THE Darien Scheme, which saw the Company of Scotland attempt to form a foreign colony on what is now Panama in this month in 1698, ended disastrously with more than 2000 people dead and the Scottish economy crippled.

No wonder the 325th anniversary of the Darien landings this year was celebrated by absolutely nobody.

Last week I recounted the rarely-told story of the second expedition to Darien, and believe I showed the evidence of how the English and Spanish empires crushed Scotland’s ambitious attempt to start its own colony, aided and abetted by King William II (King William III of England) who did not approve of the scheme, as Spain claimed it owned the territory and William did not want to annoy the Spanish whose support he wanted in England’s perennial wars with France.

The Darien Disaster, as the writer John Prebble called it in the title of his groundbreaking book of that name, was not the end of the Company of Scotland’s story, however.

This week I am going to show how after Darien, the Company of Scotland decided to carry on trying to build Scottish trade to Africa and Asia and how that played out in the years running up to the Union of the Parliaments in 1707.

It is all too easy to say the Darien disaster led directly to the Union and it is inarguable that the catastrophe played a role in convincing some of this country’s politicians to work for a union of Parliaments with England.

Yet I suspect most Scots do not know that the Company of Scotland continued to exist after Darien and was only finally closed down by the Act of Union itself.

Unlike the Caledonia after the first expedition collapsed, none of the four ships of the second expedition made it home.

News soon spread of the end of the Darien Scheme and while Scottish failure was acknowledged, many of the populace blamed England for not helping the colonists.

Incredibly, there was still enthusiasm for the company and its possibility of international trade on Scotland’s behalf.

The Scottish Parliament met to debate the issue, with the discussions centring on whether an address should be sent to the king to seek his approval for a further project like Darien – but not surprisingly, King William II of Scotland said no, as he preferred England.

However, King William was shamed into asking Spain to release four of the Darien settlers who had been imprisoned in Seville, and they duly made their way home.

His health recovered, William Paterson came up with a new plan for the Company to continue operations, but his grand plan for a new “fund of credit” to finance further trade and colonisation was ignored.

Instead the Company sent two ships to the coast of Africa in a bid to establish trading links and investigate whether a new colony could be created on a different continent.

READ MORE: How England, King William and Spain were to blame for Darien Scheme failure

These ships were Speedy Return and Content, and in May 1701, they sailed from the River Clyde with cargoes that included Scottish-made goods and that vital necessity for all travellers: Scottish ale.

Robert Drummond was the captain of the Speedy Return and on board was his brother Thomas, both of them survivors of the Darien project.

Thomas had been involved in the Massacre of Glencoe but had shown himself to be a capable soldier in Darien.

But now he and his brother committed a grave error. As the ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean, they concocted a new plan: they bought slaves instead of the gold and spices the company was expecting.

Arriving at Madagascar, they sold the slaves and began associating with the pirate gangs who had made the island their base.

The Drummonds were persuaded in late 1703 by one pirate, John Bowen of Bermuda, to “lend” him the two ships so that his cut-throat gang could attack vessels returning from India.

Robert Drummond apparently backed out of the deal at the last minute, but John Bowen promptly seized the ships.

Bowen scuttled the Speedy Return, while the Content mysteriously caught fire and was burned off the coast of Malabar in India. The fate of the Drummond brothers is unknown – they were never seen again, at least not in Scotland.

Still, the Company tried to carry on, and a third ship was sent south and east, only to founder in the Strait of Malacca in what is now Malaysia.

The final ship operated by the Company was the Annandale, which was chartered in London. Captained by a Welshman, John ap-Rice, the Annandale was making its way through the English Channel in late January 1704 when it was captured and held by a ship of the East India Company.

John Prebble suggests Captain ap-Rice may well have informed the East India Company of his vessel’s real activity as a trading ship for Scotland, but whatever happened, the Company of Scotland had lost its last ship. And as news of the seizure spread, anti-English rage spread across Scotland.

We now come to one of the strangest events prior to the Treaty of Union. A merchant vessel called Worcester, apparently full of cargo from India, took shelter in the Forth. Roderick Mackenzie, secretary of the Company of Scotland, heard that its captain, Thomas Green, might have been involved in the loss of the Speedy Return.

READ MORE: Darien Scheme: The Scottish ambitions crushed between empires

It was nonsense, but Mackenzie persuaded the directors of the Company of Scotland that the Worcester should be seized in retaliation for the loss of Robert Drummond’s ship. Rumours spread in Edinburgh and, armed with a warrant, Mackenzie rowed out to the ship and seized it by force of arms.

