On 14 December 1908, the ballast steamship Baltic is homeward bound to Tjurkö, in the Karlskrona archipelago, after having delivered flagstone and kerbstone to Stettin in Poland. As the Baltic approaches the outer islands of the archipelago, the clock strikes 7 a.m. The wind is southerly, and visibility poor.
Suddenly, the crew sights lands on port side and the rudder is immediately set to yaw to starboard in order to avoid running aground if possible. But it’s too late. The Baltic runs aground just north-west of Busören. The ship is severely aground and she sustains more and more damage during the day, causing the crew to abandon her during the afternoon.
As the weather improves over the next few days, some equipment and other items that are easily accessible on the ship could be salvaged before she sank. The sinking of the Baltic saw the end of thirty years of service at the stoneworks site in Tjurkö.
An island of stone
The Baltic, which was built in 1872 at the Karlshamn shipyard, was a composite construction, meaning that her hull was made of wood and her ribs of iron. The construction method was probably quite common until the 1850s, but disappeared almost completely during the 1860s. During the 1870s, composite vessels regained in popularity due to the explosive demand for ships. The “iron shipyards” could not cope with all the orders, and even small traditional “shipyards” began to build steamships. The shipyard in Karlshamn was one of them. In 1878, the Baltic was purchased for the Tjurkö stoneworks by owner Frans Herrmann Wolff. During its time at Tjurkö, the ship mainly transported flagstone and kerbstone to ports on the south side of the Baltic Sea.
For the transport of stone, export docks were built along with the necessary railway tracks. In addition, homes, shops, eateries and beer halls were built for the workers on the island. Wolff’s business concept was based on the idea that stone from Blekinge would find new owners on the other side of the Baltic Sea. From the quarry in Tjurkö, the flagstone and kerbstone were first transported by hand on rail trucks to the ports on the island, where the ships took over the transport.
Beneath the surface
The wreckage from the Baltic was discovered in 1976 by scuba divers. According to the report to the Maritime Museum, the hull was broken but the steam boiler and its engine as well as rudders and planks remained on the site. In the autumn of 2016, the National Maritime Museums were commissioned to carry out an inspection of the ship’s remains. The wreck site is easy to find, although tricky to access because of all the reefs in the area. The site is also exposed to the weather and wind. During the more than 100 years that have passed between the shipwreck and the inspection, iron fastenings and deck beams in the ship have been destroyed by rust. The hull has fallen out and now lies flat on the seafloor. What divers most clearly encounter is the steam boiler with engine standing in the middle of the wreck and sticking up three metres towards the surface. Slightly farther away is the sternpost with visible propeller and the rudder, which is detached from the ship. This probably took place back during the time of the shipwreck, and reminds us of the force that burst forth when the Baltic ran aground.
Built the cities of Germany
Through its construction, the Baltic tells the story of a transitional period in Swedish shipbuilding – and about countless journeys across the Baltic Sea. The Baltic also tells the story of Tjurkö, and of a time when stone from the Karlskrona archipelago literally built the cities of Germany.