On 27 August 1733, the sails of the ‘Friedericus Rex Sueciae’ came into view above the stormy waters outside Gothenburg. It was practically a miracle. Canons were fired in salute. The celebrations went on for over a week in Gothenburg’s taverns. The ship had been gone for eighteen months. It had sailed through some of the most dangerous seas on the planet, braving storms, hostile waters and pirates. The ship had been taken captive in Jakarta, but the captain managed to negotiate its release. So many of the original crew had died or jumped ship that replacements had to be recruited for the voyage home. When the ship left Gothenburg, it had been carrying pig iron, tar, wood and potash. It returned carrying a very different cargo. A metamorphosis had taken place.
The iron had been transformed into silk. The tar to decorative fans. The wood to tea, and the potash to spices, arrack and porcelain. The ‘Friedericus Rex Sueciae’ brought goods which over time would come to be regarded as among the most Swedish of things, including punch and rhubarb. The ‘Friedericus Rex Sueciae’ was the Swedish East India Company’s very first ship. It had sailed to the other side of the Earth and returned, from a land and a world which captivated contemporary Europeans more than any other. A realm shrouded in mystery, secrets, wonderful artefacts and almost unimaginable luxury had been to China. The cargo it carried home made a lot of men rich.