MacGregor’s Poyais: A silver seal with a story
The story of a rare item of silver that went on to fetch a premium inclusive £1,500 in a recent Jewellery & Silver auction.
Born in Stirlingshire on 24th December 1786, Gregor MacGregor was a soldier and land speculator. After joining the army at the age of 16 he fought in numerous conflicts during the South American wars of Independence. However, it was on his return to England in 1820 that he began to carve out his small but infamous place in history. Upon arrival in London he claimed that a native chieftain had named him Cacique of Poyais (Prince of Poyais), a small country in the Bay of Honduras. He quickly painted a picture of a fertile land, ripe for colonisation, with seams of silver and gold, free from tropical disease. It was already populated by a small number of Biritsh settlers who had set up a basic infrastructure with the small amount of very obliging natives. It even boasted its own capital, St Joseph, founded in the 1730’s. As can be imagined MacGregor was met with much acclaim in London high society, dining with the rich and well to do while he began to sell land rights for his new country; securing a bond of £200,000 from the Royal Exchange.
In 1822 the Honduras Packet set sail with 70 would-be settlers, bankers and politicians promised positions in the new government. They were quickly followed by the Kennersly Castle with a further 200 or so settlers, all eager to colonise this new and bountiful land. However, on arrival the boats met each other only to find dense jungle and the ruins of failed attempts to colonise what was ultimately an inhospitable strip of land. The Honduras Packet was swept away in a storm and tropical disease quickly took its toll; one settler, having invested his life’s savings, committed suicide. Eventually another ship stumbled across the marooned settlers by accident and transported them to British Honduras. However less than 50 returned to England alive.
Once they did make it back the papers ran the story of this audacious fraud, however MacGregor had already fled to Paris in October of 1823. This fiasco did not stop him trying the same scheme in France. However, the first ship of French settlers was stopped just before leaving port, MacGregor was eventually caught, tried and acquitted by the French courts. He was released and continued to endeavour with his schemes, appearing in different places under different titles, always as the head of state of the infamous Poyais. He died in Venezuela in 1845; at the age of 58 he had yet to colonise the infamous land of Poyais.