The Historical Background
Sweden and the City of Gothenburg

4. Suecia (1737-1740)

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Svecia Reefdyke
Suecia / Svecia

Byggd på Terra Nova, 283 läster, 28 kanoner, 120 man.

Built at Terra Nova Shipyard, Stockholm, Sweden. Burthen 283 Swedish Last. Nominal Guns 28, Crew 120 man.

Resor, första oktrojen:

1737.02.01-1738.08.28. Till Kanton under Kapten Johan Laurentz Rattenborg. Superkargörer: Auguste Tabuteau, Charles Morford, Daniel Vignaulx, James Moir. Skeppspredikanten Benedictus Montans dagbok finns bevarad hos KVA. Ett sammandrag finns publicerad i "Ödsmål" utgiven av Bohusläns Museum.

1739.01-(1740.11.18). Till Bankebazar i Bengalen under Kapten Johan Laurentz Rattenborg. Superkargörer: N.N. Fothringham, Dornier Cumming, Johan Loriol, Sebastian Tham. En svensk vakt skjuter ned en Bengalisk inbrottstjuv varvid faktoriet omringas. Svenskarna kapar då samtliga hans skepp på redden och tvingar navaben att häva belägringen efter sex veckor.

Fartyget förolyckades 18/11 1740 under hemresan på North Rolandshay norr om Orkney. Endast en timmerman och tolv "gemena" räddas. Lasten förs hem på Mary of Dumberton och säljs för 46 941 dal smt minus 19 558 dal smt för bärgning och frakt.

Voyages, First Octroy

February 1, 1737-August 28, 1738

To Canton under Captain Johan Laurentz Rattenborg. Super cargoes: Auguste Tabuteau, Charles Morford, Daniel Vignaulx, James Moir. The diary of Ships chaplain Benedictus Montan is at the KVA. A summary is published in "Ödsmål" published by Bohusläns Museum.

January 1739 - Lost November 18, 1740

To Bankebazar in Bengal under Captain Johan Laurentz Rattenborg. Super cargoes: N.N. Fothringham, Dornier Cumming, Johan Loriol, Sebastian Tham.

During the First Octroy of the Swedish Eastindia Company only three out of fifteen expeditions was sent out to India. Of this, Svecia, was the 7th. She departed in 1739 destined to Bankebazar in Bengal. While there a Swedish guard gunned down a Bengali burgler which the local Nawab took as a reason to put the Swedish factory under siege with his troops and asking for a considerably amount of money as a compensation. The Swedes then captured the entire fleet of the Nawab and while using this as collateral they after six weeks managed to force him to give up the siege.

The 18th of November 1740, on returning, during a November storm the Svecia foundered on North Ronaldsay north of the Orkneys. Only one ships carpenter and twelve out of the crew made it to land. Eventually it turned out that another party of thirty one had made it in a life boat to the Fair Isle, north of North Ronaldsay and halfway to Shetland. All in all only 44 of the about 150 crew thus made it back after the voyage. The ship was one of the few to make the India run and was carrying a cargo of dyewood and textiles.

At the news of the disaster the Swedish East India Company commissioned their representative in London, Jean Claeson, to take care of the saved crew and the cargo but were not convinced that his efforts would be enough why they also asked the Swedish Government (Kungl M:jt) to require the Swedish Ambassadorial Secretary at the British Court for an order to be sent to the admiral of the Orkney, Mylord Morton, to assist Claeson in his efforts.

The inhabitants of the Orkney had salvaged some of the cargo. However there were no space for storage or people for its protection why there were a risk that even the salvaged cargo would be ruined. Regarding the home transport the company planed to get in contact with Mylord Morton, who owned the salvage rights on the island and to contract a foreign ship since no Swedes knew the harbors of the Orkneys.

The salvaged cargo was shipped to Sweden on board the Mary of Dumbarton and was auctioned for 46,941 D:smt, the costs for the salvaging and shipping home was 19,558. The expedition thus lost both its ship and most of its cargo, not to mention its crew.

Most of the artefacts recovered from this ship at recent excavations in the 1890s are in a collection in the Malmö Maritime Museum. (Source: STK, p 56.)

The Svecia was an armed merchantman of 28 guns and 600 tons burthen belonging to the Swedish East India Company, based at Gothenburg.

In 1739, on her second voyage, the Svecia went to Bengal to collect merchandise from the small Swedish factory there.

In spring or summer of 1740 she sailed for home, laden with dyewood, saltpetre, silks and cottons, together with an unknown quantity of iron-bound chests believed to contain 'treasure' of one kind or another belonging to individual passengers and crew members. Contemporary accounts suggest the cargo was worth between 150,000 and 250,000 pounds sterling, then an enormous sum.

