Danes, The

Danes, The Danish people started their eastern trading activities in the early seventeenth century. King Christian IV of Denmark founded the Danish Company of the Indies by a letter patent issued on 17 March 1616. Till 1640, only 18 Danish ships were sent to India that brought back spices, porcelains, diamonds etc. Rolald Grappe, the chief of the company, set up a factory at Pipli in 1625, followed by another at Balasore. The Danes did not have a farman and hence their relation with the local officials began to deteriorate soon. In 1642, local inhabitants ransacked the Pipli factory and the Danes had to leave both Pipli and Balasore. The situation worsened when a Danish ship, St. Jacob, wanted to anchor at Pipli in a violent storm. The faujdar refused permission and the ship was scuttled with loss of sixteen persons. The faujdar rejected the demand for compensation and the Danes began to seize ships and boats on the Bengal coast. Between 1638 and 1645, the Danes had captured seven ships. Excepting one of 180 tons, the rest were sampans, which hardly produced the result the Danes were looking for. Other Europeans, particularly the dutch, were against such attacks.

In 1645 shah shuja, the subahdar of Bengal, offered to pay Rs 80,000/- as compensation, which was refused by the Danes. Till the end of 1646, the piracy and the negotiations continued. A settlement was probably reached at the end of 1647. With the death of King Christian IV in 1648, the company got into difficulties in Denmark.

Meanwhile Danish piracy was continuing on the Bengal coast. In 1661, they captured a Bengal ship laden with rich cargo. The crew and the passengers were sold as slaves at Achen. Even Dutch mediation did not bring any settlement. By 1670, thirty Bengal ships were captured or scuttled by the Danes. By 1676, an agreement was reached allowing the Danes to settle at Pipli, Balasore and Hughli. The Mughal emperor approved of it and fixed the payment of 2BD% as custom duties. The Danes now began to plan for the purchase of silk, opium and saltpetre from Bengal. They would sell Tranquebar salt, European copper, iron and spirits in Bengal. The settlement did not last and the Danes began their piracy after evacuating Balasore.

While the demand for Bengal sugar, saltpetre and textile was increasing in Denmark, the company began negotiations with Bengal authorities from 1690. Andre Andras could sign the accord in 1698 by which the company would forsake all claims for compensation and enjoy earlier commercial privileges. They were permitted to set up a factory near Chandernagore, which was called Danemarknagar. The warehouse and other buildings were enclosed by a wall and the number of personnel was nearly forty. The company however never received the promised farman.

It appears that the freight trade from Bengal to Tranquebar did not bring any profit. The project of the Bengal factor, Jean Jonchim, who had bought a big ship, was unsuccessful. Some of the factors acted so highhandedly with the local inhabitants, often maltreating the Bengali employees, two of whom died as a result, that serious problems arose. Wolf Ravn, one of the factors, was condemned by the company and was imprisoned for life. The report of the Danish governor, Erasmus Hansen Attrup, who came as governor in 1711, found the factory without stock and without credit while the local inhabitants were determined to drive the Danes away.

The Danish settlement in Bengal, about one and half mile from Chandernagore, had been receiving immigrants, and the Danes had begun to settle people in nearby villages before any permission was received from the subahdar. After several years, the Bengal government demanded rent from these villages, including arrears. In October 1714, on the refusal of the Danes to pay, the Karori Ramkrishna Ray led an attack, which was easily repulsed. Another attack by him in December also failed. By that time the Danes had no funds as no ship had come for several years. Their complaint to murshid quli khan was turned down. The Danes then evacuated their settlement and seized a big Moor ship rich in cargo, in front of Baranagar. They then collected about 350 Christian mercenaries and moved towards the mouth of the river. Attempts by the English and the French to mediate failed.

As a result the settlement of Danemarknagar was plundered by the faujdar of Hughli. Before leaving the Ganges, Attrup had declared war on the Mughals and accused Ramkrishna Karori of having received Rs 30,000 for the farman which he never delivered. Peace however came by the end of 1716 and the Danes again took possession of their settlement, in which there was no commerce. Without funds and without commerce, the factors ceased to have any noticeable existence. In 1721, the Danes sold their factory to the portuguese. The local authorities however took possession of the factory on the plea that the required payment had not been made.

Till 1744, the Danes made unsuccessful efforts to re-establish their settlement at Danemarknagar. However, in 1755, Alivardi Khan permitted the Danes to settle at Serampore, thanks to the mediation of the English, who were interested in sending money accrued from their private commerce to Europe through the Danes. Englishmen like robert clive, warren hastings, robert orme and others had collaborated with the Danes through country trading in the pre-Palashi period by sending Danish bills of exchange, prepared at Tranquebar, to Europe. As a result, the Danes never lacked cash for their trading venture in Bengal.

After 1757, the Danes like other non-English Europeans, found difficulties in freighting non-English ships, while the English monopolised the saltpetre and opium trade. In 1777, the Danish King took over the company and allowed Danish private merchants to trade in Asia. During the American war of Independence, the Danish company could increase their export from Bengal as a neutral country. With the peace in 1783, the situation changed and the Danes began to face stiff competition from other European nations. From 1785, Serampore was receiving American ships and missionaries. From the 1790s, Serampore became a centre of proselytisation and literary activities. The serampore mission, serampore mission press and serampore college had a far reaching effect on the social, religious and cultural life of Bengal. [Aniruddha Ray]