The Pirate Who Stole Scotland: William Dampier and the Creation of the United Kingdom
By LEON HOPKINS
(Pen & Sword – £25.00)
ISBN 978139909364 4
When I had finished reading Leon Hopkins’ book, I was uncertain as to whether I’d read a history book, or a novel, and wasn’t too sure about my review. Then I happened on a review of a different book in another journal which prompted me to try to put any historian’s prejudices aside, and determine whether the book was entertaining, informative, and thought provoking. So, that’s what I’ve attempted to do.
Taking this approach, Leon Hopkins’ book certainly was, and overall, I enjoyed it. The title left me wondering whether the author was being too ambitious, especially, as the author concedes, William Dampier was careful never to directly implicate himself with illegal acts. This could have led to difficulties for Leon Hopkins, but he gets around this by some educated supposition, and by going wider than Dampier’s own experiences, and writing, that if Dampier did know what was going on, he filed it away in his mind, under “…money buys power and lack of it leads even the most powerful to agree unpalatable actions…” (page 6). These were, after all, different times with different norms and values.
So, the first half of the book deals with Dampier’s early life and time at sea, including his time as a log cutter in Belize, his explorations of Panama, and his time managing a sugar plantation in Jamaica, which, inevitably, meant he was involved in some part in the slave trade, possible privateering on the Spanish Main, and, of course, his voyage to the coast of Australia.
Leon Hopkins suggests that this was how Dampier, ever on the look-out for ways of making money, became instrumental in “stealing Scotland”. This forms the second half of the book. In brief, Dampier’s book on his travels became known to a William Paterson, “…the original City Slicker…”. The two men meet, Patterson used Dampier’s colourful account of Panama to promote the Darien Scheme in Scotland, aiming to develop a colony and ‘freeport’ to trade in goods from the East, thereby challenging the monopoly of the English, East India Company.
Of course, the Scheme failed, investors lost everything and, Scotland was eventually compelled to relinquish what independence it possessed and join with England in the 1707 Act of Union. On page 155, Leon Hopkins writes that “…There is no written evidence to support the reality of Dampier’s involvement in the submission of Scotland to an Act of Union…”, before tellingly adding, “…But there wouldn’t be…” I think that this quote really encapsulates Leon Hopkins’ book. Don’t expect a heavily footnoted, academic tome. This isn’t it. Footnotes are present, but sparse. One chapter only has one, and the most appears to be six.
I enjoyed the book. It is wide ranging, even ambitious, in its subject matter, but above all, entertaining. I’m not quite sure who it is aimed at, and this leads me to my only real criticism, the price. I’m not sure that £25.00 is justified, and whether it’s good value for money. I would certainly recommend it to members, but maybe as a library loan.