Swedish East India Company

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The East India House at Norra Hamngatan in Gothenburg, built by Det svenske Ostindiska kompaniet in 1762. The inscription on the frieze states: "This Building was erected in the year of 1762 by the East India Comp. The Gothenburg museum remodeled it for its collections in the year of 1895".

The Swedish East India Company (Swedish: Svenska Ostindiska Companiet or SOIC) was founded in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1731 for the purpose of conducting trade with the Far East. The venture was inspired by the success of the Dutch East India Company and the East India Company and grew to become the largest trading company in Sweden during the 18th century, though its European influence was marginal, until it folded in 1813.


The roots for the new company extended more than a hundred years earlier. As early as 1626 the Dutchman Willem Usselincx received royal privileges from the Swedish king for a trading company, but wars and hard times had stopped the company before it launched any ships to the Far East. Another attempt was made by pirates sailing out from Madagascar, as they thought Sweden better suited as a base. They offered solid financial rewards, and negotiations were well advanced with the Swedish King Karl XII at his camp in 1718, during the campaign against Norway. With the king's death the venture folded.

Sweden was impoverished after the Great Northern War, and trade was seen as an option for rebuilding the country. Opinions however were mixed, as steel and timber were used for trading. Some argued that it was a waste to exchange such goods for worthless tea and porcelain.[a] The emerging Swedish textile industry was also threatened by the trade, and the new company soon promised to refrain from shipping textiles. Of sixty-one successfully returning voyages between 1733 and 1767, only three (of 1735, 1740 and 1742) carried cotton and silk textiles, and raw silk from Bengal.[b]

Establishing the SOIC[edit]

Colin Campbell (1686–1757) founder of the Swedish East India Company.
Early variant of state flag and war ensign. This design was also used on East India Company ships.

In 1729 the Scottish merchant Colin Campbell received help to start up a company with the Henrik König, after initially discussing the idea with Niclas Sahlgren. The reaction from the Swedish government was reluctant: the closing of the Ostend Company in 1731, based at Ostend in the Austrian Netherlands, following British pressure as part of the Treaty of Vienna boded ill for the Swedes' competition against the main powers, when trade and politics were so intimately associated. König took the matters to the Swedish parliament and succeeded, gaining royal privileges for the company on 14 June 1731, initially for a period of 15 years.[c] These privileges were the First Charter, or the First Octroi.[3] The company would have the right to all trade and shipping east of the Cape of Good Hope as far as Japan excepting the port factories of other European nations, unless free consent had been obtained in advance. The avoidance of maintaining port facilities and factories as the Dutch maintained, reduced the Company's overhead and minimized frictions with Indian and East Asian rulers.

All departures and arrivals should be out of Gothenburg, and cargo was to be auctioned promptly in Gothenburg on arrival, The Swedish state was to receive 100 riksdaler on each shipment, plus taxes: in 1712, 100 riksdaler was worth 1200 marks.

The company could use as many vessels it wanted, but they were to be built and outfitted in Sweden, and taxed on their measured length, 100 riksdaler to the Swedish state per läst (c. 2.5 tonnes)[d] and two to the city of Gothenburg. The ships were to fly the Swedish flag and carry Swedish ships' papers. The company's officers would have the same authority as Swedish naval officers, their crew exempted from service in the Swedish military. The company had the right to defend itself, to "oppose force with force".[7]

Goods and stores needed for the company were exempted from Swedish customs. The company had the right to issue shares to finance the trading trips. Early subscribers subscribed for each voyage and had the option of withdrawing their capital after its completion, in a traditional form of corporate trading partnerships; in 1753, this having been found inconvenient, it was determined that capital should be considered invested in the company as a whole, on the model of other East India companies. A partner desiring to withdraw his funds was responsible for finding another willing to substitute capital of his own.

