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Danish India

Danish India
Dansk Ostindien
Danish East India Company (1620–1777)
Dano-Norwegian colonies (1777–1814)
Danish colonies (1814–1869)

Flag of Denmark

Danish and other European settlements in India
Capital Fort Dansborg
Languages Danish, Tamil, Hindustani, Bengali
Political structure Colonies
King of Denmark (and Norway until 1814)
 -  1588-1648 Christian IV
 -  1863-1906 Christian IX
 -  1620-1621 Ove Gjedde
 -  1673-1682 Sivert Cortsen Adeler
 -  1759-1760 Christian Frederik Høyer
 -  1788-1806 Peter Anker
 -  1825-1829 Hans de Brinck-Seidelin
 -  1841-1845 Peder Hansen
Historical era Colonial period
 -  Established 1620
 -  Disestablished 1869
Currency Danish Indian rupee
Today part of  India

Danish India is a term for the former colonies of Denmark[1] in India. Denmark held colonial possessions in India for 225 years, including the town of Tranquebar in present-day Tamil Nadu state, Serampore in present-day West Bengal, and the Nicobar Islands, currently part of India's union territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Danish presence in India was of little significance to the major European powers as they presented neither a military nor a mercantile threat.[2] Danish ventures in India, as elsewhere, were typically under-capitalized and never able to dominate or monopolize trade routes in the same way that the companies of Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain could.[3] Against all odds however they managed to cling to their colonial holdings, and at times, to carve out a valuable niche in international trade by taking advantage of wars between larger countries and offering foreign trade under a neutral flag.[4][5] For this reason their presence was tolerated until 1845, when their alliance with a defeated France led to the colony being ceded to the British East Indian company.


  • History 1
    • First Expedition (1618 - 1620) 1.1
    • Early Years (1621 - 1639) 1.2
    • Abandonment and isolation (1640-1669) 1.3
    • The Second Danish East India Company 1.4
    • Napoleonic Wars and decline 1.5
  • See also 2
  • Notes and references 3


Fort Dansborg at Tranquebar was established in 1620.
Colonial India
British Indian Empire
Imperial entities of India
Dutch India 1605–1825
Danish India 1620–1869
French India 1769–1954
Portuguese India
Casa da Índia 1434–1833
Portuguese East India Company 1628–1633
British India
East India Company 1612–1757
Company rule in India 1757–1858
British Raj 1858–1947
British rule in Burma 1824–1948
Princely states 1721–1949
Partition of India

The success of Dutch and English traders in the seventeenth century spice trade was a source of envy among Danish merchants; however Dutch control over the East Indies was seen as impregnable. It took the arrival of the Dutch adventurer Marcelis de Boshouwer in 1618 to provide the impetus for Danish involvement in the Indian sub-continent. Initially however, this was not the intention. Marcelis arrived as an envoy for the emperor of Ceylon, Cenerat Adassin, seeking military assistance against the Portuguese and promising a monopoly on all trade with the island. His appeal had been rejected by his countrymen, but it convinced Christian IV, the King of Denmark-Norway, who issued a charter in 1616 granting the Danish East India Company a monopoly on trade between Denmark and Asia for twelve years.

First Expedition (1618 - 1620)

The first expedition set sail in 1618 under Admiral Ove Gjedde, taking two years to reach Ceylon and losing more than half their crew on the way. Upon arriving in May 1620, they found the emperor no longer desiring any foreign assistance having made a peace agreement with the Portuguese three years earlier. Nor, to the dismay of the Admiral, was the Emperor the sole, or even the "most distinguished king in this land".[6] Failing to get the Danish-Ceylonese trade contract confirmed, the Danes briefly occupied the Koneswaram temple before receiving word from their Trade Director, Robert Crappe.

Crappe had sailed on the scouting freighter the Øresund one month prior to the main fleet. The Øresund had encountered Portuguese vessels off the Karaikkal coast and was sunk, with most of the crew killed, or taken prisoner. The heads of two crew members were placed on spikes on the beach as a warning to the Danes. Crappe and 13 of the crew however had escaped the wreck, making it to shore where they were captured by Indians and taken to the Nayak of Tanjore (now Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu). The Nayak turned out to be interested in trading opportunities and Crappe managed to negotiate a treaty granting them the village of Tranquebar (or Tarangamabadi)[7] and the right to construct a "stone house" (Fort Dansborg) and levy taxes.[8] This was signed on 20 November 1620.

Early Years (1621 - 1639)

The early years of the colony where arduous, with poor administration and investment, coupled with the loss of almost two thirds of all the trading vessels dispatched from Denmark.[9] The ships that did return made a profit on their cargo, but total returns fell well short of the costs of the entire venture.[10] Moreover the geographical location of the colony was vulnerable to high tidal waves which repeatedly destroyed what people built - roads, houses, administrative buildings, markets etc.[11] Although the intention had been to create an alternative to the English and Dutch traders, the dire financial state of the company and the redirection of national resources towards the Thirty Years War led the colony to abandon efforts to trade directly for themselves, and instead to become neutral third party carriers for goods in the Bay of Bengal.

By 1625 a factory had been established at Masulipatnam, the most important emporium in the region, and lesser trading offices were established at Pipli and Balasore. Despite this, by 1627 the colony was in such a poor financial state that they had just three ships left in their possession and was unable to pay the agreed-upon tribute to the Nayak, increasing local tensions. The Danish presence was also unwanted by English and Dutch traders who believed them to be operating under the protection of their navies without bearing any of the costs. Despite this they could not crush Danish trade due to diplomatic implications related to their respective nations' involvement in the European wars.[12]

In 1638 an effort was made in Copenhagen by the major stockholders of the company to have it be dissolved. However, the proposal was rejected by Christian IV who would continue to resist such efforts until his death in 1648.[13] Despite Christian's disinclination to wind up his favoured endeavour however, there was little additional support that he could actually provide. In 1639 two ships sailed from Denmark, the Christianshavn and Solen. These would be the last two Danish ships to travel to Tranquebar for the next 29 years.

