The Swedish India Company (SOIC) made Gothenburg a famous harbour town in the 1700s. Every good household had to have tea and Chinese porcelain. The headlines chanted "This is where maids and servants drink their tea".
The East India Company was formed on the initiative of Scottish nobleman Colin Campbell and the Swede Niclas Sahlgren. They applied for a charter which afforded them a lucrative monopoly on trade with China. The company built 37 vessels and made 139 trips. A trip would take one and a half years.
(Colin Campbell and Niclas Sahlgren)
One of the key roles on board was that of the "supercargo" (superkargören), and next to the captain, he or she would be the one to call all of the shots. The supercargo had responsibility for shipment and trading of axes, fishing gear, lanterns, penknives, flour, dried fish, mattresses, and brushes.
Everything was traded in Cádiz, Spain for the silver that the Chinese wanted. Exotic goods such as silk, furniture, tea and especially porcelain were very sought after back in Sweden.
Many noblemen and landlords wanted to flaunt their own decorations and family arms and sent along drawings for the Chinese artists to transfer on to plates and barrels. The Chinese were very skilled and copied everything.
Homecoming was a big event in Gothenburg, when the ships were sighted at the Vinga lighthouse. The curious would gather to see who the survivors were and the East India Company would hold a great feast called the hen party, which would last a week. The officials were then busy for days, bringing goods into the city with smaller boats and carts, printing catalogs, and advertising in the press.
The auctions were held in a warehouse and serious buyers came from all over Europe.
(Painted, Chinese silk fabric brought to Sweden by the SOIC, 18th century)
Niclas Sahlgren became one of the countries wealthiest men. He lived in a palace, but he was reclusive and declined a knighthood. He certainly didn't refuse membership of the Vasa Order, however.
He also donated 24 beds to a hospital, and this hospital later became the famous Sahlgrenska Hospital (Sahlgrenska Universitetssjukhuset)
Today's East India ship, the Götheborg, was built in the same way as it would have been in the eighteenth century. Since being built in 2003, it has sailed to China and back. It is a copy of the 1745 ship that sank just outside the entrance of Gothenburg harbour. Most of the cargo was salvaged, however, and insurance fraud was suspected.
At a shareholders meeting on 13 December 1813, the company folded. The remaining stock and inventory was sold to foreign buyers and in 1814, the trade was declared free for anyone.
The legacy of the SOIC lives on through the Götheborg.