Search This Blog

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Crowning Glory?

I was in Sweden the other day, carrying out some fieldwork and preliminary research for the fourth Quinton novel - provisionally named The Lion of Midnight and set in the early months of 1666. This took me for the first time to Kalmar, carpeted in picture-postcard snow, where my main objective was a visit to the exhibition displaying relics brought up from the wreck of the great Swedish warship Kronan (= Crown). Designed by the English shipwright Francis Sheldon, and at the time of her loss the most heavily armed ship in the world (and one of the two or three largest), the Kronan turned over and blew up during a battle against the combined Dutch-Danish fleet in 1676. The Baltic waters, free of teredo navalis, have preserved many remarkable artefacts from the ship, from huge bronze cannon in superficially mint condition to tiny rings, coin hordes and such stunning survivals as Sweden's oldest violin. The Kronan was far larger than the much better-known Vasa, and the locals claim that the finds from Kronan are more extensive and important - having seen both, I won't argue with them. In many respects the Kronan materials also outdo those brought up from the Mary Rose, and provide some superb insights into life as a whole during the early modern age, not just into naval warfare

But therein lies the rub. Vasa and Mary Rose are names known around the world, yet even some very eminent British maritime historians had never heard of Kronan and the exhibition when I mentioned it to them. The exhibition ends with the ambitious future plan to raise the remaining side of the ship, preserved beneath the silt (as the side of Mary Rose was), but I wonder whether such a laudable scheme will ever come to fruition. For one thing, Kalmar is far less accessible than either Stockholm or Portsmouth, an hour's flight from the former (which in my case was a hair-raising switchback, flying through a snowstorm in an ageing turbo-prop plane), and it is in the invidious position of having effectively come second to the Vasa - despite arguably being a more important ship than the latter, and with a wider range of finds, I suspect that the Kronan project will struggle to raise funds simply because the Vasa is already there, an hour away in a highly accessible capital city, and an entirely intact hull rather than just one half of one. However, and with the greatest respect to a project that has clearly worked very hard over a long period of time and has accomplished a vast amount, it must be said that from this writer's perspective, at least, the Kronan team is not doing enough to develop the sort of international profile that would be required if the ambitious plans for her are to get anywhere. For example, when searching via the UK Google site the excellent Kronan website does not feature on the first page of  search results for the single word 'Kronan', while using 'ship Kronan' does not bring up a link to the site within the first ten pages of results. This might be partly because the Kronan does not actually have a discrete website of its own, but is a kind of sub-site of the Kalmar Lansmuseum, in which the exhibition is housed. The approximate equivalent would be for the Mary Rose exhibition to be housed in one room of the Isle of Wight's Museum of Island History. Moreover, the Kronan blog is only in Swedish, despite the fact that most Swedes speak, and write, outstandingly good English, and surely an English translation would immediately provide greater 'reach' (if only by ensuring higher rankings in the search engines); as it is, the blog relies on a Google Translate button, which often produces laughable or indecipherable results.  This is a great shame; the story of the past, and hopefully the future, of the Kronan deserves to be much better known.

No comments:

Post a Comment