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Norwegian Jekt Trade Museum

Norwegian Jekt Trade Museum shows 400 years of history from Northern Norway’s golden age.

2019-06-1219:47 Bjørg Nilsen

In the past, jekts (cargo sailboats) loaded with stockfish, were more valuable to Norway than oil is today. The Norwegian Jekt Trade Museum in Bodø presents the last of the Nordland jekts, the Anna Karoline, and tells the story of the stockfish export trade.

200–300 years ago, more than 200 jekts delivered stockfish to Bergen over the summer season. Some even made several trips. This was a real lifesaver for the country’s economy. It is believed that more than 3000 jekts were built, but only one remains here in Northern Norway. The Jekt Trade Museum has put it on display and uses it in its presentation of the great story of Northern Norway.

Anna Karoline is the last jekt in Nordland

When Anna Karoline was being built in Mosvik in Trøndelag in 1876, shipbuilder Guneris Brataker was informed of its intended freight capacity. Based on this, he calculated the ship’s length, width and depth, and built a mast that could withstand heavy autumn storms. Through the years, Anna Karoline has carried stockfish, saltfish, lumber, cod roe, fish guano and cod liver oil, and she even did service as a mobile shop during the Lofoten seasonal fishery. The Anna Karoline was an experienced lady by the time she was put ashore at Bodøsjøen in 1959. She is still here, as the last remaining jekt in Nordland. Two other ships of this type still exist in Trøndelag and in Western Norway.

The jekts were the lifeline of the Norwegian economy.

In the Middle Ages, stockfish from Northern Norway was Norway’s primary export. The trade routes from northern fishing villages to Bergen and from there to the rest of Europe, were the arteries of our country’s economy. Before the reformation, people in Northern European cities were under religious obligations to eat fish on Fridays and during Lent. Liver oil from cod and Greenland shark was in demand, both for use as lamp oil and as preservatives for leather. From the 1700s onward, when salt became more affordable, we also exported salted herring in barrels and saltfish. In general, raw materials and commodities from Northern Norway were essential for the country’s economy, similar to what they are today.

Utilitarian and luxury goods found their way north

In return, northerners got grain from the region by the Baltic Sea, as well as ironwares, in the form of nails, pots and pans. In the Middle Ages, luxury goods, like wine—later also spirits—and English cloth were in high demand, as well as altarpiece triptychs and Madonna figurines for the church back home. New discoveries in the 1500s made the world smaller, and eventually, sugar, spices, coffee, tea, cotton and silk made their way to Bryggen in Bergen. Sugar in one’s coffee would have been the ultimate luxury in the 1600s, but became commonplace in the 1800s. Everything was brought north on the jekts.  

A bridge to the world in Bergen

A jekt could make the journey to Bergen up to three times in a single summer. Here, the crew on board would encounter a more refined urban culture, with impulses from the large merchant cities in Northern Europe. By taking up the habit of drinking coffee, from proper cups set on a table with a table cloth, social gatherings up north soon took on a different nature than when they were drinking spirits in the baiting shed. Life grew new dimensions with the new goods that became available, and intellectual impulses beyond what the pastor could provide was something new entirely. The coastal populations of Northern Norway were likely more internationally oriented than homebodies from inland regions, who were not as involved in international trade. This was evident from their clothing as well; northern ladies were more up to date on fashion than ladies in Eastern Norway.