Swedes, Merchants, Freemasons and East India Company Agents in 18th Century East London

Claes GrillAs recent investigations into London’s ‘Sailortown’ have shown we now have to re-consider previous accounts of London east of the Tower and take into account the cosmopolitan mix of its communities. Perhaps we would do better to describe this part of London as being a vibrant cosmopolitan place with a not inconsiderable intellectual life.

Many foreign communities were represented all playing an important part in London’s infrastructure. This was home to Jewish merchants, Geneva bankers[1], German Sugar Bakers and many Ship-Husbands for the East India company ships who plied a long distance trade.

If for instance we consider the Scandinavian community resident in this area at this time, many of whom attended the Swedish Church, we come across some most interesting individuals. Men such as Daniel Solander the Botanist, and Swedish merchants Gustavus Brander, one of the Founders of the British Museum and the Lindegren brothers, prominent merchants and associates of the East India Company who were all members of the congregation.

General Charles Rainsford, intellectual and Freemason and cousin of Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society frequented the area, probably to use the services of Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom, the Alchemist, a ships-surgeon. A translator of alchemic texts and influential figure in London’s secret and twilight world of occult learning. Bacstrom was well known in East London and most probably an intimate of Dr. Samuel Falk, the Baal Shem of London, a resident of Wellclose Square close to the Swedish Church.

Claes Grill, Freemason and member of the London Emulation Lodge was a member of the Swedish family who were iron masters that were based all over Europe and were influential members and Directors of the Swedish East India Company. They were also supplied the English East India Company with their iron for shipbuilding[2].

IOR records allow us to build up a picture of individuals who served aboard EICo ships as James H. Thomas has shown;

“Captain Charles Lindegren (1754 – 1818) was the youngest of three brothers, one of whom, Andrew, was a Company Agent in Portsmouth for many years. Charles Lindegren gained his first Company command in October 1786 at the age of 32. Appointed to skipper the 527-ton Admiral Barrington, he spent seventeen years at sea. For the 1769-70 season Lindegren, then a teenager, had served as a seaman aboard the 723-ton Latham under the experienced Captain John Prince. He had then been a Midshipman on the Duke of Cumberland under Captain Alphonsus Glover, followed by a spell of time away from Company service as a 2nd Mate on the Fidelity to Stockholm, perhaps explained by his family’s Swedish connections. Two spells as 4th Mate on Indiamen led to service between April 1780 and June 1782, as 2nd Mate on the Pigot, moving to the Bellmont in the same rank between December 1782 and October 1784, where his pay was £4 a month. He appears to have cultivated an ‘interest’ with Godfrey Thornton, the Admiral Barrington’s owner, for it was he who presented Lindegren in October 1786 for vessel command”.

Extract from: James. H. Thomas, The East India Company in the Provinces in the Eighteenth Century: Volume II: Captains, Agents, and Servants A Gallery of East India Company Portraits, (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007).

Another interesting thing about the ship Admiral Barrington commanded by Charles Lindegren was it was part of the Third Fleet that transported British convicts to Australia. A forgotten link to East London’s past and one that connects with Portsmouth through its Prison Hulks and as a point of departure to the New South Wales Colony.

The links of East London and Portsmouth are extensive and require further study. One example was Charles Lindegren a partner with Grill and East India Company Agent in Portsmouth who was a Freemason and member of the Dundee Arms Lodge in Wapping, London. He held other important roles too:

“Charles becomes a Director of Royal Exchange Assurance. His son Andrew moves to Portsmouth, where he has a lengthy career, which includes “many years agent to the Hon. East India Company” (Quote from an obituary).

Emmanuel Swedenborg was a friend of the Lindegren’s and Solander as this extract cites:

“After the funeral, in accordance with Swedish custom, a dinner was served at Mr. Burkhard’s house in Radcliffe Highway. The attending physicians, Doctors Hampe and Messiter, were there, an official of the Swedish legation, named Charles Lindegren, and also, undoubtedly, Consul Christopher Springer and innkeeper Erik Bergström, with the Swedish pastors, Arvid Ferelius and Aaron Mathesius”.

The Dundee Arms Freemasonry Lodge was an important Freemasonry Lodge based in Wapping that had many merchant members, many of whom were ship-owners who arranged transports for government at time of need. Membership of this lodge enabled members to be able to communicate with some of the most influential City men, such as Sir William Curtis, aka ‘Billy Biscuit’ one of those who were engaged in provisioning and victualling the Royal Navy. The lodge also acted as conduit for information and services that were essential for the ‘contractor state’, especially at times of War. These few examples point to East London as an heterogeneous centre for international trade and suggests networks and linkages on a global scale which need to be explored through comparison of ‘Sailortowns’ in other Port Cities.

