Built as a pleasure yacht, tricky to sail and almost without any weaponry, yet she would feature at the heart of the Swedish Navy when it won its greatest ever victory at Svensksund in 1790. The story of the Amphion is legendary at the Maritime Museum.
When the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation decided to donate SEK 800,000 towards the construction of the Maritime Museum in the early 1930s, there were a few non-negotiable demands. One of these was that the transom and the cabin to Gustav III's fascinating pleasure yacht Amphion was to have a prominent place in the new museum. And so it was, and from the time the Maritime Museum first opened its doors in 1938, anyone walking through the museum entrance could not fail to experience the magnificence of the Amphion's transom.
The history of a ship
In the 1770s, Gustav III commissioned shipbuilder Fredrik Henrik af Chapman to design a number of pleasure boats that would be moored at Drottningholm Palace. One of them was the pleasure yacht Amphion, built at the Djurgårdsvarvet yard and launched in 1778. The ship's only armament were some small cannons or swivel guns, which were installed for firing salutes.
It was an exquisite ship, 33.5 metres long and almost seven metres wide. The Amphion was a sailing vessel with two masts, but could also be propelled with the help of its 16 pairs of oars. She was painted in a multitude of colours. The spectacular transom was dark blue in colour apart from the gold covered ornamentation. This included a huge carved face with sunbeams all around, two shields with the national coat of arms and four windows. Plant ornaments trailed around the transom. The figurehead at the front was carved by court sculptor Per Ljung and represented Amphion, the demigod and patron of culture in Greek mythology; and in his hands he holds his bow. The ship's cabin had the look of a sumptuous palace chamber. On festive occasions they hung precious dark blue fabrics with yellow crowns and white stars over the railings.
It was a handsome ship, much talked about at the time, and described in a ballad by Gustav III's court bard Carl Michael Bellman.
Beautiful but difficult to manoeuvre
The Amphion was a true beauty, but cumbersome and difficult to sail. When Gustav III took his first trip on her, from Karlskrona to Stockholm in July 1778, the ship was on the verge of being shipwrecked close to Landsort. This was enough to convince the king to step ashore at Djurö and complete the rest of the journey to Djursholm castle by horse and carriage.
The Amphion was not suited for travel on the high seas; af Chapman had built her for sedate tours around the archipelago. And this was exactly the reason why Gustav III had her built, at least for a time.
Dangerous life in the fog of war
In 1788 Gustav III declared war against Russia. He developed a passionate love for his Amphion and started using her as a staff ship and personal headquarters when it was time to defeat the Russians. It was in Amphion's enchanting cabin that the king and his war council decided to attack the Russian Navy in the summer of 1790, in what would go down in history as the Second Battle of Svensksund, Sweden's biggest ever victory at sea. One of Amphion's masts was damaged in the chaotic conflict known as the Battle of Vyborg Bay that summer. It was also on the Amphion that Gustav III took his leave of some of his officers after peace was concluded with Russia in August 1790
But King Gustav III was then shot dead at a masked ball at the opera in Stockholm in March 1792 and Amphion's life was altered forever.
Amphion after Gustav III
Gustav III's death saw Amphion being moved to a storage shed at Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. There she stood gathering dust until 1829 when Crown Prince Oscar (later Oscar I, King of Sweden from 1844 to 1859) fitted her out and began to use her in his role as Grand Admiral of the Swedish navy.
In 1853 the Amphion was used as a quarantine vessel for cholera patients at Furusund. In 1868, she was given a new role, as a receiving ship, and was held at a variety of moorings around the Stockholm archipelago. In 1875 Amphion was used as barracks at the naval dockyard in Stockholm.
In 1885 it was decided that Amphion was to be scrapped, but the transom, figurehead and large parts of the cabin were rescued, although on whose orders, we do not know. In 1897 the Amphion's transom was displayed in the Swedish Navy's pavilion at the Stockholm Exhibition. Today everything is on display at the Maritime Museum and the cabin has retained much of its lavish original interior design.