The Ostend Company and the Belgian maritime renewal

  • Michael Serruys (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


The East India Company and the VOC are still very present in the British and Dutch national identity. Above all, they have shaped their country’s history and maritime destiny. How did the smaller East India companies, like the Danish, Swedish or Belgian, play a role in the maritime history of their respective nations. In this paper we will discuss how the Belgian East India Company, or Ostend Company, renewed the maritime destiny of the Southern Netherlands in the eighteenth century. In the early eighteenth century, Ostend was the only port in the Southern Netherlands with free access to the sea (the Scheldt and the port of Antwerp being closed by the United Provinces). At that time, Ostend's maritime activities were mainly limited to coastal fishing and privateering. The takeover by the Austrian Habsburgs of the Southern Netherlands in 1713, radically changed Ostend's position. The arrival of Jacobite merchants with knowledge of colonial trade, i.e. the arrival of new actors with new practices, precipitated the foundation of a colonial trading company in the 1720s. Even if the Ostend Company disappeared in 1731, under international pressure, this colonial episode left the Austrian Netherlands with maritime and commercial, but also with legal, financial and political know-how, managed by new actors and new skills. These actors worked increasingly to bring Brussels - the country's political and economic center - geopolitically closer to the sea. A sea that was still psychologically distant until then. In the end, the unceasing activities of these multi-skilled actors brought about a real maritime renewal in the Austrian Netherlands, and particularly in Ostend, which would become a major port on the western or Atlantic European coast at the end of the 18th century. A function that was taken over by Antwerp in the early nineteenth century. The role of the Ostend Company for Belgium’s maritime renewal was therefore of paramount importance.
Period28 Jun 2022
Event title8th International Congress of Maritime History: Old and new uses of the oceans
Event typeConference
LocationPorto, Portugal
Degree of RecognitionInternational