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The Danish factory in Calicut 1752-1796

Posted by Maddy Labels:

We had all kinds of foreign traders in Calicut in those medieval periods and in that cosmopolitan field which comprised Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, English, Turkish, Dutch, French and so on, there were also a few from faraway Denmark. Yes, you heard right there were Danes as well in Calicut once upon a time; in the 1750’s…..So I guess we should get to know them. It is perhaps interesting to look at that short period when they also staked their claim to get into the trade at Calicut. What interested them? Spices like pepper, cloth, tea or guns? In any case their stay and situation was at best precarious, for the Portuguese are gone, the Dutch were gingerly clinging on, with the Travancore Raja setting sights towards the North and the Mysore sultans planning their forays down South through Malabar. The Anglo Dutch and Anglo French wars were on, In the middle of all this, the English in Malabar, Calcutta and Madras were waiting and watching from the fences, scheming for the spoils.

Somewhere close to today’s beach hotel, a little to the south, near the old jail stood the first of the hospitals (it was also a travelers bungalow for some time, perhaps confused at times with the Malabar British club that the limerick king Lear stayed in) in Calicut. Before those medical personnel occupied it, this was the Danish warehouse or factory.

After the British East India Company was formed, some wealthy Europeans decided on forming competing organizations. The organization thus formed in 1717 was called the Ostend Company. Later on the Danish East India Company took shape and came down to the Coromandel Coast, planning liaisons with Malacca and other spice ports in the Far East. They established a base at Fort Dansborg in Tranquebar and other Eastern bases at Serampore and in the Nicobar islands. The Danish also established several commercial outposts, governed from Tranquebar: They were Oddeway Torre or Eddowa or Edava Tura South of Cochin (1696 – 1722) and Calicut.1752 - 1791 and later in Colachel.

First a few words of the Danish EIC – was founded in 1616, following a privilege of Danish King Christian IV. During those good days, the Danish East India Company and Swedish East India Company imported even more tea than the British East India Company but smuggled 90 percent of it, interestingly, into Britain, where it was sold at a huge profit. In 1733, it was renamed the Royal Danish Asiatic Company and the new company was granted a 40-year monopoly on all Danish trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. For the next 20 years some 60 ships covered the distance for trade and made over 20% profit. In 1772, the terms was extended for another 20 years but this time private persons were allowed to trade using Danish vessels. For various geopolitical reasons we won’t get into presently, the company lost its monopoly, and in 1779 the British EIC took over its assets.

So it was in 1618, that a fleet of six ships, including several men-of-war and 250 marines, set sail for India under the command of a young nobleman and admiral, Ove Giedde (1594-1660). The originally envisaged establishment of a trading post at Trincomalee on Ceylon failed (actually the entire expedition was undertaken at the instigation of a Dutch trader named Marcellius de Boschhouwer who apparently had the Ceylon kings support and a Lankan wife – but died during this voyage and the Ceylon idea was promptly scuttled after the Ceylon King had arguments over it with Giedde). In southern India, however, the Nayak of Tanjore, under the treaty of November 19th , 1620, and with a moderate annual payment, ceded to the Danes the small fishing and trading port of Taramgambadi on the Coromandel Coast. It was named Tranquebar by the Europeans and known as Trankebar in Denmark. With this deal, the ruler meant to counterbalance Portuguese predominance in Tanjore’s principal port of Nagapattinam. Hendrick Hess with 20 personnel and a few cannon took charge of this fort. The rent due to the Tanjore Nayak was Rs 3,111 per annum. With that the Danish presence in India was formally established and they continued to be part of the India trade much to the British annoyance for a period until 1808. By 1772, there were over 300 Danes in Tranquebar, but when Denmark ceased to be neutral in 1807 things changed.

In the scheme of things, they brought in luxury goods from Europe in small quantities and sold it or auctioned it to the British and others in Madras. Then again there was increased demand for ammunition and armaments. For the most part this was profitable, i.e. till the shipping lanes had too many ships or till money markets thinned out and purchasing power reduced. The return voyage took in mainly cloth from the Tamil weavers. The lading of the ships is interesting and tells you how things were done so differently. All ships needed ballast for even keel and so one of the goods had to be heavy. Then again there had to be stuff for filling up the hold tightly or filler cargo. A typical Danish ship was filled up as follows, 80% made up of textiles, ballast was Bengali Saltpetre or sugar, redwood as under cargo and bamboo as side packing between the cargo and the sides. Demand for pepper from Europe of course meant that it was one of the cargoes carried in the return voyage; the pepper was strewn about the ship and generally used as a filler cargo, though it meant the quality was affected. Pepper was poured between cargo or stowed between the bales of cotton. However the initial supply came overland to the Coromandel through the Palghat gap and at inflated costs. This coupled with demands for armaments from the Travancore kingdom meant that a Malabar coastal presence was to be established. But the problem was the Dutch and English opposition to the idea and the fact that they had already cornered most of the pepper supply.

