Swedish naval officers and constructors: a visit to Karlskrona, Sweden

Fig. 1

Should you come to Karlskrona in the wintertime, it would most likely be cold and windy with a chance of snow. Fortunately, Karlskrona have some wonderful libraries and archives where you can warm up and lose yourself in the sources on what made Karlskrona theleading naval city of Sweden during the 18th century.

From the station where the train has taken you directly from the busy airport of Copenhagen to Karlskrona central, you walk through the streets framed by the typical Swedish architecture with wooden houses in various colours. Ten minutes and you find yourself outside one of these houses, this one in faded yellow. This is the residence of Örlogsmannasällskapet (The Royal Swedish Society of Naval Science), and walking up the broad, and neatly polished staircase dark wood to the third floor, you reach the library. Here, you find books about naval history, shipbuilding, navigation etc. that Swedish naval officers have brought home from all over the world since the society was established in 1771. The hours fly by while you bury yourself in the sources that the librarians so readily provide you with. More helpful and sincerely interested people are hard to find.

Fig. 2

Are you, like me, interested in where the shipbuilders of Europe got their knowledge from? Then you have come to the right place. Here, hidden in a drawer, was a collection of hand drafts made by the formidable Swedish naval constructor, Fredrik Henrik af Chapman himself. Chapman (1721-1808) is considered one of the most important constructors in Swedish shipbuilding, and his treatises were translated to English as well as French. While studying shipbuilding in England in the 1750s, he made these beautiful sketches: Fig. 1-3. If you are not, then maybe health and medicine on board would take your fancy? Navigation acts, perhaps? Or how about social history of the port town of Karlskrona? It is all there, and the librarians are more than happy to help you find it.

Fig. 3

You cannot say Karlskrona without mentioning the Marinmuseum (marine museum), especially not in a blog on marine history, and no self-respecting museum without a library. Here, you will be welcomed just as heartily as in Örlogsmannasällskapet, and the librarians will help you find what you are looking for. While the collection in Örlogsmannasällskapet’s library was created by naval officers throughout the past 250 years, the museum library has been put together by curators and librarians. You will find most works on naval history in many different languages. But maybe more interestingly, the library of the aforementioned Chapman is kept here.

Fig. 4

Among his books we find several that has been signed and dated. This one (fig 4) has been purchased in London on 12 May 1755 by Chapman. It is a naval dictionary, published the same year. Chapman clearly managed to get his hands on the newest naval publications. Another curiosity is the 1781 French translation of Chapman’s own book originally published in 1775. This French version by Vial du Clairbois has the translator’s comments (fig 5). Naturally, the Swedish shipbuilders did not want to miss out on the wise words from their French colleagues, and in 1787 the comment were translated into Swedish and published in a new edition of Chapman’s treatise (fig 6). These publications form a sort of discussion between Swedish and French constructors through publications and translations and represent a peculiar kind of technology exchange between Sweden and France.

With my phone full of pictures of various sources, and my notebook filled with scribbles about what I had found, I returned to the train station for the three hour journey back to Copenhagen airport. Should you ever come to Karlskrona (and you really should), have a look in the libraries of the Marinmuseum and Örlogsmannasällskapet. They will happily welcome you and do what they can to help your research along. What better use of your time than among books, pamphlets, documents and drawings from hundreds of years of naval history?

Fig. 6


One Response to Swedish naval officers and constructors: a visit to Karlskrona, Sweden

  1. Johan Löfgren May 4, 2020 at 6:10 pm #

    Thank you, Ida! It was a pleasure having you. And we didn’t have to do much, you were quite self going. 🙂

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