The founder of ØK, (EAC), Hans Niels Andersen (1852-1937) is a fascinating and impressive figure in Danish and Siamese shipping and industrial history, but I have been hesitant writing about him. The man, his life and career is still highly disputed among historians and journalists; the risk of mistakes and unfairness is big. However, on the occasion of EAC’s departure from Thailand, I was, once more, confronted with the diehard myth and suggestion that Andersen had earned his first money by running ‘Oriental Hotel’ as a brothel. This myth should be put to rest once and for all.
I will try to clarify how it all started back in 1879, when Andersen registered with the Danish Consulate in Bangkok; this will show his talent for getting trusted in money-matters, only with his business ideas as security. H.N. Andersen showed the most remarkable talent to raise funds and borrow money. From the story of these early days also details about ‘Oriental Hotel’ with its 12 rooms will be provided.
Among the financial contributors is found a cantankerous and distrustful Danish doctor and Pharmacy owner, who earned a fortune in the mangrove swamp that was then Bangkok; no sanitation, cholera and dysentery flourishing. Also the Siamese Minister of Foreign Affairs contributed and became a close friend, not to mention a Scottish businessman who provided him and a partner with 40.000 $’s to buy the hotel and soon thereafter start up ‘The Oriental Provision Store’. The Danish Commodore of the marine participated. King Chulalongkorn, (Rama V) was a keen supporter; he granted a teak-logging concession and heartily welcomed EAC, introducing a direct shipping line between Siam and Europe. In later years the King was several times a travelling guest onboard an EAC ship.
After sailing for some years, Andersen arrived, as mentioned, in Bangkok 1879 and was hired as mate on the bark ‘Thoon Kramon’. Of formal qualifications he had none. ‘Thoon Kramon’ was owned by the King and one of the best constructed tall-ships ever. Originally rigged as a tea clipper, later down rigged to a three masted bark. The German house of ‘Pickenpack, Thies and Co.’ operated the ship.
By then Andersen was already convinced that there would be a huge market for teak in Europe, especially the shipbuilding industry needed hardwood for building accommodations and laying decks. The crippling financial and economic world crisis that started in 1873 was nearing the end and new tonnage was being built. In 1883 he was given the command of ‘Thoon Kramon’. Together with his friend and later brother-in-law Captain V.Guldberg, who had the ship-master certificates needed for insurance, they prepared to set sails. Andersen persuaded a timber company to deliver the teak on credit. The ship fully loaded then sailed with Liverpool as its destination, but it took the long voyage around Cape the Good Hope, thereby avoiding the substantial fee for use of the Suez Canal. The cargo was sold with almost 100% net profit and Andersen had a part. It was customary at that time, that income from the long and risky voyages was shared, for example: 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. One part for the owner, one for the ship (and crew), one for the captain. They sailed back with coal for Commodore Richelieu’s marine, also very well paid.
Earlier the foreign trading companies, especially ‘The Borneo Company’ had sold teak to other Asian countries, without much profit; they didn’t believe in the European market – after the triumph of Thoon Kramon they did and the teak trade started in earnest.
In 1884 Andersen got a partner in the respected Captain Peter Andersen (died only 39 years old in 1893, buried at the Protestant Graveyard in Bangkok). They bought ‘Oriental Hotel’; the partners seemingly invested what they had, but that was far from enough and from the mean and humorless Scottish General Manager of the ‘Borneo Company’ Mr. C.S. Leckie, also later Danish Consul, they borrowed 40.000 $ company money (this sum according to Eggers-Lura p.55; in case, a huge amount!). Then they could start to renovate and upgrade the hotel. It seems that H.N. Andersen took over an existing store together with Peter Kinch (see Scandasia online, Oct. 2010) on the hotel premises and started ‘Oriental Provision Store’ two-three years later. He could then fill the place with expensive goods for the Siamese Marine, sailors and landlubbers, also luxury articles –in demand by the court.
The ‘Oriental’ was the one and only real hotel in Bangkok. With that also the restaurant, ‘Bamboo Bar’, a bakery and a factory producing clean mineral water, furthermore a fleet of taxi-boats. The guests were mainly young sailors and officers waiting while their ships were discharging or loading cargo. They had Siamese girlfriends, often in long lasting relationships; they stayed with the sailor and also took care of all things practical. Thus, with or without ill intentions the word brothel was spread in Denmark. At that time, the only reference people had was the kind of brothels the family fathers knew -in Denmark. The classical European style had an owner and pimps, managing a ‘fleet of small ships’ (girls), but such a model did not exist then in Siam and it hardly exists even now. Agreements were made privately between the two individuals. In ‘Thai-Danish Relations’ Anders Tandrup (p.149) puts it this way: “…to come close to the first million, he would have needed 250 girls, engaged every night during the period he owned the hotel. Nonsense”. Had it been a ‘goldmine’, no need for raising capital. The hotel had furthermore, as mentioned, only 12 rooms.
H.N. and Peter Andersen rebuilt the hotel and made it fashionable as the place to go. Even the King visited it. The sailors slowly found other accommodations in the area and new types of guests occupied the rooms.
