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SPEIDEL & CO., GERMAN KEROSENE & MERCANTILE CO., FRENCH INDOCHINA

The red embossed ‘ONE PENNY’ Queen Victoria cover has a roller cancel with MELBOURNE/ JUN 24/ 3 PM/ 1907 as well as a ‘flag’ inscribed with VICTORIA. It has a red handstamp Per ‘GUTHRIE’ via Sydney and it is addressed to Messrs Spiedel (sic) & Co., Hanoi, Tonkin (Figure 1).

The reverse has a transit postmark SAIGON-CENTRAL/ 4(-) 5/ AOUT/ 07/ COCHINCHINE as well as an incomplete cancel for (TO)NKIN (Figure 2).

The S.S. Guthrie, an iron steamship was built by W. Doxford & Sons, Sunderland U,K. for the Eastern & Australasian (E & A) Steamship Co. Ltd. and was employed in Australia to the Far East via Singapore.  It was acquired in 1904 by Burns Philp & Co. and employed on the Australia-Java-Singapore run, via Darwin and Thursday Island, and apparently was used as far as Cochinchine.  The caption reads '(---) Guthrie, First ship at new jetty P.D. (Port Darwin) Figure 3.

The Speidel Company was first thought to produce kerosene lamps in Germany (see later), and after an exhaustive search by a businessman correspondent IN Germany this could not be confirmed. The company began operating in Indochina (the future Vietnam) in the 1880's and Jan George Mulder,  a Dutch salesman from Haarlem, The Netherlands, was an employee of the Company.  He travelled to Asia at the age of 35 and in 1904 he started to sell lamp oil (kerosene) for the Asiatic Petroleum Company (APC) in the remote harbour town of Haiphong.  APC was the marketing company for two emergant giants in the oil business, Shell Transport & Trading Co. and the Royal Dutch Company.  From 1904-1908, Mulder spent his spare hours photographing stereoscopic images on glass plates of his work environment, scenes of his private life, as well as of his travels.  One photo of his private life shows J.G. Mulder at home with the chamber servant servant who was also employed for fanning the room with a punkah, a large frame covered with cloth (Figure 4).

Mulder had his office along the busy Rue Paul Bert, in a building Speidel & Co, shared with a branch of the British Chartered Bank. He soon moved to a private house at the corner of the Canal Bonnal and the Rue de Cherbourg. One of his photographs showed the storage area located at the entrance of the harbour which contained lamp oil tins and large oil tanks inscribed with the company names, Speidel and APC (Figure 5).

Mulder lived in a quiet area of Haiphong in the Hotel de Marseille, near Speidel & Co.’s office. Haiphong’s community of non-French Europeans was small. At the turn of the century, the city counted just a 100 ‘Aliens’. Mulder’s colleagues were mainly Germans working for Speidel & Co. He was a bachelor, and a Vietnamese housekeeper ran his household. Mulder returned to Europe in 1908 (so he probably saw the contents of this cover’s letter which arrived in August 1907), and he married. He had earned a fortune at Speidel’s firm which enabled him to emigrate to the United States in 1910, and he started a farming community in Virginia.

The only other reference to Speidel & Co. was found at a website devoted to world-wide made oil lamps, specifically devoted to the display of the ‘wheel’ at the base of the lamp, that lowers or raises the wick, and thus decreases or increases the light intensity of the lamp. Each one of these ‘wheels’ had a monogram on it, pertaining to the company that manufactured the lamp. In the case of Speidel & Co. no proof was found that the company made the lamps, and that it was probably used as an advertising campaign for the Speidel oil company. The wheel had the following description: SPEIDEL & CO./ HANOI-SAIGON-HAIPHONG (Figure 6).

Haiphong city (2010 population 1,884,685), in NE Vietnam, is the third largest city in Vietnam on a large branch of the Red River delta ca. 20 km from the Gulf of Tonkin. It is connected with the sea by a narrow access channel that requires continual dredging. It is a major port of Vietnam and one of the largest ports in SE Asia. Haiphong was developed (1874) by the French and became the chief naval base of French Indochina. A shipbuilding industry and cement, glass, porcelain, and textile works were established by the French. At the beginning of the French-Indochina War (Nov., 1946), French naval vessels shelled the city, killing ca.6,000 Vietnamese. After the French departed and the state of North Vietnam was created (1954), the silted-up harbor was reconstructed with Chinese and Soviet aid, and the docks and shipbuilding yards were repaired and modernized. The old French cement plant was enlarged, and fish-canning, chemical-fertilizer, machine-tool, and additional textile industries were established. The position of Haiphong on the map of Vietnam is seen at the green arrow (Figure 7).

I acknowledge that Wolfgang Hirschburger (Germany) contributed the article concerning Mulder and his association with the Speidel company.

Addendum (August 2010):  I have found a remarkable monograph by an Australian academic, Julia Martinez, entitled Chinese Rice Trade and Shipping from the North Vietnamese Port Hai Phong.  In reply to my email she wrote:  "The Melbourne connection to Speidel is interesting.  The Company was formed in Indochina which is why there aren't German records on it.  I also asked German friends to look in German company records and they found nothing.  The company had to wind up in Indochina during the First World War".  In her monograph she mentions the Indochina company company 15 times within  pages 90-93.  What follows is a summary of the main points she mentions.

The precise business connections between the German shipping company and Jebsen and Co. and the Indochinese-based German firm Speidel & Co. are unknown, but during the early twentieth century Speidel & Co. was listed as the owner of the Jebsen ships.  The relationship between the Speidel Co. and Chinese merchants came under some strain in May 1908 on account of Speidel transporting Japanese goods (cases of Japanese lamps) and this led to the Chinese stevedores boycotting the unloading of Speidel's four ships.  Prior to this incident, Speidel ships were the only ones priviledged to use the Chinese River port.  Speidel had branches in Hanoi, Hai Phong, Phnom Penh and Saigon, which had been established in 1868 by the merchant Theodor Speidel of Saigon. 

Speidel was clearly well connected with the Saigon rice merchants.  Despite being a Saigon-based company, Speidel must have maintained some connections with Germany through his role as the German Consul. Theodor Speidel died in Paris in March 1909 and the business was taken over by F.W. Speidel.  The advent of WWI in 1914 resulted in an immediate end to the German shipping into Tonkin, and in that year, Standard Oil through its Hai Phong Office offered to complete Speidel business, under the name of Standard Oil.  This is the one connecting point that the Seidel & Co. office (as described by Jan George Mulder) was the same company that had the extensive shipping business of Jebsen & Seidel.  Thus Standard Oil  representatives were concerned at the possible embarrassment of such connections to Speidel & Co.

I acknowledge that Dr. Julia Martinez's monograph supplied an enormous amount of information on trading in Vietnam, and it helped to establish the linkage of the 2  functions of the Speidel & Co. business.  Her website can be found at:

http://csds.anu.edu.au/volume_1_2007/Martinez.pdf. The 2 spaces are 'volume_1_2007'.

 

 
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