The Imperial Ostend Company (German: Kaiserliche Ostender Kompanie; Dutch: Keizerlijke Oostendse Compagnie) 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 colonial trading companies. It was eventually closed down in 1731 following British pressure as part of the Treaty of Vienna 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 Coast, 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, Holy Roman Emperor, in December 1722. The capital of the company was fixed at 6 million guilders, composed of 6,000 shares of 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. The company also possessed two factories: Cabelon on the Coromandel Coast and Banquibazar in Bengal.
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.
This was a thorn in the side of the older rival companies, such as the Dutch VOC, the English EIC and the French CFT. They refused to acknowledge the Austrian emperor's right to found an East India company in the Southern Netherlands and considered the Ostenders interlopers. International political pressure was put on the emperor, and he finally capitulated, particularly not wanting to offend the British who had become allies of the Austrians, and who raised the most vocal opposition to the new company.
The ships used by the Ostend company were medium-sized, with an average water displacement between 200 and 600 tons. They were often named after animals such as de Arent (the eagle).
In May 1727 the charter of the company was suspended for seven years and in March 1731 the second treaty of Vienna ordered the definitive abolition. The flourishing Ostend Company had been sacrificed to the interests of the Austrian dynasty. Between 1728 and 1731 a small number of illegal expeditions was 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 second treaty of Vienna.
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 Holland 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.
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