A Swedish Visitor to Attercliffe Works in 1771

Essential information on the Huntsman Works at Attercliffe comes from an unusual source: the diary of a Swedish mining engineer, who was one of the very few individuals to gain entrance to the workshops themselves. His name was Eric Gustav Geisler [var: Geijer] and his illustrated journal is a wonderful and under-utilised resource for the history of technological innovation in later eighteenth-century Britain. The journal has been intensively studied by a Swedish scholar, but has never been translated into English. The following are notes concerning the family, translated from that study, as well as a translation of the passages from the journal relating to Geisler’s visit to Sheffield.

The translations have been undertaken on behalf of the project by Professor Inger Lövkrona of Lundt University and the project acknowledges her generous assistance.

Eric Geisler’s Family
The Geisler family was of German extraction and five generations of the family, from father to son, worked in the Swedish mining industry. Christian Geisler was the first, the foreman for the silver mine at Garphyttan. His son Johan Tobias Geisler was a Surveyor [markscheider] at the Stora Kopparberg mine, as was his son Eric. Eric´s son Tobias (d. 1869), became the Town Burgher [Bergmästare]. Eric Geisler´s mother, Emerentia, was also, as it turned out, the daughter of the Quality Inspector [Konstatsinspektoren] at the Falun mine, Eric Sohlberg, who married Brita Catharina Lybecker. Those involved in the Stora Kopparberg mine enjoyed strong kinship relationships and the Sohlberg and Lybecker families were intimately connected to the mine for generations. From his father Johan, Eric inherited literary and aesthetic sensibilities, a feeling for music, and social skills […]. On the women’s side, the characteristics of the Geisler family seem to have jumped over one generation. His mother, Lotten Dahlgren is depicted as a ‘calm, meek and melancholic individual’. Hard domestic chores and the birth of numerous children burdened her. It was Eric’s unmarried aunt, Agneta Geisler, who encouraged Eric Gustav’s musicality and instructed him, and followed his progress through the years, as he himself often stressed. […] Eric also appears to have been the very opposite of his daughter Ulrica. He was spontaneous and inventive, musical, and had prompt powers of observation, a talent for aesthetics and an ability to impress. He was, however, considered to be ‘a modest man’. His career spans the epoch known as the ‘Period of Liberty’ [Frihetstiden] in Swedish History. It was as the successor of generations of Swedish technicians that he undertook his trip abroad, aged 50.

Additional Information Concerning Eric Gustav Geisler

On 3 May 1785, Claes G. Gartz [1761-1804] […] pronounced a eulogy about Eric Geisler at a gathering in Stockholm. Gartz was a literary figure who had just begun a career as a city official, and he had probably composed it himself. As was typical of the genre, it was highly rhetorical, and very panegyric, but, composed 12 years after Geisler’s death, it was apparently based on substantial documentation. This speech, supplemented by other sources has been used here to put together further details on Eric Geisler’s life.

According to Gartz, Eric Geisler was born at the beginning of the Period of Liberty, on 22 August 1720 in Falun, the son of the Surveyor [markscheider] at Stora Kopparberg, Johan Tobias Geisler (1683-1729) and his wife Emerentia Sohlberg (1697-1727). His parents died when he was young and he had hardly any memory of them. He was taken care of and brought up by his grandfather [on his mother’s side], Eric Sohlberg (1692-1737), a Quality Inspector at the Stora Kopparberg mine. Geisler was initially educated at home by private tutors – first Mag. Johan Unaeus and then later Nils Spelin. Under Spelin’s guidance, he then attended the Gymnasium at Västerås. Once he was eleven years of age, with Spelin acting again as his tutor, he spent a period from 15 March 1731 until 1739 at Uppsala University. Financial problems, however, prevented him from completing his studies and graduating. He majored on mathematics, history and languages, and fields connected to mining. He took a great interest in mining and he was accepted by at the Bergskollegium as a trainee on 29 November 1739.

Eric Geisler’s uncle, Samuel Sohlberg, had been apprenticed to Christopher Polhem at Sternsund Castle and, from 1737 to 1743, became the manager of Skånska Stenkolsverket, a coal mine in Scania. Under his tutorship Geisler was educated in mining, mechanics, physics, algebra and mineralogy. Geisler could not have had a more qualified tutor. In his twenties Geisler visited or worked in all the important mines in East and West Bergslagen, Nya Kopparberg and in Småland, Taberg and the gold mines. When visiting the copper mine at Glanshammar, he fell ill with fever but managed to return to Falun a month later. There, he moved in with his brother-in-law, the Bank Manager and Quality Inspector, Fredrik Munktell, which is where he remained until he married. Geisler was appointed Surveoyr [markscheder], thus following in his renowned father´s footsteps. He thus learnt the complicated technicalities of how to melt copper in the smelting-houses surrounding the Falun mine. [….]

