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The arms of the British South Africa Company.

A chartered company is an association formed by investors or shareholders for the purpose of trade, exploration and colonization.


Companies enabled merchants to band together to undertake ventures requiring more capital than was available to any one merchant or family. Typically, these companies were formed from the sixteenth century onwards by groups of European investors to underwrite and profit from the exploration of Africa, India, the Caribbean and North America, usually under the patronage of one state, which issued the company's charter. But chartered companies go back into the medieval period. One claimed to be the oldest is the Stora Enso with a charter of 1347 for a copper mine. Chartered companies enabled states to use private resources for exploration and trade beyond the means of the limited resources of the treasury, which is a liberal form of indirect rule; some companies did themselves employ a form of indirect rule of territories through traditional leaders, such as princely states with whom they (not the European state) made treaties.

Chartered companies were usually formed, incorporated and legitimised under a royal or, in republics, an equivalent government charter. This document set out the terms under which the company could trade; defined its boundaries of influence, and described its rights and responsibilities.

For example, the charter of the British South Africa Company, given by Queen Victoria, allowed the company to:

  • Trade with African rulers such as King Lobengula
  • Form banks
  • Own, manage and grant or distribute land
  • Raise its own police force (the British South Africa Police).

In return, the British South Africa Company agreed to develop the territory it controlled; to respect existing African laws; to allow free trade within its territory and to respect all religions.

Chartered companies in many cases benefited from the trade monopolies (such as the English Royal African Company, which held a monopoly on African slaving from 1672 to 1698).

In order to carry out their many tasks, which in many cases included functions - such as security and defence - usually reserved for a sovereign state, some companies achieved relative autonomy. A few chartered companies such as the British Honourable East India Company (HEIC) and Dutch Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) had military and naval forces of their own that dwarfed even the average European state's armed forces, and adequate funds to buy the best men and equipment, in effect making them a state within a state.

More chartered companies were formed during the late nineteenth century's "Scramble for Africa" with the purpose of seizing, colonising and administering the last 'virgin' African territories, but these proved generally less profitable than earlier trading companies. In time, most of their colonies were either lost (often to other European powers) or transformed into crown colonies. The last chartered company to administer territory directly in Africa was the Companhia de Moçambique in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), which handed over rule of the colonies of Manica and Sofala to the Portuguese republic's colonial government in 1942.

Notable chartered companies and their abbreviations/ years of formation[]

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British crown charters[]

  • 1711  South Sea Company
  • 1792  Sierra Leone Company
  • 1752  African Company of Merchants (abolished 1821)
  • 1824  Van Diemen's Land Company
  • 1835  South Australian Company
  • 1839  New Zealand Company
  • 1847  Eastern Archipelago Company
  • 1881  British North Borneo Company
  • 1886  Royal Niger Company
  • 1889  British South Africa Company


English crown charters[]

File:East India House THS 1817 edited.jpg

The British East India Company's headquarters in London.

File:Stora Kopparberg 1288.jpg

1/8 share certificate of the Stora Kopparberg mine, dated June 16, 1288.

  • 1407  Company of Merchant Adventurers of London
  • 1553  Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands
  • 1555  Muscovy Company
  • 1577  Spanish Company
  • 1579  Eastland Company
  • 1581  Turkey Company
  • 1588  Morocco Company
  • 1600  East India Company (HEIC)Template:Smallsup
  • 1604  New River Company
  • 1605  Levant CompanyTemplate:Smallsup
  • 1606  Virginia Company
  • 1609  French Company
  • 1610  London and Bristol Company
  • 1616  Somers Isles Company
  • 1629  Massachusetts Bay Company
  • 1629  Providence Island Company
  • 1664–1674  Royal West Indian Company
  • 1670  Hudson's Bay Company
  • 1672  Royal African Company
  • 1693  Greenland Company


  • 1613  Company of One Hundred Associates
  • 1664  Compagnie de l'Occident
  • 1717  Compagnie du Mississippi
  • 1635  Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique
  • 1660  Compagnie de Chine
  • 1664  Compagnie des Indes Orientales
  • 1664  Compagnie des Indes occidentales


  • 1682  Brandenburg African Company
  • 1752  Emden Company
  • 1882  German West African Company
  • 1884  German New Guinea Company
  • 1884  German East Africa Company
  • 1891  Astrolabe Company


  • 1482  Companhia da Guiné
  • 1628  Portuguese East India Company
  • 1888  Companhia de Moçambique
  • 1891  Companhia do Niassa

Low Countries[]

  • 1602  Dutch East India Company (VOC)
  • 1614–1642  Nordic Company
  • 1614  New Netherland Company
  • 1621  Dutch West India Company
  • 1717  Ostend CompanyTemplate:Smallsup



  • 1347 or earlier Stora Enso
  • 1616  Danish East India CompanyTemplate:Smallsup
  • 1671  Danish West India Company (1671)
  • Template:Spaces Royal Greenland
  • 1638–1655  New Sweden CompanyTemplate:Smallsup
  • 1649–1667  Swedish Africa CompanyTemplate:Smallsup
  • 1731–1813  Swedish East India Company
  • 1786–1805  Swedish West India CompanyTemplate:Smallsup
  • 1738  Swedish Levant CompanyTemplate:Smallsup



  • 1799–1867  Russian American Company


  • 1634  Guinea Company of Scotland
  • 1698  Company of Scotland

See also[]

  • British colonization of the Americas
  • Hongs
  • American Colonization Society




  • Chartered companies
  • Colonial flags of Mozambique
  • Ferguson, Niall, 2003. Empire—How Britain Made the Modern World, Allan Lane, London, United Kingdom.
  • Hudson's Bay Company
  • Ross, R., 1999. A Concise History of South Africa, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
  • WorldStatesmen
  • Micklethwait, John, and Adrian Wooldridge. 2003. The company: A short history of a revolutionary idea. New York: Modern Library.

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