And finally, the company was enjoined to maintain secrecy on finances and shareholders. The reasons behind this last provision were both internal and external: British citizens were forbidden to engage in trade on Asia and within Sweden suspicions ran high against foreigners, as they were thought to siphon off Sweden's riches. Jealousy from merchants not in the company also played a part. Thus, the books were burned after they had been closed and revised, effectively concealing the company's dealings from contemporaries and historians.[e]

The letter of privilege was translated into French and Latin and distributed to the major powers. Their reaction was reluctant and they made clear that they considered the new company a most unwelcome competitor. The Swedish ambassador to Britain did not even dare to present the letter to the British government. Pledges of assistance at their bases if needed were not answered.

The first expedition[edit]

The royal privileges for the SOIC, 14 June 1731.

The driving force was the Scottish trader Colin Campbell, who had gained firsthand knowledge of the China trade as supercargo for the Ostend Company; he was knighted by King Frederick I of Sweden and moved to Gothenburg to organise the first expedition. Campbell's reconstruction of his diary of the initial voyage, rediscovered in 1986, is a primary source.[f] It sailed in 9 February 1732, as the vessel Friedericus Rex Sueciae, with Campbell on board, also appointed ambassador to the Chinese court, accompanied by the Ulrica. The captain of Fredericus was Georg Herman af Trolle: both he and Campbell had previously visited China. Altogether the crew was around one hundred.

The expedition started well – the Cape of Good Hope was passed, the vessel arrived safely in Canton (now known as Guangzhou), the main trading port in China at the time, in September 1732, after 181 sailing days, and trading was carried out successfully, over four months' time. Initially, the goods sought were spices; however on later voyages demand soon meant that porcelain and tea made up the bulk of the trade.

On its return, the vessel was stopped by the Dutch between Java and Sumatra, and brought to Batavia. Campbell protested and produced his papers, but the Dutch argued that they had suspected the vessel of falsely flying the Swedish flag. The expedition was eventually released,[g] but time was lost and the winds unfavourable. Many of the seamen died en route and the ship had to recruit Norwegian sailors upon reaching the coast of Norway.

On 27 August 1733 the vessel returned to Gothenburg, almost one and a half years after its departure. The voyage was a huge economic success, the auction bringing in some 900,000 Swedish riksdaler. The dividend paid was 25% of the capital invested.

Overview of expeditions[edit]

Canton "Thirteen Factories", c. 1820, with flags of Denmark, Spain, the U.S., Sweden, Britain, and the Netherlands

The charter was renewed in 1746, 1766 and 1786, creating the Second, Third and Fourth Octrois.[10][1] In the first fifteen years of the company's charter, 25 ships were sent out, three to India and the rest to China; four of these were lost.[10]

Under the terms of the second charter 36 ships were sent out, three to Surat, the rest to Canton, and only one was lost. When it was time to renew the charter in 1766, the Swedish state extorted a loan at 6% interest, estimated in 1813 to have been the equivalent of £100,000, and another, interest-free, for half of that sum, to be repaid out of import duties,[10] in essence an advance payment of duty.

During its entire existence from 1731 to 1813 the SOIC launched 132 expeditions. Of these, eight ships were lost, totally or partially. The sorest loss was probably the Götheborg in 1745, as it sank just off Älvsborg fortress at the entrance to Gothenburg having managed to journey safely to China and back. Even though most books were burned, it is evident that the voyages were extremely profitable for the shareholders, and many Swedes became wealthy due to the SOIC.[citation needed]

From Gothenburg the vessels carried iron, both in bars and processed, as axes, anchors, steel, etc. Copper was also brought, as was timber. The expeditions called at Cádiz where they traded goods to acquire essential Spanish silver, on which the China trade depended[1] in the form of coins, pesos duros, for their agreement was that silver they carried to China, coined or uncoined, could not be in Swedish coin.[11]

The main valuable cargo from China was tea. In an overview from 1774, its share was about 90%. Much of the tea was re-exported and smuggled into England, undercutting the prices of that country's own trade monopoly held by the East India Company. Porcelain was also important accounting for about 5% of the cargo's value. Over the years it is estimated that some 50 million pieces of porcelain were imported by the SOIC.

