Measuring the Earth ­- Maps and Surveying in Sweden-Finland ca. 1650 to 1809

In 17th and 18th century Sweden the plane table, the leveling diopter and the surveyor’s rope or chain were the tools of the surveyor. Brass precision instruments such as the surveyor’s quadrant or theodolite were still rare or uncommon. In map making, the diopter was used to take bearings of objects to be surveyed before drafting the map on the plane table. Villages with surroundings were mapped (geometriska jordeböcker) and larger areas geographically surveyed (geografiska kartor). The maps were drawn on rag paper, colored with dyes from the soil and completed with an explanatory note (notarum explicatio). Astronomical measurements of location, usually measurements of latitude, were rare and only used in geographical surveys.

The surveyors trained their apprentices themselves. Surveying was taught to some extent at the University of Uppsala as early as 1626. Higher education in natural sciences and engineering was scarce in Sweden until the end of the 17th century, which meant that studies abroad were necessary for the development of surveying. Popular places among students were Nürnberg and Heidelberg in Germany and later Leiden in the Dutch republic. The publishing of scientific surveying literature in Swedish did not begin until the late 17th century.

Cartography and surveying were used to foster nationalism and to support military policy during the Swedish rule (1620-1720). The geometrical land books were compiled to clarify taxation and land ownership. That is to secure the collection of funds required by the military forces. The 1626 Bureus map of the realm was a cartographic manifestation of the Swedish rule and was further enlarged by its incomplete measurements of latitude. Ancient monuments were marked on the maps. Cartography was used to support the national  ideology (götisism), which emphasized the unique origins of Sweden. The historian and cartographer Olof Rudbeck (1679–1702) was the most significant figure behind the movement. In his principal work Atlantica Rudbeck postulated that Sweden was the ancient continent Atlantis described by Plato, which supposedly sank to the sea. Rudbeck performed numerous measurements of altitude and depth in an attempt to prove his theory.

Natural conditions made surveying difficult in the northern parts of Sweden and Finland, where a large part of the realm was left unsurveyed. Most of the land area was forests, swamps or terrain cut by lakes and rivers and at the time almost impossible to survey with the technology available. Distances were long, the land was sparsely populated and parcels of land could be several miles away from the villages. No field work was carried out for more than six months of the year while snow covered the ground. However, the ice-covered waterways were used to conduct geographical surveys in coastal areas.

Land which had been ceded to the nobility was reclaimed during the reductions of the 1650s and 1680s. Reduction surveys were undertaken, resulting in maps. The reduction was extended to the Baltic provinces and young commissioners were recruited from the universities to conduct them.  A more efficient tax collection system and administration were introduced in the provinces, while surveys and the development of communications bound the provinces to the rest of the realm. The Swedes began to carry out coastal surveys, previously conducted by the Dutch. In 1688 the director of surveying Carl Gripenhielm produced a map of the realm by combining geographic maps covering smaller areas. The top secret map was never printed in Sweden. Instead, much to the surprise of the Swedes the map was published in France after, as it has been argued by Ehrensvärd, being stolen in Stockholm by the French ambassador and copied by the cartographer Guillaume Delisle. Later the map was returned to Sweden, but in poor condition and full of pinholes.

New kind of cadastral maps were introduced. Unlike the geometriska jordeböcker that preceded them, the new geometriska kartor were made for taxation purposes. Forest surveys and mappings (1:8000) were also introduced during the same period. Forest ownership was divided by village, although not yet by estate. Forests owned by iron works and sawmills were mapped and separated from one another. The fine-blade sawmill was an important technological innovation that spread from the Zaandam industrial area in the Dutch republic to the Gulf of Finland in the late 17th century. In the 1720s fortification engineers planned a copy of the Zaandam industrial area on an island near Helsinki, but the unrealistic project was never fully realized.

The Great Northern War (1700–1721) interrupted years of strong economic activity. The destruction of the war affected Finland in particular, where a third of the population perished. Consequently farms were deserted. After the war reconstruction commenced, in which the introduction of geographical mapping in Finland played an important role. Surveying commissions consisting of 5 to 20 members were sent to Finland in 1737–1767. These produced parish maps (sockenkartor) in 1:20 000 scale, which were later combined to make maps covering larger areas (häradskartor, länskartor, generalkartor). However, the lack of astronomical measurements of location complicated the task.

