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The Land That Never Was: Sir Gregor…
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The Land That Never Was: Sir Gregor Macgregor and the Most Audacious Fraud…

by David Sinclair

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Showing 5 of 5
Story of Gregor McGregor's hoax selling of the non-existent country of Poyais in the 1820s. Well told, but drowns in detail by the end.
Read Sept 2006 ( )
  mbmackay | Dec 6, 2015 |
I have the flu today. As the virus passes through my body, making everything hurt, issuing forth all sorts of coughing fits, I have to pause for a moment and gain a bit of perspective. As wretched as I may feel, there is no chance that I have it worse off than the people in David Sinclair’s The Land That Never Was. In 1822 and 1823, two groups of Scottish immigrants departed across the Atlantic to start a new life in Central America. The land of Poyais, as it was called, was to be a bounteous landscape, with opportunities for farmers to grow and sell many new European staples. They sold their entire livelihoods for the chance to strike out into the great unknown. There was just one catch—the nation of Poyais did not exist.

Sir Gregor MacGregor was a con man of the most sordid degree. When we wasn’t hawking his latest scheme, he spent a fair amount of time primping, preening, and punching up his own resume. There wasn’t any small event he couldn’t punch up to grandiose proportions. The sad part is, the early part of his life is regular tale of a smart man who decided to join the British army, marry a beautiful woman, and help out his nation. But his demons kept shouting down the better angels in his brain. And so, MacGregor’s impetuousness left him out of the British army and back home, sulking. When his wife died, he decided to light for South America to redefine himself. It was there that the greatest scheme of his life was launched: he would invent a country and style himself a prince.

He went back to Great Britain and convinced both the general public to buy into a bond issue for the new nation of Poyais and two groups of able-bodied citizens to help bolster the already existing colony there. When they arrived, however, there was no one around—no capital, no farms, no government, and no money. They had already exchanged all of their British currency for Poyaisian bank notes, which were now worthless. While I won’t spoil the ending, it is just and fitting. Sinclair’s telling of the MacGregor Poyais scheme is duly competent. He tries desperately to find the good in MacGregor, but early on we already know where his schemes are heading. The financial aspects of the book can be a little boring, as he describes all the bond issues and how stock trading of the day went, but they are easily balanced out by the story. An interesting and sad tale. ( )
3 vote NielsenGW | Jul 4, 2010 |
Skip the foreward. The rest of the book is a gread read. ( )
  GeoffWyss | Jun 5, 2009 |
It is no exaggeration to call the hoax that this book recounts one of "the most audacious frauds in history." Arriving in England after years fighting in South American wars for independence, Sir Gregor MacGregor claimed to be the ruler of a small Central American country named Poyais, for which he was recruiting colonists. Poyais was said to be a tropical Eden, a place of lovely harbors and mountains, where labor was cheap and agriculture and fishing plentiful. It was protected by mountains and jungle from the Spanish- speaking countries, and was sufficiently close to the Carribbean to ensure trade. What's more, any person willing to work moderately hard would make a fortune. But Poyais was a myth -- there was no such place, and its supposed location was an uninhabited region of swamp and jungle along the Mosquito Coast.

MacGregor sought colonists for his new country, and hundreds of people sold all of their possessions in order to secure passage on his ships to the tropical paradise. Information about the new country was plentiful, in the form of a large monograph authored by a Captain Thomas Strangeways. In hundreds of pages, this monograph described the country, its culture, language, and climate, as well as detailed information about growing season, crop yields, labor costs, and so on. Indeed it contained everything a prospective colonist would need to know about his new home. Unfortunately, both the supposed author of this book and the land that it described were entirely mythical.

Imagine the reaction of the colonists who arrived at the end of their ocean voyage to find nothing like what had been promised -- no country, no town, and only a tropical jungle where survival was a challenge. Hundreds died of disease, and others migrated to the British Caribbean. MacGregor profitted enormously from his fraud but was never held legally responisible. Astonishingly, some of the surviving colonists didn't consider MacGregor himself to be responsible for the fraud -- a testament to his powers of persuasion and the depth and brilliance of his hoax.

While the fraud was audacious, I found the book less than compelling, due to the author's style. Most of the book is a biography of MacGregor that details his earlier exploits in the Americas as a soldier of fortune in the wars of liberation. It would have been interesting to have more information about the colonists' attempts to survive, and more about the individuals involved, but such information is necessarily sketchy. Still, Sinclair's work offers a readable account of a historical episode that deserves to be remembered, if for no other reason than for what it says about human greed, deception, gullibility, and optimism for a better life. ( )
7 vote danielx | Nov 20, 2007 |
This was an informative account showing how one persuasive man with a well-written, descriptive document exploited people's greed and gullibility. Other major topics include the independence movements in Central and South America in the early 19th century and the eagerness of Europeans to help militarily and financially. Sinclair wraps up the book nicely in his analysis of how MacGregor started becoming caught up in his own fantasy towards the end. ( )
  krin5292 | Oct 10, 2007 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306814110, Paperback)

Once upon a time, in the heart of Central America, there was a country named Poyais. It was exceptionally rich in resources, civilization, and culture and was ruled by the brave and enlightened Scottish soldier, Sir Gregor MacGregor, who became its ruler after his heroic exploits in the fight for South American independence. On a cold January morning in 1823, a group of Scottish immigrants looking for a new life set sail for this tropical Eden called Poyais.The only catch was that it didn't exist.A month later the ship landed on the swamp-infested Mosquito Coast and the settlers realized that they had become the victims of one of the most elaborate hoaxes in history. The land they had been sold was nonexistent, the banknotes and guidebooks they carried with them were forgeries, their documents were worthless. Poyais was a fiction. The man responsible? Sir Gregor MacGregor. Who was this eccentric, scurrilous man? And why is he such a lovable rogue?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:31 -0400)

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