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Ploughing the sea: Latin America observed

A Venezuela venture

Wood-engraving depicting lush foliage and trees in the foreground with a shore and mountains in the background.'Venezuelan scenery.'Perhaps the most curious attempt to attract British emigration to Latin America was that initiated by Henry M Price (1821?- c1901), son of a Cheshire tailor who had emigrated to Virginia. Price served as a captain in the Confederate army during the American Civil War and was a staunch adherent of the Confederate cause.

Deeply resentful of post-war Yankee domination of the southern states, he conceived the idea of establishing a colony of white Anglo-Saxon settlers in Venezuela. In May 1865 Price wrote to the British ambassador to the United States, Sir Frederick Bruce, asking for official support for this fanciful scheme and offering Britain in return a monopoly on investment opportunities and sole right to import the cotton that would form the future colony's principal export. Not surprisingly, his request met a firm refusal.

Undeterred, Price now approached the Venezuelan government directly, and this time his proposal met with a warmer response. The history of the republic since its foundation had been one of turmoil and repression, culminating in the Federal War of 1859-65, in which hundreds of thousands lost their lives. The population of Venezuela had been little more than a million before the outbreak of war and in 1865 the country was desperately in need of manpower.

In September the Venezuelan government awarded Price a land grant of 240,000 acres in the eastern region of Guayana and Price and his associates set up the short-lived American, English and Venezuelan Trading and Commercial Company to administer the settlement and exploitation of his new possession. Price's own subsequent experience of Guayana was not happy; he contracted both cholera and malaria there and beat a hasty retreat to Virginia only a few months after his arrival. In 1869 the Venezuelan government, perceiving that his scheme had failed, annulled the land grant.

This pamphlet, The emigrant’s vade-mecum, was the work of Margaret Amanda Pattison, wife of the European director of the Company. It seeks to paint a generally rosy picture of Venezuelan Guayana, while at the same time preparing the prospective settler for a part of the world so different from Britain, where 'nature presents an unexpected aspect ..., where everything is gigantic.' Climate, landscape, plant and animal life are all described and the vast potential of this underpopulated region is emphasised. The author had launched an appeal in Britain and the United States for donations to set up a free library for the settlers, and the pamphlet contains an impressive list of donors.

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