) two hours since Friday night; nor can I allow myself much ease that way till my masters’ prize be as much out of harm’s way as I can reasonably project.
“Here I am stopt by the arrival of Newton Drummond’s son, with your honors’ acceptable line, the contents of which I hope I have, in a great measure, already executed. While I have so weighty a charge in my hands, nothing shall be more acceptable to me than the frequency of orders and letters from, at least, some of your number, for my government and direction in the discharge of my duty.
“I have made use of many hands, which I procured with no small industry and difficulty; having scarce any one hand one whole day on board, but am forced to shift and change the best way I can, most of them at least pretending to be concerned in several ships that are going under Capt. Gordon’s convoy, or bound by charter party on coasting voyages.”
Proceedings were immediately commenced in the High Court of Admiralty, for condemning the vessel as lawful prize by reprisal. The lord chancellor brought the matter under the notice of the Scottish privy council; and there is a minute of that body, of 5th September, finding that the ship, “not being seized by any warrant or authority from the government,” but by the company, “in prosecution of their own proper rights, and of the acts of parliament made and conceived in their favour,” it was not for the council to interfere with the question, as it lay with the Court of Admiralty.16
But in the mean time the position of the captive vessel and her crew began to assume a more dark and mysterious aspect. One of the vessels belonging to the Darien Company, called the Speedy Return, having one of their most conspicuous officers, Captain Drummond, as supercargo, had been missing for three years, and indistinct rumours had reached Scotland of the ship having been taken and the crew murdered by pirates. The crew of the Worcester were men of a suspicious aspect – profligate in their lives and conversation – who occasionally, as Mr. Mackenzie’s narrative has shown, dropped ominous expressions about some deed of darkness. What if an inscrutable Providence had in the strange turn of events delivered the robbers and murderers of their fellow-countrymen into the hands of the avengers? How these surmises began to assume a tangible shape in suspicious eyes, may best be told in some extracts from a few loose papers, seeming to have been intended by Mackenzie as the materials for a minute or journal of his daily proceedings. He records the capture of the vessel on Saturday, the 12th of August; and his attention is first arrested by the gunner, who expressed a fear that the capture was only the prelude to some design upon their lives:
“On Monday thereafter, in the forenoon, about eleven a cloak, the carpenter, Hendry Keigle, and Andrew Robertson, the gunner’s mate, happening to discourse about their wages, Hendry Keigle was very anxious to go ashoar; the other said he would take his hazard; and sticking by the ship till he’d see whether he might expect his wages or not, whereupon Keigle said to him in passion, ‘Damn ye – you never wrought so as to deserve wages out of anything that’s aboard of this ship.’ The other being calmer in his temper, answered, ‘I wrought the work that I was hyred for.’ Upon which the other flew out in a most extravagant passion, and abused Robertson with his tongue to the last degree. Robertson made no return; but after some tymes pausing and walking up and down upon the main deck, crossing his arms, and putting his hands under his armpitts, and hanging down his head, without addressing his discourse to any one in particular, spoke, as near as I can remember, the very words following (after a sigh or two): ‘This is the just judgment of God upon us all for the wickedness that has been committed in our last voage; and I’m afraid it will still pursue us yet further, when that now we are reduced to so small a number aboard, and four or five of us cannot agree amongst ourselves.’
“In a night or two thereafter, when the ship was gott within the heads of Bruntisland harbour, and that they were all drinking a hearty bowl of punch in the main cabin, Mr. Mackenzie happened to discourse about Captain Gordon’s being a scourge to the small French privateers upon our coast, George Hains, being pretty mellow with the punch, opened up his breast, and to the hearing of the boatswain, gunner, carpenter, and gunner’s mate, who were then all in the cabin (as well as several Scots gentlemen), said, flauntingly, thus: ‘Lord God, our sloop, was more terrible upon the coast of Malabar than ever Captain Gordon was, or will be, to the French privateers on the coast of Scotland; for a better sailer than that sloop never caried canvas;’ or words to that effect.
