Among the multitude of undertakings projected in 1720, two schemes stand out for their grandiose ambition: creating, inland, a new and quicker connection between Europe and East Asia. However, besides their similar objective, the two undertakings were entirely different.
The first scheme was projected and forcefully implemented by Peter the Great. According to contemporary reports (diplomatic correspondence, newspapers), the tsar wanted to create a direct connection between St. Petersburg and the East Indies, via the Volga and the Caspian Sea. Peter’ s idea, in other words, was to capture part of the East India trade, by establishing a new trading waterway, which was supposed to be quicker and safer than the circumnavigation of Africa. The reports mentioned that 600,000 men were at work to build a “navigable stream” between the Volga and the Baltic, and they considered that it was only a matter of years before the goods from the East Indies would easily reach the Russian capital.
The projector of the second scheme was a certain Lecourt: a private individual, about whom we know nothing. According to newspapers reports, the said Lecourt had informed the Dutch States General that he had “discovered” a new inland route to reach East Asia in a short time, that is to say between six and eight weeks only. Moreover, this route happened to pass through the mythical land of Ophir (i.e. the place where the gold mines of king Solomon were supposed to be situated). Lecourt proposed to form a joint-stock company in order to establish a Dutch colony at Ophir. He also promised that the new colony would not be prejudicial to the Dutch East India Company (VOC), for the simple reason that it would be situated more than 300 leagues away from the VOC’s possessions. (We must suppose, therefore, that the scheme located Ophir somewhere in Central Asia.) Lecourt claimed that if the States General rejected his proposal, he would offer it to the English who would certainly embrace it “with open arms”.