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« Tuna 2 / 2016

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

The beginning of the building of sailing ships with carvel planking on the Baltic Sea starting from the end of the 15th century and the accompanying changes in shipbuilding are recalled by way of introduction in the first part of this article. In the 16th century, the building of ships with carvel planking had begun in Finland as well as in Courland, with an even greater abundance of oak forests, where it already developed into an industry with a considerable export volume in the 17th century. In addition to Jakobstad, Riga and Narva also became shipbuilding centres by the end of the 17th century on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, which was possessed by the Kingdom of Sweden. Narva was at that time the largest shipbuilding location on the coast of present day Estonia. Dutch and British merchants located there were the primary customers who commissioned ships. Oak timber exported via Narva could be used as shipbuilding material. Pine trees of local origin for use as ship masts were in suffi- cient quantities to supply local shipbuilding needs with a surplus for export. Smaller quantities of ships were built of pinewood in Hiiumaa as well, which was appar- ently connected to Jakobstad’s shipbuilding traditions by way of the family of De La Gardie, the manorial lord of Hiiumaa who had previously owned Jakobstad. The use of local coniferous wood in shipbuilding had reached the point at the end of the 17th century that it later took 150 years to reach the same level of use.

The tradition of building sailing ships with clinker planking for the open seas was interrupted in Estonia in 1700–1711 due to the Great Northern War and the epidemics that devastated Estonian territory. It started up again only in the last quarter of the 18th century after economic recovery and when the population had been restored. The business landscape had been reformed by 1775 in the Russian Empire and thus the establishment of shipbuilding factories became easier. The merchant’s apprentice Zacharias Jacob Harder started up a ship factory in Pärnu in 1777 that started building freighters. At the end of the 18th century, the shipwright Daniel Pertz, who had come to Pärnu from Holstein, which at that time belonged to Denmark, built ships at Harder’s ship factory together with the journeymen Hans Peter Jürgensen and Daniel Friedrich Pertz. At the same time, shipbuilding continued at Hiiumaa as well, where the shipwright Johann Hannsen launched the galliot Minerva (88 lasts) in 1795. Even though the building of cargo ships out of pinewood had already begun in the 17th century in Jakobstad on the Gulf of Bothnia, Est- land and Livland were tied to the shipbuilding traditions of the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic Sea by way of local Baltic German entrepreneurs. According to this tradition, mid-sized and larger cargo ships with clinker planking were built of oak wood only. Due to the shortage of oak wood in this area, ships were built at irregular intervals and often on the shore of the Gulf of Riga at temporary shipbuilding sites set up in places where the necessary materials were procured.