Danish India

Danish India was the name given to the colonies of Denmark (Denmark–Norway before 1814) in India, 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.[1] 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.[2][3]

Danish India

Dansk Ostindien
Flag of Danish India
Danish settlements in India
Danish settlements in India
CapitalFort Dansborg
Common languagesDanish, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali,
King of Denmark (and Norway until 1814) 
• 1620–1648
Christian IV
• 1863–1869
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 eraColonial period
• Established
• Disestablished
1,648.13 km2 (636.35 sq mi)
CurrencyDanish Indian Rupee
Succeeded by
Company rule in India
British Raj
Today part of India
Colonial India
British Indian Empire
Imperial entities of India
Dutch India1605–1825
Danish India1620–1869
French India1668–1954

Portuguese India
Casa da Índia1434–1833
Portuguese East India Company1628–1633

British India
East India Company1612–1757
Company rule in India1757–1858
British Raj1858–1947
British rule in Burma1824–1948
Princely states1721–1949
Partition of India

In spite of 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.[4][5] For this reason their presence was tolerated for many years until the growth in British naval power led to the occupation and forced sale of the Danish holdings during the nineteenth century.


The success of Dutch and English traders in the 17th century spice trade was a source of envy among Danish and Norwegian merchants.[6] 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.[citation needed] His appeal had been rejected by his countrymen, but it convinced the Danish King.[7]

First expedition (1618–1620)Edit

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".[8]

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.[citation needed]

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),[9] the right to construct a "stone house" (Fort Dansborg), and permission to levy taxes.[10] This was signed on 20 November 1620.

Early years (1621–1639)Edit

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.[11] The ships that did return made a profit on their cargo, but total returns fell well short of the costs of the venture.[12] 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.[13] 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 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 - Norwegian trade, due to diplomatic implications related to their respective nations' involvement in the European wars.[14]

Dutch influence (1640-1649)Edit

  • 1640 – Danes - Norway attempt to sell Fort Danesborg to the Dutch for a second time.
  • 1642 – Danish - Norway 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 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 - Norway.
  • 1645 – Danish - Norway factory holdings fall increasingly under Dutch control. The Nayak sends small bands to raid Tranquebar.
  • 1648 – Christian IV, patron of the colony, dies. Danish East India Company bankrupt.

Abandonment and isolation (1650–1669)Edit

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.[15] Two years later his son, Frederick II, abolished the company.[16]

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 - Norwegian 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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1]

The Second Danish East India Company (1670–1732)Edit

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 at Gondalpara, southeast of Chandernagore in 1698. The settlement with the Nayak was confirmed and Tranquebar was permitted to expand to include three surrounding villages.

  • 9 June 1706 – Frederick IV, king of Denmark-Norway sends two Danish missionaries to India, Heinrich Plütcshau and Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg – the first Protestant (Lutheran) missionaries in India. Previously priests had not attempted to convert, and Indians denied entry to European churches. Arriving in 1707, they were not welcomed by their countrymen who suspected them of being spies.[17]
  • Ziegenbalg gains converts among the Indians who, by royal decree, are freed to encourage further Christianisation amongst the Indians. Christianity becomes associated with lower caste people and rejected by upper caste Hindus.
  • Tensions arise between Ziegenbalg, who came under the authority of the King, and the local governor, John Sigismund Hassius who eventually feels Ziegenbalg is undermining Tranquebar's slave trade and jails him for 4 months.
  • Ziegenbalg attempts to learn as much as possible of the language of the inhabitants of Tranquebar, hiring tutors to learn Portuguese and Tamil, and buying Hindu texts. He finds ways to create rifts in the local society in collusion with a few new converts to Christianity. He eventually writes the first Tamil glossary, Tamil-German dictionary, and translations of Hindu books. He translates parts of the Bible into Tamil. He completes the New Testament in prison, and the Old Testament later. Receiving funds from Europe he sets up a printing press and prints Tamil Bibles and books. He becomes the first book printer in India and produces paper. He establishes a seminary for Indian priests in Tranquebar before his death in Tranquebar 1719.
  • This mission leads to missionaries spreading outside the colony, despite opposition from the kings of Tranquebar.
  • 1729 – Danish - Norwegian King forces the Danish East India Company to loan him money. His failure to repay the loan and inconsistency of Indian trade forces the company into liquidation.