“Mr. Mackenzie finding Hains in that mood, and walking upon the quarter-deck, being a fine moonshine night, asked him whither in their voage outward or inward, they had mett with, or heard anything of, or concerning two Scots ships that went on a trading voage beyond the Cape? Hains asked what should they be? Mr. Mackenzie told him they were two small ships belonging to the Scots company; the one commanded by Captain Drummond, and the other by Captain Steuart. Hains said, ‘Yes – we heard of them, but did no see ‘em.’ Mr. Mackenzie then asked what he had heard of ‘em? Hains answered, ‘It’s no great matter – you need not trouble your head about ‘em, for I believe you won’t see ‘em in haste.’ Why so, George? said Mr. Mackenzie. Hains shifted answering for some tyme, but Mackenzie, repeating the same question again more earnestly, Hains said he had heard they had turned pirrats, which was all the satisfaction he could gett at that tyme, save only, that Hains said he had heard one of ‘em had eight guns, and the other twelve or fourteen, if he remembred right.
“Sometyme thereafter, George Hains falling into acquaintance with Ann Seatoun, to whom he professed a might deal of love, and being willing to ingratiat himself into her favour at any rate – especially when he was overtaken with drink – told her the secrets of his heart to a far greater degree than Mr. Mackenzie, or any other of his company could pump out of him; and it was about that tyme that Mrs. Wilkie and her sone went to Bruntisland, to enquire news about her other son, Andrew Wilkie, who went away surgeon to Captain Drummond’s ship. George Hains – his familiar discourse with Ann Seatoun – happening to take vent so as to come to the ears of Simpson Keigle and Robertson, who were then aboard, they threatened George Hains in such manner, both that night and nixt morning, that he could not be at peace till he gott ashoar again to confer with his mistress. And then it seems he prevailed with her, not only not to discover all that he had formerly told her, but lykways to deny all that she had told to Captain Red, Captain Monro, John Turrin, Kenneth Mackenzie, and others; and lykways what she had further promised to them to have discovered to Mr. Mackenzie, when he should come over the water, he being then at Edinburgh; and so it was, that ever thereafter, both George Hains and Ann Seatoun were as shy in owning anything of the premises, either to Mr. Mackenzie or any of the aforesaid gentlemen, as if no such thing had been ever said, – until that long thereafter, she gave some declaration thereof to the committee of privy council.”
The inquiry appeared to ripen by degrees, and in the middle of the month of December, Sir Francis Scott, the chairman of the company, writes to the secretary, saying that the murder of the Drummonds is publicly talked of in the streets, and that “my lord chancellor called me this afternoon and said now that the matter was in everybody’s talk, he was under some obligation to call the council and acquaint them of the business.” The books of the privy council now show a series of minutes devoted to this subject from the 2nd January onwards. They appointed a committee of their number to inspect the vessel. These statesmen considered it their duty to examine everything and report specifically, as if they had been officers of justice searching the chamber in which a murder had been committed. They caused the whole cargo to be unshipped and unpacked, and seem to have found their real task one of considerable difficulty. Their reports have all the particularity of invoices attenuated by law and state-paper technicalities, and one peruses their dreary details only to carry a confused recollection of casks of pepper and mangoes, bales of reeds and dye-stuffs, and such like ordinary tropical produce. Meantime the usual judicial examinations of the crew and of those who could afford evidence took place, and the privy council issued instructions to the law officers of the crown to institute proceedings against Green and his crew for the crimes of piracy and murder.
