Despite being a subject belonging to recent times, the date at which the Şirket-i Hayriyye (Ferryboat Company), the first local joint-stock company to be established in Istanbul, indeed in the Ottoman State, was established continues to be a matter of debate. This is due to the fact that a few books and articles written on the subject state that the company was established in 1850, whereas the overwhelming majority of sources state that it was established in 1851. The Şehir Hatları İdaresi (Ferries Corporation Administration), which was established upon the historical foundations of the Şirket-i Hayriyye, also adopted 1851 as its date of establishment, celebrating its 160th anniversary in 2011. Furthermore, on the history section of the website the authorities offer 1851 as the date of establishment. It is most likely that this error in the literature stems from the fact that the decree of privilege, which addressed Grand Vizier Mustafa Reşid Pasha, was written at a later date and carried the date January 16, 1851. However, the granting of the decree of privilege for this kind of concessionary economic enterprise was not a practice which required a statement of the date of establishment. As a result, the decree relating to the founding of the Şirket-i Hayriyye, the text of which is provided below, leaves no doubt whatsoever that the Şirket-i Hayriyye was established in the autumn of 1850.
It can be seen that every possible matter concerning the establishment of the company has been examined in this decree of privilege, with everything that is known about the company being clearly resolved. A company known as the Şirket-i Hayriyye was established to operate with seven ferries, five for passenger transportation along the Bosphorus and two ferries that would carry freight, traveling from the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. The construction of docks for the ferries to stop at and covered waiting lounges for passengers, the organization of separate waiting rooms for men and women so that they could travel comfortably were all mentioned; in addition, we learn that the capital stock of the company was to be comprised of 1,500 stock shares, each valued at 3,000 kuruş, with a concessionary period of twenty-five years. During this period, the Shipyard (Tersane) ferries that carried passengers on the Bosphorus would be allocated locations such as Gemlik, Tekirdağ, Gelibolu, Missivri, Ahyolu and Varna, thus establishing communication between Istanbul and these regions. In short, the document contains all details in relation to the company.
The report regarding the establishment of the company prepared by Ahmed Cevdet Pasha and Fuad Pasha first appeared before the government on 15 September 1850. Under the chairmanship of Mustafa Reşid Pasha, the members of government approved the establishment of this company. Members of the government even went so far as to commit to purchasing one hundred and fifty-seven shares. Mustafa Reşid Pasha personally purchased twenty shares. The document attached also provides the names of those who committed to purchasing the nine hundred and twenty-five stock shares of the company, as well as giving the corresponding number of shares purchased. All of these matters were approved in a decree promulgated by Sultan Abdülmecid on 30 September 1850 (23.11.1266), thus completing the formal establishment process of the Şirket-i Hayriyye.
Your gracious Excellency,
The required number of ferries for the Bosphorus is to be procured for the summer and winter seasons with the aid of the imperial sovereign; these will run according to a timetable, and will be beautifully constructed so that the residents of Istanbul will be able to travel comfortably and in peace on the magnificent Bosphorus, with no difficulty, and to increase prosperity in the Sultan’s lands. The matter at hand, which is very beneficial, has been put on paper and the formally written petition has been signed by the government on Sunday, the eighth. It is clear that the idea and aforementioned views contained in the petition are very favorable for the people. The blessings from our Sultan, which know no limits, are to be counted through his compassion and kindness for all of his subjects. With the acceptance of the aforementioned formally written petition, consensus has been reached and declared. A company known as Şirket-i Hayriyye is to be formed with seven ships being purchased, five of which will carry customers back and forth on the Bosphorus and the remaining two to act as freight ships along the Black Sea coast. In order to keep those customers who board the passenger ferries free from danger, the ferries will dock at ports, which will be built in the selected locations with sound buildings near the ports. In order to raise the capital necessary for this, permission is sought from the Sultan for Ottoman citizens of all classes to be able to purchase shares from the 1,500 stock shares, each valued at 3,000 kuruş. Public safety and the twenty-five year concessionary period bestowed will ensure that company shares will be of value; with the allocation of Ottoman Imperial Shipyard ferries which are currently in operation on the Bosphorus to the most necessary places, taking into account the desires of the people, trade and travel can be carried out, for example, regions such as Gemlik, Tekfurdağı and Gelibolu in the Mediterranean and Missivri, Ahyolu and Varna in the Black Sea. It is thought that the Sultan will make this easier.
It has been deemed appropriate for the regulations regarding the operation of the ferries to be especially written and for the company to be managed in a manner that inspires confidence. It is necessary that whatever is required be undertaken after experts have been consulted on such issues as the size and stowage capacity of the ferries. Areas specifically for women will be constructed this time on the ferries that are to be built, as the current docks are not appropriate, and because, due to the apparent risks to women using the docks, particularly on foreign ferries, it has not been deemed appropriate for women to use the ferries. With the appointment of senior and trustworthy officials and the completion of safe areas to eradicate any danger that may arise, it has been deemed fair by the commission for the company ferries to be licensed to carry female passengers, as their safety will be ensured under such conditions.
The Grand Vizier will submit this formally written petition to the Sultan including the stock shares to be purchased by members of the commission as outlined above in the formally written petition; however, the Sultan may choose to decree whatever needs to be undertaken on this related issue.
Fi 20 Zilkade 66 (20.11.1266)
In my humble words,
This submission of the Grand Vizier along with the aforementioned formally written petition and covering submission have been presented to the Sultan. A company carrying the name of Şirket-i Hayriyye has been formed in the manner stated in the aforementioned formally written petition by the Grand Vizier. As written in the petition, seven ferries are to be procured and docks and waiting areas in the vicinity under consideration are to be built. In order to raise the capital required it has been deemed appropriate for a license to be granted so that all classes of Ottoman citizens can purchase shares from the 1,500 stock shares each valued at 3,000 kuruş. The Imperial Ottoman Shipyard must operate its ferries from the Bosphorus to the agreed-upon areas, those that are most needed, in order for the aforementioned confidence to be maintained and for the twenty-five year concessionary period to be granted. In order for the travel and trade of customers to be realized as they may wish, to be rendered easier by the state, the regulations relating to this matter should be especially written and whatever action needs to be taken in relation to these ferries, as explained above, with the aid of God, should be undertaken. It has been deemed appropriate for a license to be granted so that females can board the ferries of this company, provided all precautions for their safety and well-being have been ensured.
As explained above, for the execution of the task at hand, the decree and aforementioned document have been sent to the Grand Vizier after acceptance by the Sultan. At this juncture, the remaining task at hand falls to the station of the Grand Vizier.
Fi 23 Zilkade 66 (23.11.1266)
BOA, İ.DH, no. 13077, lef 5.