So the next ‘lodge’ was a small warehouse (more aptly a thatched hut) in Edava established around 1698. But on the West coast the English and the Dutch were not too supportive of the Danes and the English also established a factory in Edava in 1629. "It is a thatched House", says Captain Cope about Edava factory, "of a mean Aspect and their Trade answers every way ... By 1702 the Danish resident Bertelsen left the factory for unknown reasons and by 1702 it was formally abandoned. In 1755 a very large portion of the remaining facilities were washed away by the sea, which was anyway eating up the shoreline. In the same year 1752 two Danish warships arrived at Tranquebar to reestablish the colony, and to protect it from the impact of the Anglo-French wars.

Edava was soon becoming untenable and that is when the Zamorin of Calicut induced them to come to his capital. Kulachel, south of Trivandrum was another location where the Danish traded.

In 1752, DAK established a pepper procurement lodge at Calicut. Ans Arnest Bonsark the Danish Governor in Tranquebar deputed Jacob Christove Suytenan (Christopfer Soetmann actually came to Calicut first in 1749 on a secret mission to sound out the Zamorin) to meet the Zamorin and conclude a deal with him based on three tenets, payment of customs duties, supply of armaments when needed and provide armed support if the Zamorin’s dominions came under attack. Accordingly the Zamorin allocated a plot of land next to the French factory across the beach, called ‘Valappil kadavathu’.

Let’s now take a look at the agreement with the Zamorin (3 translations)

Powers given by the King SAMOORIN to the Factory of the Royal Company - I the King Samoorin Pundorrecon give my powers to Jacob Christovo Suytman who came by the order of the Governor of Tranquebar to this port of Calicut to trade where I gave him a place in Vallappy Cadavattu in breadth from south to north 72 Malabar koles and in length from east to west 332 koles for the purpose of building a factory with godowns to reside and carry on trade. The cost of the said Factory can be deducted from the dues which will come to me in the trade which will be made in this port within the space of three years. I say that all exports and imports of goods from the north as well as from Tanoor and Ponnani as also from this port will be calculated per candy and of other goods agreeably to usage and custom and to the agreement which was made with the French and in the same manner the Company will be obliged to pay me all others. According to the stipulations made between us we are obliged to keep so according to the power I have given you Company may make contracts and trade This 17th April 927 (1752).

Treaty entered into between the King SAMOORIN and the DANISH COMPANY in the year 927 By the order of the Governor of Tranquebar Hans Ernest Bonsaco. I Jacob Christovo Suytman came to trade at Calicut where the King Samoorin gave a place in Ballapy Cadduttu 72 koles Malabar from north to south and 332 koles from east to west in order to build a Factory at the expense of the said King and carry on trade paying duties on customs on exports and imports as well as on all the goods which may be brought whether from the north or from Tanoor or Ponnani. All shall pay as above referred to and all these rights and privileges shall be the same as the French Company enjoy them. In case any European nation or any other be insolent towards the King the Company is obliged to give aid whether by land or sea with all the artillery and munitions of war, also if necessary, men to fire cannon, and for all balls powder and muskets which may be given their cost will be repaid and if necessary any money is wanted the Company must make the advances which will be repaid with interest. While the Company is at Calicut should any European nation or any other as well as the very vassals or inhabitants of the country commit any outrage the King Samoorin binds himself to help and defend the Company and give it entire satisfaction.

DANISH FACTORY I the King Samoorin hereby declare by the present Olla of my signature that on Wednesday the 17th May 1752 I granted that a Factory and houses of commerce for the Danish nation may be built in this Port of Calicut through a letter which was sent to me from the Governor of Tranquebar Mr Arns Arnest Bonsak by Mr Jacob Christovo Suytman under date the 19th April of the same year and I declare that for establishing the same I have granted the place named Valapil Cado in extent 72 cubits and from east to west (sic) 32 cubits to be enjoyed by the Danish nation who are to build a Factory and carry on trade freely on condition of contributing to me the rights of customs on every candy of goods imported into and exported from this port also on goods from the north and from Tanoor and Ponnani according to the agreement made with the French nation It has been conveyed to me by the said Jacob Christovo Suytman that his nation will assist me on occasions of any enemies making war against me by sea or land as much as I require with men arms artillery cannon balls powder and muskets their price I oblige myself to pay with interest Having agreed between us all that has been referred to further I bind myself to punish any Christian or any other person who insults or intends to obstruct the commerce of persons belonging to the King of Denmark.