Ken Cozens & Derek Morris



[1] Take for example Peter Isaac Thellusson, merchant and banker of Philpot Lane, London who came from Swiss stock and was partners with Sir William Curtis and the shipping contractors and slave traders Camden, Calvert & King, See Kenneth Cozens, “Politics, Patronage and Profit: A Case Study of Three 18th. Century London Merchants,” MA Thesis, University of Greenwich, and Gary L. Sturgess & Ken Cozens, “Managing a Global Enterprise in the Eighteenth Century: Anthony Calvert of The Crescent, London, 1777–1808,” The Mariner’s Mirror, vol. 99, no. 2, ((2013), 171–195.

[2] Claes Grill (2 September 1750 – 2 August 1816) was a Swedish merchant. He was the son of Abraham Grill (II) the Younger. In 1770, he settled down in London. Claes became Counsel General to London in 1786 to 1815.

Further Notes

British Library IOR for information on East India Company Ships and Officers.

The firm Andrew & Charles Lindegren was a large and important importer of Swedish iron in London for many years and also worked as a banker. It was a business partner with both trading house Carlos & Claes Grill in Stockholm, the trading house Anthoni & Johan Grill in Amsterdam, Abraham Grill in Gothenburg, Tottie & Arfwedson, Bohman Hazel & Görges, as well as with Sahlgren & Alströmer: See, Leos Müller, The Merchant Houses of Stockholm, C. 1640-1800: A Comparative Study of Early-modern Entrepreneurial Behaviour, (Upsala: S. Academiae Ubsaliensis, 1998).

Andrew Lindegren’s will mentions his contract with Tottie and Arfwedson of Stockholm: TNA, PROB 11/1108.

In 1770, Claes became partner in the Anglo-Swedish company Andrew & Charles Lindegren, a London-based importer of Swedish iron. Andrew & Charles Lindegren traded with the Carlos & Claes Grill (the Grill Trading House) and was the major supplier of iron to the British East India Company. The name of the company was changed first to Lindegren & Grill, and later to Lindegren son & Grill. By that name, the company continued to serve as an agent for the East India Company in Portsmouth: Muller, Merchant Houses.

Carlos and Claes Grill were apparently dealing direct with Henry and Peter Muilman in 1759 and 1760 and with Andrew and Charles Lindegren in 1761 in respect of Osterby iron. However the Grill house was probably less active in overseas trade after the death of Claes Grill in 1767: Muller, Merchant Houses, 66-7 and 127-8.

Select Bibliography

Charles F. Campbell, The Intolerable Hulks: British Shipboard Confinement, 1776-1857, (Tucson, AZ, Fenestar Books, 2001).

Farrington, Anthony, A Biographical Index of the East India Maritime Service Officers, 1600-1834, (London: British Library, 1999).

Farrington, Anthony, A Catalogue of the East India Ships’ Journals and Logs 1600-1834, (London: British Library, 1999),

Heiron, Arthur, Ancient Freemasonry and the Old Dundee Lodge, No. 18, 1722-1920, (London: Kenning and Son, 1921).

Knight, Roger & Martin Wilcox, Sustaining the Fleet, 1793-1815: War, the British Navy and the Contractor State, (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2010).

Morris, Derek & Ken Cozens, London’s Sailortown 1600-1800, (London: East London History Society, 2014).

Morris, Derek & Ken Cozens, Wapping 1600-1800 A Social History of an Early Modern London Maritime Suburb (London: East London History Society, 2009).

Müller, Leos, The Merchant Houses of Stockholm, C. 1640-1800: A Comparative Study of Early-modern Entrepreneurial Behaviour, (Upsala: S. Academiae Ubsaliensis, 1998).

Schuchard, Marsha Keith, “Emanuel, Swedenborg, Secret Agent on Earth and in Heaven: Jacobites, Jews and Freemasons in Early Modern Sweden,” Northern World, no.55, (2011).

Thomas, James H., The East India Company in the Provinces in the Eighteenth Century: Volume II: Captains, Agents, and Servants A Gallery of East India Company Portraits, (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007).

Suggested Illustrations

Portrait of Claes Grill: From https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claes_Grill by Artist: Jakob Björck, Swedish, born 1727 (?), dead 1793. Attributed to Copy after: Gustaf Lundberg, Swedish, born 1695-08-17, dead 1786-03-18Lun: Held at http://collection.nationalmuseum.se/eMuseumPlus?service=RedirectService&sp=Scollection&sp=SfieldValue&sp=0&sp=1&sp=3&sp=Slightbox_3x4&sp=0&sp=Sdetail&sp=0&sp=F

Samuel Falk Portrait: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal_Shem_of_London#/media/File:Besht.jpg

Information on the Swedish Church



Prison Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour



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