The Austrian colonization of the Nicobar Islands (renamed to the Theresia Islands) involved a series of three separate attempts to colonize and settle the Nicobar Islands by the Habsburg Monarchy, and later the Austrian Empire. During the period of Austrian colonization, the Nicobar Islands were previously colonized by the Danish in 1756, but were abandoned due to multiple outbreaks of malaria. The Danes though still laid formal claim to the islands. The first attempt was the only time where the island chain was successfully colonized by the Austrians. The second attempt was canceled; and the third attempt, in 1886, was abandoned due to prior colonization by the British in 1868.
Previous colonization by the Danish
The Nicobar Islands were officially colonized by the Danish on 1 January 1756. Denmark owned a significant port in India, Tranquebar, and decided to colonize the islands, citing the lack of native resistance, the ease of access, and relative vicinity to Tranquebar. In December of 1756, the Danish stylized the islands Frederick's Islands, which had its name taken from the then-King of Denmark, Frederick V.
Within a few months of colonization, the island of Nancowry was settled, and the colony contracted malaria for the first time. The virus spread island-to-island, until it eventually hit the Danish colonists so hard, that the remaining settlers, including the head of the colony, were able to sail back to Tranquebar in March of 1760. Another expedition was made in 1768, again started in Nancowry, but within less than 9 years that colony had disappeared as well.
Background & Austrian colonization
The origins of colonization can be traced back to Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Joseph II, who were both appealed by William Bolts. Bolts had been previously active in the British East India Company but had been convicted for trading in opium and was dismissed. In 1774, he traveled to Vienna to convince the inexperienced Austria of the feasibility of trade between Trieste and the Far East. Bolts was well received by the Austrian court, and was given a ten-year charter allowing him to trade under the Austrians through their Adriatic ports to Persia, India, China, and Africa.
Bolts, who was then at the court of the Nawab of Mysore, directed the Joseph und Theresia to sail to the Nicobar's. In June 1778, the Joseph und Theresia docked on the island of Nancowry. On 12 July, the Nicobarese natives signed a document that ceded all twenty-four islands to Austria. The Austrian flag was then raised on a nearby hill; and 6 men, besides the cattle, arms, and slaves, were left behind to start the new Austrian colony.
In 1781, the colonists complained about a lack of drinking water and food, but Vienna took no notice and left its outpost to its fate. The colonists continued on, and managed successfully until Gottfried Stahl, leader of the colonization effort, died in 1783. After Stahl's death, the remaining colonists decided to abandon the islands in 1785. In addition to Stahl's death, the Danish decided to send a warship from Tranquebar in an attempt to forcefully remove the Austrians from Nancowry.
Novara Expedition of 1858
Motivated by an urge to explore, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria in 1857 sent the frigate "SMS Novara" on a trip of scientific circumnavigation around the globe. On board was a team of researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which also received the additional task of looking out for possible locations for a penal colony.
In February 1858, the SMS Novara reached the island of Car Nicobar, the northernmost island of the chain. The Austrian team sailed around the islands of Nancowry and Kamorta but did not try to occupy them. The leader of the group, ethnologist Karl von Scherzer, encouraged the team to explore for artifacts present of the islands. In totality, the researchers acquired over 400 native artifacts from Nancowry and Kamorta; von Scherzer then began promoting the idea of recolonization. The Austrian government ruled against the notion of recolonization, which ended all serious negations of colonization at the time.
If von Scherzer's idea had been accepted by the Austrian government, the colonization would have been most likely uncontested. The Danish removed all settlements from the Nicobar Islands, and relinquished sovereignty of the islands in 1848. In addition, the Austrians would have beaten out the British by ten years if they had put von Scherzer's recommendations in action.
In 1886, the Austrian corvette, SMS Aurora, anchored in the harbor of Nancowry before continuing her voyage to the Far East. When docking at Nancowry for the third time, the Austrians realized the British had already settled the islands. In 1868, the British officially purchased the rights to all twenty-four of the Nicobar Islands from the Danish government. After discovering this, there were no further plans for recolonization.
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