Latest Articles

Miloš Vec

I wanna hold your hand

Controversies over Muslims refusing to shake hands with non-Muslims are typical of the conflicts affecting today's multi-religious societies. Appeals to the law are not the answer: processes of social self-regulation need to take their course beyond formal authority, argues Miloš Vec. [ more ]

Adam Zagajewski

A defence of ardour

Shalini Randeria, Anna Wójcik

Mobilizing law for solidarity

Ira Katznelson, Agnieszka Rosner

Solidarity after Machiavelli

Camille Leprince, Lynn SK

Portraits of three women...

Eurozine Review

Eurozine Review

The destruction of society

'Osteuropa' rages at the destruction of Russian society; 'Merkur' delves into the history of Eurasianism; 'Vikerkaar' is sanguine about the decline of universalism; 'New Eastern Europe' has divided opinions about borders; 'Ord&Bild' finds humanism at sea; 'Il Mulino' debates the difficulties of democracy in Italy and the West; 'Blätter' seeks responses to the whitelash; 'Mittelweg 36' historicizes pop and protest; 'Critique & Humanism' looks at Bulgarian youth cultures; 'Res Publica Nowa' considers labour; and 'Varlik' examines the origins of literary modernism in Turkey.

Eurozine Review

The ordinary state of emergency

Eurozine Review

The Lilliput syndrome

Eurozine Review

The violent closet?

Eurozine Review

Peak democracy?

My Eurozine

If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Share |

Traces of ignominy

Gothenburg's French block and Sweden's hunt for colonies

Gothenburg's Franska tomten neighbourhood takes its name from a French warehouse established in the eighteenth-century through a colonial trade-off between the French and Swedish crowns. Today, the name's origins are largely forgotten, writes Klas Rönnbäck.

When America was "discovered", Spain and Portugal established extensive colonies in the "New World", and other European states soon followed suit. The Swedish government also tried to establish colonies on other continents: the seventeenth century colonies Nya Sverige (New Sweden, in Delaware in what is now the US) and Cabo Corso (in what is now Ghana) were short-lived. After that, the Swedish state made a number of failed colonisation attempts (for example, Tobago, Madagascar and Guyana's coast) during the second half of the eighteenth century.[1] When Gustav III came to power, Sweden had no colonies whatsoever on other continents – a loss of prestige that the king could not accept.[2]


This article is part of the Eurozine focal point Arrivals/Departures: European harbour cities

Harbour cities as places of movement, immigration and emigration, as places of inclusion and exclusion, develop distinct modes of being that not only reflect different cultural traditions and political and social self-conceptions, but also contain economic potential and communicate how they see themselves as part of the larger structure that is "Europe". [ more ]
During the American War of Independence, France provided military for the revolutionaries against their arch enemy Great Britain. Along with the peace negotiations in 1783, France came to receive two islands in the Caribbean – Tobago and St Lucia. The Swedish king saw his chance. The Swedes had tried to colonise Tobago previously – so how could the French king deny Sweden this island now? At the same time, Gustav was not too fastidious. In a letter to the Swedish ambassador in Paris, Gustav Creutz, he wrote that he would be happy with any old island in the West Indies – in fact, if the situation demanded it, even just a place to store Swedish goods (without having to pay customs on them).[3] The Swedish king also hoped that Louis XVI's foreign minister Vergennes would himself realise "the advantage France would have, if during a future war the Royal Majesty had a colony in that part of the world".[4] But, small-mindedly, as Gustav himself put it, the French saw no such advantage – but rather demanded compensation in the form of trading benefits. The fact that the Swedish king had had diplomatic conversations with Catherine II of Russia, which the French foreign minister learned about, also played a role: there was a risk that the historical Swedish-French alliance would dissolve, and the French wanted to prevent this.[5]

The negotiations dragged out for almost a year and Gustav Creutz was replaced by a new ambassador, Eric Magnus Staël von Holstein. Finally, in July 1784, the parties reached an agreement. Sweden made no concessions other than supplying a storage place for French goods in Gothenburg. The French king, in turn, did not want to lose Tobago. But he could offer the Caribbean island of St Barthélemy to the Swedish king. The tractate from 1 July 1784, which the regents signed, states:

Article 4. His Majesty's subjects shall always have the right to store, in Gothenburg's harbour, in the place, and with the provisos that will be decided upon, all necessities, products and trade goods, either from France or its colonies in America, which are transported on French ships. [...]