A cargo tally, printed by William Milburn in 1813, shows the following.

The return on expeditions could be around 25-30% of the capital invested, but up to 60% was achieved. Much depended on the merchants and the captain; the merchants had to close numerous favourable deals, and the captain had the difficult task of safely sailing the ship to China and back. The vessels were around 50 metres (160 ft) long, and besides cargo and men each also carried around 25-30 cannons for self-defence and signaling. In most years of the period after 1766 one or two SOIC ships were loaded at Canton, or as many a four (1785–86).[14] The last vessel returned to Gothenburg in March 1806, and even though the company had charters until 1821, it ceased to exist in 1813.

The company also used to pay tax to the Dey of Algiers and to carry Moroccan passports, thereby promising protection from raids by Berber pirates. These transactions are documented in receipts.

The mercantile expansion of the SOIC provided a setting for Jacob Wallenberg's comic Min son på galejan ("My Son on(sic) the Galley")[15] written during the 18-month round trip to Canton in 1769-71.[i] Among his other joking and casual racism, Wallenberg parodies the serious accounts published by traveling naturalists in the wide web of Carl Linnaeus' correspondence.[j]


The ships used by the Swedish East India Company.[18][19]

Map of Stockholm in 1733, by Petrus Tillaeus.
Close-up of Tillaeus map showing the Terra Nova wharf, 1733.
Southeast Stockholm in 1674, with the Stora Stads wharf bay in the upper righthand corner. Reconstructed map.[k]
The shipwright's house at the Stora Stads wharf in Stockholm built in 1748.
The Djurgården wharf in 1928.
The Old wharf in Gothenburg circa 1919.
Store houses at the Old wharf Gothenburg circa 1919.
Ship Built at Lästs Cannons Crew Journeys
The first octroi 14 June 1731–14 June 1746
Friedericus Rex Sueciae The Terra Nova wharf,[l] Stockholm 200 20 100 5
Drottning Ulrica Eleonora Former English ship The Heatcot 250 - 103 1
Tre Cronor Unknown location outside Sweden 255 28 - 1
Suecia The Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 283 28 120 2
Götheborg (I) The Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 340 30 120 3
Lost at Gothenburg
12 September 1745
Stockholm The Clasons wharf,[m] Stockholm 260 28 120 3
Lost at Shetland
12 January 1745
Riddarhuset The Clasons wharf, Stockholm 340 30 135 2
Calmar Kalmar 254 22 100 3
Drottningen af Swerige Stockholm 387 30 130 2
Lost at Shetland
12 January 1745
Cronprinsessan Lovisa Ulrica - 320 24 120 1
Freeden The Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 260 22 120 1
Cronprinsen Adolph Friedric The Stora Stads wharf,[n] Stockholm 387 27 140 1
The second octroi 17 June 1746–17 June 1766