On the 5th of March, 1705, the Court of Admiralty sat to adjudicate on the indictment. It was directed against Green himself, Madder, the chief mate, Reynolds, the second mate, and fifteen others. An indictment at that time began with a general description of the crime with which the accused was charged. It then set forth in detail, according to the evidence which the crown expected to adduce, the particular train of circumstances whence it was inferred that such a crime had been so committed. The court decided, often after lengthy pleadings, on the “relevancy” of these specific statements to support the general conclusion; that is to say, decided whether or not, if they were proved, they would justify the general inference, thus performing a large portion of the functions now left to the jury. To the unprofessional reader such a document has the advantage that it furnishes him with a connected abridgment of the evidence, but it makes the trial tedious on the whole, as before the evidence is actually taken there is generally, as we find in the record in this case, a mass of uninteresting written pleadings on the relevancy of the particulars.17
It is now a well-established rule through all civilised jurisprudence, that the first step in criminal procedure is to ascertain that a crime has been committed, and then to find who committed it. This is what lawyers call establishing the corpus delicti. The opposite and dangerous rule is to accuse a person of a crime, and then discover what crime he has committed. This was unfortunately the ruling principle of the trial of Green. It never was clearly established that an act of piracy had been committed as a distinct fact, but by putting certain circumstances together it was inferred that Green was guilty of piracy. The very shape in which the accusation is set forth, shows that the accusers could not point to the specific act of piracy which had been committed. It is thus: “The foresaid captain, and his said crew, belonging to the said vessel, did, upon one or other of the days of the month of February, March, April, or May, in the year 1703, encounter or meet with another ship or vessel manned by its own crew upon the coast of Malabar, near Calecute; and the said vessel bearing a red flag, and having English or Scotch aboard, at least such as spoke the English language; the said Captain Thomas Green and his crew, after some intercommuning with them, did, without any lawful warrant or just cause, attack the said other vessel or ship while expecting no such treatment; and invading her first by their sloop which they had manned with guns and other arms for that purpose, they fell upon the said other vessel in an hostile manner, by shooting of guns and otherwise, and after some time fighting against her they overcame and boarded the said other vessel, and having seized their men they killed them and threw them overboard, and then carried or caused to carry away the goods that were aboard the said other vessel to their said ship the Worcester, and then disposed upon the said ship by selling her ashore on the said coast.” Here was no specification as to the vessel taken, which might enable the accused to prove that it had not been taken; no names of parties murdered, who might be shown still to be alive; no ownership of cargo, which might admit of proof that the owner’s goods had arrived safe. As Green himself is made justly to say in the document published as his dying speech, “We are condemned as pirates and murderers on a coast far distant from this place – is there any of you who wants either a friend whom we have murdered, or whose goods we have taken?”
It did not make this vagueness more justifiable, that, though not stated, a specific crime was indistinctly hinted at, and in a manner calculated to rouse effectively the prejudices of the jury. One of the articles of evidence set forth in the indictment was, that one of the sailors, speaking of a person who had sailed with Captain Drummond, said that he would never more be seen. If there was anything to be inferred from this, it was, that Captain Drummond’s ship was the object of the piracy. The other articles of evidence were chiefly those dubious expressions which Mr. Mackenzie had drunk in with greedy awe, along with a more distinct exclamation made by Haines the steward, “That it is a wonder that since we did not sink at sea, God hath not made the ground to swallow us up for the wickedness that has been committed during the last voyage, on board that old Bitch Bess,” pointing to Captain Green’s ship. It was maintained that the goods in the vessel were not stowed in mercantile fashion, but were in confusion and uncovered, as if they had been violently and hastily brought on board.
Such were the presumptions, which had to be construed with the direct testimony to be shortly noticed, so that, as the indictment expresses it, “they being joined and connected together (as a discovery of such wickedness practised in such remote parts, and so industriously and obstinately endeavoured to be concealed deserves to be), the same in all the points and circumstances thereof – at least, such and so many of them as are relevant, and are offered to be proven by a cumulative probation – do plainly amount to such a plenary evidence as may fully convince all impartial men that the aforesaid Captain Green and his said crew, are all and each of them guilty, art and part of the foresaid crimes of piracy, robbery, and murder.”
We need not cite the tedious written pleadings, which, with their metaphysical niceties, and abundant quotations from the Corpus Juris, and such commentators as Mathaeus, Giurba, Mascardus, and Carpzovius, would startle the practical and technical mind of the Central Criminal Court. We turn to the modicum of direct evidence, which the indictment promises to conjoin with those elements of suspicion, which, of course, standing alone, could never have been offered to a jury as ostensible grounds for a conviction. One witness only, Antonio Ferdinando, the cook’s mate, a negro, could speak to an actual battle. He was not very distinct as to date or other accompaniments, but he said the Worcester had a sloop with her, and that he saw Green and the others man the sloop and attack another vessel with an English crew. He described the conflict in a rather confused manner, as lasting for three days, “and upon the third day, the said ship was boarded by those in the sloop, who, when they came aboard, did take up those of the crew of the said ship from under deck, killed them with hatchets, and threw them overboard.” The prize he described as being afterwards sold on the Malabar coast, where the capture took place, to a certain Coge Commodo, a Portuguese receiver of pirated vessels. Another negro, called Antonio Francisco, was held to confirm this testimony by his statement, that, when chained to the forecastle, he heard firing and saw goods brought on board. The