|Common languages||Danish, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali,|
|King of Denmark (and Norway until 1814)|
|Sivert Cortsen Adeler|
|Christian Frederik Høyer|
|Hans de Brinck-Seidelin|
|Historical era||Colonial period|
|Currency||Danish Indian Rupee|
|Today part of||India|
Danish India (Danish: Dansk Ostindien) was the name given to the colonies of Denmark (Denmark–Norway before 1814) in the Indian subcontinent, forming part of the Danish colonial empire. Denmark–Norway held colonial possessions in India for more than 200 years, including the town of Tharangambadi 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 and Norwegian presence in India was of little significance to the major European powers as they presented neither a military nor a mercantile threat. Dano-Norwegian ventures in India, as elsewhere, were typically undercapitalised and never able to dominate or monopolise trade routes in the same way that British, French, and Portuguese ventures could.
Despite these disadvantages, the Danish-Norway concerns 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. For this reason their presence was tolerated for many years until the growth in British imperial power led to the sale of all Danish holdings in India to Britain during the nineteenth century.
|History of South Asia|
The success of Dutch and English traders in the 17th century spice trade was a source of envy among Danish and Norwegian merchants. On March 17, 1616, Christian IV the King of Denmark-Norway, issued a charter creating a Danish East India Company with a monopoly on trade between Denmark-Norway and Asia for 12 years. It would take an additional two years before sufficient capital had been raised to finance the expedition, perhaps due to lack of confidence on the part of Danish investors. It took the arrival of the Dutch merchant and colonial administrator, Marchelis de Boshouwer, in 1618 to provide the impetus for the first voyage. Marcelis arrived as an envoy (or at least claimed to do so) 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 the Danish King.
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".
Failing to get the Dano-Norwegian-Ceylonese trade contract confirmed, the Dano-Norwegians briefly occupied the Koneswaram Temple before receiving word from their trade director, Robert Crappe.
Crappe had sailed on the scouting freighter Øresund one month before the main fleet. Øresund had attacked Portuguese vessels off the coast of Karaikal and was himself 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 Dano-Norwegians. Crappe and 13 of the crew 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 negotiated a treaty granting them the village of Tranquebar (or Tharangamabadi), the right to construct a "stone house" (Fort Dansborg), and permission to levy taxes. This was signed on 20 November 1620.
The early years of the colony were arduous, with poor administration and investment, coupled with the loss of almost two-thirds of all the trading vessels dispatched from Denmark. The ships that did return made a profit on their cargo, but total returns fell well short of the costs of the venture. Moreover, the geographical location of the colony was vulnerable to high tidal waves that repeatedly destroyed what people built — roads, houses, administrative buildings, markets, etc. 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 (present-day Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh), the most important emporium in the region. Lesser trading offices were established at Pipli and Balasore. Despite this, by 1627 the colony was in such a poor financial state that it had just three ships left and was unable to pay the agreed-upon tribute to the Nayak, increasing local tensions. The Danish-Norwegian presence was also unwanted by English and Dutch traders. They saw the Danes and Norwegians as benefitting from the protection of their navies, without bearing any of the cost. However, the English and Dutch could make no moves to decisively quash the Danish-Norwegian trade, owing to the entanglement of all these trading nations in wars in Europe—most notably, the Thirty Years' War; the consequent ramifications to each nation's foreign policy effectively muted the English and Dutch reactions.
The lack of financial return led to repeated efforts by the major stockholders of the company to have it dissolved. The King, Christian IV, resisted these efforts until his death in 1648. Two years later his son, Frederick III, abolished the company.
Although the company had been abolished, the colony was a royal property and still held by a garrison unaware of court developments back at home. As the number of Danes-Norwegians declined through desertions and illness, Portuguese and Portuguese-Indian natives were hired to garrison the fort until eventually, by 1655, Eskild Anderson Kongsbakke was the commander and sole remaining Dane in Tranquebar.
An illiterate commoner, Kongsbakke was loyal to his country and successfully held the fort under a Danish-Norwegian flag against successive sieges by the Nayak for non-payment of tribute, whilst seizing ships in the Bay of Bengal. Using the proceeds of the sale of their goods to repair his defenses, he built a wall around the town and negotiated a settlement with the Nayak.
