Travel letter from 1820

Writen by: Katrine Næss

The Englishman Arthur de Capell Brookes tells in his book "travels in Finnmark and stay in Hammerfest 1820" about the city and daily life among the city's wealthy citizens - the merchant families. In the book he writes:

Hammerfest is, although one has to smile at the comparison, not so different from Venice. If the residents are going to Fuglenes or other parts of the island, they have to use a boat. Even the smallest distance is done by boat. The hammerheads are almost as used to the wet element as amphibians. Without a boat, one is actually like a prisoner - due to the difficulties of traveling ashore.

The mountains rise steeply from their dwellings, but no one of his full five could think of climbing them. The hammer mounts do not want to exert themselves physically. They have little knowledge of the interior of the island on which they were born and live, - it is as if they were to live miles away.

The town is secluded. Many ships pass without spotting it. But the bay in which it is located is well protected from all kinds of winds except the southwest. The harbor can take 10 – 15 ships, and is perhaps one of the safest in the whole world. Hammerfest consists of a few houses, painted in ochre. Behind them is a small church, and close to it the parsonage.

About the traders in the city, Brookes goes on to say:

The hammer fittings are Norwegian, except for one or two from northern Sweden. They are hospitable and generous, and receive strangers with a warm welcome. They are easy and carefree to be with, lively and cheerful. In trade and activity, they see little forward. They allow e.g. not a trade get in the way of a social entertainment.

The Hammerfest merchant must be one of the happiest creatures in the world. He is calm and content, and has enough to live on. He is open and sincere, little familiar with what is going on in the world, and he does not miss it.

The merchant does not get up early in the morning. As soon as he wakes up - at 7 o'clock - a housemaid or one of the young ladies of the house comes to him with a cup of very strong hot coffee. After he has drunk it, he lies or sits under his eider down and smokes a pipe. He can take an extra morning nap before he gets up. Then he goes to the shop and arranges and opens the shutters in front of the windows. Afterwards he goes home and has breakfast. Then it's back to the shop. Dinner is served at 1 in the morning.

The wives and daughters of the merchants—have a fine appearance and free manners. They have beautiful costumes so you would think they came from completely different places in the world. Many of them are beauties. Most people have bright, beautiful hair that they have arranged in an attractive hairstyle.

The ladies got fabric for their clothes from abroad, - Germany and England. Mr. Crowe, the English merchant at Fuglenes, had jewelry, shawls, hats, gloves, shoes, and stockings sent by ship from London. The merchants exchanged this for fish, blubber, leather and cod liver oil.

The Hammerfest ladies were skilled housekeepers. They themselves took part in all kinds of chores, because it was difficult to get skilled servants. Early in the morning they had to get up and make the coffee, which was drunk in bed. When guests arrived, they were looked after by the lady of the house. She often refused to taste the food until everyone was almost done eating.

In company, punch was served. Punch was a kind of grain spirit. It was brewed by the women of the house. And they knew that art!

The Hammerfest merchants often had company. The men smoked pipes. Most were heavy smokers. In the companies they played cards. Whist was a popular game. Then the punch bowl was passed around, and the so-called ones for Old Norway, Finnmark and Finnmark's fisheries. They sang and had fun. But they weren't that particular about cleanliness. Spitting on the floor was common.

When they held a ball, the ladies were there. The music came from the violin. It was the most famous and used instrument in Finnmark at the time. In every family there was someone who could play the violin. They danced the waltz, polka and hopska.


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