surgeon’s testimony was held to be an important corroboration of that of the negroes. He was on shore for some weeks, when he heard firing at sea in the direction of the Worcester, and was told by Coge Commodo and another, “that the Worcester had gone out and was fighting at sea with another ship.” Next day he went down to the beach, and saw the Worcester riding with another vessel at her stern. He found the boat coming on shore for water, “because they had spilt and staved all their water aboard; and that there had been busking all night, which the witness understood meant that they had been at sore labour and fatigue, as if their ship had been driven from her anchor and bearing up again.” On going on board he saw the deck strewed and lumbered with goods; and expressing his surprise as one who would fain know the reason of this, Madder the mate said fiercely, “Damn you, what have you to do to inquire – meddle with your plaister-box.” Still more material – the surgeon had to heal some wounds, apparently gun-shot, and a jealous reserve was kept when he made any inquiry as to the cause of them. Along with the oral, there was some documentary evidence. The most important was an instruction to correspond in cypher. A fictitious alphabet is supplied to the captain, with this warning: “For the greater security of our affairs, when you write by the alphabet in your instructions, I would have you carry the last letter of each word to be in the room of the first letter of the next word; as, for example, ‘Captain Thomas Bowrey Sir we are all well,’ Captai nthoma sbowre ysi rw ear eal lwell.” “Fair trading,” said Sir David Dalrymple, the counsel for the prosecution, “requires no such affectation.” This gentleman’s address was able and ingenious, not without some appeals to the prevailing popular frenzy, as thus:
“The crime of piracy is complex, and is made up of oppression, robbery, and murder, committed in places far remote and solitary. And, indeed, if God had not, in a most wonderful way, brought the crimes whereof the panels stand accused, to light, they might have escaped unpunished in this world to their own eternal destruction, and to the great loss of such who may be amended or prevented by the example of their punishment. But, although the abuses now complained of happened in the vast ocean, and at no less distance than the East Indies, and that the actors were tied by obvious reason to secrecy on their own account, and were bound by a religious command not to reveal or answer questions – and, besides all these, it is most probable there was a most impious oath interposed, as used to be in such cases, and which has more force to restrain men of such desperate principles and practices than all the ties of religion or nature,” &c.
This last allusion can only be understood by one who is acquainted through the perusal of private letters with the rumours of the day. One of these bore that the whole pirate crew having been bled, a portion of the blood of each was dropped into one vessel, where it was mixed with wine, and then each, taking a piece of bread, dipped it in the horrid mixture, and, by this profane sacrament, swore to keep their common crimes a secret.
The verdict of the jury was returned on the 14th of March, in these terms: “They, by plurality of votes, find that there is one clear witness as to the piracy, robbery, and murder, libelled; and that there are accumulative and concurring presumptions proven for the piracy and robbery so libelled.” And the court interpreting this as a conviction, sentenced the accused to be hanged in three several instalments within flood-mark, on the sands of Leith.
No one accustomed to observe the administration of justice in this country, will now say that the evidence justified a conviction, though it leaves on the reader an impression, sufficiently distinct for the historical conclusion, that the crew of the Worcester had been guilty of some acts of violence, of the kind then so common in the high seas. But in reality the verdict was found by men who were fighting for national independence, and avenging national wrongs, rather than deliberately weighing evidence. It may be hoped that, never in the breast of any one of the majority who convicted these men, did the intention exist of sacrificing innocent men even to the genius of national independence; and the true interpretation of their conduct may be found in the strong prepossessions that unfitted them, and perhaps would, at such a time, have unfitted almost every Scotsman, for the deliberative functions of the juryman.
Soon after the trial, admissions were made by some of the condemned prisoners, which only deepened the difficulty, by feeding the passions of the national party without convincing the unprejudiced. On the 27th of March, after another of the crew had made an indistinct admission, Haines the steward emitted a confession which was formally attested by the judge of the admiralty court. It admitted the crime of piracy, in terms pretty nearly the same as those in which it had been set forth in the indictment, Haines representing himself as having been an unwilling and merely passive accessary. In this confession, he professed his ignorance of the particular ship on which the piracy had been committed, and of the fate of the crew; but three days afterwards he made a supplementary confession or declaration, “that after the ship therein mentioned was seized, he saw the men which were therein killed and murdered with pole-axes and cutlasses, and saw their dead bodies put into the sloop, and thereafter thrown overboard. And to the best of the declarant’s knowledge, the said men so killed were Scotsmen, the declarant having heard them speak in the Scots’ language. And further declares, that the said ship then seized was understood by the crew of the Worcester to have been Captain Drummond, his ship – and particularly he heard Captain Madder, John Bruckley, and the deceased Edward Cary say so. And further adds, that he would have admitted what is above before this time, but was afraid, lest his mentioning the ship so seized to belong to Captain Drummond, and the men aboard the same to have been murdered, might have rendered the government offended, and obliged them to deal hardly with the declarant.” Immediately afterwards, on the 31st of March, John Bruckley the cooper also made a confession similar to the first confession of Haines, and two days afterwards added to it, in the same manner that the crew of the captured vessel were killed, and that he understood the ship was Captain Drummond’s. On the appearance of Haines’ confession, affidavits were sent from England, showing that Drummond’s vessel had been attacked, and taken under totally different circumstances by pirates, not near the East Indies, but on the coast of Madagascar, at a time when Drummond himself was on shore – a statement which we shall find obtained a curious confirmation.
