In 1891, Arthur Sinclair, botanist, writer and surveyor, was sent to assess ten million acres of land in the Peruvian Amazon. Crippled by defeat in the War of the Pacific (1879–84), Peru had defaulted on its debt payments and was now being forced to cede immense assets, including land and railways, to its British creditors, the Peruvian Corporation of London.
Sinclair gave a glowing appraisal of the region’s arable potential. ‘What crops of vegetables and fruit might not be produced in such a climate and such a soil!’ he wrote in his memoir, In Tropical Lands (1895). ‘Had poor old Malthus only been permitted to look upon a