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The Ostend Company (French: Compagnie d'Ostende, Dutch: Oostendse Compagnie; or, in full, Compagnie générale établie dans les Pays-Bas Autrichiens pour le Commerce et la Navigation aux Indes)[note 1] was an Austrian-Flemish private trading company established in 1722 to trade with the East and West Indies. For a few years it provided strong competition to the traditional British, Dutch and French colonial trading companies, notably in the lucrative tea trade with China. It was eventually closed down in 1731 following British pressure as part of the Treaty of Vienna as a condition for creating an alliance between the two states.
The success of the Dutch, British and French East India Companies led the merchants and shipowners of Ostend in the Austrian Netherlands to desire to establish direct commercial relations with the Indies. The trade from Ostend to Mocha, India, Bengal and China started in 1715. Some private merchants from Antwerp, Ghent and Ostend were granted charters for the East India trade by the Habsburg government of the Austrian Netherlands, which had recently gained control of the territory from Spain. Between 1715 and 1723, 34 ships sailed from Ostend to China, the Malabar or Coromandel Coasts, Surat, Bengal or Mocha. Those expeditions were financed by different international syndicates composed of Flemish, English, Dutch and French merchants and bankers.
The mutual rivalry among the syndicates weighed heavily upon the profits and this resulted in the foundation of the Ostend East-India Company, chartered by the Austrian ruler Charles VI, in December 1722. The capital of the company was fixed at 6 million guilders, composed of 6,000 shares at 1,000 guilders each. It was mainly supplied by the moneyed inhabitants of Antwerp and Ghent. The directors were chosen out of the rich and skilled merchants or bankers who had been involved in the private expeditions.
Between 1724 and 1732, 21 company vessels were sent out, mainly to Canton in China and to Bengal. Thanks to the rise in tea prices, high profits were made in the China trade. Between 1719 and 1728, the Ostend Company transported 7 million pounds of tea from China (roughly half of the total amount brought to western Europe), which would about the same as British East India Company during the same period.
From the outset, the new company provoked the open hostility of the other established East India companies which feared its formidable Imperial patronage and the fact that many of the new company's employees in the East were renegade servants of the English, Dutch or French companies, who brought with them their experience in the Eastern trade. Furthermore, in order to attract foreigners with experience, the Ostend company allowed them generous allowances in terms of cargo space for private trade, something that was anathema to the existing monopolistic companies. Despite hostile acts from its competitors, the new company was quite profitable from the start and, by 1726, was able to declare a 33 percent dividend. However, in May 1727, the Emperor, under pressure from the British mostly, suspended its charter for seven years and, in March 1731, the Second Treaty of Vienna ordered its final abolition.The flourishing Ostend Company had been sacrificed by Charles VI in order to secure the recognition of his daughter, Maria Theresa, and thus his dynastic succession. Between 1728 and 1731 a small number of illegal expeditions were organized under borrowed flags, but the very last ships sailing for the company were the two "permission-vessels" that left in 1732 and were a concession made in the Treaty of Vienna. The factory at Banquibazar, then under direct Imperial ownership, lingered on until well into the 1740s.
In the 1770s Austria re-established a colonial trading company, based on the model of the Ostend Company, to take advantage of the ongoing war between Britain, France and the Dutch Republic to take over a share of these countries' trade with India and China. This was the Société impériale asiatique de Trieste et Anvers, or Société asiatique de Trieste, also known as the Antwerp Company, founded in 1775 by William Bolts and Charles Proli, which was based in Ostend and Trieste and operated until 1785.
The ships used by the Ostend Company were medium-sized, with an average water displacement between 200 and 600 tonnes. Many were partly, or even completely, crewed by foreign sailors from England and elsewhere.
List of company ships
Ships operated by the Ostend Company included:
- L'Impératrice Élisabeth ("The Empress Elisabeth", also known as Impératrice) - a 28-gun ship, crewed by English sailors
- Espérance ("Hope") - 20-gun ship of the line
- Ville-de-Vienne ("City of Vienna") - formerly the British East Indiaman Heathcote
- Maison-d'Austriche ("House of Austria")
- Prince-Eugène ("Prince Eugene")
- Aigle ("Eagle") - 26-gun frigate
- Sainte-Élisabeth ("Saint Elisabeth")- 22-gun frigate
- Saint-Charles, formerly Saint-François-Xavier ("Saint Francis Xavier") - 26-guns
- Charles VI - 26-gun ship of the line
- Paix ("Peace") - 28-gun frigate
- Marquis-de-Prié ("Marquis of Prié") - 28-gun frigate
- Tigre ("Tiger") - 28-gun frigate
- Lion - 22-gun frigate
- Concorde ("Concord") - 30-gun ship of the line
- French was the official language of the Austrian Netherlands and the Company conducted its business in French and/or Flemish. Other names used were Compagnie impériale et royale établie dans les Pays-Bas autrichiens; Compagnie générale. M. Wanner, The Establishment of the General Company in Ostend in the context of the Habsburg Maritime Plans, 2007, p. 55.
- Butel 1997, p. 198.
- Butel 1997, p. 197.
- John Keay, The Honourable Company. A History of the English East India Company, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991, p. 240
- Keay, p. 241.
- Franz von Pollack-Parnau, "Eine österreich-ostindische Handelskompanie, 1775-1785: Beitrag zur österreichische Wirtschaftsgeschichte unter Maria Theresia und Joseph II", Vierteljahrsschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgesichte, Beiheft 12, Stuttgart, 1927. Jan Denuce, “Charles de Proli en de Aziatische Kompagnie”, Antwerpsch Archievenblad, fasc.1, 1932, pp.3-64. Helma Houtman-De Smedt, Charles Proli, Antwerps zakenman en bankier, 1723-1786: een biografische en bedrijfshistorische studie, Brussel, Paleis der Academiën, 1983, Verhandelingen van de Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België: Klasse der Letteren, no.108.
- Furber 2001, p. 299.
- Edmundson, George (1911). "Ostend Company". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 356–357.
- Butel, Paul (1997). Européens et espaces maritimes: vers 1690-vers 1790. Par cours universitaires. Bordeaux: Bordeaux University Press.
- Furber, Holden (2001). "East India Companies". In Kratoska, Paul H. South East Asia, Colonial History: Imperialism before 1800. London: Routledge.
- Parmentier, Jan (1992). De Holle Compagnie: smokkel en legale handel onder Zuidnederlandse vlag in Bengalen, ca. 1720-1744. Zeven Provincien reeks (4). Hilversum: Veloren. ISBN 9065501118.
- Serruys, Michael-W. (2005). "Oostende en de Generale Indische Compagnie. De opbloei en neergang van een koloniale handelshaven (1713-1740)". Tijdschrift voor Zeegeschiedenis 1: 43–59.
- Anon. (1907). "England and the Ostend Company". English Historical Review 22 (86): 255–79.
- Tassier, Suzanne (1954). "La compagnie d'Ostende". Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations 9 (3): 378–81.
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