This and some other documents, among them an affidavit from one of the crew of the Worcester, who was naturally afraid to go to Scotland and offer his evidence, were totally insufficient to quench the national indignation. He was deemed no true Scotsman who did not thoroughly believe that the series of events from the seizure of the Scottish vessel by the India Company downwards, were the special operations of Providence for delivering the murderers of their countrymen into their hands.
In the mean time, the news of these proceedings, spreading in England, created alarm and indignation. The temper of the times would have made the people doubtful of the guilt of the condemned, even had the evidence been more complete. How the Scottish statesmen who were removed out of the immediate atmosphere of their own nationality felt on the occasion, may be inferred from these expressions used by Secretary Johnstone, the son of the great covenanter Lord Wariston, writing confidentially his first impressions to his friend Baillie of Jerviswood. “This business of Green, &c., is the deil and all. It has spoiled all business. I am told it was two hours in the cabinet. Somers18 says he knows not the laws of Scotland, but that the proceedings are illegal according to all other laws that he knows, for the ship in which the piracy was committed is not libelled, &c. In short, nobody believes it. Nay, in my opinion, faith, too, in this matter must be the gift of God, for I doubt much that it’s in the power of man to convince this nation of it. I was surprised to find people affirm that the evidence was suborned, and that those who confess do it in the dread of torture or upon promise of life. The Whigs19 make a national Jacobitish business of it, and it will be trumped up at all the elections.”20
A rumour may be traced in the correspondence of the period, that the English government would blockade the Scottish coast to cut off communication with France, should it be necessary to use coercive measures towards Scotland. In the minutes of the privy council there is evidence of the effect of this rumour on both sides. On the 12th of March there is an investigation on the “insolence” of Captain Howe, commander of an English man-of-war, who had dared to search vessels in the Scottish waters. He was required to appear before the council and answer for his conduct, but he haughtily refused. A subsequent minute, however, bears testimony to his “being since better informed, and come to a just sense of his mistake;” when he promises caution for the future, and throws the blame, according to established practice, on an inferior officer, who had exceeded his instructions. The submission of this officer was an indication that the English government deemed it wiser to soothe than to threaten. The faintest affront to Scotland would have produced immediate war, with such miserable consequences in the indefinite hostility of two nations on the eve of a cordial union, as must have alarmed conscientious statesmen.
Still it was believed that Scotland was about to put English citizens to death, and it was seen with indignation that the English government did nothing. It was supposed that her majesty would at the last extend to the convicts the beneficent prerogative of pardon; but she required to exercise it through the Scottish privy council, and it was questioned whether they would sanction it, or dared to do so were they inclined. It is worthy of notice that the affidavits which we have mentioned tending to the exculpation of the accused were sent officially by her majesty to the privy council. One of their body mentions that the council refused at first to receive them, as they were not technically authenticated; and then, when the originals came, treated them as irrelevant.21 On the 25th of March a letter was read from the Duke of Argyle, intimating the queen’s desire that the execution should be suspended till her majesty’s pleasure was known; but the council declined to act on it, holding it not to be in the proper form for the exercise of the royal prerogative. In their answer, the council state that they are “most tender of your majesty’s prerogative in matters of this nature.” They state that everything had proceeded according to law and form. They mention the confessions, which they say leave no place for doubt that “the said piracy, robbery, and murder, was committed upon Captain Drummond, and his ship sent out by the African company of this kingdom.” They beg that her majesty may be induced to take no steps in the matter, save as she may be advised by her faithful council in Scotland; and state that they feared the step she had already taken had prevented the other convicts from confessing. They state that they have granted no reprieve except to those who had confessed, and assure her majesty “that this affair appears to us to be of the highest consequence for your majesty’s interest and service, and the necessary satisfaction of all your people.”22
Receiving on the day before that fixed for the execution a peremptory command from her majesty to grant a reprieve until further inquiry, they complied, by changing the day of execution from the 4th to the 11th of April. The council address her majesty at length; they “entreat and obtest” that she will grant no further reprieves or remissions; giving her an account of the confession of Bruckley, and saying “it is the great concern of your majesty’s service, and the earnest expectation of all your people, not otherwise to be satisfied, that the public justice of the nation be allowed to proceed without any further stop.”