Kongsbakke's reports, sent to Denmark via other European vessels, finally convinced the Danish-Norwegian government to relieve him. The frigate Færø was dispatched to India, commanded by Capt Sivardt Adelaer, with an official confirmation of his appointment as colony leader. It arrived May 1669 — ending 19 years of isolation.
Trade between Denmark-Norway and Tranquebar now resumed, a new Danish East India Company was formed, and several new commercial outposts were established, governed from Tranquebar: Oddeway Torre on the Malabar coast in 1696, and Dannemarksnagore, southeast of Chandernagore in 1698. The settlement with the Nayak was confirmed and Tranquebar was permitted to expand to include three surrounding villages.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway practiced a policy of armed neutrality whilst carrying French and Dutch goods from the Dutch East Indies to Copenhagen. This led to the English Wars during which Britain defeated the Danish-Norwegian fleet, cut off the Danish East India Company's India trade, and occupied Dansborg, Balasore and Frederiksnagore from 1801 to 1802, and again, from 1808 to 1815. In 1814 Norway gained independence from Denmark.
Italy made an attempt at buying the Nicobar Islands from Denmark between 1864 and 1868. In an attempt to gain colonies for the nascent kingdom, the Nicobar Islands were a prospect since it was about to be vacated by the Danes anyway. Biago Caranti, subordinate to the Italian Minister of Agriculture and Commerce Luigi Torelli, first proposed the idea in his report to Torelli in 1865, where he mentioned that apart from establishing a penal colony, the islands were also valuable due to their location and potential for growing tobacco plantations. Such a distant outpost would also bring prestige to the Italian State. Torelli started a negotiation that looked promising, but failed due to the unexpected end of his Office and the first La Marmora Cabinet. The negotiations were interrupted and never brought up again.
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. The islands were formally annexed by Britain in 1869.
After the Danish colony of Tranquebar was ceded to the British, it lost its special trading status and had its administrative roles transferred to Nagapattinam. The town rapidly dwindled in importance, although the expansion of the British into South India led to Tranquebar becoming a hub for missionary activity for some time and a place particularly known for training native priests. By the end of the 19th century, the mission established by Ziegenbalg was functioning entirely independently and lives on today as the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Now primarily a fishing village, the legacy of the Dano-Norwegian colonial presence is entirely local but can be seen in the architecture of the small town that lies within the boundaries of the old (and long gone) city walls. In fact, journalist Sam Miller describes the town as the most recognisably European of the former colonial settlements.
Although only a handful of colonial buildings can be definitely dated to the Danish era, many of the town's residential buildings are in classical styles that would not be dissimilar to those of the era and that contribute to the historic atmosphere. The remaining Dano-Norwegian buildings include a gateway inscribed with a Danish Royal Seal, a number of colonial bungalows, two churches and principally – the Dansborg Fort, constructed in 1620. The Fort was declared a protected monument by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1977 and now houses a museum dedicated to the Dano-Norwegians in India.
There are no known descendants of the Dano-Norwegian settlers in or around the town. Since 2001, Danes have been active in mobilising volunteers and government agencies to purchase and restore Danish colonial buildings in Tranquebar. St. Olav's Church, Serampore still stands.
In 2017 a major heritage restoration project commenced in Serampore, West Bengal.
Denmark and particularly Sweden struggled with upholding overseas colonies and recruiting settlers and staff willing to relocate.
In 1616 Danish merchants began to speculate on how they might get a share of some of the huge profits to be made out of the East India trade.
Ved Oktroj af 16. Marts 1616 blev det dansk-ostindiske Handels-Kompagni oprettet med det hollandske Kompagni som Forbillede. [By October 16, 1616, the Danish-East India Trade Company was established with the Dutch Company as a Model.]
Efter Kontrakten med Kejseren skulde Danmark have Monopol paa Ceylonhandelen i 12 Aar [According to the contract with the emperor, Denmark was to have a monopoly on the Ceylon trade for 12 years]
The poor financial position of his Company in 1627 led to a failure on bis part to pay revenues to the Nayaka of Tanjavur, both on Tranquebar and on Puducheri, which the Danes farmed for a brief period in the 1621-5.
Appalled, Pessart sent a formal declaration of war in 1642 and sent two of Tranquebar's best ships north to attack Bengal, where they captured a ship they renamed Den Bengalske Prise.