Prins Gustaf The Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 236 28 110 1
Götha Leijon - 310 28 120 3
Freeden The same ship as in the first octroi,
passed on to the second octroi.[24]
260 22 130 1
Hoppet The Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 280 28 30 2
Cronprinsessan Lovisa Ulrica The same ship as in the first octroi,
passed on to the second octroi.[25]
320 24 120 1
Enigheten The Djurgården wharf,[o] Stockholm 375 28 140 4
Cronprinsen Adolph Friederic The same ship as in the first octroi,
passed on to the second octroi.[27]
387 27 140 2
Prins Carl The Clasons wharf, Stockholm 350 30 140 6
Prins Friederic Adolph The Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 398 26 130 4
Lost in the South China Sea
3 September 1761
Prinsessan Sophia Albertina The Stora Stads wharf, Stockholm 402 26 134 3
Stockholms slott The Stora Stads wharf, Stockholm 454 31 154 3
Riksens ständer The Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 460 34 170 3
Finland The Stora Stads wharf, Stockholm 450 30 150 2
The third octroi 17 June 1766–17 June 1786
Adolph Friedric Built as a warship,
converted to an East Indiaman at
the Djurgården wharf, Stockholm
493 24 160 7
Lovisa Ulrica The Djurgården wharf, Stockholm 380 24 140 4
Cron Prins Gustaf Designed by Fredrik Henrik af Chapman 480 28 154 6
Riksens ständer The same ship as in the second octroi,
passed on to the third octroi.[28]
460 16 150 1
Finland The same ship as in the second octroi,
passed on to the third octroi.[28]
450 20 150 5
Stockholms slott The same ship as in the second octroi,
passed on to the third octroi.[28]
454 16 140 3
Drottning Sophia Magdalena The Stora Stads wharf, Stockholm 485 18 150 4
Terra Nova Terra Nova wharf, Stockholm 503 18 150 4
Gustaf III The Djurgården wharf, Stockholm 512 18 155 4
Gustaf Adolph The Stora Stads wharf, Stockholm 518 18 150 1
The fourth octroi 17 June 1786–17 June 1806
Gustaf Adolph The same ship as in the third octroi,
passed on to the fourth octroi.[27]
518 18 150 3
Drottning Sophia Magdalena The same ship as in the third octroi,
passed on to the fourth octroi.[28]
500 18 150 5
Lost in the English Channel
27 October 1801
Götheborg (II) The Viken wharf,[p][q] Gothenburg 530 20 170 3
Lost at Cape Town
8 March 1796
Cron Prins Gustaf The same ship as in the third octroi,
passed on to the fourth octroi.[27]
488[r] 18 150 1
Gustaf III The same ship as in the third octroi,
passed on to the fourth octroi.[27]
499 29 160 5
Drottningen The Viken wharf, Gothenburg 542 20 150 3
Lost at Humberön, Norway
1 January 1803
Maria Carolina France 320 10 80 3
Östergöthland Norrköping 266 14 56 2
Westergöthland The Old wharf,[s] Gothenburg 162 8 - 1
Ran aground at Cape Town
Sold in Amsterdam 1802
Fredrica Bought in Île-de-France 243 12 56 3
Prinsessan Karlskrona 283 16 70 2
Wasa Karlskrona 477 20 167 1