On the day before the expiry of the reprieve – the 10th of April – the matter again came before the council, as it was necessary to decide whether the law should have its course, or the queen’s wishes should be carried out by a further postponement of the execution, until the inquiry contemplated by her advisers had been completed. It was a nervous deliberation. The excitement of the people was deep and fierce, and – an ominous phenomenon, always indicative in Scotland of the nation being stirred from its heart, – people flocked to Edinburgh from distant parts of the country, as they did thirty years afterwards to the execution of Porteous. The council, even as its proceedings appear on its own minutes, showed itself incompetent to deal with such a crisis. The queen and England were on one side, and the mob on the other, and it would take no courageous stand. Three voted for a further reprieve – three voted against it. The others who were present would not vote. In this inequality it lay with the chancellor to decide the question by his casting vote. He declined exercising this offensive privilege; since there were others present who might give the votes which rendered it unnecessary, but would not. He said he was in favour of the reprieve, and was prepared to sign it, if those who had not voted would join him; but they would not. Thus nothing was resolved on; but the mere neutrality was fatal, for the previous decision of the council, which appointed the convicts to be executed next day, remained unaltered.
On the 11th, the great central thoroughfare of Edinburgh – the High-street – was filled with a menacing mob – national, rather than local. It was clear to every one who walked abroad that day that there would be violence and slaughter ere night; how much, or in what quarter, were the chief questions. The privy council assembled in their chambers beneath the Parliament House, and the mob swarmed in the space in front and upwards to the ditch of the castle, in which, for better security, the prisoners were kept. It was known that “a flying post” – one of those who had so frequently arrived of late – had come from the court in London, and the mob were excited to the point of outbreak by the belief that it brought a pardon or reprieve to the prisoners. The communication from her majesty alluded calmly and almost sadly to the reasons which had been given for a belief that Drummond and his crew were still alive. It contained some further documents supposed to bear on the point – affidavits as to vessels which had brought the latest news from India, yet did not mention any piracy corresponding to that of which Green had been found guilty, – and the like. The contents of the despatch showed how anxious the queen’s advisers in England were to avert the catastrophe, were it possible. In the end, however, she left the question in the hands of the council, recommending it to their “calmness and consideration.” It was decided that Green himself, Madder the mate, and Simpson the gunner, should be executed; the others were reprieved, and, subsequently, were quietly released.
The mob outside, from whom violence was every moment expected, – who, indeed, had already began to make themselves heard against the outer door of the council chamber, learned with savage joy that three victims were to be executed, and had been despatched to Leith. A detachment of the crowd hurrying in that direction, relieved the anxious councillors. The chancellor thought he might safely go home in his coach. As he entered it he was cheered, but somehow his leaving the council created suspicion in the mob, and they made a rush on his vehicle, from which he narrowly escaped alive, finding refuge in Milne’s-court, a cul-de-sac, where his followers defended him until the crowd, satisfied that the original victims were to be sacrificed, followed their fellows to a more inviting spectacle.
This account of the state of Edinburgh is abundantly supported by the correspondence of the time. Of the execution, as it took place on the sands of Leith, we have never seen any account, save from the most suspicious of sources – the authors of partisan pamphlets still fiercely denouncing the victims. Their wrath was excited by a species of reaction, caused by the circulation of Green’s dying declaration, in which evidently, with the aid of skilful hands – it betrays some Scottish law technicalities – he solemnly, and with great pathos, protested his innocence of the crime for which he suffered. In one of these denunciatory pamphlets it is stated that Green trusted to the last that he would be pardoned, and when he was taken down to execution deemed it a mere matter of form. “When he was upon the ladder,” says the writer, “he turned off the cloth off his face two several times – no doubt in expectation of some reprieve – and after his being half off the ladder he grasped with hand and foot to recover himself back again, till Madder’s stern frown (against which the other was not proof) frightened him at last in a surprising and unwilling compliance with death.” When the tragedy was completed, and, from many points of hilly Edinburgh, the bodies of the victims might be seen swinging on the sands of Leith, the national vengeance was more than satiated, and many of those who had been foremost in the strife were afraid to think what they had done.
