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Austria’s Folly:
The Nicobar Colony

In 1778, the Austrian Navy dispatched the small vessel Josef und Theresia into the Indian Ocean to perform a geographical survey, and to seek sites for an Austrian colony. The new Austrian East India Company just established at Trieste in the Adriatic would be the prime beneficiary.

The plan was to establish a trading center, where goods from across Asia could be bought and sold, and gathered for shipment back to Trieste. Within a year or two, small stations were set up on the Malabar Coast of India, in the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, and at Delagoa Bay in East Africa (the southern part of what today is Mozambique).


The Austrian Navy had trouble convincing people to stay here.

India is the focus of our Soldier Raj game, and while the game has small but intense scenarios of its own, it truly shines when combined with Soldier Emperor.

The early Austrian venture into colonialism went nowhere, and by 1783 the colonies had been abandoned and the East India Company dissolved. Profits never showed up, while costs soared. The biggest problem proved to be piracy, both in the Indian Ocean and the Adriatic.

English privateers flying the Prussian flag had devastated Trieste’s commerce during the Seven Years’ War and three-quarters of Austrian trade ended up being carried in Venetian ships, with almost all the rest handled by Dubrovnik. Any increase in trade would require a navy to protect it, and here the East Indies project foundered on financial reality.

A reasonably powerful Austrian navy had been built in the 1730s, but it was abandoned in 1738 with the warships sold to the Republic of Genoa and the crews transferred to the army or the Danube Flotilla. In 1769 Austria made a start at rebuilding her sea power, launching two frigates and hiring British, French and Italian officers to man them. As commodore, the Austrians named a French naval officer, Chevalier Jean Charles de Meaussé. Two 20-gun corvettes replaced them in 1786, but grander plans fell apart when Emperor Josef II launched his war with Turkey in 1788. Despite the cost-cutting desires of the next two emperors (Leopold II and Franz) to abolish the navy altogether, this strength level (two sea-going warships) remained the standard of Austrian sea power until the Austrians took over Venice’s navy in 1797.

The central government proved unwilling to pay for the navy’s upkeep, expecting the merchants of Trieste and Fiume to do so. The businessmen had no interest in spending money for the common good. Thus the navy languished with just two seagoing warships.

But historical games are meant to explore historical alternatives. Especially when those alternatives involve the Austrian fleet.

This variant is for the Soldier Raj/Soldier Emperor 1803 campaign, for the full-sized campaign (nine players). The Austrian player controls Tellichery and the new area, the Nicobars. The Austrian colonial fleet and one colonial army start in play, the other colonial army is available to be built. They operate under the same restrictions of other colonial forces: They cannot be moved to the European map. The Austrian player will have to track manpower generated on the Soldier Raj map separately.

The Nicobars are in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. You’ll have to place the new area there; they should be just to the right of the “Bay of Bengal” label. Note that they’re not worth much.


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