A trip down memory lane: 14 November 1618 marks an important day for Thai-Danish relations

Danish merchant ships in front of Kronborg Castle in the 17th century.

As the Embassy of Denmark in Thailand continues the celebrations of the 400 years of relations between Denmark and Thailand, the Embassy highlights 14 November 1618 as a very important day. In the Embassy’s ‘ON THIS DAY” special this week, the Embassy elaborates the following:

𝐎𝐍 𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐒 𝐃𝐀𝐘 𝟏𝟒 𝐍𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟔𝟏𝟖

It was on this exact day in 1618, that the Danish King Christian IV, decided to send a small fleet of ships to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) – a fleet which 3 years later would make the first recorded Danish contact with Siam.

It began in 1617 when the Emperor of Ceylon sent an envoy to Copenhagen to request assistance from the Danish King against his enemies. At the time, Denmark was a leading European maritime power but was not involved in the global colonization drive. 

As King Christian was very eager to explore trade possibilities outside of Scandinavia, he decided to accommodate the request from the Emperor of Ceylon and send a small fleet of ships to Ceylon to explore the possibilities for trade that might arise. 

The fleet consisted of two warships, 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐸𝑙𝑒𝑝ℎ𝑎𝑛𝑡, and 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐷𝑎𝑣𝑖𝑑, as well as two merchant vessels, 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐾𝑟𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑛, and 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐶𝑜𝑝𝑒𝑛ℎ𝑎𝑔𝑒𝑛. The fleet left Copenhagen on 14 November 1618.

Unfortunately, by the time the ships reached Ceylon, after almost two years at sea, the island had already been conquered. The commander of the Danish fleet, 24-year-old Ove Gjedde, was forced to find new ways to make the voyage a success. 

With that aim in mind, he sailed north along the east coast of India and arrived at the Coromandel Coast of eastern India in September 1620. 

After negotiations with the Rajah of Tanjore, the Danes were allowed to make land at the small fishing port of Tranquebar. The fortress Dansborg was constructed there and the entrepreneurial Roland Crappe, who was part of King Christian’s trade envoy, was appointed governor of the new trading station. For Gjedde, the mission was completed, and he returned to Denmark, serving the Danish Kingdom for the rest of his life.

The following year, Captain Crappe, crossed the Bay of Bengal. Sailing almost directly east from Tranquebar, his Danish trade ship arrived at the Siamese settlements of Mergui (Myeik) and Tenasserim, which during the reign of King Songtham, were important trading posts and part of the Kingdom of Siam. 

Here the Danes were warmly welcomed and the first Thai-Danish connection was a reality.

The commander of the fleet, 24-year-old Ove Gjedde and the Danish fortress, Dansborg, in Traquebar.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

View all posts by Gregers Møller

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