There was one Scotsman, at least, a man of sterling patriotism, who viewed the whole proceedings with deep disgust and grief. Duncan Forbes afterwards stated in the British parliament his belief that Green suffered for no other crime than that of being an Englishman, at a period of strong national animosity; and that he had, as a testimony of his feelings, borne the executed convict’s head to the grave. On this occasion he said, that “in a few months after, letters came from the captain, for whose murder, and from the very ship for whose capture the unfortunate person suffered, informing their friends that they were all safe.” We are not aware of any other allusion to such letters, and Forbes merely said that they bore date after the time when the piracy by Green was maintained to have been committed. He did not refer to the subsequent fate of Drummond and his crew, but on this point there is literary evidence of a very curious and romantic character.
In the affidavits already alluded to, it is stated that the vessel, the Speedy Return, of which Captain Stewart was master, and Captain Drummond supercargo, sailed from Britain in May, 1701, and after touching at various places, reached Madagascar. While Drummond and some others were there on shore, a band of pirates were said to have seized the vessel, and conveyed her to Rajapore, where she was burned. If this were true, a piracy had occurred, but it was far distant from the spot where Green was alleged to have seized the vessel. In the year 1729 there was published a curious volume, rivalling Robinson Crusoe in interest, called “Madagascar, or Robert Drury’s Journal during Fifteen Years’ Captivity in that Island.” He states that he was but a youth of fourteen when he was shipwrecked, with the rest of the crew of the ship Degrave, on the coast of Madagascar. There he found “Captain Drummond, a Scotchman,” who, he says, was left ashore on his vessel being taken by pirates, and was accompanied by a Captain Stewart. Drummond appears several times among Drury’s adventures, ever in a resolute, adventurous, and fierce character. He had been induced, it seems, under fallacious hopes, to put himself in the hands of the king of the district, who, under the effect of toake, immediately boasted, as the interpreter told Drummond, that the gods had sent the white man to him, and they should not leave him while he lived. “As soon,” says the narrative, “as Captain Drummond understood this, his colour rose, and looking as sternly as the king, he replied, ‘Let him know that if I could have suspected this beforehand, he should never have seen my face alive; I would have sent some of their black souls to hell. It is not their gods – it is nothing but fortune and chance has put me into his power, and by fortune I may be delivered from him.’ ” Instead of resenting this, “the king, seeing Captain Drummond go away in a passion, to appease him, sent one of his generals with an ox for us to kill, and desired the captain to make himself easy; we should be well provided for; if we could eat an ox every day, we should have it.”
Nor when Drummond, in attempting to escape, shot one of the king’s attendants, did the cunning savage betray wrath. In fact, he had made up his mind to make the gallant Scotsman’s prowess a terror to his enemies; and made a proposal that the white men, whom disasters at sea had thrown on his territories, should enter his service, Drummond taking the command of his armies, and the others being dispersed in different bodies. The white men were allowed to hold a meeting to deliberate on their answer. Then Drummond proposed a project, as original as it was bold; to seize the king, his sons, and his wives, and forming themselves in a body, protected by the presence of their prisoners from attack by missiles, fight their way across the island to Dauphine – the old deserted French settlement – where European vessels sometimes touched. The first part of the project was executed with entire success in the king’s capital, and in the middle of a vast native force. The captors and their captives started on their strange journey, the dusky hordes of native troops hovering, almost paralysed by astonishment, in the rear of the little phalanx, and uttering wild lamentations. For four days, the journey was pursued under intense hardships and difficulties. Then the spirit of many of the white men seems to have been broken; for, contrary to Drummond’s earnest exhortations, they bought relief and aid, with promises of peace, from their pursuers, by releasing their prisoners one by one. The king himself was the last released, under ample assurances that the little band might proceed unmolested. In the night, Drummond disappeared along with Stewart and a person who, in the narrative, was named Bembo. It was not mere selfish flight – they returned immediately with a force from a neighbouring hostile tribe: but it