He built the magnificent warships for Gustav III’s fleet, but the question is whether or not Fredrik Henrik af Chapman’s two 10 metre-long gondolas represent his most remarkable boat building projects.
Gustav III visited Venice for 12 days in May 1784. Among other things, he was there to see the magnificent water features on the Grand Canal and attend a regatta for splendid gondolas.
Clearly impressed by his visit, the Swedish king is said to have tried to create his own water features in Brunnsviken at Haga in Solna, where the surrounding landscaped parks got their Italian-sounding names and where he occasionally lived, originally on the Haga estate.
Gustav III had also acquired a taste for beautiful gondolas during his trip to Venice, which is why he commissioned the master shipbuilder Fredrik Henrik af Chapman to construct two new pleasure boats.
This resulted in the royal gondolas Vildsvinet and Valfisken, better known as Galten and Delfinen (Boar and Dolphin). These are two fascinating creations, built at the naval dockyard at Karlskrona. Galten is embellished with a gold-plated boar’s head at the bow, while Delfinen features a gold-plated dolphin head; both heads were made by Admiralty sculptor Johan Törnström. Otherwise, the two boats are very similar. Both are about 10 metres long. They were propelled by up to four pairs of oars and steered by a coxswain. A large part of the deck of these boats is taken up by a bench with seating for eight to 10 people.
Galten is adorned with 12 shields, each featuring one of the labours of Heracles, the hero of Greek mythology. Delfinen also has 12 painted shields, featuring other ancient motifs. The transoms of both boats are shaped like fish tails.
A remarkable delivery to Haga
The diarist Admiral Carl Tersmeden does not seem to have suffered from writer’s block; during his lifetime, he wrote profusely, producing some 11,000 pages. Tersmeden was present when King Gustav III had Galten and Delfinen delivered to Haga in the summer of 1787, and of course he recorded the event for posterity.
Tersmeden describes both boats in detail, but also records the moment when the king received his gondolas in person. He writes that Gustav III immediately set out on a tour on one of the boats, “and was infinitely happy”.
And so began a golden era for Galten and Delfinen. They were often used when the court was being entertained at Haga, and feature in the paintings of the renowned artist Elias Martin (1739-1818).
Brief period of greatness
The two royal gondolas’ glory days did not last long. Following the fatal shooting of Gustav III at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm in March 1792, Galten and Delfinen remained largely unused and at their moorings in the court dockyard on Kungsholmen. When the yard was closed down in the mid 19th century, the two boats were relocated to Skeppsholmen, where they were stored in a shed. Karl XV toured in them during his tenure of the Swedish throne 1859-1872, but otherwise they were rarely used. In the 1940s, the two royal gondolas were added to the Maritime Museum’s boat collection.
There is much that is fascinating about these remarkable boats – not least their thrilling design. Moreover, they are of great historical value in a multitude of ways. Fredrik Henrik af Chapman was the man who built Gustav III’s impressive fleet of ships and frigates, among other projects. And yet fate determined that only two of his creations would be preserved intact for posterity – two 10 metre-long gondolas: Galten and Delfinen.