Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm was a successful privateer, businesswoman and shipowner.
Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm was born on Hammarkulla farm in Onsala in 1692. Her father, Olof Hammar, was a shipowner who was married to Ingela’s mother Gunilla Mårtensdotter. In 1711 Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm married Lars Gathe. In conjunction with the wedding Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm’s parents donated a brass chandelier to Onsala church, and it can still be seen hanging in front of the gallery. This reveals that Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm came from a well-to-do home. Lars Gathe and Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm had several children together: Kristina, Anders, Olaus, Karl, and Lars, of which only Anders and Lars survived into adulthood.
Both the Gathe and Hammer families were actively involved in the privateering business which operated out of Onsala. Further, they were financially connected to each other and to other merchants in Gothenburg. At that time privateering, a form of piracy which was sanctioned by the Crown, formed an important aspect of maritime warfare. In order to protect and strengthen their financial interests the newlyweds moved to Gothenburg, to a building which today lies at Lilla Torget 3. The Gathe couple did very well out of privateering. In 1715 Lars Gathe became a burgess of Gothenburg and following his contributions to the great Nordic war both he and his brother Christian were ennobled under the name of Gathenhielm. After Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm lost her husband Lars in 1718 she continued privateering and managed the Gothenburg properties which had previously been jointly managed by the couple, namely the house at Lilla Torget, a garden in Haga, Gamla Varvet, as well as a plot of land at what is now Stigbergstorget, where the so-called Gathenhielm house still stands. The provenance of that house has been much debated from several perspectives but it is likely that it was actually built after both the Gathenhielms had died.
Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm is known for her comprehensive business activities and for continuing with privateering, which was the basis for her wealth, after her husband died. While Lars Gathenhielm was still alive she and her husband were the most significant privateers in Sweden. Many tall tales abound about her but some proven facts have survived. Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm ran a ropery at Gamla Varvet. Further, the town governor gave her permission to establish a bakery, brewery, distillery, smithy, and sail-making operation all for sale. A combination of rivalry between Gothenburg burgesses, rivalry between the old and new nobility, as well as undefined priorities between the needs of the military and civilians, led to the Crown confiscating Gamla Varvet in 1720. Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm was then only allowed to keep her ropery. This business then boomed and a great number of the town’s ships were supplied with her ropes. Once the war ended in 1721 long drawn-out disputes arose between the Crown and civilians regarding compensation for privateering expenses incurred during the war. Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm herself composed lengthy petitions describing her husband’s efforts on behalf of the Crown. Her legal disputes and interests were driven by her second husband, Lieutenant Colonel Isak Browald, whom she married in 1722. Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm had another four children with her second husband, although again only two survived into adulthood.
Ingela Olofsdotter Gathenhielm died in 1729 and was buried at Onsala church in the Gathenhielm family tomb.