Company ship replica[edit]

The full scale replica East Indiaman Götheborg in Oslo, on 10 June 2005, for the centenary of the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden
Main article: Götheborg (ship)

In 1993 a project to recreate the East Indiaman Götheborg and sail her from Gothenburg to Guangzhou began. The project is run by a firm that uses the same name as the original company. The vessel was reconstructed and sailed for China in October 2005, arriving in July 2006, with a mixed crew of professionals and students. The ship has since travelled to many locations and maritime events across the world.[34][35]

The actual name of the replica is Götheborg III. It is a replica of the Götheborg that sank outside Gothenburg in 1745. A second ship of the same name was built in Gothenburg in 1786. It was the largest[36] of all the SOIC vessels and made three journeys to Canton: 2 February 1788–13 May 1790, 13 November 1791–12 June 1793, and on 5 December 1795, the ship sailed for Canton but was lost at Cape Town on 8 March 1796, on the way out from Gothenburg.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Contemporary arguments pro and con concerning the Swedish East India Company (SOIC) are examined in the last chapter of Christian Koninckx.[1]
  2. ^ Koninckx, quoted in "The European Trading Companies".[2]
  3. ^ The reappearance of some Antwerp bankers who had been members of the Ostend Company, as investors in the Swedish East India Company misled some historians in viewing the SOIC as a type of front for continuing the Ostend Company; this misperception was put to rest by Koninckx.[1]
  4. ^ A "läst" was a unit to describe a ships tonnage. In 1723, this was calculated by using the formula: 5/6 of the (ships) length X width X height. This computation later proved unsatisfactory and was replaced by measuring the ship from certain points, multiply these as before and divide by 112.[4] A "läst" could also be described as about 2.5 metric tons (5,500 lb).[5] In 1726, a "ships läst" was defined as 2,448 kilograms (5,397 lb) and in 1863, the "new läst" was introduced and defined as 4,250 kilograms (9,370 lb).[6]
  5. ^ Scattered archives have been assembled into a digital archive of the Swedish East India Company, 1731-1813: a joint project of a university library and a history department: Svenska Ostindiska Companiets Arkiv.
  6. ^ Campbell had destroyed his diary when the ship was taken by the Dutch and reconstructed it from memory and some loose papers; it was translated and published by Paul Hallberg and Christian Koninckx.[8]
  7. ^ "Since which period the Swedish East India Company have been suffered to carry on their trade without the least interruption, but which is solely confined to China," Milburn in summery of the Swedish East India Company.[9]
  8. ^ Definition of Hyson skin varies: "The light and inferior leaves separated from hyson by a winnowing machine."[12] ...a superior kind of green tea, of a round, knobby, brightish leaf; but great part of what is imported, is of inferior quality, of a yellowish open leaf, somewhat resembling singlo, and, in consequence, varies greatly in price."[13]
  9. ^ Rose examines the comic account of a real voyage.[16]
  10. ^ "Spoofing Linnaeus".[17]
  11. ^ Reconstruction by Carl Björling, 1916, from the Estate book by Johan Holm written in 1674.[20]
  12. ^ The Terra Nova wharf, also known as the Köpmannavarvet (the Merchants Wharf),[21] was founded by Abraham Grill in 1716. It was situated in central Stockholm where the Strandvägen is today. The wharf was sold in 1782, and the land was passed on to the Swedish state in 1819.[22][23]
  13. ^ The wharf ("Clasons varv") was founded by Johan Clason in 1725, and later inherited by his son. It was situated on the south-east part of the Blasieholmen peninsula in central Stockholm.[22][23]
  14. ^ The wharf ("Stora Stadsvarvet") was founded in 1687, and operated by the city of Stockholm until 1694 when it was leased by Anthoni Grill and various members of the Grill Trading House. It was situated in the south part of Stockholm on the west shore of Tegelviken, right opposite the Fåfängan.[22][23]
  15. ^ The wharf ("Djurgårdsvarvet", later the "Lotsack-Kiermanska Djurgårdsvarvet") was founded by Ephraim Losack in 1735. After the death of Losack, the wharf was passed on to Gustaf Kierman, who married Losack's widow in 1752. After the bankruptcy and death of Kierman, the wharf was taken over by a consortium which operated the wharf to the middle of the 19th century. It is situated at Djurgården in Stockholm, next to where the Gröna Lund is today. [22][23] As of 2014, the wharf is still in operation, albeit on a smaller scale. In 2009, in was renovated along with the adjacent houses.[26]
  16. ^ According to Kellberg the ship was built at the Viken wharf by Jean Fredrik Roempke, but Hugo Hammar indicates the Old wharf instead.[29] The discussion may be academic since the two wharfs were situated close to each other and in 1752, they were merged and run as a unit.[30] The ship was built in 1786.
  17. ^ The wharf ("Vikens varv"), also called the Baggens wharf was founded in 1749 by Peter Samuelsson Bagge and Fredrik Henrik af Chapman. It was situated in the Majorna just west of the Old wharf, the two wharfs were later merged.[30][31]
  18. ^ The ship was re-measured and was found to be 488.2 lästs[32]
  19. ^ The wharf ("Gamla varvet") was founded by moving the Älvsborgs shipsyard to Gothenburg sometime before 1630. It was situated below the Stigberget. The wharf was first run by Alexander Forath, a Scotsman. The wharf passed through numerous owners and at the time of the SOIC 1752–1767, it was leased by Peter Samuelsson Bagge and merged with the Viken wharf and run as one unit. Much of the wharf was destroyed in a fire in 1820.[33][30]