In geodesy a significant advancement was made when the French mathematician Maupertuis performed geodetic measurements in the Torne river valley in 1736–1737 to determine the true shape of the Earth. Maupertuis’ measurements also marked the start of Swedish astronomical measurements. In the 18th century, England replaced the Dutch republic and Germany as the main international contact of Swedish scientists. George Graham, a precision mechanic from London, supplied Swedish surveyors with geodetic instruments. Anders Celsius, physicist and member of the Maupertuis expedition, exchanged letters with The Royal Society. Swedish physiocrats also admired the flourishing English agriculture.

In 1757, however, the great land reform known as land consolidation (storskifte), a Swedish version of enclosure, interrupted geographical surveys and early geodetic activities. The implementation of storskift started under the direction of surveyors, who in 1725 had obtained the right to interfere in the open field system (tegskifte), nearly a hundred years after the Swedish Land Survey was founded. The autonomy of freeholders was strong in Sweden. The storskift  meant that small scattered plots of land were consolidated into larger contiguous parcels. Tightly grouped villages began to scatter and collective landownership became private. The aim was to rationalize agriculture, which was hampered by the open field system and the fact that the narrow strips forced all villagers to work on their strip at the same time and with the same primitive methods (bytvång). Most of the early land consolidation in Sweden occurred near large cities, shipyards (Karlskrona), fortresses (Göteborg, Sveaborg) or near large production facilities. Land consolidation was not introduced only to rationalize agriculture, but also to secure the operations of industry. Another significant reason to start land consolidation in Sweden was the rapidly growing population. The first census in the world (tabellverket) was used to confirm the population increase.

The Swedish storkisft was also influenced by developments abroad. In England, the Parliament had in the 1750s began to introduce parish enclosures that allowed spreading the practice. The land consolidation in Sweden was a part of the international enclosure movement, which had started in England and spread to the Baltic Sea area. Some private citizens who had lived abroad also supported land consolidation. The most vigorous supporter of storskift  was Jacob Faggot, director of the Generallantmäterikontor  (The Head Surveying Office) and an anglophile physiocrat, whose book Svenska landtbrukens hinder ock hjälp (1746) was widely read. The natural scientist Pehr Kalm had during his voyage to the North America (1747–1751) learned about land consolidation in England and later back at home he wrote about its usefulness.

Land consolidation enabled crofts (torp) to be established, thus winning acceptance among the peasants for the procedure. A croft was a non-independent part separated from the main estate, making it possible to integrate the growing landless population into land ownership. Owing to the establishment of crofts the Swedish storskift  created an independent, free and strong class of freeholders. This was contrary to developments in England, where enclosures led to the destruction of the class of freeholders.

The dominant position of land consolidation meant that geographical surveys had come to a standstill, although this changed later that century. Swedish officers were introduced to the work of French and Austrian military cartographers during the Pomeranian War (1757–1764). Following this example, military reconnaissance maps started to be drawn in Sweden in the 1770s. These maps in 1:40 000–1:80 000 scale were the first to show topographic features of the terrain, and the maps were also divided into map sheets. Some of them were made by reducing parish maps drawn by the surveying commissions (Alanen and Kepsu, passim).  A private financer, Baron Hermelin, provided funding to restart geographical surveys just as the Swedish era was about to end. This work resulted to the first Swedish atlas (Geografiske Kartor öfver Sverige 1796-1818).

The American War of Independence (1775–1783) and the trade blockade associated with it increased the demand for Swedish and Finnish wood considerably. The Crown wanted its share, and therefore surveyors began to survey superfluous lands (överloppsjord) and allocate them for use of the Crown. These were huge forest areas far from populated areas, which until then had been freely usable. This marked the beginning of state ownership of forests and was the foundation for the Finnish and Swedish forest industry. A consequence of the Napoleonic Wars was that in 1809 Finland ceased to be a part of Sweden.

Mikko Huhtamies (kään. Maria Hällfors)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *