Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

“OIL KING” DEAD: Sir Henri Deterding’s Sudden Collapse

The Scotsman – Monday 06 February 1939


Sir Henri Deterding’s Sudden Collapse


St Moriiz, Saturday . — Sir Henri Deterding, director and former director-general of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., died suddenly here to-day at the age of 72 . He was spending his annual winter holiday at the Chalet Olga, his beautiful St Moritz home, and is stated to have been in excellent health until this morning, when he woke up with symptoms of a heart attack.

After receiving medical treatment his condition improved considerably, but shortly before 7 PM he had a sudden and fatal relapse . He retained consciousness to the end. His wife was with him during his last hours.

All his children, with the exception of a baby girl who was already at St Moritz, are expected here to-morrow.

The body , it is understood, will be taken to the estate at Mecklenburg, North Germany, where he had lived for the past two years with Lady Deterding, who is a German.

Sir Henri Deterding was called upon to earn his own living at a comparatively’ early age, his father, a master mariner, dying when the son was only six years old . He won his start in life by passing the final examination in a business course at the age of sixteen which gained him the distinction of becoming the youngest employee in the well known Twentsche Bank, at Amsterdam.


For six years he remained in the bank and then, feeling his chances of promotion were slight, he decided to go out to the Dutch East Indies. He accordingly secured a position with the Netherlands Trading Society, and-went out East .

Sir Henri used afterwards to say that it was his first job in the Indies which laid the foundation of his successful qualities . He was set to unravel the almost hopelessly complicated books of the Society’s branch at Deli where the book-keeping had been decidedly dubious for more than a year .

To his success in this herculean task when it looked almost impossible, Sir Henri owed later his uncanny skill in figures, and his habit of reducing every situation to its simplest terms. Sir Henri spent eight years in the employ of the Netherlands Trading Society, first at Medan, and later at Penang.

In 1896 he offered his services to the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, and after only one year’s service became assistant managing director. In 1901 he was appointed managing director and a year after was general manager of the whole world concern.


Sir Henri later organised the Federation of Dutch and English oil interests and thus had in his employ some 40,000 people, including more than 6000 in England.

When, in 1936, he relinquished the post of Director-General of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, which he had occupied for 36 years, he concluded a career which in range and achievement has had few parallels in modern business.

Although retiring from this position virtually that of king of the oil world—he remained a director of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company. He was a director of the Shell Transport and Trading Company Ltd., until two or three years ago. The late Lord Fisher once said of Sir Henri, “Deterding is Napoleonic in audacity , and Cromwellian in depth.”

Sir Henri, who had his London residence in Park Lane, had the K. B. E. conferred upon him in 1920.

Until a few years ago he had a country estate at Buckhurst Park , near Ascot.


Hundreds of his employees in England benefited under a “peace delegates” plan originated for them by Sir Henri in 1935. He paid the travelling expenses of all who chose to spend their summer holidays on the Continent . It was stated that this offer was made because Sir Henri believed that by mingling with the people of other nations a better understanding could be achieved between Britain and the rest of the world .

During the Great War, Sir Henri played a prominent part in Providing the British Fleet with fuel, and his efforts in this direction brought him a compliment from the late Lord Curzon, who said , “He helped to float the Allies to victory on a sea of oil.”

Sir Henri had two sons and one daughter by his first marriage, and two daughters from his second marriage to Lydia Pavlovi, daughter of the late General Koudoyaro, in 1924. In May 1936, his second marriage ended in a divorce which was heard in camera. The following month Sir Henri married his third wife , Fraulein Charlotte Minna Knaack! Sir Henri was then 70 and his bride 39. The ceremony was performed in the strictest privacy at the Amsterdam Town Hall by the Major of the city.


Earlier in the year, Sir Henri’s 70th birthday had been celebrated by the presentation of a marble bust of himself from the employees of Royal Dutch-Shell all over the world. Sir Henri marked the event by presenting five 17th Century Dutch pictures from his famous collection at Ascot to Dutch museums at The Hague and Rotterdam.

Long before Holland devalued the guilder in September 1936 following the devaluation of the French franc , Sir Henri Deterding had been an advocate of a ” managed currency.” Britain and Sweden were quite right when they thought it necessary to make their money a ‘ managed’ currency,” he declared. “The wealth of a country, it is clear , is not the wealth represented by the gold piled up in vaults, but the wealth created by labour . and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

0 Comments on ““OIL KING” DEAD: Sir Henri Deterding’s Sudden Collapse”

Leave a Comment

Comment Rules

  • Please show respect to the opinions of others no matter how seemingly far-fetched.
  • Abusive, foul language, and/or divisive comments may be deleted without notice.
  • Each blog member is allowed limited comments, as displayed above the comment box.
  • Comments must be limited to the number of words displayed above the comment box.
  • Please limit one comment after any comment posted per post.

%d bloggers like this: