Sweden’s National Maritime Museum: Maritime Sweden 3

January 2024

The third episode in our mini series on Maritime Sweden is a tour of Sweden’s National Maritime Museum in Stockholm: Sjöhistoriska Museet. Listen in as Dr Sam Willis is guided around the museum by its curator, Jonas Hedberg. We hear about the founding of the purpose-built maritime museum in the 1930s; explore the extraordinary collection of ship models; artefacts including a magnificent figurehead from mid 1750s; stories of migrants to Sweden after the Second World War; a rail ferry that once transported Lenin across the Baltic; and a Swedish Royal Yacht from the eighteenth century.

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    Sam Willis 

    From the Society for Nautical Rresearch in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis. And this is the Mariners Mirror podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Mariners Mirror podcast, and to this our third episode on the maritime history of Sweden. So far we’ve heard about Sweden’s naval history from 1500 to the present day, how Vikings from the land that would become Sweden travelled to the east, and today we’re going on a tour of Sweden’s brilliant National Maritime Museum in Stockholm, and we’re in the capable hands of Jonas Hedberg, curator of the museum. I was there filming for Lloyd’s Register’s fantastic project Maritime Innovation In Miniature filming the world’s best ship models with the latest camera equipment. So if you want to see some of the most remarkable objects in jawdropping high definition then be sure to check that out. Just Google Maritime Innovation In Miniature. In between filming, Jonas took me on a tour; as ever  I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I enjoyed talking with him. Here is the brilliant Jonas.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So I’m standing in the ship model gallery of the Swedish National Maritime Museum and I’m with Jonasl  .First of all, can you just tell us a bit about this museum, because I believe it was purpose built as a Maritime Museum, which makes it quite unusual.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    It was indeed, yes, it was a bit of a convoluted story, because this museum is basically an amalgamation of two previous museums, a Maritime Museum and a State naval collection . So there was a more civilian side, and a purely naval collection, which were amalgamated in the 1930s. And this museum was built in 1935, 1936, and then opened in 1938, because it took them some time to get everything in order.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It’s a beautiful shape, and I believe it’s the shape of an anchor; is that the reason it is curved or has  a maritime historian imposed that design?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    There is an interesting story to that as well, because this building was built with the help of donations from wealthy financiers. And they donated money to the science museum a couple of years previously, which was built in a sort of very functionalist, almost  brutalist style, which these donors absolutely hated . And so the prerequisite for gifting any money to this project was no modernism. So this is kind of a throwback to a  neo-classicist style which was common in Sweden in the late 1700s, early 1800s, a very beautiful building.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It’s newer than it looks.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Exactly, yes.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And we’re here because we’re filming for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s Maritime Innovation In Miniature project, and we’ve been downstairs in the photo studio, filming some of your wonderful models. Now we’ve come up to the model gallery because we’ve been restricted in the models w e can film  by their size and by the fact that there are some in display and you need to come here to just appreciate how seriously massive some of these models are.  Now  we’ve recently spoken about Chapman as an important designer, so let’s just have a look at this one here. Just describe what we’re looking at.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes,  we this is a type of vessel which Chapman designed in the 1760s and 1770s. And they were later known as Archipelago frigates,  and this is a hybrid ship, it has three masts, it’s not a very good sailer. The main means of propulsion is oars.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes. And the model we’re looking at is beautiful, a kind of auburn coloured timber vessel.  It’s got guns on one deck, 12345678910 on each side twice, 20 gun large guns, smaller guns above it, and then it’s got, we just count these oars, 12345678910, must be 20 oars on each side; each oar has got four men on it and they’re all recreated on the model. So you must have 160 rowers?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Well yes, that was one of the big advantages of this type of vessel. You could get by with a smaller crew than with the galleys because they could have something like 250 oarsmen who were horribly exposed to enemy fire. And so this was a bit more compact and efficient. And they were partly very forward thinking and partly very inspired by older types.

     

    Sam Willis 

    This is the 1780s, late 1770s?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    This ship, which was called Lodbrok.  All these ships had names which were meant to evoke a sort of Viking romanticism.  So if you watch any of these Viking TV series you might  recall the name Lodbrok.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Oh, I see, that’s fascinating.  Visually it looks like a mixture between an 18th century frigate with 180 people on board and a kind of 16th, 15th century Mediterranean galley, almosts looks like a Venetian or Genoese galley.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, indeed. And Maltese galleys were a big inspiration for the Swedish Navy throughout the 18th century, and even before that, so this type was called the Turuma, which is a Finnish province, because Finland belonged to Sweden at that point, was an integral part of the Swedish Empire. They underperformed in battle because they weren’t as mobile as it was hoped they would be, but they had devastating firepower. You see these cannons, they were all  24 pounders, and later they had 36 pounders in some cases. So the broadside was absolutely devastating against Russian galleys which are very lightly armed.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So this was built for the Russo- Swedish war in  the 1780s. Let’s have a look at some of the other artefacts because behind us there’s a rather menacing lion, who also looks slightly camp because he’s got a crown on his head. What are we looking at here?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, looks slightly deranged. And it’s most likely not from a naval vessel, but from an East Indianman. The same type of figurehead was