The company’s men spent several weeks stripping the Worcester of her cargo and her guns, but worse was to come for the crew of the English ship.

Mackenzie had a conversation with the ship’s steward and, under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol, the steward concocted a story that led Mackenzie to contact the criminal justice authorities.

All 39 members of the crew were imprisoned as rumours spread that they had been pirates.

It should be remembered that anti-English feeling was running high across Scotland at this time. The economy had been crippled by a series of poor harvests, plus the inability to export and import goods due to the imposition of anti-Scottish laws.

Now the rumours became “facts” and Thomas Green, his first mate John Madder and crewman James Simpson were charged with piracy and murder and put on trial in the High Court in Edinburgh.

After two weeks, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, although most objective assessments of the case say there was little evidence of any of the three men carrying out the offences they had been charged with.

They were sentenced to death by hanging on Leith Sands. An appeal was made to Queen Anne to intervene but she was only able to delay the execution.

The Edinburgh Mob appeared and demanded that the three Englishmen should be hanged and on April 11, 1705, the three almost certainly innocent sailors were executed.

The English spy and Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe would later write that this was one of the six crises which very nearly destroyed the path to the Union.

It also led the Company of Scotland to be reviled in England.

The final proof of just how much the English detested the Company came with the Acts of Union which were passed by the English and Scottish parliaments.

The negotiations on the Treaty of Union included a contentious debate on the Company of Scotland, with the English commissioners demanding an end to the enterprise.

That made sense to them, for in the new Union it would be illogical for a Scottish company to continue to have exclusive trading rights.

You can detect the hand of the powerful East India Company here – just as it had bitterly opposed the original Darien Scheme because of the threat posed to its monopoly of trade, so it argued that the Company of Scotland would remain a threat to English trade and their monopoly rights.

With their eyes on the prize of English gold, the parcel of rogues conceded the point and sealed the fate of the Company, which is the only business organisation mentioned in all of the 25 articles of the Acts of Union.

In Article XV, which covers the paying of the “equivalent” – bribe by another name – it states: “As for the uses to which the said sum of £398,085 and 10 shillings to be granted as aforesaid, are to be applied, it is agreed that in the first place out of the aforesaid sum what consideration shall be found necessary to be had for any losses which private persons may sustain by reducing the coin of Scotland to the standard and value of the coin of England may be made good; in the next place that the capital stock or fund of the African and Indian Company of Scotland advanced, together with interest for the said capital stock after the rate of 5% per annum, from the respective times of the payment thereof, shall be paid, upon payment of which capital stock and interest it is agreed the said Company be dissolved and cease.”

That dissolution duly took place when the Union took effect on May 1, 1707.

The Company of Scotland had lasted a few weeks short of 12 years. A company was formed to manage the payments after the Union, and its directors found they had superfluous cash.

They asked King George I for permission to establish a bank to invest the funds – we know it today as the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Looking back from a distance of more than three centuries, there are lot of “what-ifs” about the company. What if Darien had thrived?

What if the English and Spanish empires had co-operated with the Company rather than viciously and vehemently oppose it?

What if Scotland had been able to establish its own colonies in the Americas? What if Scotland’s economy had been boosted by the company rather than be set back? Would the Union have proceeded?

Our foremost historian, Professor Sir Tom Devine, in his book The Scottish Nation states: “The Darien fiasco demonstrated unambiguously that Scotland did not possess the necessary military and naval resources to establish her own American empire.”

I am not going to argue with him, but note that he goes on to quote the Earl of Stair speaking during the Union debates: “We followed the example of other nations, and formed a company to trade with the Indies. We built ships and planned a colony on the isthmus of Darien. What we lacked were not men or arms or courage, but the one thing most needful: the friendly co-operation of England.

“The pitiful outcome of that enterprise is too sad a story to be told again. Suffice it to say that the English did not treat us as partners or friends or fellow subjects of a British king but as pirates and enemy aliens.

“The Union of the Crowns gave us no security: we were exposed to the hostile rivalry of Spain; our colony was sacked; we suffered every cruelty an enemy can inflict.”

There you have it from a contemporary witness to the events of that period. Darien and the Company of Scotland wasn’t just about Scottish failure but the enmity of England, Spain and a usurper king.