Article 8. In trade for and as compensation for those benefits, which French trade and sea-faring, through the implementation of this freedom of storage in Gothenburg, receives, his Majesty gives for ever to the King and Crown of Sweden, complete ownership and control of the island St Barthélemy in the West Indies.[6]

The Swedish slave trade on St Barthélemy

At that time, the Swedish state did not have the best of finances, and many had probably hoped that the negotiations with France would be significantly more successful than they ended up being. The King himself needed a personal success in negotiation, if for nothing else than as propaganda after his long journeys abroad spent try to obtain colonies or financial subsidies for the Swedish state. The former Swedish ambassador Gustav Creutz commented on the somewhat slender results of the negotiations in a letter to the king: "C'est toujours quelque chose ā presenter aux yeux de la nation" ("It is always something to show the nation").[7] He does not seem to be particularly overwhelmed, which is unsurprising. The reason why the French chose to offer St Barthélemy is because it was the least valuable of all their colonies in the West Indies, and the island was geographically distant from the others.[8]

The island that Sweden thereby came to control was stony and just 24 square kilometres in size. At the time of the early expeditions, it was realised that it would never serve plantation purposes as other countries' colonial possessions did. Nor did the small population form a significant market for Swedish products. The solution was to declare St Barthélemy, and its capital Gustavia, an international free port. Ships from various nations could trade here, paying a smaller customs fee.

For a short time, St Barthélemy became an important transit harbour for American tradesmen. One important commodity was slaves. The Swedish West India company got the king's blessing to trade slaves, with the king retaining a quarter of the profits.[9] But soon other countries decided to forbid slave trade – Denmark in 1792 and Great Britain in 1807. During the Vienna Congress in 1815, Sweden too signed a declaration forbidding slave trading. Yet boats with slaves continued to come to St Barthélemy. It would take until the 1830s before slave ships stopped calling at Gustavia – around the same time that Great Britain decided to get rid of slavery completely.[10] No one seems to have tried to count how many slaves passed through the Swedish colony. At its height, in 1812, there were around 2400 slaves on the island itself.[11] But most of the slave trade in Gustavia was transit trade that left the island, including to the American south. In sum, the trade was probably very small compared to the many millions of slaves that made up the transatlantic trade in total.

Franska tomten: The French block

In exchange, Gustav III offered Louis XVI a storage place in Gothenburg. It came to be called Franska tomten (the French block) – the first map in the Gothenburg City Museum collection that explicitly uses this name is from 1802.[12] Paradoxically, there was some confusion about where Franska tomten actually was. What is now Packhusplatsen was at that time a dockyard, called Masthamnen harbour, which was part of Stora Hamnen, or the Large Harbour (now Stora Hamnkanalen, or Large Harbour Canal). There is no doubt that Franska tomten was near Masthamnen. Today, there is a block called Franska tomten, near Packhusplatsen (area 20 in Nordstaden). In the Gothenburg City Museum history, the name Franska tomten is given to this area.

Yet it is most likely historically incorrect that Franska tomten was here. The Gothenburg City Museum archive contains three contemporary maps (from 1802, 1809 and 1817) that use the name Franska tomten. They all point to one of the properties in a neighbouring block – the area on the corner of Norra Hamngatan and Packhusplatsen, where the Court of Appeals now is, in the block that is now called Stora Tullen (area 13 in Nordstaden).[13] In the Gothenburg City Museum's history of Gothenburg's city centre, there is said to have been two brick buildings there in 1850 – no buildings before then are mentioned.[14] In the Gothenburg City Museum archive, no contemporary map suggests that the historical Franska tomten was located in the area that today bears the name. This misapprehension probably arose when the current area-division was carried out in 1920, as seen in the large map of Gothenburg that was prepared for the jubilee exhibit in 1923.[15]

According to the tractate from 1784, French subjects had the right "for all time" to a storage place in Gothenburg. In exchange, the king would get St Barthélemy "for ever". But the Swedish colony in the Caribbean was never the financial success that Gustav III hoped for. Perhaps there was cold comfort in knowing that French traders never received much financial profit from Franska tomten either. At the beginning of the nineteenth century – exactly when is unclear – they seem to have stopped using the storage place.

