Guest post: The Darien Disaster

The Darien expedition to a mosquito-blighted swamp overlooked by forbidding mountains that separated the Pacific and Atlantic coasts was an utter disaster for Scotland.

rusty crown
Photo by Gratis

This a guest post by fellow blogger babbitman, a funny English guy who writes brilliant short stories, among other cool things, on his blog. Check him out, show him some love.

The British Isles, 1690

Wales closed the door quietly behind her and walked across the oak-panelled room to the table where England sat brooding over a map of Europe. He looked up and, although her presence was acknowledged, declined to offer her a seat. It was good for her to know her place as the junior partner in their shared enterprise. He jabbed at the map.

“France has just raided again. Gave our fleet a bloody nose then sacked a port in Devon. And the Gallic swine is now trying to persuade Ireland to join in on his side, all while our Dutch allies are desperate for us to commit against France on the continent. And that’s ignoring the conflicts sparking off in the colonies.”

Wales cocked her head, knowing he hadn’t yet finished. “But there’s something else that’s bothering you?”

England raised his eyes to the ceiling and sighed. “Just that usual nagging worry whenever I’m forced into open warfare with one of our continental neighbours.”

“Ahhh,” said Wales with a smirk, “this is your on-going paranoia about Scotland. You’re worried that he’ll take advantage when your back is turned, raiding and seizing your tidy northern properties.” She noted that her sarcasm was once again lost on him.

“I’m not being paranoid; it has happened many times before. And I have to expend time, effort, money and blood to kick him out again.”

“And rub his nose in the stink of defeat?”

“To try to stop him doing it again. It’s fine for you to come over all moral – he has to go through me before he can ever get to you.”

The talk of war and invasion in response to opportunistic raiding made Wales think uncomfortably of her own thousand year relationship with the adventuring Germanic farmboy that had grown up into a ruthless overlord. She decided to change tack: “But aren’t we all bound by the same crown these days?”

England glanced at her in mock surprise. “We both know that crowns have a nasty habit of inciting as many rebellions as they end; probably more. And we’ve got the additional problem of a rival crown sitting in exile, as France’s guest. If Scotland takes it upon himself to side with the exile and reject the Dutch line…”

“… we’re heading back into war on our own turf,” concluded Wales. She pinched her lips in thought. “Is it likely, though?”

England shrugged. “Who can really tell? But if we make a move against him we risk making our fears a reality. What we need,” he said, fixing his eyes on Wales, “is to bring him closer by his own choice. We may have to make things economically complicated for our friend in the north.”

1695

Scotland was miserable. The harvests were poor and good whisky was getting dearer. Nobody wanted much of anything that Scotland had to offer and the stuff he wanted himself was controlled by England.

“Bastard!” He took another swig of his golden spirit, emptying his glass.

Wales leant over and poured him another shot. “Perhaps you should consider joining us? We all owe allegiance to the same crown. Both you and England have been, ahem, ‘interfering’ with Ireland to similar ends now. We all have so much in common.”

Scotland glared at his Celtic cousin. “Never!” He watched her sit calmly down opposite him, noticing that her clothes were, if not the height of fashion, at least new and probably quite expensive. Her jewellery sparkled in the flickering light of several candles.

“Ah dinnae know hae ye can bear to be aroond the man,” he grumbled. “Ah thought ye hated his guts.”

Wales smiled. “It hasn’t been easy, boyo, not by a long chalk. But you know what they say: ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’, see”.

“Do they? Do they really?” said Scotland with an intensity that Wales felt was a little unnerving. “Ah tend to find that if ye cannae beat ‘em, yer holdin’ yer stick wrong.”

“Looky here sunshine, it’s not a case of me having to tooty down to him all the time or let him have his way, so to speak. But he’s – we’re – going places. This tie up with our Dutch pal could be worth a mint, see. The trade we’re doing is brill-yant.”

“Och, Ah’ve got mah oon plans thank-ye-vurry-much. Ah’m raisin’ capital fur a new venture ooverseas. Yon pal’s not the oonly one wi’ ships.”

Wales leaned in with interest. “Tidy. And where are you going to be off to now?”

***

England stared at Wales in surprise. “Darien? Where the bloody hell’s that?”

“I understand it’s the narrowest part of the New World. A colony there could conceivably control trade across the land between the oceans, see.”

England crossed over to the globe in the corner of the room, spinning it until he found the right location. “But… but that’s Spanish land. Does Scotland think he can just waltz in and set up a colony?”

“I think he’s counting on support from fellow Protestant nations against Catholic Spain.”

“But doesn’t he realise there’s a war on? And Spain is an ally of ours against France. There can be no support…” England stopped. He turned slowly back to face Wales, a twinkle in his eyes and a smile forming on his lips. “How much money is he sinking into this damn fool exercise?”

“Hard to say now, but I’m guessing maybe 20 percent of everything he owns. More than he can afford to lose.”

England’s smile became a grin. “So instead of chasing the simple pickings of the East Indies or Africa, he’s invested heavily into a plan that brings him into possible conflict with Spain on the other side of the Atlantic. Does Spain have anything of significance in the area?”

