Reading THE LAND THAT NEVER WAS, aka "that time a con man used Orientalist fantasies to bilk English investors out of tens of millions and also get a bunch of people killed," and it's fascinating.
If you don't know the story, we're talking about this guy, Gregor MacGregor, Scottish "adventurer". (Read: con artist.)

He fought in the Napoleonic Wars, not particularly notably, and parlayed that into a post as general under Bolivar in South America.
His various exploits there got a sentence of death from Bolivar and a conviction of piracy in Jamaica, so he skipped town and eventually turned up back in London.

But not as a disgraced general! Now he was the Cazique of Poyais.
"Cazique" meant something like "prince". Poyais was a small country in Central America, part of a larger territory held by the King of the Mosquito Coast. It had never been conquered by the Spanish and the natives had strong pro-British feelings.
The Spanish naval embargo had kept England out until the collapse of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. Now the King wanted a British colony, and European colonists to come and show his subjects how to be advanced, civilized people.
He had granted Poyais to Gregor for this purpose, to run as his personal domain. There was already a thriving town there, with a port, government buildings, and even a cathedral! All they really needed was people to work the land -- which was incredibly fertile.
And money, of course. Hiring ships and buying supplies cost money. Fortunately, floating loans for the fledgling South American states was much in vogue in London at the time, and Poyais was no exception.
Gregor got official British recognition for his Poyais legation and was accepted into society as a head of state. Thanks to his vigorous marketing campaign, signups for settlers were brisk.
You'd be a fool not to sign up! There was cheap land, and very cheap native labor. The natives were docile and friendly, and eager to learn European ways.
Gregor recruited heavily from Scotland; he said it was a way of giving back to his homeland. (It helped that Scotland had just gone through a catastrophically bad winter, so people were happy to take ship for warmer climes.)
There were paintings of Poyais, detailed guidebooks. Even ballads!

He signed up hundreds of people, seven ships worth, including soldiers destined for Poyais' military and bureaucrats for its civil service.
He also floated a loan for £200,000 (~$40m today) plus sold a whole bunch of Poyais currency and land certificates, often to people who were sinking their whole life savings into this adventure to a new world.
And then, of course, the twist: there was no Poyais, and never had been. No English town on the coast, no friendly natives ready to welcome settlers. No King of the Mosquito Coast. Nothing but a stretch of completely barren swampland covered in (obviously) mosquitos.
The settlers set up camp, hopeful that they were just lost and the Poyais authorities would find them. They were joined by another boatload. Gregor's captains assured them it was just a misunderstanding and sailed away.
Eventually another British ship found the native who was actually sort of in charge of the area, who assured everyone he had never heard of a Cazique or Poyais. The colonists, sick and starving, were shuttled to Belize, where they mostly died.
The Royal Navy managed to intercept the rest of the ships, now in mid-Atlantic, before they dropped off their hopefuls.
Meanwhile back in London! Gregor's scheme was *already falling apart*, because it turned out lending money to barely-coherent revolutionary states was not the greatest idea, and the South American bond market collapsed, depriving Gregor of revenue.
He skipped town, again, for Paris, leaving a bunch of his faithful still arguing that everything would be fine but that poor Gregor had himself been defrauded.
In Paris he proceeded to try and *launch the Poyais scheme again*, presumably on the theory that he already had the pamphlets. He also claimed to be a descendent of the King of Scotland and offered to use Poyais as a base to help Spain retake the continent.
This mostly didn't fly, and finally he went into hiding and was arrested. He and two associates were tried for fraud -- and acquitted, largely on the basis of a long statement Gregor made up about how great they were and somehow got in as evidence.
Going back to London, Gregor kept trying to sell Poyais bonds and land, mostly with little success. British investors didn't necessarily know he'd made the country up, but they knew the first bond hadn't delivered good returns, and that was all that counted.
Eventually, broke and ill, he heard that Bolivar had died and went back to Venezuela, where the government agreed to be cool about the whole death sentence thing and restored his military honors. He died in 1845, his obituary making him out as a national hero.
The things that stand out to me, reading the more detailed account of this story, are:

Gregor seems to have had no long-term plan about what to do when people noticed that Poyais, you know, didn't exist.
Some people speculate he hoped to create it, figuring the settlers would build stuff even if it wasn't what they'd been promised. But the land was awful and deadly (to Europeans) with tropical disease, so that wasn't happening.
The other thing is, whether on purpose or not, Gregor's depictions of the "Poyers" (the natives) were perfect to appeal to the fantasies of the imperialists of the time.
There were supposed to be docile, helpful, willing to work cheap, eager to be "civilized", and ever so grateful for the Europeans for colonizing them. These were the "Indians" that the colonizers kept thinking *should* be there.
Whereas the ACTUAL natives were mostly not all that happy about being invaded, for obvious reasons.

For once, the settlers thought, things are working out they way they're SUPPOSED to!
Anyway, it's a wonderful story. Apologies if I botched anything in this summary.

Wikipedia here:…

Excellent book on the subject here:…
Next on my con artist list is Alves dos Reis, aka "The Man Who Bought Portugal".…

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