The voyage to and from Bengal was not without incident: of the 150 people on board, about 40, including the captain, Johan Rattenborg, died either on the journey or in Bengal. Command for the return voyage passed to Diedriech Aget, her second-in-command. The ship is known to have called at the Portuguese island of St Thoma in the Gulf of Guinea for provisions and water, and by mid-November 1740 she was rounding the north coast of Scotland, intending to pass between the Orkneys and Fair Isle. Instead of clearing the Orkneys, the ship was pushed southwards in a gale and became trapped in a fierce tide-rip between the islands of Sanday and North Ronaldsay, being driven helplessly onto a notorious submerged area of rock (the Reefdyke).

The ship stayed more or less intact on the Reefdyke for three days while the passengers and crew strove to save themselves; the islanders of North Ronaldsay made no attempt to approach the stricken ship although she was only 1 1/2 miles (2.4 km) off the SE tip of the island and in full view of the shore. They were denounced for this as barbarous savages by the survivors, but their boats were too small and the storm too severe to take the risk. Contemporary copies of letters by two of the survivors record that her longboat and yawl were launched with as many men aboard 'as thought proper to goe in them', but were swept away to the northward so that it was feared that all in them had perished, although the 31 people in them made a fortunate, if perilous, landing on Fair Isle, where the longboat was pounded to pieces by the breakers.

Those still on the Svecia then made a substantial float or raft from her topmasts and rigging, and, two days later, the principal officers and some of the crew (numbering thirty in all) took to this makeshift craft, probably with some of the valuable chests on board. This was launched at noon with the hope of landing on North Ronaldsay or Sanday, but, again, was driven northwards by the tide and never seen again. Local folklore recalls that the raft passed close to the shore, but was temporarily and fatally submerged in passing the old beacon on Dennis Head (Ed: not built before 1789). It was then swept away northwards and lost to view.

The remaining 24 people on the wreck managed to cut away part of the deck and made a raft which was washed ashore on North Ronaldsay with only thirteen people clinging to it, the other eleven having been washed away. There were thus only 44 survivors of the 104 persons believed to have been on board at the time of the wreck News of the wreck, and of the reputed value of the cargo, spread rapidly throughout the northern isles, and by Christmas, four weeks later, reports appeared in the newspapers in London, where the ship was heavily insured.

James, Earl of Morton, was at the centre of this interest as hereditary Admiral of the Orkneys and Shetlands with an entitlement to a proportion of any salvage. However, a fierce gale from the SE disturbed the remains of the wreck before salvage operations could start; hundreds of bales of Bengal cotton and silk were torn open and left on the shores of North Ronaldsay, forming piles 'higher than the pier of Kirkwall'.

Representatives of the Earl of Morton and the Swedish company are recorded as recovering over 200,000 yards of cloth, despite the rival attentions of the islanders and incomers. Salvage continued over many months in 1741, and bickering among the claimants is recorded in the Morton Monuments [muniments] and elsewhere. In the same year, determined efforts by professional divers failed to locate the 'treasure' chests.

Further diving (by Rex Cowan) since 1975 has located the wreck site under a 'forest' of 9ft (2.7m) seaweed and demonstrated that the remains are concentrated within a smaller area than was thought probable. Items loaned to the exhibition included:
A 'billet' of dyewood 3ft 8ins (1.12m) long and weighing 30lb (13.6kg), so dense that it does not float,
Fragments of Chinese porcelain, probably of the Yongzheng period (1725-35) to early Qianlong (1736-1795),
A gold button,
Four Portuguese copper coins of the period,
Two small cannon balls, and
A pair of brass navigational dividers.
[Summary list of artefacts and archive material appended].
NMRS, MS/829/38.

The 'Svecia' of Gothenburg on passage from Bengal to home with a cargo of dyewood, saltpeter, textiles and 'Treasure', was wrecked on Reefdyke in November 1740. Site was located and dived during 1976-9 by R Cowan. Finds exhibited in Edinburgh in February 1979, included dyewood billet, Chinese Porcelain, button, coins, cannon-balls, brass dividers.
Information from Dr R G Lamb (Orkney Islands Archaeologist), 1979.

Artefacts from this wreck together with historical documents are in Register House Edinburgh

The loss of the Swedish East Indiaman Svecia in 1740 led to a chain of events that gave North Ronaldsay in 1789 one of the first four lighthouses in Scotland. The remains of that building - the Old Beacon - stand on the shore today, its light replaced by a stone


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