THE LAND THAT NEVER WAS: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History

David Sinclair, Author , foreword by Desmond FitzGerald. Da Capo $23 (384p) ISBN 978-0-306-81309-2

Author, journalist and historian Sinclair (The Pound: A Biography , etc.) turns in this enthralling history to the outrageous and tragic story of Poyais, a South American nation that, as the subtitle indicates, never actually existed. Sir Gregor MacGregor, a pusillanimous and pompous soldier who fought in the South American wars of liberation, concocted the Territory of Poyais in the early 1820s as a means of getting rich off of land sales and financial speculation. Appointing himself "His Highness Gregor, Cazique of Poyais," MacGregor spread word of this purported utopia throughout Britain, describing weather patterns, soil and vegetation, and the government and enviable lack of taxes. He produced currency and a 350-page guidebook. Two ships of ambitious settlers sailed for the Mosquito Coast of Central America in 1822 and 1823, respectively. The settlers, fully convinced of the paradise that awaited them, found nothing but a swampy lagoon on landing. Of the roughly 250 emigrants, fewer than 50 returned to Britain. Some committed suicide; some died of yellow fever, malaria or exhaustion; and others migrated to Belize. As background, Sinclair traces MacGregor's psychological and professional development as an amoral confidence man while leading troops in various campaigns against Spain in Central America. While the book suffers from a cumbersome foreword by Desmond FitzGerald (who traces a distant family connection to MacGregor), Sinclair provides a fascinating glimpse into 19th-century conquest, warfare and utopian ideals. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/17/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 358 pages - 978-0-306-81411-2
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