Yet still the dissatisfaction with the gifts and paying the tariffs resulted in two attacks on Tranquebar led by the Nayak's troops between 1645 and 1648.
Der Danische Gouverneur Tranquebars, Claus Voigt (1694-1701), grundete gegen 1695/6 in Eddowa, an der Malabarkuste zwischen Quilon und Anjengo gelegen, auf einem stuck land, das der zweiten Danischen Ostindien-Kompanie von der Konigin von Attingal uberlassen worden war, eine faktorei, die 1721/2 nach einem streit zwischen dem Danischen opperhoved und dem lokalen machthaber aufgegeben werden musste [The Danish governor of Tranquebar, Claus Voigt (1694-1701), founded a factory around 1695/6 in Eddowa, located on the Malabar coast between Quilon and Anjengo, on a piece of land that had been given to the second Danish East India Company by the Queen of Attingal, a trading post that had to be abandoned in 1721/2 after a dispute between the Danish Chief and the local ruler]
Erwa lies two Leagues to the Southward of Coiloan where the Danes have a small Factory standing on the Sea Side. It is a thatch'd House of a very mean Aspect, and their Trade answers, every Way, to the Figure their Factory makes.
Guvernementet i Trankebar købte 1698 et Stykke Land ved Hugli Floden i Bengalen for 30.000 Rupier [In 1698, the government of Trankebar bought a piece of land by the Hugli River in Bengal for 30,000 Rupees]
But in 1788, when Tippu began his religious persecutions in Malabar, the Danish Factor (Manuel Bernardes) under the orders of Tippu's Fouzdar Arsad Beg Khan precipitately fled from the place, abandoning his trust. The Governor-General, to whom the matter was referred, expressed in 1795 an opinion adverse to the Danish interests, as it was clear that the Danish Factor had voluntarily abandoned the possession in 1788 in Tippu's time.
Vel har det danske Flag vajer paa disse Der siden 1756, da Gouverneuren i Trankebar tog dem i Besiddelse ved kieutcnant Lhanck, men koloniseringen har aldrig havt nogen Fremgang paa samme. [Well, the Danish flag has been waving there since 1756, when the governor of Trankebar took them in possession by Lieutenant Lhanck, but colonization has never had any progress on the same.]
The fortress Dansborg at Tranquebar established in 1620. In 1777 the Danish crown took possession of the colony. 1801—02 and 1808—1815 occupied by British forces.
Further, it was a great pleasure for us to hear that on the 17th August A. D. 1802, the Danish flag was (again) hoisted on the fort of Tranquebar.
Mr. N. B. Edmonstone, Secretary to Govt. in the Political Govt. Dept., Fort William also sent orders on 27th January, 1808, to the Magistrate of Cuttack, 'to issue orders to the officer commanding at Balasore to take possession in the name of His Majesty of all factories and buildings, all property and also all papers, accounts and records belonging to His Danish Majesty or the Danish East India Company situated in or near Balasore.
On 14 January 1814, the peace treaty was signed in Kiel, and in June 1815 the British Government in Madras received orders to surrender Tranquebar to the Danes. Subsequently, a special commission was appointed to take care of the formalities. The official transfer of sovereignty took place on 20 September when the newly arrived Danish Governor, Gerhard Sievers Bille took command of Tranquebar.
Poiché la Danimarca intendeva disfarsi di quelle isole deserte poste sotto la sua sovranità
Under the authority of your Despatch of 20th January last, we have given directions that one of Her Majesty's Vessels should at once proceed to the Nicobar Islands, in order formally to take possession of them in the name of the Government of India.
After becoming part of British India Tranquebar (renamed by the British) lost its special trade privileges and rapidly dwindled in importance. Today it is mainly a fishing village surrounding a small town with historical buildings and ruins from the Danish era.
Tranquebar is different from Tarangambadi in almost every detail: Architecturally it resembles a European colony more than an Indian fishing village, the population is demographically different (the majority inside the city walls are Christian, and no fishermen live here) and the soundscape is less Indian than museum-like: Compared to Main Street a couple of hundred meters away, King Street is nearly silent.
Indeed, the coastal village of Tranquebar is the most recognisably European of the former colonial settlements built by five nations: the British, the French, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Danes.