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The last voyage of
The East Indiaman Gotheborg, 1743-45


To trade with the Chinese was difficult both due to the geographical distance as well as the cultural differences. To keep things simple the Swedes brought all kinds of pure silver cash coins to China, mostly Spanish Pillar Dollars and the classic pirate money "Pieces of Eight" which were Spanish silver coins to the value of Eight Reals, well know to all readers of Robert L. Stevensons 'Treasure Island'.

A complicating factor was that Swedish East India Company by Swedish law was forbidden to export Swedish silver coins out of Sweden.

This, however, was then as now easily avoided by the corporate finance by not bringing back the export profits from the Swedish export business in the first place, but making them available against documents in Spain. Often as much as 5 tons of minted silver coins were brought onboard in Cadiz, physically transported there by all kinds of means, from different investors.

Silver and coins to be used in the East India Trade: Spanish Eight Reals coins 'Pieces of Eight'. To the left a 'Pillar Dollar' type and to the right a 'Cob' type, and a bar of silver from the VOC, indented to be made into coins. Photo: Jan-Erik Nilsson, 2005 .

The "Pieces of Eight" was the world's premier trade Coins and these first ones came in four different types. The first Eight Real coins were the "cob" type which were hand stamped over a period of two centuries. Their standard weight of 27 grams of .900 fine silver is the norm for all Eight Reals. The "pillar type" Piece of Eight is one of the most historical and beautiful coins ever minted. The two crowned globes represent Spanish possessions in the Old and New World. A third type that also found use in the Far East was the 'Cap and Ray' type (not illustrated). Its design was based on classical motifs and Mexican mythology.

In Cadiz the Gotheborg brought onboard a huge cargo of pure silver to be used as cash payment for the tea, silk, porcelain and spices that were to be bought in Canton. According to the documents 47 chests of each 4,000 coins were taken on board. Of course such an enormous treasure could have tempted anyone to give up the faraway director's wishes, take over the ship and turn pirates. However this was seldom done, or to be more specific, never. Still the temptation to supply yourself for your immediate shopping needs must have been large and examples and rumors are by no means lacking,

To look into what happened during the Gotheborg voyage 1743-45 and if possible find a clue to the disaster that ended the trip we will look into the bookkeeping and do some math.

188 thousand 'Pieces-of-Eight' in Cadiz

The coins that were picked up in Cadiz were most probably Spanish Eight Real coins also called "Pieces of Eight". The weight and value of these coins were standardized and the 47 chests of 4,000 coins each, contained all in all 188,000 coins with the nominal value of 1,504,000 Spanish Reals. At a weight of 27 grams of .900 fine silver, which was the norm for all Eight Reals, the total silver cargo was thus 5,076,000 grams or 5,076 kg or 5.076 tons of .900 silver. Besides making the point with VISA cards very clear, this was enough to give anybody a comfortable life. Of course the point with the China trade was to double the money at each trip as what had been done already at the first trip by Colin Campbell, in the Fredericus Rex Svecia in 1731-32, and then do it again, and again.

So, lets continue the trip and see what happens.


To help with calculations, here is a conversion table of the different currencies used in 1743. The SOIC books was until 1776 kept in Swedish Daler Silvermynt, here shortened to Dal Smt. Due to a value depreciation in Sweden in 1745 the exchange rate was changed in Sweden at the 'time of sale' (1745 or later) as compared to 'time of buying in' (1744), why we need to consider this when calculating the profit from the sales of the cargo. While settling the actual costs of the cargo, we will use the following conversion table made by me here and based on information in Kjellberg 1974 (p.295).

Exchange Rates Year 1743 Gotheborg Silver Cargo
1 Pcs of Eight 0,74 Tael 3.333 Dal Smt 1,504,000 Reals
1 Tael 1.351 Pcs of Eight 4.5 Dal Smt 254,054 Taels
1 Dal Smt 0.300 Pcs of Eight 0.222 Tael 626,604 Dal Smt

Pages under this section are the actual, or based on, the original web site that was created by Jan-Erik Nilsson mainly during the years 1996-2000 as part of the East Indiaman Gotheborg III Project. The content has been updated graphically to work equally well with modern browsers as it did when it was designed. All information is for entertainment or educational purposes only. All expressed opinions are my personal. Submitted material gratefully appears on this website due to the implied or expressed consent of the rights owners. Unless otherwise stated copyright © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Gothenburg, Sweden 1996-2014.