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The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter IV - The Darien Expedition


ANDERSON was again chosen Provost in October, 1695, and it was while he held the office, and probably largely at his suggestion, that the burgh took part in a great national undertaking whose prospects were as promising as its denouement was disastrous.

It was a time of mighty financial schemes, in which two Scotsmen played conspicuous roles. In France John Law of Lauriston, having fled from England to escape the consequences of his fatal duel with Beau Wilson, established the Banque Generale, floated the great Mississippi Scheme, was appointed Controller General of the Finances, and after stirring the whole nation to a frenzy of speculation with his golden projects, saw the glittering fabric crash to ruin, and fled to Venice from the fury of the people, with a single diamond for his sole possession. In England the South Sea Company had a similar origin. Started by Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, as a means of extinguishing the floating National Debt, then amounting to £10,000,000, it was granted a monopoly of trading in the South Seas, and the dazzling dreams of wealth awaiting exploitation in South America brought about a furore of speculation in the shares, till these rose from £ioo to i000. But all the trading that the Company did was the sending of one ship on a single voyage, and when the inevitable crash came thousands were reduced to utter ruin. [A very full account of both the Mississippi scheme and the South Sea Company is given in Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, vol. i., by Charles Mackay, LL.D.]

Both of these schemes appear to have been inspired by the earlier enterprise of `William Paterson, a native of Dumfriesshire. After founding the Bank of England, of which he became a director in 1694, he withdrew in 1695, in the opinion that the bank's operations were too narrow in scope. An enterprise just then being started in Scotland seemed to offer much greater possibilities. Two Edinburgh merchants, James Balfour and Bailie Robert Blackwood, were floating a great mercantile project, "The Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies." In this project Paterson's genius saw the possibility of a great national achievement. He joined the company, and forthwith turned its energies in a still more promising direction, which was neither Indian nor African. His idea was perfectly sound—to plant on the Isthmus of Darien a colony, which should form the entrepot of trade for two oceans and two continents.
The enterprise offered to Scottish merchants an outlet unhampered by the English navigation law, which decreed that trade with English ports and colonies must be carried on only in English ships. The Company was established by Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1695, and was granted a monopoly of the trade of Asia, Africa, and America for thirty-two years. The scheme at once became popular. From motives of patriotism not less than from motives of gain, nobility, gentry, merchants, burghs, and public bodies all hastened to take shares. £400,000, half the wealth of Scotland, were subscribed, though only £220,000 were actually paid up.

Of that amount quite a considerable portion came from Glasgow. By a special Act of Parliament Royal Burghs were empowered to invest money in the enterprise, and on 5th March, 1696, the Magistrates and Town Council, "taking to their consideration that the company of this nation for trading to Africa and the Indies ... seems to be very promising, and apparently may tend to the honour and profit of the Kingdom, and particularly to the great advantage of this Burgh to share therein ... therefore ... with consent of the merchants and trades, their respective houses (previously convened for giving advice in the said matter) do resolve and conclude to stock in and adventure for this Burgh and common good thereof ... the sum of three thousand pounds sterling money." The city fathers further "commissionat, appoint, and give full power to John Anderson of Dowhill, provost, to subscryve the said company, their books of subscription, for the said sum."  [Burgh Records under date.] Following the example of the Town Council, many Glasgow merchants and other citizens also took up stock, and altogether £56,000 sterling were subscribed in the city. Among the private subscribers, Anderson himself took £i000 of stock. The Town Council took a lead in appointing members of the committee of management of the Company, and commissioned Provost Anderson to submit the names of Glasgow holders of stock for election to the board of fifty directors. They further appointed Anderson himself to represent the Town Council on that board. [Ibid. 28th March, 25th April and 16th May, 1696.]

Even the wisdom of the University was tempted to speculate in the great enterprise. On the advice of Principal Dunlop it took shares to the amount of a thousand pounds. Dunlop himself invested a similar sum, while three of the regents ventured a hundred pounds each. The Principal's support was recognized by his appointment as a director. [Coutts, History of the University, p. 183.]

Evidently Anderson did his best to secure that the expedition should sail from the Clyde, for he spent £89 16s. 10d. "in going with Mr. Paterson to view the river." Meanwhile the Company acted as a bank, lending out its spare capital at reasonable interest, and Glasgow borrowed £500 sterling for the purpose of paying off debt. [Burgh Records, 4th July and 5th Oct., 1686. The Company offered to lend members two-thirds of their paid-up stock.]

