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« Tuna 3 / 2016

New Beginning of Estonian Shipbuilding from the End of the 18th Century and at the Outset of the 19th Century II

This article is the second part of a discussion of shipbuilding in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century in present day Estonian territory and on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Shipbuilding that had begun in Pärnu at the end of the 18th century had dwindled in the second decade of the 19th century. Alongside smaller ships, only a few larger ships were built (the barque Diana in 1824, 140 lasts). The main problem was the deficit of lumber for shipbuilding and a shortage of capital. On the other hand, in Courland, which was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1795, and where lumber suitable for shipbuilding was in plentiful supply, shipbuilding, which had a lengthy tradition in the area, began to flourish once again and its effect also extended to the other Baltic provinces. Shipbuilding started up once again in Riga in 1828, relying to a great extent on the skills of the master shipbuilder Gottlieb Eduard Möwe, who had relocated to Riga from Liepaja. By the mid-19th century, shipbuilding had begun to flourish in Riga to such an extent that much like in Liepaja, most of the ships that were registered at the port of Riga had been built locally. In 1856/57, Riga shipyards started using softwood as building material instead of the oak wood that was transported through Riga harbour. In 1857, a series of ships consisting of altogether 10 pine wood galleasses (81 lasts) was built.

An upturn began in other shipbuilding centres in Estland and Livland as well in the 1840’s. The Delphin (55 lasts), a two-masted schooner made of pine wood, was launched in Pärnu in 1845. Ships of this size were the optimal size for Pärnu’s flax merchants and they sailed between the ports of Pärnu, Portugal and England. The master shipbuilder Gottlieb Maddisson, who was of Estonian extraction, started working in Pärnu in the 1840’s. His first large-scale ship was the schooner Medea (55 lasts), completed in 1847. In the province of Livland in the mid-19th century, ships were built mainly in Riga, Pärnu and Saaremaa. The primary location for shipbuilding in the province of Estland was Hiiumaa. There the largest vessel to be completed until that time in the territory of present day Estonia, the barque Hioma (169 lasts) made of softwood, was also completed in 1848 under the supervision of master shipbuilders imported from Stockholm. A breakthrough by the first entrepreneur from among the local ethnic majority into the merchant class that had until then been closed off by corporate barriers took place in the mid-19th century. This made it possible for Estonians to operate as shipowners and to direct local shipbuilding. The Pärnu merchant Martin Strahlberg began operating as an Estonian shipowner in 1856. He had his first large ship (the brigantine Catharina Regina, 113 lasts) built in Saaremaa. Three of the more important initiatives that acclimatised in shipbuilding in the territory of present day Estonia over the course of the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, and preceded the boom in shipbuilding among the coastal dwellers in the latter half of the 19th century are highlighted in the summary of the article. These were first of all the skills of foreign master shipbuilders, which were passed on to their local assistants in shipyards. Those assistants soon became the builders of coastal ships (in Saaremaa) or altogether master shipbuilders of vessels suitable for international trade (Gottlieb Maddisson). Second was the tradition in local shipbuilding of temporary shipbuilding yards with little equipment, and third was the adoption of the use of local forest products in building schooners and barques.