300 Years Ostend Company–
Organisation: Koninklijke Belgische Marine Academie, de geschied- en heemkundige kring De Plate en het VLIZ
A new company
This year marks the 300th anniversary of the creation of the General East India Company, better known as the Ostend Company. In August 1723, a considerable capital was raised in just a few days through the issue of shares, with prominent traders from Antwerp, Brussels, and Ghent subscribing. With the funds raised, ships were purchased and prepared in Ostend. Ostend, the outer port of Bruges, thus became the centre of overseas trade expansion for our region in the eighteenth century. Dozens of ships sailed from Ostend to India and China (Canton). Thanks to a number of niche products such as tea (accounting for over 50% of the European market), the Ostend Company became a major global player in the China trade in the 1720s. Record profits lead to international pressure The Company’s shareholders were rewarded with a net profit of approximately 150%, and the port and city of Ostend flourished like never before. The Austrian Netherlands as a whole also benefited from the revived maritime trade. Despite its great success, the Ostend Company had to cease its trading activities in 1731 under pressure from Britain, the Netherlands, and France. Not just a footnote in history
For a long time, historians believed that the Ostend Company was an insignificant footnote in our history. Recent research, however, has shown that the Ostend Company played a much more important role in our maritime past. The success of the Ostend Company made both policymakers in Brussels and the commercial elites realise the importance of maritime trade for our prosperity. Starting in 1748 and keeping the spirit of the Ostend Company in mind, they committed to the maritime revival of our regions. By the end of the eighteenth century, Ostend became one of the most important European ports. The maritime expertise thus accumulated in Ostend played a crucial role in restarting and expanding the shipping activities in Antwerp after the reopening of the river Scheldt in 1795.
The importance of the Ostend Company for the Flemish seaports and Belgian history should not be underestimated. It was not only the first multinational enterprise in our regions, but also the precursor to our current commercial relationships with the Far East. In addition, the Ostend Company played an important innovative role in shipbuilding and logistics.
To commemorate this significant milestone in our maritime history, a series of events will be organised in Ostend throughout 2023 and 2024.