     

    Sam Willis 

    Let’s describe it for our listeners, a carved oak I suspect, a figurehead of a lion who’s got his claws out, and a very elaborate crown. What sort of period is this?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    This would have been the mid 1700s. We don’t have an exact date for this but this type of figurehead would have been common from the late 1600s, and probably until the mid 1700s, when the iconography began to change. A rampant raging lion is a very recurring common motif.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes. And further up here we’ve got another wonderful piece of carving from a vessel. So we’re walking up through a corridor of ship models, a maze of ship models, there’s another.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    This is one of our permanent exhibitions; it’s called Battle Stations and it tells the story of Swedish naval history from about 1650 right up until this very day.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes. Off the top of my head there are 50 models in this room, something like that.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And one of the largest is just behind us there and the masts have  got to be nine feet high, this very large one at the back. Let’s go and have  a look at this one actually while we’re doing that.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    So this is one of Chapman’s ships of the  line, fairly small by the standards of the day, and certainly by French or British standards. But the Baltic is fairly shallow and you can have a draft that was excessive, so you had to build fairly small two deckers. And sort of standard in the Swedish Navy became 60 gun ships, 60, 64. And this was a standard type of ship of the line that Chapman designed around 1780 , and they built 10 of these in only three years at the Naval Yard in Karlskrona in the south of Sweden,

     

    Sam Willis 

    And this model is a scale of one to 16.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Absolutely massive.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Absolutely towering above us but it’s wonderful isn’t it because it allows you to really get up close, it’s not quite as miniature as some. Now let’s just go round here and then look at this piece of timber carving, because a little further along the gallery from the rampant raging lion we have this fellow. Here we are, who’s this guy?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    This guy is Charles the 11th who was one of a sort of portal figure in Swedish 17th century history. He was the father of Charles the 12th  and a more successful King in many ways because he expanded the Swedish Empire and consolidated it. And this is a piece from the stern

     

    Sam Willis 

    from the stern  of a big warship. The Carolus elevens are one of the last ships built at the naval shipyard in Stockholm, and it gives you a sense of the colour. So what we’re looking at here is again enormous, we’ve got a very handsome with, gosh he’s got wonderful hair hasn’t he? This is the King astride a horse, which is leaping up, bouncing on its hind legs.  And coloured, it would have been so bright, wouldn’t it?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    It would have been radiant. And I love his hair and his moustache; he  looks like one of these British heavy metal bangers

     

    Sam Willis 

    In 1772 they would have fitted it absolutely brilliantly.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    But the ship was the largest ship in the Swedish Navy at the time. It was designed by Robert Turner who  was an English shipwright and was recruited by the Swedish Crown to help kickstart Swedish naval construction. So by Swedish standards it was quite large, it had 82 cannons; it was seldom that larger ships like that were built in any of the Baltic navies.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well, wonderful stuff. Let’s now walk through to different parts of the museum. Because one of the wonderful things that you guys have is a collection dedicated to refugees, to migrants, to people travelling across the Baltic, which I think is a very modern story, a wonderful story. And  now just up here  there is not a model of a boat but an actual boat, which I believe was used by people escaping to Sweden after the Second World War.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes indeed, this boat was used by Estonian refugees who fled Estonia around 1944 as the Red Army was advancing westwards. And all the Baltic countries had  been a warzone for a number of years by then obviously, and  they’d had enough, and often gambled to get across the Baltic in this very small craft, and this must have been a  very very hazardous journey.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Let’s describe the vessel for our listeners, so 12 feet long?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes roughly.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Clinker built wooden ship, there’s one bench left, a  wooden boat I should say, not a ship, pretty exhausted and tired. How has this survived?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    It ended up in the Naval Yard in  Karlskrona. as a work boat more or less, and was gifted to us a few years back.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Now what I think makes this such a powerful symbol of fear, but also a hope for a new life, are all of the artefacts that you’ve got about refugees fleeing; there are some clothing here we’re looking at, and there’s a wonderful, wonderful piece here. This is  the saddest looking teddy bear you’ve ever seen in your entire life. He’s missing an ear, he’s got a bandage over his head because he’s missing an eye, so he looks like a wounded soldier. Tell us about this.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, this this sad looking teddy bear belonged to a seven year old Estonian girl called Ulvi, and he was taken from her when the family arrived in Sweden, because everything, all of their belongings and themselves as well, had to be disinfected. But eventually she got the teddy bear back.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Nice.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    And now it’s on display here.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Wow.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    It’s very touching isn’t it?

