To understand the events leading up to this trip to Bocas del Toro it is necessary to understand
the geography and politics prevailing in Central America in the first part of C19.
A modern map of the area shows the states of Costa Rica and Panama with part of Colombia
just showing bottom right.
Map from World Sites Atlas
The islands of Bocas del Toro, in the centre of the map, are just
40 kilometres from the Republic of Costa Rica. Originally part of Costa Rica, Colombia took
control of them in one of many territorial disputes.
The Central American Republic, formed in 1821, consisted of the present day states of Guatemala, El Salvador,
Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica (Panama was part of Colombia). Never
a peaceful co-existence of the constituent republics it finally collapsed in 1841 after several civil wars.
Heavily involved in the fighting, for the winning side fortunately, was John (Juan) Galindo.
In a period of relative calm after 1829 the Federation, apparently without the knowledge
of the government of Costa Rica, set its sights
on recovering Bocas del Toro. To this end it despatched Juan off to London to negotiate with the
British Government and to promote the colonisation of Bocas. He arrived on 23rd August 1835 described
as 'Commissioner from the Government of Central America'. Receiving no help from the Government here,
he set out his own plans to colonise Bocas. Clearly he would need to establish some sort of authority
there and by December he had appointed his father, Philemon, now 65, as 'Commandant of the port of
Bocatoro, Governor of the Continent & islands of the archipelago of Chiriqui
& adjacent shores & territories of Costarrica &c &c &c.'
Philemon set out to take up his appointment in January 1836 with his younger son Philip, age 14, as secretary who
fortunately kept a diary as well as some of the official correspondence.
The ultimate aim of the plan was to profit from the perceived gold and silver mines of the area,
although the fact that the Spanish found nothing in the area for some 200 years seems to have been ignored.
Juan and Benjaminn Lumley, a solicitor in London, who is described as 'agent of the commonwealth of
Costarrica' were the main, perhaps only, supporters of the scheme. Nobody in their right mind would have
accepted such an impossible task so a very different picture than that found must have been painted.
Jamaican newspapers later compared this colonisation scheme to that of Gregor MacGregor (1786-1845)
who had, in 1822, fraudulently sent colonists to the same area. For more on
this see: Sir Gregor MacGregor.
Philemon must have been very gullible and was probably overwhelmed with the promises
of wealth and glory. Below are transcripts of some early letters making, with the benefit
of hindsight, ridiculous demands.
Copy Central American Legation. 282 Regent Street.
18 December 1835
To Captain Philemon Galindo
Commandant of the port of Bocatoro, Governor of the Continent & islands of the archipelago of Chiriqui & adjacent shores
& territories of Costarrica &c &c &c.
You will please to communicate officially in a series of correspondence directed to Mr Benjamin Lumley,
agent of the commonwealth of Costarrica in this city, an account of the mines as they at present exist,
within the district under your command; stating their history, their probable wealth, the ores they
contain, the facilities of working them & all particulars connected therewith.
I have the honour of particularly drawing your attention to this point.
I am Citizen Captain
Your most obedient humble servant
Central American legation
January 6th 1836
Citizen captain Philomen Galindo commandant of the port of Bocatoro, governor
of the islands in the bay of Chinqui & adjacent coasts & countries of the main &c. &c. &c.
I have the honor of enclosing a translation of the regulations for the clothing of the national army
God, Union, Liberty
The next letter, heavily water damaged, was written in anticipation of Philemon's safe arrival.
It shows what was expected of him.
Agency of Costarrica
January 28th 1836
Captain Philomen Galindo
Commandant of the Port of Boccatoro &c. &c.
Captain Philomen Galindo
Permit me with sentiments of the most profound respect excellent Sire to congratulate you on your
safe arrival at Bocatoro to take a command for which your talents and acquirements so eminently
qualify you - That you may long continue to contribute to the glory and happiness of a free
peoples is my sincere wish
I shall be highly favored in receiving your commands and instructions with reference to
the gold and silver mines in your district to the end that British ..........and capital..........
be made available in developing the great natural resources of Costarrica........and shall at all
times be too happy to give full effect to your wishes to the utmost extent of my humble abilities
I have the honor to remain your most obedient and most humble servant