After the above was concluded, construction of the factory started in1752 and was completed in 1754 and cost 25,000 rixdollars (rix$=5-6 shillings worth). In 1753 Soetmann was sent back to Bengal. As the Dutch VOC had a firm agreement with the Cochin Raja and the English were still dilly dallying, the Zamorin perhaps thought the Danes were a good option, but they proved to be at best a feeble ally.

The Calicut lodge was not very much in the scheme of things as far as the Danish were concerned and was just an outpost for pepper procurement. However it also served as a listening post to sound out the English overtures in the Malabar Coast. The Danish were wary of supplying arms and armaments to the Travancore kingdom and the Mysore rajas though they did quite a bit of that quietly under the British eyes and the response from the buyers were not too enthusiastic and the equipment was old, outdated and even unusable at times. But they continued on. Sometimes brown sugar and salt from the Calicut factory found their way to the ships headed back to Copenhagen. The ships came from Tranquebar in Jan/Feb and got back by April/May. During the incoming trip they brought in weapons offloaded at Colachel and later at Calicut for Hyder & Tipu. The principal items of trade were saltpeter, pepper, salt, soft brown sugar, textiles, rattan, indigo & tea (from China). For the Danish ships, the journey to Europe was direct from Tranquebar and not touching the Malabar coasts.

Trade from Tranquebar was accomplished initially with silver as capital from Denmark, but later the supply of money was primarily from independent wealthy British traders in Madras. The Danish Indian rupee was the currency of Danish India. It was subdivided into 8 fano, each of 80 kas.

By 1761 Hyder was in power in Mysore and looking down south for more wealth to expand his territory. His first venture was of course in 1757 to Palghat as Foujdar of Dindigul. By 1766 he encroached Malabar again with the summons from the Ali raja and soon the Zamorin was dead after the fire in the palace and Hyder’s men were ruling Malabar after entrenching themselves in Feroke and Calicut. In 1773, Hyder again came to Calicut and after a few skirmishes got involved further against the EIC, after allying himself with the French.

In 1767 time period Hyder on the trip south and the Calicut city was affected, the Zamorin died after setting fire to the palace. The Danes were almost decided on abandoning the Calicut factory by 1778 due to paucity of funds, mainly money. Requests to Tranquebar were not heeded and Passavant had to take loans from local merchants to pay salaries and upkeep. The situation was grim, for the buildings were soon affected by the weather, the flagstaff was rotten, the roof had a leak and by 1781 the entrance gate had collapsed. Then again they were forced by the Mysore invaders to erect palisades (a low wooden fortification) in front of the building to prevent or deter a British attack which the Mysore governor was worried about.

In 1779, the Natalia a Danish vessel reached Calicut. It was owned by a Jewish merchant (perhaps the Isaac Surgun we talked about in the previous article?) and carried eight British passengers including Ms Elizabeth Fay. By this time Calicut was in Mysore hands and Sardar Khan promptly confiscated the ship & imprisoned the passengers. The Danes finally gave up claims on the ship to avoid worsening the situation and the passengers were finally released after the intervention by Isaac Surgun. But the diary of Ms Fay provides some information of the Danish factors actions in helping them at Calicut. It is also mentioned that he maintained a tenuous relationship with Hyder (Hyder had charged them a hefty fine of £14,000 in 1780 for supplying arms to the Nawab at Arcot) and final support had to come with the arrival of Isaac surgun.

In 1784 the resident Leonhard Passavant died during a visit to Tranquebar. Interestingly he had married a lady named Maria Catherina at Calicut and was survived by his widow and two daughters. During the early period, the Danes supplied muskets and cannon balls to Hyder through the Calicut factory. Hyder was dead by 1782 and Tipu took over. But Tipu was not too keen about the Danish support and the Danish Resident at Calicut, Westerholt quit the post in April 1787 (some say he had gone mad) and proceeded to Tranquebar. His functions and the Care of the Factory were entrusted ad interim to a Portuguese trader named Manuel Bernandes. Meisner who was appointed to take over from Westerholt never reached in time. Bernandes fled before Tipu landed up in Calicut and Tipu took over the lodge or factory as a stable for his horses. It is also stated in various sources that Tipu destroyed parts of the factory. In 1787-89 Tipu came to Calicut, but by 1790 Calicut was taken by the English and Tipu’s forces were defeated. In 1792, Malabar was ceded to the EIC – Madras by Tipoo in the Seringapatanam treaty.

Factory description

A description of the hospital – previously part of the Danish factory in Calicut provides you a general picture of the construction - The hospital an upper storied building constructed of laterite is situated 60 yards behind the jail and 260 from the sea it was formerly part of a Danish factory and is enclosed by a high wall. A considerable space of ground between the two buildings which are separated by a wall is used as a work yard. There are four rooms on the ground floor (later used as the dispensary and two others are set apart for lunatics). The upper story is composed of three rooms having boarded floors, the principal being 30 feet by 20, with one on either side, measuring 26, by 15 feet. The hospital is capable of accommodating 100 patients. The ground on which it is built is sandy, and its upper-story is freely exposed to the sea-breeze, but owing to the outer wall, the rooms below are confined. During Tipu’s invasion the lower portion was used as a stable for Tipu’s horses. Until then the Danish lodge was well known for its beauty.