     

    Sam Willis 

    Isn’t it? Let’s talk about some of these other artefacts you’ve got here.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes. So this book, for example, is called Twenty years of Independence, meaning Estonian independence. And it was published in 1939  because the Baltic states had been independent for only a couple of decades when war broke out. And this new found sense of identity was very, very precious to the Estonians and Latvians and the Lithuanians and was taken away from them shortly afterwards, and they were subject to Soviet rule for  50 years from around 1942 to 1989, 1990.. So this was also a very touching reminder of people trying to hang on to their heritage

     

    Sam Willis 

    and also learning new, I think it’s fascinating here. So Otto, Tilt Tamme’s  father  bought a Swedish Estonian dictionary with him.  When he arrived in Sweden he often sat in cafes at the refugee camp and practiced his Swedish using the dictionary.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, and the notable thing about many of these Baltic refugees, they were very adamant many times, they will learn Swedish  as quickly as possible, find work, and many of them worked as craftsmen and boat builders. So they were really after only a decade or so really integrated in Swedish society.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Wonderful.  Now let’s walk along here because you’ve got another of my favourite exhibits of this brilliant Museum. We’re going to go to the smoking lounge of a 19th century rail ferry,  so here we go. Now can we get in here? Let’s have a look. Jonas has the keys. There we go,  we’re in. This is fabulous. So in we go. And I think this is oak, might be mahogany, oak panels maybe, oak panelled room, very close, very dark. And this is the actual smoking lounge of  this rail ferry.  Tell me about  the vessel to begin with.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    It is indeed, welcome aboard. And it’s from a railway ferry called the Queen Victoria, Drottning Victoria in Swedish, who was the Swedish Queen at the time, and the ship was launched in 1909  in Newcastle. She operated between Trelleborg in the south of Sweden and Sassnitz, which is in  northeast Germany.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Right. And let’s explain what a rail ferry is for those of our listeners who don’t know. It’s a vessel upon which you drive a train and that gets you across the sea. And then it  gets loaded again onto the railway of the next country in which you arrive.  And I was reading about this vessel and I think there were 165 metres of track on board, and there are two tracks. So there’s space for 16 to 18 carriages  I believe?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Exactly,yes.  So that was the main link between Sweden and the Continent until fairly late.   So when war broke out in 1939 the ship was hastily rebuilt and served as a minelayer for the Swedish Navy.  But                she was handed back to the Swedish National Railways in 1945 and went on to serve for a couple of decades and was broken up in the late 60s.

     

    Sam Willis 

    But some genius saved the smoking lounge,  now a non- smoking Lounge,  I’d like to sit down with a pipe and a cigar.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    So it was it’s a fascinating atmosphere to sit in but it has a slight list.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It has, it’s wonky, it makes me feel a bit seasick.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, me too. And apparently when they tried to piece everything back together because it had been in storage for some decades  nothing seemed to fit until they wonked  it by about one degree and everything fits like a glove.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And we know that there was a very famous passenger on this vessel?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes it’s a very familiar name. And his name was Vladimir IIlyich Lenin, who was sent to Russia in the Spring of 1917 by the German government, and the idea was that he would sneak into Russia via Sweden, Finland, and create havoc and chaos, because Russia and Germany were still at war at that point.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And the Germans wanted to foment chaos within Russia by injecting Lenin.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    They did indeed, and they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations one would guess; be careful what you wish for.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes,  putting Lenin anywhere is going to cause some kind of chaos. It’s fascinating thinking that he was actually in this room, looked around this and enjoyed the views. Well, it’s a really fabulous place. But this isn’t the only interior of a vessel you have in this museum. I think we should go and find the other one, because that’s very special indeed.  Let’s go and see what we can find. So we’re walking back out of the smoking lounge. Now we’re going to go through the galleries. And I’m very proud to say that opposite me are two completely empty ship model cabinets; just going to lock the door. And these ship model cabinets, two of your finest models, and they’re downstairs in the studio being filmed by our film crew at  present. So if you want to see what we’ve been filming here do please check out the Maritime Innovation In Miniature projects, just Google Maritime Innovation In Miniature and it will take you to the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s  History and Education Centre’s website where you can enjoy the extraordinary footage. We’re creating the world’s best ship models, and a wonderful behind the scenes film as well, where you can have a little tour around the museum and see what we’re up to. So we’re now walking back through the main hallway of the museum and you have to get there between two enormous ship models either side of me, and again I assume that it’s1 in 16 scale with masts approaching 9/10 feet.  Anyway in front of me is the hugely elaborate gilded stern of an 18th century Swedish Royal Yacht.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    That’s right. She was called the Amphion, which was built in 1778 for King Gustav III of Sweden, who was Francophile and loved theatre and the arts and also started a war against Russia.

