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East Indiaman

The term "East Indiaman" refers to the merchant vessels used by the European companies in their maritime trade between their particular nations and Asia from about 1600 until the mid-1800s.

The first of these, the English East India Company, was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. The Dutch East India Company (1602), Danish East India Company (1616), and Portuguese East India Company (1628) soon followed, with the French East India Company (1664) and Swedish East India Company (1731) appearing on the scene later.

Most of the vessels rapidly developed a similar design in that they were wider at the waterline than at the main deck, which in popular terms was called "round bellied" ('as a well fed priest', Wallenberg 1781). This was allowed for carriage of more cargo below deck and also for carriage of cannons without making the ships unstable.

The ships carried cannons to defend themselves against pirates and unfriendly competitors since many of the trading nations were occasionally in war with each other. Between about 1690 and 1750, the South East Asian waters were the home of some of the most successful pirates in history. Merchant ships operating there did well in being able to fend for themselves.

At the end of the 18th century a faster Clipper type was developed because of the needs of the tea trade where the fastest ship would get the best prices for their cargo of fresh tea. Their design was targeted towards speed rather than cargo hold.

The most famous of the Swedish East Indiamen are the Gotheborg which incidentally is also one of the least successful, since her fame is much depending on the fact that she sank fully laden after a successful trip to China and back after running into a well known reef in the port entrance of its home port, Gothenburg, in 1745 about 900 meters from landing.