Delay was caused by the jealous clamour of the English trading corporations, which secured the disapproval of the English Parliament and the disfavour of King `William towards the scheme, with the withdrawal of most of the English and Dutch subscriptions, amounting to £300,000 and £200,000 respectively. But on 25th July, 1698, five ships sailed from Leith for Panama with twelve hundred colonists on board.

The story of the disaster is well enough known. The snag in the enterprise lay in the fact that no attempt had been made to secure the goodwill of Spain, then dominant in that part of the world. Between the refusal of the English colonies in America to supply provisions, quarrels among its own leaders, the armed hostilities of the Spaniards, and the deadly effects of the climate, the colony melted away, and, when a second and third expedition, which sailed from the Clyde with Paterson himself on board, reached the spot, there was nothing to be seen but a collection of graves. Of the 2700 colonists who altogether went out, not more than thirty ever reached Scotland again. Among these was Paterson, who for a time was rendered lunatic by his misfortunes.

Glasgow, no doubt, derived some profit from the outfitting of the later ships of the expedition—the last of them, the Speedy Return, was fitted out and furnished with a crew by William Arbuckle, a Glasgow merchant. But one can picture the consternation in the city when news arrived from Greenock in the last days of June, 1700, that Captain Campbell of Fonab had anchored his little vessel there with remnants of the abandoned enterprise on board. Seven months later the town council petitioned Parliament to appoint a committee to enquire into the Company's affairs, and meanwhile to stop all processes and executions for further payments until examination was made. [Burgh Records, 29th June, 1700, 11th Jan., 1701.]

But the Company of Scotland had not yet given up the ghost. Rumours had reached this country of enormous profits made by New York ships trading with the pirate settlements in Madagascar. One vessel, the Nassau, in 1698 had netted no less a sum than £30,000 for its owners from a single voyage. Lured by such prospects the Company determined on something like a gambler's throw. It fitted out at Port-Glasgow two vessels, the Content and the Speedy Return, loaded them with barrels of flour and beer, hogsheads of tobacco and buccaneer guns, looking-glasses and silk-looped hats, ivory-hafted knives and gold waistcoat buttons, and sent them out to the pirates' fortified settlement of St. Mary's on the Madagascar coast. There they disposed of their goods and did some business in the slave trade. But one day, when Captain Drummond and Captain Stewart were on shore, the pirates took possession of the ships, and that ended the venture as far as the Company of Scotland was concerned. [The books and documents of the Company of Scotland are preserved in the Scottish National Library. A monograph on the subject by John Hill Burton was printed for the Bannatyne Club. More recently the Darien Shipping Papers were edited for the Scottish History Society by Dr. G. P. Insh, and the story is fully told in the same writer's work, The Company of Scotland, published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1932.]

Eventually, of course, Glasgow recovered most of the capital invested in the great venture. When the Articles of Union between Scotland and England were being arranged in 1706, it was agreed that England should pay to Scotland an "Equivalent" of £400,000 to compensate for the amount of England's debt about to be taken over by Scotland. At the same time it was insisted that the Company of Scotland, with its far-reaching privileges, should be wound up. It was arranged, therefore, that the greater part of the "Equivalent" should be devoted to paying out the stockholders of the Company, with interest. [Hill Burton, Hist. Scot. viii, 132.] Glasgow appears to have received its share of this money very promptly. The Burgh Records of 16th and 26th September, '707, mention a visit of the Provost and

Dean of Guild to Edinburgh, to receive "the toun's part of the Affrican money," £2114 15s. 7d. sterling altogether, and the payment of £20 Scots to James Littlejohn, carrier, for conveying it home to Glasgow.

