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 British East India Company and grew to become
the largest trading company in Sweden during the 18th century,
until it folded in 1813.
The roots for the new company were more than a hundred years
back. As early as 1626 the Dutchman Willem Usselincx got royal
privileges from the Swedish King for a trading company, but wars
and hard times had however 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 his campaign towards Norway. With
the king's death the venture folded.
Sweden was impoverished after the Great Northern War, and trade
was therefore seen as an option for rebuilding the country.
Opinions however were mixed, as steel and timber were used for
trading; was it not a waste to exchange such goods for worthless
tea and porcelain? The emerging Swedish textile industry was
also threatened by the trade, so that the new company promised
to refrain from it.
To start a new trading company that would venture into the
interests of European powers France and Britain was not easy,
but at the same time the monopoly given to trade companies was a
help. The Scottish and English merchants left out of the British
East India Company were more than eager to have their share of
the trade, by financing the new Swedish company.
Establishing the SOIC
In 1729 the Scottish merchant Colin Campbell got help for
setting up a company with the Swede Henrik König, after
initially discussing the idea with Niclas Sahlgren. The reaction
from the Swedish government was reluctant: the failure of a
similar company based in Ostend in the Austrian Netherlands
boded ill for the Swedes' competition against the main powers.
König took the matters to the Swedish parliament and succeeded,
gaining royal privileges for the company on 14 January 1731,
initially for a period of 15 years. Among the rights were:
The company would have the right to all trade and shipping east
of the Cape of Good Hope
All departures and arrivals should be out of Gothenburg (Göteborg)
The Swedish state was to have 100 riksdaler on each shipment,
In 1712 100 riksdaler was worth 1200 mark
The cargo was to be auctioned off in Gothenburg on arrival
The company could use as many vessels it wanted, but they were
to be built and outfitted in Sweden
The ships were to fly the Swedish flag and have Swedish ships
The company had the right to issue shares to finance the trading
Goods and stores needed for the company were exempted of Swedish
The company's officers would have the same authority as Swedish
The crew on the company's ships was exempted from the Swedish
The company had the right to defend itself, to "meet violence
The company was to maintain secrecy on finances and shareholders
The reasons behind the 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 on the company also played a part. Thus
the books were burned after they had been closed and revisioned;
effectively concealing the company's dealings.
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
The first expedition
The driving force was the Scottish trader Colin
Campbell, who was knighted by the Swedish King and moved to
Gothenburg to organise the first expedition. It sailed in 9
February 1732, on the vessel Friedericus Rex Sueciae, with
Campbell onboard, also appointed ambassador to the Chinese
court. The captain 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 (Guangzhou), the main
trading port in China at the time, and trading was carried out
successfully. Initially, the goods sought were spices; however
demand soon meant that porcelain and tea made up the bulk of the
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 falsely flew the Swedish flag. The
expedition was eventually released, but time was lost and the
winds unfavourable. Many of the seamen died on route; so many so
that 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.
Overview of expeditions
During its existence from 1731 to 1821 the SOIC launched 132
expeditions. Of these a total of 8 ships were lost, totally or
partially. Probably the sorest loss was the "Götheborg" in 1745,
as it sunk just off Älvsborg Fortress on the entrance to
Gothenburg; it had managed to get safely to China and back. Even
though most books were burned its evident that the voyages made
huge profits for the shareholders, and many Swedes became
wealthy due to the SOIC.
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 Spanish silver, in the form of coins, "pesos
The main cargo from China as of value 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. The other important item
was porcelain, accounting for about 5% of the cargo's value.
Over the years its estimated that some 50 million pieces of
porcelain was imported by the SOIC.
The return on expeditions could be around 25-30% of capital
invested, but up to 60% was achieved. Much depended on the
merchants and the captain; the merchants had to close a large
number of favourable deals, and the captain had the extremely
difficult task of safely sailing the ship to China and back. The
vessels were around 50 meters long, and besides cargo and men
each also carried around 25-30 guns for self-defense. The last
vessel returned to Gothenburg in March 1806, and even though the
company had a privilege until 1821 it ceased to exist in 1813.
Revival of one SOIC vessel
In 1993, a project to recreate the "East Indiaman
Götheborg" and sail her from Gothenburg to Canton was started.
The project is today run by a firm that uses the same name as
the original company. The vessel was reconstructed and sailed in
October 2005 for China, with a mixed crew of professionals and