Trade stabilizes under Danish Asiatic Company (1732–1772)Edit

A view of the Danish colony of Tranquebar with the Dansborg fortress in south east India, 1658.
  • 12 April 1732 – King Christian VI signs charter of new Asiatic Company with 40-year monopoly on Asian trade with India and China. Both previous companies had failed due to the lack of continuity in trade. This time, the intention of the investors was "to place this Asiatic Trade in Our Realms and Territories on a more constant footing in time to come."[18]
  • 1730s — Denmark's Chinese and Indian trade stabilizes, with cargo from India dominated by cotton fabrics from the Coromandel Coast and Bengal.
  • 1752 – 1791 - Pepper procurement lodge established at Calicut
  • November 1754 – A meeting of Danish - Norwegian officials is held in Tranquebar. A decision is made to colonise the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to plant pepper, cinnamon, sugarcane, coffee and cotton.
  • December 1755 – Danish - Norwegian settlers arrive on Andaman Islands. The colony experiences outbreaks of malaria that saw the settlement abandoned periodically until 1848, when it was abandoned for good. This sporadic occupation led to encroachments of other colonial powers onto the islands including Austria and Britain.[19]
  • October 1755 – Frederiksnagore in Serampore, in present-day West Bengal.[clarification needed]
  • 1 January 1756 – The Nicobar Islands are declared Danish - Norwegian property under the name Frederiksøerne (Frederick's Islands).
  • 1756-1760 - All colonisation efforts on the islands fail with settlers wiped out by malaria. Danish - Norwegian claims to the islands were later sold to the British.
  • 1763 Balasore (already occupied 1636–1643).

The Golden Age of Danish India (1772–1807)Edit

  • Danish - Norwegian trade grew substantially during these decades due to three key factors
    • The loss of the Danish Asiatic Company's monopoly on trade with India in 1772, opening up the trade to all Danish - Norwegian merchants. Administration of Tranquebar, Serampore, and factories in Bengal and along the Malabar Coast was taken over by the Crown in 1777. This freed the company from the colonial expenses but did not change the conditions of trade with India – leaving it in a better financial position.
    • The growth in both international trade and the increase in wars between the trading nations of England, France and Holland. This meant that during these wars, trade from the warring nations would be carried by neutral nations like Denmark Norway to avoid seizure by the warring parties.
    • The expansion of the British East India Company in India, particularly after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. After this victory many employees of the company acquired vast private fortunes at the expense of the company itself. Both the Company and the British Government made considerable effort to prevent these fortunes from being transported back to England on British vessels, leading to massive laundering through French, Dutch, and Danish Norwegian competitors. This injected enormous amounts of capital into Danish Norwegian trade during the 1770s. The value of the trade, however, remained extremely volatile.
  • 1799 – Dispute between Denmark - Norway and Britain over the rights of a neutral nation to carry out trade with foreign colonies to which it did not normally have access during peacetime. Essentially, Britain was trying to prevent Denmark from carrying out the trade of countries Britain was at war with. At the time Denmark - Norway was able to make exorbitant profits from fetching colonial products from French and Dutch possessions in the Indian Ocean and discharging them into the European market through Copenhagen.
  • In 1777, it[clarification needed] was turned over to the government by the chartered company and became a Danish - Norwegian crown colony.
  • In 1789, the Andaman Islands became a British possession.

Napoleonic Wars and declineEdit

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 destroyed the Danish - Norwegian fleet, devastated the Danish East India Company's India trade, and occupied Dansborg and Frederiksnagore from 1801 to 1802, and again, from 1808 to 1815.

Italy made an attempt at buying the Nicobar Islands from Denmark - Norway between 1864 and 1868. The Italian Minister of Agriculture and Commerce Luigi 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 - Norwegian 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 - Norwegian rights to the Nicobar Islands, which since 1848 had been gradually abandoned, were sold to Britain.


After the Danish - Norwegian 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,[20] 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.

Fort Dansborg at Tranquebar was established in 1620.

