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Electronic version of Danish registry

Unique resource for maritime and economic history to go online

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LEEUWARDEN - A special research team at the University of Groningen and Tresoar, the Frisian Historical and Literary Centre in Leeuwarden, are setting up an electronic database on the Sound Toll Registries (STR). Completion of the project is expected by 2011, when the STR will be online in its entirety. These records of tolls levied in the Danish Sound are among the most extensive resources for the study of Dutch and European economic and maritime history.

The registries contain detailed administrative records of the tolls levied by the Danish Crown on ships passing through the Sound, the narrow strait between Sweden and Denmark that links the North Sea with the Baltic Sea. The records cover the period 1497– 1857 and contain data on 1.7 million ship passages.

Officials at the Helsingor tollhouse also recorded particulars on the ship’s captain, his place of residence, the harbour from where the ship had set sail, its cargo and, from the 1660s onwards, the ship’s destination. About half of all captains who sailed through the Sound were Dutch. During the eighteenth century, the majority of the Dutch merchant mariners hailed from Friesland.

Frisian merchant shipping

The original Sound Toll Registries, more than 700 heavy, handwritten, leather-bound volumes, are kept at the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen. The massive amount of detailed information these volumes contain makes it very cumbersome to consult them systematically. Although Danish historians have published tables with information on the number of ship passages through the Sound, details on individual ship captains had hardly been accessible up to now. This situation will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the database, which is now being compiled. Online the information will be readily accessible to everyone and the registries will at last be fully accessible to researchers.

Researchers hope to use the data bank as the launching pad for a research project into the Frisian merchant shipping history of the 17th and 18th centuries. So far, research on this sizeable economic activity focused mainly on the ports of the Zuiderzee in general. Beyond material on individual families there seemed to be no depository that allowed researchers to fine tune this history.

The 'Sound Toll Registers Online' project has been made possible by a grant of nearly $2 million from NWO, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, with co-funding from the University of Groningen, Tresoar and several private Frisian sources. The project’s total cost is around $2.5 million. The project, which will take two and a half years, is scheduled for completion in 2011.