The people of Glasgow meanwhile do not seem to have blamed Provost Anderson for their heavy loss in this great venture, for he was chosen Provost again in 1699 and 1703; but as age pressed upon him, and it looks as if he had fallen on less prosperous days, he seems to have suffered a change of regard. As with many of the merchant adventurers of those times, with their fortunes on the sea, his affairs may have been subject to serious fluctuations. As early as 1669, after the death of his first wife, Marion Darroch, the Town Council remitted to him the feu-duties of Camlachie, which had been hers in life-rent. [Burgh Records, 10th Aug.] A few years later, in 1684, he advanced money "to plenish the General's lodging" and to "outreik" the militia horses with a year's maintenance. [Ibid. 26th and 27th Sept. Notwithstanding his many services there seems to have been a party in the city disposed to question the acts of the worthy provost. In January, 1701, these persons, led by a certain George Lockhart, presented two petitions to Parliament. The first complained that he had carried out an election of council without consulting the Merchants and Trades Houses ; the second declaring that he did not truly represent the inhabitants as their parliamentary representative. Parliament, however, shelved the petitions.—Crawford, Sketch of the Trades' House, p. 90.] Later still, however, there are signs that he was not without the need of money. In 1692, some irregularities having occurred, Anderson and four others were appointed to report on the position of the town's affairs. On the recommendation of that committee the Town Council "concludit and agreed" that a special set of account books, a journal and a ledger, should be kept, in addition to the public register, shewing at a glance the town's debts and credits, revenues and payments. For the keeping of these books it was declared, "there can be no fitter person gottine then John Andersone, late proveist." Anderson undertook the work, and agreed to accept an allowance "for his pains." A year later he produced the books, which shewed the town's accounts so clearly, and proved so satisfactory, especially since they shewed that a considerable debt had been paid off, that it was agreed to pay him a salary of £15 sterling a year for his trouble, and to continue him in the appointment. The salary was afterwards increased to £20, probably because the keeping of books for the excise was added to the work. Dowhill kept the books and drew the emolument till 1708. In that year the Town Council reviewed all the salaries and pensions it was paying, and while continuing all the others, decided that, as the city had a regular treasurer, it was unnecessary to continue the payment to Anderson. Apparently there had been some trouble with Dowhill's son, another John Anderson younger, and a certain Matthew Gilmour, for the accounts had not been entered during their treasurership. Anderson was therefore directed to post the books up to date, balance them, and deliver them to the Magistrates. [Burgh Records, 15th Mar., 15th Sept., 1692; 19th Aug., 28th Oct., 1694; 17th Feb. 1708.]

By that time Dowhill was an old man. A little later he is mentioned as "deceist." He had married again, and at his death had left his widow, Marion Hay, life-rented in "that great tenement of land" at the head of the Saltmarket which has been already mentioned. She was living there with her children in May, 1715, when a sudden conflagration occurred, and it was again reduced to ashes. The disaster was serious for Marion Hay, who had not means to rebuild the tenement. Four months afterwards the five shopkeepers on the ground floor petitioned the magistrates to have the dangerous walls taken down and to grant them authority to cover their shops from the weather. And a year later the widow herself petitioned for help to rebuild the property. She and her children and servants, she explained, had escaped only with their lives and in their shirts, all her furniture had been destroyed, along with the writs and titles of the Dowhill properties, and she could not even sell the tenement for lack of the necessary deeds. In support of her petition she cited the services rendered by her late husband to the city. After consideration the Magistrates and Council agreed that for the decorum of the city a tenement in so conspicuous a position should be rebuilt, and they undertook to make a grant of two thousand merks Scots if the building was completed and roofed before the first of June in the following year. Apparently no time was lost, for on 21st May, 1717, the treasurer was instructed to pay the 2000 merks to "Lady Dowhill," the work having then been finished. [Ibid. 26th Aug., 1715; 27th Aug., 1716.] This action was all the more creditable to the city fathers and is witness to the esteem in which the memory of John Anderson was held, when it is remembered that the town was just then wrestling with the expenses incurred on account of the Jacobite rising under the Earl of Mar.

Anderson left four daughters, two by each marriage. Of these, Marion, a daughter by his second marriage, seems to have inherited the tenement in Saltmarket. She married the Rev. Charles 1lfoore, minister of Stirling, and was mother of Dr. Moore the friend of Robert Burns, and grandmother of Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna. Another daughter, Christian, married John Gibson, merchant and bailie, and after her husband's death, being reduced to penury, was granted an allowance of £25 Scots quarterly by the Town Council for her subsistence. [Ibid. 29th Jan. 1725; 15th June, 1750.] Still another daughter, Barbara, was with her numerous children reduced to great straits by a reverse in the circumstances of her husband, Mr. William Fogo of Killorn, "now a prisoner in Stirling tolbooth, where he is like to continue for life." In view of her father's services to the city the Town Council in 1754 granted her a pension of £12 sterling, stipulating that it should not be subject to her husband's jus mariti or the claims of his creditors.


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