was only to find the mutilated corpses of their comrades, who, all but the boy Drury, were slaughtered. Drummond, however, never left the island. He was for some years a renowned warrior under the chief, in whose territories he found refuge; and a terror to the tribe who had perfidiously slain his weaker brethren. When, fifteen years afterwards, Drury found his way to the other side of the island, he made inquiry about the fugitives of a man named Dove. “By him,” he says, “I understood that Mr. Bembo got to England, but Captain Drummond never got off the island, he being killed, though the particular manner and occasion he could not inform me. But they told me one remarkable piece of news, for the truth of which I must refer my readers to further inquiry. They said that this Captain Drummond was the very same man for whose murder and his crews’, one Captain Green, commander of an East India ship, was hanged in Scotland.”23 If we suppose Drury’s work to be an attempt to pass a fiction as a true narrative, such a series of incidents, connecting Drummond with the spot where two of his crew asserted that he had been left, is precisely what an ingenious forger would dovetail into his scheme. Though the marvellous character of Drury’s narrative, however, did subject it for a time to suspicion, it obtained, on examination, a character for veracity; and it is stated in the “Bibliothèque Universelle des Voyages,” that subsequent inquirers have found his statements of the geography, the natural history, the manners of the people, and the conspicuous men of the time, remarkably accurate. But, besides this general testimony, there remains a minute and curious piece of incidental evidence connecting itself with the person named Bembo. In the “Gentleman’s Magazine” for 1769,24 there is an account of William Benbow, a son of the gallant admiral, whose last conflict had been at once a boast and a scandal to his countrymen, in the gallantry of the commander and the baseness of his officers. The author of that notice regrets that a memoir, written by William Benbow, was accidentally consumed, and proceeds to say: “The most curious and interesting part of it was that in which he gave an account of the crew of the Degrave – East Indiaman – seizing after their shipwreck a black king, his queen, and son in Madagascar, and marching with them over part of the island, and of his escaping from his companion to port Dauphine.” And then, referring to Drury’s work, he says: “Mr. Benbow’s narrative is a strange confirmation of the truth of this journal, with which, so far as it went, it exactly tallied.”
1 It occurred to the present writer a few years ago, when collecting materials for a projected history of Scotland beginning after the revolution, to examine the contents of an old oak chest which had stood in a cellar of the Advocates’ Library; – he could find no means of knowing how long – probably from the period of the union. He was surprised, as well as gratified, by the richness of this store, consisting of the books and documents of the Darien Company and its officers, – many of the most curious of them tied up in dusty bundles, which appeared to have remained untouched since the dissolution of the company. Some of the documents – chiefly bearing on the commercial affairs of the company – were lately printed under the superintendence of the present writer, for the use of the members of the Bannatyne Club. The others, including those relating to the affair of Green, remain still in manuscript. Whenever in the following pages no other authority is indicated, this collection of documents will be understood to supply the material.
2 A Defence of the Scots abdicating Darien (1700), pp. 2-4.
3 Commons’ Journals.
4 Dalrymple’s Memoirs, ii., 118.
5 The History of Caledonia, &c., by a Gentleman lately arrived. 1699. P. 42.
6 P. 47.
7 Quoted, Inquiry into the Causes, &c., p. 104.
8 Parl. Hist., v., 976.
9 The History of Darien, by the Rev. Francis Borland, p. 30.
10 Dalrymple’s Memoirs, ii., 99.
11 Sylvas should be fagos. The quotation is from the Eclogue to Alexis – an odd one for a clergyman to cite.
12 Dalrymple, ii., 100.
13 History of Edinburgh, p. 185.
14 Sic in MS.
15 This part of the anecdote is confirmed by a letter of the king, recorded in the Minutes of the Scottish Privy Council.
16 Minutes of the Scottish privy council, in the General Register House; from which the references to the privy council in these pages are taken, where no intermediate source is notified.
17 See the Trial of Captain Thomas Green and his Crew, in the State Trials, xiv., 1199.
18 The name of Lord Somers is expressed in cypher by the figure 10.
19 Expressed in cypher by the figure 6.
20 Jerviswood Correspondence, printed for the Bannatyne Club, p. 70.
21 Jerviswood Correspondence, p. 75.
22 Minutes of Privy Council (28th March), General Register House.
23 Madagascar, p. 436.
24 P. 171.