In 1815, the General Customs Office requested that a victual scale (a provisions scale) be established in Franska tomten.[16] It seems that the proposal was not approved, but the request suggests that, by that time, French traders did not use the area anymore. Later, during the nineteenth century, Masthamnen harbour was also closed, and the muddy and reedy land around it drained.[17] The foundation was laid for today's Packhusplats.

In 1878, the Swedish crown sold St Barthélemy back to France. There is nothing left today of the historic buildings in Franska tomten. All that remains is a name from a long-gone time.


  • [1] Carl Sprinchorn, "Sjuttonhundratalets planer och förslag till svensk kolonisation i främmande världsdelar" ["eighteenth century plans and proposals for the Swedish colonisation of foreign places"], Historisk tidskrift ["Historical journal"] 1923, 109-162; Aleksander Loit, "Sveriges kolonilotter" ["Sweden's colonies"] in Ronny Ambjörnsson and David Gaunt (eds), Den dolda historien – 27 uppsatser om vårt okända förflutna ["Hidden history – 27 essays about our unknown past"], Malmö: Författarförlaget 1984.
  • [2] See Mikela Lundahl, "The simple Gothenburger: Colonial elisions in the Swedish self-image", in Eurozine 13.07.2012,
  • [3] Ingegerd Hildebrand, Den svenska kolonin St Barthélemy och Västindiska kompaniet fram till 1796 ["The Swedish colony St Barthélemy and the West India Company up until 1796"], Lund: Ph. Lindstedts 1951.
  • [4] Quoted in Åke Essén, Johan Liljencrantz som handelspolitiker. Studier i Sveriges yttre handelspolitik 1773-1786 ["Johan Liljencrantz as a commerce politician. Studies in Sweden's foreign trade policies 1773-1786"], Lund: Gleerups 1928, 231.
  • [5] Ingegerd Hildebrand, 1951, 27f.
  • [6] Reproduced in Utdrag utur alla utkomne Publique Handlingar, Placater, Förordningar, Resolutioner och Publicationer ["Excerpts from all published Public Documents, Placards, Regulations, Resolutions and Publications"], 1802, part 13.
  • [7] Essén, 1928, 235.
  • [8] Ingegerd Hildebrand, 1951, 39.
  • [9] Göran Skytte, 1985, Kungliga svenska slaveriet ["Royal Swedish slavery"], Stockholm: Askelin & Hägglund.
  • [10] Ibid, 106ff.
  • [11] Hannes Hyrenius, Royal Swedish slaves, Göteborg: Demographic research institute, Göteborgs universitet 1977.
  • [12] Gudrun Lönnroth, Hus för hus i Göteborgs stadskärna ["Building by building in Gothenburg city centre"], Göteborg: Göteborgs stadsmuseum 2003.
  • [13] See "Plankarta över Franska tomten" ["Map of Franska tomten"] by C.W. Carlberg 1802, Gothenburg City Museum archive, capsule 11; "Plan Charta no. 1 som utvisar alla i Giötheborg varande Kronans tillhörige byggnader och lägenheter" ["Map no. 1 that shows all of the Crown's buildings and spaces in Gothenburg"] by V. Arborelli, 1817, capsule 8; "Karta öfver Masthamnen" ["Map of Masthamnen"] by L.W. Brandenburg, 1846, based on an original from 1809, capsule 11.
  • [14] Gudrun Lönnroth, 2003, 485.
  • [15] See "Kartverk över Göteborg med omnejd" ["Map of Gothenburg and environs"] by A. Södergren, 1923.
  • [16] See "Ang. plats för viktualievåg i Göteborg" ["Regarding a location for a victual scale in Gothenburg"], correspondence from Fortifikationsdepartementet [the Fortification Department], Gothenburg City Museum archive, capsule 221:1.
  • [17] Gudrun Lönnroth, 2003, 530.