  1. ^ a b c d Koninckx 1980.
  2. ^ Johnson & Prakash 1998, p. 80.
  3. ^ Kjellberg 1975, p. 43.
  4. ^ Kjellberg 1975, p. 300.
  5. ^ Frängsmyr 1990, p. 169.
  6. ^ "Ordförklaringar" [Glossary]. http://ostindiska.nordiskamuseet.se/. Nordic Museum. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  7. ^ Milburn 1813, p. 575.
  8. ^ Campbell, Hallberg & Koninckx 1996.
  9. ^ Milburn 1813, pp. 576–78.
  10. ^ a b c Milburn 1813, p. 577.
  11. ^ Milburn 1813, pp. 575–577.
  12. ^ Gove Philip Babcock, ed. (1993). "Hyson skin". Webster's third new international dictionary of the English language, unabridged. Cologne: Könemann. ISBN 3-8290-5292-8. 
  13. ^ Daniel Defoe (1815). Robinson Crusoe. London: Joseph Mawman. p. 400. 
  14. ^ Milburn 1813, p. 578.
  15. ^ Wallenberg, Jacob; Graves, Peter (1994). My son on the galley, translation of the 1769 original: Min son på galejan. Norvik press series. A ; 10. London: Norvik press. ISBN 1-870041-23-2. 
  16. ^ Rose 2000, pp. 217–232.
  17. ^ Rose 2000, pp. 220–223.
  18. ^ "Expeditionerna: Kompaniets skepp" [The Expeditions: The Company's Ships]. http://ostindiska.nordiskamuseet.se/. Nordic Museum. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  19. ^ Kjellberg 1975, pp. 177–184.
  20. ^ "Holms Tomtbok, södra förstaden östra, 1674" [The Holms Estate book, south suburb east, 1674]. www2.ssa.stockholm.se. City of Stockholm - City Archive - Digital Archive. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  21. ^ "Strandvägshamnen" [Port at Strandvägen]. www.stockholmshamnar.se. Stockholms Hamn. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  22. ^ a b c d Zethelius 1956, p. 59.
  23. ^ a b c d Högberg 1969, p. 28.
  24. ^ Kjellberg 1975, p. 178.
  25. ^ Kjellberg 1975, p. 179.
  26. ^ Gyllenberg, Eva-Karin. "Djurgårdsvarvet väcks till liv igen." [The Djurgården wharf is brought back to life.]. www.dn.se. Dagens Nyheter. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 
  27. ^ a b c d Lindqvist 2002, pp. 138–139.
  28. ^ a b c d Kjellberg 1975, p. 181.
  29. ^ Nilsson, Jan-Erik. "30. Götheborg (II)". www.ostindiefararen.com. Projekt Ostindiefararen Götheborg III. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  30. ^ a b c "Varvet Viken" [The Viken wharf]. http://gamlagoteborg.se/. Det Gamla Göteborg. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  31. ^ Fredberg, Carl Rudolf A:son (1919–1924). Det gamla Göteborg. Lokalhistoriska skildringar, personalia och kulturdrag / Del 1 [The old Gothenburg. Local history, observations, persons and culture / Part 1]. Gothenburg: Via Project Runeberg. pp. 286–287. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  32. ^ Kjellberg 1975, pp. 181–183.
  33. ^ Fredberg, Carl Rudolf A:son (1919–1924). Det gamla Göteborg. Lokalhistoriska skildringar, personalia och kulturdrag / Del 1 [The old Gothenburg. Local history, observations, persons and culture / Part 1]. Gothenburg: Via Project Runeberg. pp. 331–336. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  34. ^ Arensberg 2009.
  35. ^ Ahlander & Langert 2009.
  36. ^ Arensberg 2009, p. 18.
  37. ^ Kjellberg 1975, pp. 182–183.


External links[edit]