During the hotel period H.N. Andersen also took up the role as land developer and contractor. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, ‘Kromatah’ is the title in Siamese, was from the highly influential Bunnag family. Meanwhile ‘Kromatah’ also became the name under which this respected gentleman was commonly known. He and H.N. Andersen became good friends, a relationship that lasted until Kromatah died as a very old man in 1913, having resigned as minister in 1893. He owned much land along New Road, (Charoen Krung Road) around the hotel, The General Post Office and the French Embassy. Most was swamp and mangrove. The two made a deal. Andersen filled in and developed the land, Oriental Avenue was laid out. On the avenue Andersen built quite many villas (locally called ‘bungalows’). The houses were of high quality and also with very classical proportions and decor. Two of them are still there to be seen, one a Chinese restaurant. After finishing the work the two partners shared the profit 50/50. Kromatah was one of the very few people that Andersen had a lifelong and unbroken affection for.
The same cannot be said about Dr. Sophus Deuntzer, whose merits are described in my article about Consul Frederik Koebke (Scandasia-google). How Andersen managed to persuade him to part with a major part of his fortune is a mystery, but nevertheless, he did. The loan was converted to shares in EAC and the good doctor’s brother, the Danish professor, jurist and politician J.H. Deuntzer, got a seat on the Board of Directors, so the money involved must have been substantial. The investment bore fruit.
Commodore, later admiral, Richelieu of the Siamese Marine and Andersen had a close friendship and business relationship these early years; as described in two articles (Scandasia-google). Later they had severe disagreements, but Richelieu also invested in EAC, “he bought 150 shares, nominal 1.000 Crowns each, at 100, paid 100.000 cash and for the remaining 50.000 he delivered a shipload of teak” (professor Kaarsted p.118, my translation). He had a seat on the EAC board until his death.
The seeds and the harvest
The 20th of March 1897 the company named ‘ØK’ was founded in Copenhagen. This also represented Andersen’s final success and hard won triumph in ‘fundraising’. Isak Glueckstadt, the financier and Managing Director of ‘Landmandsbanken’, the biggest bank in Northern Europe, “accepted Andersen’s business plan, and in January it became clear, that the capital of 3.5 mill. Crowns was secured, added to that was 2 million as bank credit” (Kaarsted s. 118, my translation).
ØK developed with the most impressive speed as a shipping line, but from the time of ‘Andersen & Co.’ the company had the seeds of a conglomerate as it was involved in much diversified businesses. Partly the origins of all this has been dealt with above, and soon the teak concession in Phrae, Northern Siam was added as ‘The jewel in the Crown’.
In an advertisement the new company presented itself as: Timber Merchants, Sawmillers, Ricemillers, Importers and Exporters, Ship-owners: Bangkok-Europe, direct lines. Managing agent for ‘The Siam Steam Navigation Co. ltd’. East and West Coast Mail Service etc.
I recently visited the compound and former warehouses of EAC on the southern end of Charoun Krung Road; invited by the Thai owners of buildings and land. The area is not open for the public. I was almost shocked by the size of the whole complex, it is enormous. It was a serious eye opener. I knew well that EAC in its heydays was a big company, but didn’t realize that it was that big! Huge warehouse buildings, maybe fifty; row after row, forming 3 ‘streets’.
But searching for the need of the enormous capacity gave some results. In for example April 1912 the company advertised the schedule of the West and East Coast Service Bangkok-Singapore. Nine steamers were involved; departure and arrival TWICE A WEEK. En route, the ships would call on many smaller locations, such as Koh Lak, Bandon, Koh Samui, Lacon, Pattani etc. Two ships sailed the East Coast Service, the route was much shorter. The coastal service was organized as a subsidiary of EAC, and started 1899; so now we have some of the explanation for all the building capacity.
As early as 1901-2 the regular service Europe-Singapore-Bangkok started. Combined cargo and passenger ships were sailing the route, they became known as ‘The White Liners’ of EAC, of course they also carried thousands of tons of cargo for the Siamese Market. Then the teak was the bulk cargo back.
The oldest warehouses are classical Danish style, red-brown bricks laid in the traditional bond. They seem untouched by time and on the arches it is still possible to read EAC’s name. Business developed fast. More and more warehouses were added, now of a simpler concrete construction. In 2011 they are all empty; the containers have taken over long ago.
Throughout the first 65 years of the 20. Century the company grew extensively. At the same time it was encompassed with a very special aura and affection. I begin to understand why. For all the employees it must have been a proud sight to see the white painted M/S Selandia, the first ocean going vessel provided with diesel engines, sailing up the river to Bangkok on its maiden voyage 1912, carrying high ranking passengers and loaded with 4.500 tons of cement.
W.S. Bristow: Louis and the King of Siam (1976). Walter Christmas: Eet Aar i Siam (1894). Aldo Eggers-Lura: Admiralen, Kongen og Kaptajnen (1998). Tage Kaarsted: Admiralen (1991). A. Kann Rasnussen: Danske i Siam 1858-1942 (1986). Scandinavians in Siam (SSS 2000). Thai-Danish Relations: Udgivet af The Royal Danish Ministry of Education (Bangkok 1980).
The new Oriental Hotel around 1890. The original ‘Oriental Provision Store’ is the wooden building seen to the right.
The main office building and the first – Danish style – warehouses on the huge Charoen Krung compound. The quay is from 2010, replacing the old teak quay and the basin for the logs to keep them wet.
(Photo by Siranath Boonpattanaporn)