1636 The China Venture – Snippet 14
At the Stockholm Mint, Marcus Koch, the Mint Master of Stockholm, and Captain Hamilton of the Groen Feniks watched as silver bars and coins were counted out and placed in iron-bound wooden boxes, each weighing perhaps five hundred pounds when fully loaded with eight thousand or so coins. The size of the box was deliberate; the Mint didn’t want a box to be easy for a lone thief to carry off. Once the box was locked shut, the captain and the Mint Master affixed their seals to it. The boxes and keys were numbered and a code book indicated which keys opened which boxes.
The silver was not of Swedish origin, since Sweden was not a major silver producer. But German and Spanish silver had been paid for with Swedish copper and iron, or extorted by Swedish warships collecting ship-tolls at Baltic harbors.
Captain Hamilton’s Groen Feniks was capable of carrying about one hundred and eighty tons cargo. It had been built by the Dutch in 1625, so it had already seen almost a decade of service at sea, but never in that decade had it been called upon to carry so valuable a cargo.
Fortunately for Captain Hamilton’s peace of mind, would carry the silver only as far as Goteborg. There it would be transferred temporarily to the great fortress of Alvsborg, and then to an East Indiaman, the Rode Draak, that was anchored there. The pair would journey together to China.
The Groen Feniks was what the Dutch called a pinas. These could be used either as merchantmen or as warships, depending on the choice of guns, the size of the crew, and the absence or presence of marines. In 1629, the cities of Kalmar and Jonkoping purchased it and donated it to the Swedish Navy, naming it the Kalmar Nyckel, the Key of Kalmar. The purchase was part of a program in which Swedish cities purchased dual-purpose ships which could be used for both home defense and for commercial voyages. Although a mission to China was more ambitious than the norm.
Thanks to up-time technology, the news of the Danish surrender at Copenhagen in June 1634 had reached Stockholm the very day on which it occurred. The SEAC director in residence in Stockholm heard about it the following morning, and by that afternoon and the evening had met with the Lord High Treasurer, Gabriel Bengtsson, Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna and Admiral Karl Karlsson Gyllenhjelm. All three of whom, not incidentally, were stockholders.
He pointed out to them that the mainstay of any trading mission to China would be exchanging silver for silk. And that they had a ship which had been designed for the Europe-China route, the Rode Draak, in Goteborg, but it couldn’t leave until they could stock its hold with silver. Moving the silver by land would have been expensive, and sending it by sea impossible as long as the Danish were blockading the Kattegat. But now that the war was over, it could go by sea … but time was of the essence.
“Why?” Oxenstierna had asked.
“Because right now the prevailing wind on the sea-route through the Baltic is from the east,” the admiral explained. “But come June, it will switch to the west, and will stay that way all summer.”
“Waiting until the summer will increase the passage time from Stockholm to Goteborg by anywhere from one to three months,” the SEAC director added.
“I will speak to the Master of the Mint,” said the Chancellor.
Two days later, the entire silver shipment was ready to be transported to the Groen Feniks. There were a dozen silver chests in all.
Before the procession began, the Myntgaten and the streets leading from it to the dock nearest the Royal Mint were closed to ordinary traffic, a crier walked down their length warning that anyone that stepped out of one of the buildings on that street before the “all clear” was given would be shot, and the side streets were barricaded off and guards posted.
The escort assembled in the square outside the Royal Mint. A squadron of cavalry headed the procession, the hooves of their horses striking sparks from the cobblestones. Then came the carriage of Marcus Koch, and a series of sealed wagons, each with a driver and two soldiers. Last came a second squadron of cavalry, which could quickly ride forward if there were any disturbance. There was none.
In due course, they arrived at the dock, which itself was under heavy guard. As each wagon was unloaded, the boxes were counted off and the seals checked for tampering. Some boxes were carried by the crew up the gangway, and others were hoisted over by the ship’s heaviest tackles. Of course, before hoisting, a buoy rope was attached; if the hoist gave way and the box fell into the water, the buoy would mark its position.
Once the silver was safely on board, the cavalry commander ceremoniously delivered the key codebook to Captain Hamilton. On the ship, the boxes were counted and checked once again by the first mate, before being taken down by the most trusted men. A portion of the hold was barricaded off, and there would be armed guards around the clock by the access hatch until the silver was safely transferred to the custody of the warden of the Alvsborg.
Using the Groen Feniks for the China mission wasn’t a last-minute decision. Early in 1634, the Swedish Navy agreed that it could be chartered by the Swedish East Asia Company as soon as the Danes were defeated. The influential promoters of the SEAC then made sure that the Groen Feniks was one of the first Swedish warships to get carronades, cast in Sweden based on USE instructions.
Carronades combined several old ideas. They had shorter barrels than long guns of equal caliber, like the “drakes” and “cutts” that were in some seventeenth century armories. They also had narrower powder chambers, just as mortars always had. Because they took smaller powder charges relative to the shot weight than a long gun, the barrel thickness and the “windage” (the difference between the shot and bore diameters) could be reduced.
Of course, they also had a lower muzzle velocity, and thus a shorter maximum range, than the long gun of equal caliber. But maximum range usually wasn’t all that important in naval warfare, and the range discrepancy was less when compared with long guns of equal gun weight.
In the old time line, carronades were first manufactured in 1778, and used on merchant ships and privateers. Indeed, they were considered ideal merchantman guns because they required a smaller crew but provided a heavy broadside to a ship in danger of being boarded. Within a year, they were also secondary armament on some naval vessels.
In the Baltic War, all of the USE ironclads and timberclads carried 8-inch carronades. They normally fired explosive shells, but if they were loaded with solid shot, the latter would have weighed about 68 pounds.
Of course, since it wasn’t a full-time warship, the Groen Feniks had to settle for replacing its twelve conventional 6-pounders with 32-pound carronades, rather than the heavier models used to outfit the USE timberclads. But its “smashers,” as the supplier called them, weighed no more than the shortest conventional six-pounder.
Even though the Groen Feniks was an armed vessel, and the Baltic was now at peace, in view of the value of its cargo, it would have two escorts until it reached Goteborg: the 74-gun Kronan, built in 1633, and the 30-gun Scepter, built in 1616. The Kronan itself had some full-size carronades recently installed on its quarterdeck.
The Scepter led the way out of Stockholm Harbor, followed by the Groen Feniks, with the Kronan lumbering along in its wake. Captain Hamilton was happy enough to have a local skipper in the lead; the Stockholm archipelago was a maze of waterways. He was even more relieved when, after about eight hours, they reached the open waters of the Baltic.
Over the next few days, the three ships hugged the Swedish coast, where the winds were most favorable. They curved around to enter the Great Belt, between the islands of Funen and Zealand. The senior captain, on the Kronan, would have preferred to take the Oresund, and sail by Copenhagen–reminding Christian the Fourth that the Swedes had won the war–but the damn Danes had mined those waters near Helsingor back in April, and hadn’t cleaned up their mess yet.