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History, Travel Writing, Adventure & Guides
Publication Date
25 February 2016
Hardback (also available as an ebook)
Available for Sale
Birlinn Ltd
16pp b/w plate section


A Journey in Search of Empire
by John McKendrick - Find out more about the author


eBook also available from the iBookstore

'[A] machete wielding history that sees its author leaping from dugout canoes and hacking through tropical vegetation in the footsteps of the lost colonists' - Scottish Field  

'a meticulously detailed account that spares no-one’s blushes. …He makes [his own travels] vividly relevant to the central theme’ - Scots Magazine

The Company of Scotland and its attempts to establish the colony of Caledonia on the inhospitable isthmus of Panama in the late seventeenth century is one of the most tragic moments of Scottish history. Devised by William Paterson, the stratagem was to create a major trading station between Europe and the East. It could have been a triumph, but inadequate preparation and organization ensured it was a catastrophe – of the 3000 settlers who set sail in 1688 and 1699, only a handful returned, the rest having succumbed to disease, and the enormous financial loss was a key factor in ensuring union with England in 1707.

Based on archive research in the UK and Panama, as well as extensive travelling in Darien itself, John Mckendrick explores this fascinating and seminal moment in Scottish history and uncovers fascinating new information from New World archives about the role of the English and Spanish, and about the identities of the settlers themselves.

John McKendrick was born and brought up in Glasgow. He studied at the LSE and Oxford and is currently a barrister in London and an advocate in Edinburgh. he also worked for two years in Panama And the Caribbean. He was Times Lawyer of the Week in September 2013.


1 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
Apr 5, 2016
Good read and the personal travelogue worked well with the history, almost as flashbacks to the difficulties the original adventurers endured. Having visited a number of places featured, brought it to life - Cartagena des Indies in Colombia, Bluefields Bay and Invercauld great house in Jamaica, Havana and Cojimar in Cuba, and Campeche in Mexico.

The final chapter and the Conclusions were out of kilter with the rest of the book. A long winded discourse on European power-politics in the c16th and c17th , suggested that the Scots were doomed from the first. But there was never any serious suggestion that they were likely to receive much official help from either the English or the Spanish. They were trading the wrong goods at the wrong time in a very challenging environment. If only they had waited 300 years and moved into tax evasion ..!

Where the author missed a trick was that a Scot did found a trading entrepot in the Caribbean. One that booms today as a Free Trade port visited by hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers ar - many high spenders from North America. Known to Aviation enthusiasts as SXM, with clips of airliners screaming low over Maho beach, the capital of the Dutch side of St Maarten , Phillipsburg was founded by one John Philips fra Arbroath ! Wha's like us ? Maybe one for the reprint