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.[21] In fact, journalist Sam Miller describes the town as the most recognisably European of the former colonial settlements.[22]

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 Danish - Norwegian buildings include a gateway inscribed with a Danish Norwegian Royal Seal, a number of colonial bungalows, two churches and principally – the Dansborg Fort, constructed in 1620. The Dansburg Fort was declared a protected monument by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1977 and now houses a museum dedicated to the Danes Norwegian in India.

There are no known descendants of the Danish 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.[23]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d Rasmussen, Peter Ravn (1996). "Tranquebar: The Danish East India Company 1616–1669". University of Copenhagen. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  2. ^ Felbæk, Ole (1990). Den danske Asienhandel 1616–1807: Værdi og Volumen. pp. 320–324.
  3. ^ Magdalena, Naum; Nordin, Jonas, eds. (2013). Scandinavian Colonialism and the Rise of Modernity. Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology. 37. Springer. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-4614-6201-9 – via SpringerLink. Denmark and particularly Sweden struggled with upholding overseas colonies and recruiting settlers and staff willing to relocate.
  4. ^ Poddar, Prem (2008). A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures: Continental Europe and Its Empires. Edinburgh University Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-7486-2394-5.
  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. doi:10.1080/03585522.1986.10408070.
  6. ^ Bredscdorff, Asta (2009). The Trials and Travels of Willem Leyel: An Account of the Danish East India Company in TRanquebar, 1639–49. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculuanum Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-87-635-3023-1. 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.
  7. ^ Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (1989). "The Coromandel Trade of the Danish East India Company, 1618–1649". Scandinavian Economic History Review. 37 (1): 43–44. doi:10.1080/03585522.1989.10408131.
  8. ^ Esther Fihl (2009). "Shipwrecked on the Coromandel:cThe first Indo–Danish contact, 1620". Review of Development and Change 14 (1&2): 19–40
  9. ^ Larsen, Kay (1907). Volume 1 of Dansk-Ostindiske Koloniers historie: Trankebar. Jørgensen. pp. 167–169.
  10. ^ 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. ISBN 978-87-635-3023-1.
  11. ^ Of the 18 ships that departed from Denmark between 1622 and 1637, only 7 returned. Kay Larsen: Trankebar, op.cit., p.30-31.
  12. ^ Brdsgaard, Kjeld Erik (2001). China and Denmark: Relations Since 1674. NIAS Press. pp. 9–11. ISBN 978-87-87062-71-8.
  13. ^ Jeyaraj, Daniel (2006). "Trancquebar Colony: Indo-Danish Settlement". Bartholomus Ziegenbalg, the Father of Modern Protestant Mission: An Indian Assessment. ISPCK. pp. 10–27. ISBN 978-81-7214-920-8.
  14. ^ Lach, Donald (1993). Trade, missions, literature, Volume 3. University of Chicago Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-226-46753-5.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Feldboek, Ole (1991). "The Danish Asia trade 1620–1807". Scandinavian Economic History Review. 39 (1): 3–27. doi:10.1080/03585522.1991.10408197.
  17. ^ Sharma, Suresh K. (2004). Leiden University Press. Mittal Publications. ISBN 978-81-7099-959-1.
  18. ^ Feldbæk, O (1986). "Danske handelskompagnier 1616–1843". Oktrojer og Interne Ledelsesregler: 91–92.
  19. ^ Kukreja, Dhiraj (1 September 2013). "Andaman and Nicobar Islands: A Security Challenge for India". Indian Defence Review. ISBN 9788170621836.
  20. ^ Grønseth, Kristian (2007). "A Little Piece of Denmark in India", The Space and Places of a South Indian Town, and The Narratives of Its Peoples. Norway: University of Oslo. p. 4. 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.
  21. ^ Grønseth, Kristian (2007). "A Little Piece of Denmark in India", The Space and Places of a South Indian Town, and the Narratives of Its Peoples. Norway: University of Oslo. p. 10. 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.
  22. ^ Miller, Sam (2014). A Strange Kind of Paradise. India: Hamish Hamilton. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-670-08538-5. 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.
  23. ^ Dasgupta, KumKum (13 December 2017). "The Danes are back: How a Bengal town is restoring its European legacy". Hindustan Times.