     

    Sam Willis 

    He was a bit of a show off.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    He was.

     

    Sam Willis 

    An aggressive show off; the King of Sweden decided to  start a war against the Russians.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    It was time for a turf war.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes, definitely. They built this, now it’s got a quite  interesting history. So it was designed by our old friend Chapman; we’ve spoken before about this genius ship builder and ship designer. However, this was an absolute pig. He got this one wrong, didn’t he.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, the ubiquitous Mr. Chapman was a royal favourite, and he was entrusted with designing this Royal yacht. And she was an abysmal sailer.

     

    Sam Willis 

    To the point of danger, we should add.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    To the point of  danger;  not only once but several times things almost ended up very very  badly.   And this didn’t really deter the King from from using the ship, he was perfectly happy.

     

    Sam Willis 

    He sounds like a character, all good stuff.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes.. Not sure what his points of reference were when it came to sailing ships.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Maybe he didn’t care how it sailed, he just cared what it looked like.  That’s the impression we get from this, they are not surprised it didn’t sail well with this stuck on the back.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Well I  would guess he would have cared more about the elaborate interior, which is really beautiful.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yes, and it actually survives, let’s go and have a look at it.  So the remarkable thing about this, we’re now walking past the stern windows into a section of the museum where they have, well recreated is completely the wrong word, because it’s not a recreation, it’s the actual thing.  Before this vessel was broken up they saved the King’s cabin.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, the ship was broken up in the late 1800s,  but there was a group of naval officers who intervened to save this lavishly crafted interior,

     

    Sam Willis 

    Right, just let’s describe it. So there are painted panels on the walls of cherubs sitting on clouds. There are gilded carved pillars in the side of it. There’s a cupula I think is the word you know, a circular thing in the ceiling. Again, elaborately carved with gilt work everywhere. I mean it is just a mind blowing space, isn’t it?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes. And this would have been the only part of the ship where it was bearable at all to spend any length of time because the rest of the ship was really overcrowded. Which is very fondly described in a number of memoirs from the period  by courtiers and obviously the crew. They were packed like sardines. The  King of course had some space and didn’t have to care about the trivial stuff.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That must have been extraordinary, walking out of the cabin to see hundreds of people on deck and then you come into this glorious quiet gilded cabin.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes. And the war which Gustav started against Russia in 1788 wasn’t really a success story. The war went pretty badly for Sweden, because neither the Army or the Navy were adequately prepared; it really was quite a bit of wishful thinking from the King’s side, and in 1790  they were  pretty close to defeat. And the Navy had been locked in by the Russians; they managed to break out with with heavy casualties. But as a sort of last ditch effort to stop the Russians the King decided that the Archipelago Navy, mainly oared vessels, would meet the Russians in battle at a place called Svensksund, which is on the south coast of Finland. And this very table here is where he made the decision and had a council of war.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Really.  With success?

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Yes, that was actually a resounding success and the Russian forces were almost annihilated very unexpectedly. So that’s the single greatest Swedish victory, the greatest naval victory of the 18th century.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Did it save Gustav’s desire to be aggressive, or did he just decide to give it a rest after all,

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    It was a handy excuse to to start peace negotiations.

     

    Sam Willis 

    He made his point

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    And nothing was gained. Nothing was lost but war had bred such resentment against the King that he was assassinated two years afterwards.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Well, it’s a fascinating story. Thank you very much indeed for our little talk.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Thank you all so much for listening. Now do please make sure that you leave us a review on whatever app that you are listening on, especially if you’re listening on iTunes .We’ll read out any review that you leave, it’s hugely important. It helps us climb the rankings and that allows more people to find us which means  we can help more people understand the importance of maritime history.  We’ve got a fantastic YouTube channel with some really remarkable videos on it, most recently the animation of a cutaway of a 17th century first rateMan of War from around the time of the Great Fire of London. The video explains everything that’s going on inside the ship, particularly looking at the innovative technology from the period. The podcast comes from both the Society for Nautical Research and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation. So please make sure you do everything in your power to check out what those brilliant Institutions are up to. In particular, please check out Maritime Innovation In Miniature  that  project I mentioned at the beginning filming the world’s best ship models.  And please, please join the Society for Nautical Research. You can do so at snr.org.uk.

     

    Jonas Hedberg 

    Thank you.

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