Abandonment and isolation (1640-1669)

  • 1640 - Danes attempt to sell Fort Danesborg to the Dutch for a second time.
  • 1642 - Danish colony declares war on Mogul empire and commences raiding ships in the Bay of Bengal. Within a few months they had captured one of the Mogul emperor's vessels, incorporated it into their fleet (renamed the Bengali Prize) and sold the goods in Tranquebar for a substantial profit.
  • 1643 - Willem Leyel, designated the new leader of the colony by the company directors in Copenhagen arrives aboard the Christianshavn. Holland and Sweden declare war on Denmark.
  • 1645 - Danish factory holdings fall increasingly under Dutch control. The Nayak sends small bands to raid Tranquebar.
  • 1648 - Christian IV, patron of the colony dies. East India company bankrupt.
  • 1650 - The Danish East India Company dissolved
  • 1655 - Nayak besieges fort due to lack of tribute payments. Supported by local natives the fort withstands the attack. Eskild Andersen Kongsbakke, the last Dane in the colony, is appointed leader.
  • 1660 - Kongsbakke builds a wall around the town of Tranquebar.
  • 1667/8 - Dutch conquest of Makassar ends all independent Danish activity in the spice trade.[14]
  • 1668 - Danish Government send the frigate Færø to India, commanded by Capt. Sivardt Adelaer. It arrives May, 1669 ending 29 years of isolation. To their surprise the crew still found the Danish flag flying over Fort Dansborg and the Danish garrison in place. Kongsbakke officially appointed leader.

The Second Danish East India Company

The Danish also established several commercial outposts, governed from Tranquebar:

  • 1696 - 1722 Oddeway Torre on the Malabar coast.
  • 1698 - 1714 Dannemarksnagore at Gondalpara, southeast of Chandernagore.
  • 1752 - 1791 Calicut.
  • October 1755 Frederiksnagore at Serampore, in present-day West Bengal.
  • June 9, 1706 - Two Danish missionaries land in India - the first Protestant missionaries in India. They were not welcomed by their countrymen who suspected them of being spies.[15]
  • November 1754 - Meeting of Danish officials in Tranquebar. Decision made to colonise the Nicobar Islands for the purpose of planting pepper, cinnamon, sugarcane, coffee and cotton.
  • 1 January 1756 - The Nicobar Islands declared Danish property under the name Frederiksøerne (Frederick's Islands).
  • 1763 Balasore (already occupied 1636-1643).
  • In 1777 it was turned over to the government by the chartered company and became a Danish crown colony.
  • In 1789 the Andaman Islands became a British possession.

Napoleonic Wars and decline

During the Napoleonic Wars, the British attacked Danish shipping, and devastated the Danish East India Company's India trade. In May 1801 - August 1802 and 1808 - 20 September 1815 the British even occupied Dansborg and Frederiksnagore.

The Danish colonies went into decline, and the British ultimately took possession of them, making them part of British India: Serampore was sold to the British in 1839, and Tranquebar and most minor settlements in 1845 (11 October 1845 Frederiksnagore sold; 7 November 1845 other continental Danish India settlements sold); on 16 October 1868 all Danish rights to the Nicobar Islands, which since 1848 had been gradually abandoned, were sold to Britain.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Until 1814 Denmark–Norway.
  2. ^ Rasmussen, Peter Ravn (1996). "Tranquebar: The Danish East India Company 1616 -1669". University of Copenhagen. 
  3. ^ Felbæk, Ole (1990). Den danske Asienhandel 1616-1807: Værdi og Volumen. pp. 320–324. 
  4. ^ Poddar, Prem (2008). A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures: Continental Europe and Its Empires. Edinburgh University Press. p. 99.  
  5. ^ FeldbæK, Ole (1986). "The Danish trading companies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Scandinavian Economic History Review". Scandinavian Economic History Review 34 (3): 204–218.  
  6. ^ Esther Fihl (2009). "Shipwrecked on the Coromandel:The first Indo–Danish contact, 1620". Review of Development and Change 14 (1&2): 19-40
  7. ^ Larsen, Kay (1907). Volume 1 of Dansk-Ostindiske Koloniers historie: Trankebar. Jørgensen. pp. 167–169. 
  8. ^ Bredsdorff, Asta (2009). The Trials and Travels of Willem Leyel: An Account of the Danish East India Company in Tranquebar, 1639-48. Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 13.  
  9. ^ Of the 18 ships that departed from Denmark between 1622 and 1637, only 7 returned. Kay Larsen: Trankebar, op.cit., p.30-31.
  10. ^ Brdsgaard, Kjeld Erik (2001). China and Denmark: Relations Since 1674. NIAS Press. pp. 9–11.  
  11. ^ Jeyaraj, Daniel (2006). "Trancquebar Colony: Indo-Danish Settlement". Bartholomus Ziegenbalg, the Father of Modern Protestant Mission: An Indian Assessment. ISPCK. pp. 10–27.  
  12. ^ Lach, Donald (1993). Trade, missions, literature, Volume 3. University of Chicago Press. p. 92.  
  13. ^ Feldbæk, Ole (1981). The Organization and Structure of the Danish East India, West India and Guinea Companies in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Leiden University Press. p. 140. 
  14. ^ Lach, Donald (1993). Trade, missions, literature, Volume 3. University of Chicago Press. p. 92.  
  15. ^ Sharma, Suresh K. (2004). Leiden University Press. Mittal Publications.  

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