Today, at a seminar hosted by 2050 Consulting and CSR Västsverige, politicians, decision makers and business leaders met on board Götheborg of Sweden to discuss the role of West Sweden businesses in driving regional and international sustainability efforts to meet climate change.
The ship's history
From the 18th century til today
Good stories are worth being told, particularly the story of Götheborg of Sweden. The Swedish East India Company, one of Sweden’s most successful brands in history, was founded in the year of 1731. The trading company traded with China and completed a total of 132 voyages with 37 ships until it ceased in 1813.
In 1993 the Swedish East India Company was re-established in order to revive, manage, operate, and develop the art of Swedish shipbuilding and seamanship.
Just over 175 years later, the story of the company and the ship are being retold. It is a great dramatic story, mainly due to the wrecking of Götheborg that occurred outside the harbour of Gothenburg in 1745.
Twenty-one years would pass between the first dives to the wreck in 1984 and the maiden voyage to China. These years were filled with courage, determination, and commitment from people with big hearts who believed in the grand dream. The dream became a reality and a story worth telling.
The Swedish East India Company
Did you know that the Swedish East India Company, founded in 1731, was one of the most successful companies in Swedish history? The company made the small country of Sweden part of a big world through profitable trading trips to China. The city of Gothenburg flourished into a prosperous commercial centre.
For a long period of time, exotic goods had reached Sweden via the Silk Road. However, during the 16th century, the traditional land route was outcompeted by maritime transport. The naval powers of the Netherlands, Britain and Portugal were the first ones to start trading with the East Indies and came to be predominant in the 18th century.
Nevertheless, on June 14, 1731, a newcomer emerged from Sweden. The country desperately needed to increase its barter trade, which was a factor that made the Swedish East India Company gain its royal charter from the king quickly and easily. Sweden immediately began to successfully compete with other established nations. Unlike many other East India Companies, the Swedish East India Company was purely a commercial undertaking and there was no element of colonisation.
The company that influenced a whole nation
The East India Company was the first company to operate as a limited liability company in Sweden. The founders were Hindrich König, a nobleman of German descent, a Scottish nobleman named Colin Campbell, and the Swede Niclas Sahlgren, who was the son of a merchant.
In reality, the Swedish East India Company comprised of several different companies that were formed and dissolved at different times. Even though the organisational activities were protected from external scrutiny, and the detailed accounts were destroyed from time to time, calculations show that the average return on capital invested was around 40 percent. In fact, the company may be Sweden’s most profitable company in history.
Between 1732 and 1806 the vessels operated as a shuttle service to the Orient. 37 ships executed 132 voyages, creating tremendous prosperity for their owners, merchants and the nation as a whole.
However, all good things come to an end, and in 1813 the company went bankrupt due to rising prices for silver and falling demand. A historic and profitable era came to an end. Nevertheless, it left clear footprints that can still be seen in modern Gothenburg today.
The largest monument of the glory days of the East India Company is the East India House located at Norra Hamngatan (the Gothenburg City Museum). Built during the years 1747-1762, it housed the company’s head office, showroom, auction room, and warehouse.
The voyages to China represented brilliant business. Sweden received an injection of new capital, mainly through the export of exclusive goods such as silk, tea, and porcelain to wealthy merchants across Europe. The capital was reinvested in ironworks, hospitals, and the shipbuilding industry. Gothenburg was swept along and became a flourishing trade city.
The company also contributed to increasing knowledge about shipbuilding, navigation and international trade. On the science front, the exchanges resulted in the Academy of Sciences, hospitals, schools and two rather famous institutions: the Chalmers University of Technology and Sahlgrenska University Hospital.
The original ship Götheborg
The Swedish Ship Götheborg
The Swedish Ship Götheborg was launched in 1738 and went through three adventurous voyages to China before its wrecking outside the Fortress of Älvsborg. The first voyage was relatively painless whereas the second was filled with problems. On her departure from Cadiz in Spain, she was hijacked by an English frigate, but was released a month later.
The last voyage
The disaster for Götheborg would arise a couple of years later. In March of 1743, Götheborg left (together with the East Indiaman “Riddarhuset”) to commence her third – and final – journey. After just over two months of travel, Götheborg reached Cadiz in Spain, where she was loaded with silverware and provisions.
The ship was brought out of Africa’s coast by strong winds and currents leading to her almost touching upon Brazil. Afterwards, she abruptly turned towards the east, past South Africa, an established colony primarily formed for the provisioning of East Indiamen.
After a stop in Java, it normally meant a straight way to Canton. Or that’s what they thought at least. After missing the southern monsoon, Götheborg was forced to return to Java where she was laying in the harbour waiting for the right winds. She lay there for more than six months, and not until the summer of 1744 was she able to throw the anchor outside her target in China.
The famous homecoming
Götheborg reached the Chinese coast in the summer of 1744 and after a six-month trade halt, she began her voyage back home. The long wait had put a strain on the crew. After 30 months at sea and an adventurous journey back home, the Swedish coast was finally within sight. The ship’s cargo holds were crammed with tea, silk, porcelain, Tuttanego (zinc), spices, and much more.