Published 2012-07-13

Original in Swedish
Translation by Brett Jocelyn Epstein
First published in (Re)searching Gothenburg: Essays on a changing city, Glänta produktion 2010.

Contributed by Glänta
© Klas Rönnbäck / Glänta
© Eurozine

Focal points     click for more

Debating solidarity in Europe
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, questions of inequality and solidarity have become intertwined. Over the past year, however, questions of solidarity have also been central in connection to the treatment of refugees and migrants. [more]

Ukraine: Beyond conflict stories
Follow the critical, informed and nuanced voices that counter the dominant discourse of crisis concerning Ukraine. A media exchange project linking Ukrainian independent media with "alternative" media in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Greece. [more]

Russia in global dialogue
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

Ukraine in European dialogue
Post-revolutionary Ukrainian society displays a unique mix of hope, enthusiasm, social creativity, collective trauma of war, radicalism and disillusionment. Two years after the country's uprising, the focal point "Ukraine in European dialogue" takes stock. [more]

Culture and the commons
Across Europe, citizens are engaging in new forms of cultural cooperation while developing alternative and participatory democratic practices. The commons is where cultural and social activists meet a broader public to create new ways of living together. [more]

2016 Jean Améry Prize collection
To coincide with the awarding of the 2016 Jean Améry Prize for European essay writing, Eurozine publishes essays by authors nominated for the prize, including by a representative selection of Eurozine partner journals. [more]

The politics of privacy
The Snowden leaks and the ensuing NSA scandal made the whole world debate privacy and data protection. Now the discussion has entered a new phase - and it's all about policy. A focal point on the politics of privacy: claiming a European value. [more]

Beyond Fortress Europe
The fate of migrants attempting to enter Fortress Europe has triggered a new European debate on laws, borders and human rights. A focal point featuring reportage alongside articles on policy and memory. With contributions by Fabrizio Gatti, Seyla Benhabib and Alessandro Leogrande. [more]

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

Eurozine is seeking an Online Editor and Social Media Manager for its office in Vienna.

Preferred starting date: February 2017.
Applications deadline: 31 January 2017.

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Mobilizing for the Commons
The 27th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Gdańsk, 4-6 November 2016
The Eurozine conference 2016 in Gdańsk framed the general topic of solidarity with a focus on mobilizing for the commons. The event took place in the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk and thus linked contemporary debate to the history of a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement which has started in the city's shipyard in 1980. [more]

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG, editors and Eurozine contributors comment on current affairs and events. What's behind the headlines in the world of European intellectual journals?
In memoriam: Ales Debeljak (1961-2016)
On 28 January 2016, Ales Debeljak died in a car crash in Slovenia. He will be much missed as an agile and compelling essayist, a formidable public speaker and a charming personality. [more]

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
Neda Deneva, Constantina Kouneva, Irina Nedeva and Yavor Siderov
Does migration intensify distrust in institutions?
How do migration and institutional mistrust relate to one another? As a new wave of populism feeds on and promotes fears of migration, aggrandising itself through the distrust it sows, The Red House hosts a timely debate with a view to untangling the key issues. [more]

Editor's choice     click for more

Jürgen Habermas, Michaël Foessel
Critique and communication: Philosophy's missions
Decades after first encountering Anglo-Saxon perspectives on democracy in occupied postwar Germany, Jürgen Habermas still stands by his commitment to a critical social theory that advances the cause of human emancipation. This follows a lifetime of philosophical dialogue. [more]

Literature     click for more

Karl Ove Knausgård
Out to where storytelling does not reach
To write is to write one's way through the preconceived and into the world on the other side, to see the world as children can, as fantastic or terrifying, but always rich and wide-open. Karl Ove Knausgård on creating literature. [more]

Jonathan Bousfield
Growing up in Kundera's Central Europe
Jonathan Bousfield talks to three award-winning novelists who spent their formative years in a Central Europe that Milan Kundera once described as the kidnapped West. It transpires that small nations may still be the bearers of important truths. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Multimedia     click for more
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]

powered by