1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ostend Company

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[ 356 ]

OSTEND COMPANY. The success of the Dutch, English and French East India Companies led the merchants and shipowners of Ostend to desire to establish direct commercial relations with the Indies. A private company was accordingly formed in 1717 and some ships sent to the East. The emperor Charles VI. encouraged his subjects to raise subscriptions for the new enterprise, but did not grant a charter or letters patent. Some success attended these early efforts, but the jealousy of the neighbouring nations was shown by the seizure of an Ostend [ 357 ] merchantman with its rich cargo by the Dutch in 1719 off the coast of Africa, and of another by the English near Madagascar.

The Ostenders, however, despite these losses, persevered in their project. The opposition of the Dutch made Charles VI. hesitate for some time to grant their requests, but on the 19th of December 1722 letters patent were granted by which the company of Ostend received for the period of thirty years the privilege of trading in the East and West Indies and along the coasts of Africa on this side and on that of the Cape of Good Hope. Six directors were nominated by the emperor, and subscriptions to the company flowed in so rapidly that the shares were at the end of August 1723 at 12 to 15% premium. Two factories were established, one at Coblom on the coast of Coromandel near Madras, the other at Bankibazar on the Ganges. At the outset the prospects of the company appeared to be most encouraging, but its promoters had not reckoned with the jealousy and hostility of the Dutch and English. The Dutch appealed to the treaty of Westphalia (1648) by which the king of Spain had prohibited the inhabitants of the southern Netherlands from trading with the Spanish colonies. The transference of the southern Netherlands to Austria by the peace of Utrecht (1713) did not, said the Dutch, remove this disability. The Spanish government, however, after some hesitation concluded a treaty of commerce with Austria and recognized the company of Ostend. The reply to this was a defensive league concluded at Herrenhausen in 1725 by England, the United Provinces and Prussia. Confronted with such formidable opposition the court of Vienna judged it best to yield. By the terms of a treaty signed at Paris on the 31st of May 1727 the emperor suspended the charter of the company for seven years, and the powers in return guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction. The company, after nominally existing for a short time in this state of suspended animation, became extinct. The Austrian Netherlands were condemned to remain excluded from maritime commerce with the Indies until their union with Holland in 1815. (G. E.)