On September 12, 1745, maritime pilots came aboard close to Vinga. This did not prevent the ship from sailing into the well-known underwater rocks of Knippla Börö (nowadays called Hunnebådan), around 900 meters west of Nya Älvsborgs Fästning (The new Älvsborg Fortress).
The ship remained stranded on the rock and water started to leak in. Fortunately, the boats that came to the rescue saved everyone on board. Right after the grounding and over the following two years, one-third of the cargo was salvaged.
Despite the damage to the ship, the costs of salvage, and the unusually long journey, the expedition was able to provide the stakeholders with a return of 14,5 per cent. This was possible as parts of the cargo were salvaged and sold, and because of the insurance that applied.
Further salvage operations were carried out during the 19th century. Divers dressed in heavy diving gear carried out new extensive salvage operations in the early 20th century. After that, the wreck was left to its fate. No one believed there was anything else to salvage.
The Swedish Maritime Archaeology Society in Gothenburg carried out the first dives on the wreck in December 1984, which gave birth to the fantastic idea of building a full-sized replica of the ship. The dives took place in July of each year between 1986 and 1992. Two hundred volunteers carried out most of the work.
At the bottom of the Göta Älv river
As the divers cautiously excavated into the seabed sediment, they found parts of the hull and its cargo of porcelain, tea, rattan, pepper, galangal, lead plate, rig details, hull planking, frame-ribs, parts of the ship’s stern, and much more.
Once the excavations were finished and the research was completed, much more was known about the ship, her cargo, the voyages, the trade with China, and the Swedish East India Company. At the same time, the fantastic idea of building a replica of the ship was born. And why stop there? An even more staggering thought took hold; repeating the voyage to China!
Building the ship
Constructing a full-sized replica of an 18th-century ship without any original drawings is pretty much condemned to fail. Adding to the fact that solely 18th-century tools, building methods and materials were used. Luckily, though, some crazy dreams grow wings and take flight.
Götheborg was finished on the Terra Nova Shipyard thanks to a big number of enthusiasts, amazing inventiveness, benevolent donations, enduring sponsorships, and a never-ending interest from a city and a world longing for wonders.
Seventeen years after the first dive, waves shattered against the beautiful boarding: An East Indiaman built according to old methods, and at the same time adapted to the technology of the 21st century and classified for ocean voyages. The real adventure could begin.
Built like the original
Götheborg of Sweden is built as accurate to the original Ship Götheborg as possible, according to the original methods and using the original materials. What were the specifications for sailcloth, tar and oak stocks 250 years ago? What were the working methods used? How were the tools designed?
Moreover, the ship has to meet today’s safety requirements for ocean-going vessels – a requirement that the ships of the 18th century certainly did not meet. To complicate things even more, there were no drawings for reference, as shipbuilders at that time had it all in their heads. Drawings for trading ships were rare before the 19th century.
As an example, the design process of the rigging by itself with all its masts, yards, blocks, ropes and sails kept 20 persons busy for a total of 100 000 hours.
One doesn't have to be mad – but it helps
Joakim Severinson is one of the East Indiaman’s initiators. He was involved when the marine-archaeological investigations began back in the mid-1980s. He was involved when the construction plans were devised until the ship was finished. After meticulous research, it was Joakim himself who designed the hull. He was also the Production Manager during the construction process. More than 30 years after his first dive down to the wreck, and after drawing and building the new Götheborg, he can now call himself a Master Shipwright.
"Thanks to great persistence and an incredibly goal-oriented body of staff, we managed to get the ship built. I like to compare us to bumblebees – they shouldn’t be able to fly, but they do it anyway. We built a ship that couldn’t be built," Joakim explains.
Modern technology in a historical packaging
One of the hardest tasks Joakim and his team were faced with was not the rigging, the hull, nor the mighty figurehead on the bow. It was something else completely.
The most complicated thing appeared to be finding a concept that the classification company Det Norske Veritas and the Swedish Maritime Administration would agree upon.
The approved ship is virtually an exact replica of the original Swedish Ship Götheborg in her lines, hull, rigging, materials and construction method. Moreover, she is a ship with advanced technical equipment, including two Volvo Penta engines with a total of 808 kW, something the original ship was not equipped with.
A launching for millions
One of the magnificent highlights of the revived history of the ship was the launching on the Swedish National Day, June 6, 2003. It was attended by royalty and some 100 000 people. In China, the event was followed by an estimated 300 million people on the state TV channel CCTV. There was massive media coverage and tremendous interest all over the world. The world wants to see dreams coming true and experience the impossible being achieved.
Sustainability is at the core of our expedition 2022/2023. Therefore, we have started a process of identifying what we can improve and what we can do to make sure we take responsible decisions and actions for a sustainable future.
The exciting task for this week included locating, taking down, debarking and preparing timber that will become six new yards on the ship! Heading out on our big expedition to Asia next year, we need to bring spare yards with us, and this week has been very busy at the sawmill outside of Laholm.