“Panama City and Porto Bello, as far as I can make out, which are connected to her gold and silver trade. And then there are the natives.”

England walked over to the window and stared out at the grey skies and green fields. “Spain won’t like anyone setting up camp so close to her gold route and we must ensure Scotland receives no assistance – so as not to upset Spain, of course. But if the colony fails and all of the investment is lost, Scotland will be broke.” He turned and looked at Wales. “He’ll need a shoulder to cry on. And money to pay the bills.”

“And what do we get in return?” asked Wales, knowing the answer all along.

“Security. And control.” He turned back to the window. “Forever.”

1702

 The inn fell silent as Scotland entered. He paused, aware of his dishevelled state, and self-consciously neatened his worn-out clothes and attempted to flatten his unruly ginger hair. He then remembered that he hadn’t shaved in some considerable time and, feeling his rasping stubble under his hand, muttered “Fuck it,” and strode over to the bar.

 “Whisky. Double.”

The bartender was Denmark, a sympathetic friend with similar interests in the North Sea and Protestantism. He paused, wondering how to bring up the issue of payment for the drink.

Scotland glared at him, arms resting on the counter. “Did ye hear me? Dinnae fuck me aboot, laddie.”

Denmark wisely decided to provide the whisky and make himself scarce. He’d just put the glass down in front of Scotland when he noticed he had company. He quickly disappeared into an adjacent room but peered back through the slight gap between door and frame to watch the fireworks.

England laid a coin on the bar. “Allow me to get this one.”

Scotland didn’t move but Denmark could see his jaw muscles tightening. “Ah can get mah oon drinks. Ah dinnae need yon money,” he growled.

England leant an elbow on the wooden surface and turned to face his half-brother. “That’s not what I’ve heard. Come on, we both know you’re broke.”

Scotland slowly eased himself upright and turned towards his nemesis. “And who’s fuckin’ fault is that, eh?”

“Now look…”

“Naw, ye look, ye over-stuffed gobshite. Ye stop mah ships from tradin’, ye push yer oon goods doon mah throot but dinnae wanna buy a thing off me…”

“Because it’s nasty shit that I can get elsewhere,” interjected England.

“… and then ye do everythin’ ye can tae ruin mah oon tradin’ colony.”

England laughed. “Trading colony? That’s a joke. There was no trade. And the damned swamp you chose was never going to be suitable colony. Of all the places in the world to pick… and to sink all of your money into such a hare-brained scheme… What the hell were you thinking?”

Scotland shook his head and turned back to his drink. “Ye coulda had a wee word with Spain, though. Ah never had a chance tae really get gooin’.”

“You know I couldn’t help. You chose to take Spain’s property and Spain’s currently an important friend.”

“Och, an’ I’m no’. That’s hae it always is wi’ ye.”

There was a pause as England spotted the opening he needed. “It doesn’t have to be.”

Scotland slowly turned his head towards his relative and replied coolly, “Ah’m no’ gooin’ tae be yon bitch like Wales.”

“No, absolutely. No bitchery needed or requested. What I’m offering is a full partnership. Full access to all of my markets, investment, security, payment of debts, the works.”

“Is tha’ so?” Scotland rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “And why would ye wantae do all tha’ for me?”

England put his arm across Scotland’s shoulders and replied with as much sincerity as he could muster, “We’re family. We need to stick together. There’s a whole world out there ripe for the plucking… and I need your help.” All of this was true, but England decided against voicing the main reason: he mostly needed Scotland to be kept busy making them money, rather than making trouble. He spotted Denmark peering through the crack and called out, “Another drink for my brother. Make it a triple.”

May 1707

Scotland gripped the brick wall he leant on. Despite his apparently calm demeanour his knuckles were white and his face red. He felt conflicting emotions; soiled and prostituted because of his recent Act of Union with England, but also curiously empowered. He gazed at the rising sun and saw the possibilities that were suddenly close at hand. The Americas, the West Indies, Africa, India. OK, so he had to put up with that arrogant half-brother of his, as well as their diminutive chattering half-sister Wales, but so many obstacles had been removed, so many opportunities lay ahead; he could… he would make a real go of the situation. He wondered how it might turn out.


Author’s Notes

The Darien expedition to a mosquito-blighted swamp overlooked by forbidding mountains that separated the Pacific and Atlantic coasts was an utter disaster for Scotland. It would have been difficult even with English and Dutch help. Mortality was high amongst the initial settlers and attacks by the Spanish meant that the whole project was doomed. A little over a year after the colony was founded, the survivors surrendered to the besieging Spanish and returned to Scotland. England paid large sums of money to Scotland and in return in 1707 two Acts of Parliament joined England and Scotland together as one nation, the Kingdom of Great Britain. This was the beginning of the biggest empire the world had ever seen.

Sarah: So to answer Scotland’s question, it sounds like it turns out pretty well. Mostly.

Author: Allison Black

Allison is an author, nerd, and international relations major who loves bad political jokes. When she's not writing or gushing about global affairs, she's playing video games. One day she will have a Ph.D., speak Korean fluently, and command an army of chihuahuas.

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