Paulinus of St. Bartholomew in his notes about Malabar seems to have spent time with the Danish factor during his visit around 1774. His anecdote about eating crabs in Malabar is certainly interesting..

Crabs, called in the Malabar language Gnanda, and in the Samscred Carchidaga, are poisonous in October and November; for about that period the poisonous aquatic plants, such as the blue tithymal, or wolf's milk, grow up; and as these animals feed upon them, they are rendered so poisonous as to occasion death to those who eat them. It would be therefore proper, that in Malabar, as is the cafe in the Isle of France, a law were made to prohibit crabs being caught during these two months. M. Passavant the Danish factor at Calicut, Father Louis Maria a Jesuit, now a bishop, and myself, once happened to be in company, and to eat of these animals. The other two gentlemen each ate two of them; but I contented myself with one. Three hours after, M. Passavant became pale as death, and was seized with so violent a vomiting, that we absolutely thought he would have expired. Father Louis Maria was attacked with vertigo; all the veins in his body were swelled; his face, lips, and hands became blue, and he experienced an oppression at the heart which threatened to prove fatal. I immediately gave him some theriac (a compound comprising 64 drugs), which the missionaries generally carry about with them, and sent for a barber to bleed him. In regard to myself I was seized with a giddiness and vomiting, the latter of which I endeavoured to provoke. This accident, and others of the like kind, which frequently happen in this country, ought to serve as a caution to those who travel through Malabar, not to eat crabs there during the summer' months.

Manuel Bernades, the Danish Factor fled from the Danish factory at Calicut, when ordered to leave by Fouzdar Arshad Beg Khan in 1788. It is at this point that Murdoch Brown reappears in the documentary record, when in 1792 and 1793, he wrote from Alleppy as the Danish Agent to the East India Company at Tellicherry requesting that they restore the Factory to the Danish Company. In 1795, the officers at Fort William decided that the Danish had abandoned the factory and ceded it by default to Tipu who in turn had ceded his territories to the EIC. The year 1796 witnessed the final act in the fitful connection of the Danish nation with Calicut with the passing of the decision that the Danish had no claim to the factory in Calicut.

By 1801 hostilities erupted between the BEIC and DEIC. In addition to all this was the immense frustration of the British EIC with the Danish owing to the support of private Anglo businessmen in the conduct of parallel trade. The DEIC properties were seized by the EIC, but returned in 1805. In 1811 they were again seized and returned in a dilapidated condition back to the Danes in 1815. Finally all properties were sold to the EIC in 1845 for 1.25 million Rigsdaler (Rs 4 lakhs). The Nicobar was handed over in 1868 FOC. With that the Danes left India forever…


Malabar manual – William Logan
Maritime Malabar & the Europeans – KS Mathew
The original letters of Eliza Fay
A history of European commerce with India – David Mcpherson
India trade under the Danish flag 1772-1808 Ole feldback
The Danish East Indies: They Once Existed - By Rolf Dörnbach
The land of the Permauls: or Cochin, its past and its present - By Francis Day
Doing business in India: a guide for western managers - Rajesh Kumar, Anand Kumar Sethi
Short essay on Danish Settlements – J Ravi

Some background of the period

During the Napoleonic Wars, in 1801 and again in 1807, the British Navy attacked Copenhagen in the Battle of Copenhagen (1807). As a consequence of the last attack, Denmark (one of few West European countries not occupied by Bonaparte) lost its entire fleet and the island of Helgoland (part of the duchy of Holstein-Gottorp; ceded to Germany in 1890) to Britain. Denmark finally sold its remaining settlements in mainland India in 1845 and the Danish Gold Coast to the British in 1850.

Pics – Calicut beach – sanjupalayat, trottertours


  1. Soul

    A very useful website. May I know where Erawa or Eddowa or Edava or Colachel Eddowa or Oddeway Torre is ? What is called now? Do buses or trains or orads go there ? Is it near Colachel or the same as "Colachel" ? Is it nearer to Cochin than to Colachel ?

  1. Maddy

    hi soul
    both are accessible by buses, cars etc...

  1. arun jee

    Very interesting and useful piece of work.

  1. Maddy

    thanks arun jee
    glad u enjoyed it


    Brilliant work .... absolutely brilliant ! I don't think that much apart from this is available on the internet about the Danish Malabar enterprise...... Congratulations Sir.