Geisler as a Cartographer

[p.56] [Eric Geisler’s father Johan Tobias was responsible for a magnificent map of Stora Kopparberg, prepared in 1718, organmented with a magnificent panorama over the whole mine area. His reputation for surveying [markscheiderei], his excellent maps, his instructions, enthusiasm and commitment to training were highly appreciated by his contemporaries. He also performed as a poet and translator of plays, poems for weddings, funerals and patriotic events] Eric Geisler’s masterpiece would be the large map of Stora Kopparberg, the first in 23 years, that occupied him from the autumn of 1748 through to the autumn of 1753. It was mainly completed by 1750, which is why it is called “The 1750 Map”. Although not quite the match for his father in cartography, Eric Geisler shared much of his competence and talent.

From 1748 Eric Geisler was Surveyor [markscheider] at Stora Kopparberg . In reality the work was undertaken by a younger half-brother of his father, Albrekt Hartman, who certainly was skilled in the profession, but who lacked initiative and therefore attracte criticism from above. When Hartman resigned, Eric Geisler succeded him in 1755 after a complicated transaction. His tasks included teaching aspirants in smelting techniques and training them in drawing maps for their examations. They testify that Geisler was a strict master, despite the fact that he had not himself graduated, but simply learnt the trade by practising it.

Geisler as the Organizer of Festivities

[p. 57] [....] Geisler enjoyed other commissions at Falun as well. When Crown prince Gustav III paid his second visit to Falun on 18 Sept. 1768, it was Geisler who was responsible for […] organizing the illuminations for the visit “after the principles of optic and physics”. In a lengthy description of the visit by Daniel Tilas the illuminations are described as follows:- 120 boys with flares in their hands stood at the bottom of the big mine shaft [Stora Stöten] in the pattern of a huge illuminated crowned G, “with double lines”, to be observed by the crown prince from a determined spot at the edge of the big mine opening”. […] And, if this were not enough, once the visitors descended into the Drottning Lovisa Ulrica Mine, Geisler and Lars Schultze sang the mining song that he had composed in 1745 to the tune of the Marche de Sacrifice by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. […]

Geisler as an Inventor

[p.58] In 1768 Geisler was mentioned as an ‘Inventor’. Following a commission from the Dannemora mines he worked out a detailed drawing for an atmospheric [Newcomen] steam engine to operate the mine pumps for the Dammsgruvan Mine there. To this end, he reutilised parts from the steam engine constructed 40 years earlier for Nora Silfberg Mine by Mårten Triewald, the first one installed in Sweden and only the fourth outside England. The engine had not been a success and it had been discontinued after 1735. The big cylinder of bronze and parts of the engine had been preserved and, on the basis of the old parts, Geisler completely redesigned it. The design was never realized, however, for financial reasons. However, it is important to note that, as Surveyor (markscheider), Geisler followed Swedish methods of cartography, using his measurements to depict the mine in contours, vertically and horizontally. He now used the same techniques for his drawings of both the steam engine house and the steam engine with cut-outs for the cylinder, flue, stairs, tanks, etc. His 13 water-coloured “contour maps” are still to be found in the Dannemora Mines archive. Utilised in layers, they provide an ‘X-ray-picture’ of the engine, probably the first time that this techniques was applied to engineering drawing. The inventive Geisler was eager to present an easily comprehensible set of drawings for mine owners, who were already experienced in reading mine maps. [….] He would profit from this experience when, some years later, he came to study and draw similar steam engines during his journey to England.

Geisler’s Other Commitments

[p. 58] [Geisler was also responsible for drawings and costings for a new hospital at Falun to replace one that was destroyed by a fire there in 1761. He also undertook surveying work on an old cottage that had survived in the neighbourhood from the time of Gustav Vasa. An even stranger task that occupied Geisler was to collect regional dialects in the parishes of Mora and Älvdalen, commissioned to do so by Johan Ihre, the reputed historian and philologist in Uppsala, material that he used in his subsequent studies of Swedish dialect and Old German. He was also one of the earliest to build a house with a floor that made use of the copper slag].

Geisler’s Musical and Literary Talents

[p.59] [The following is an extract from the eulogy of 1785]:-
“He enjoyed very much gathering young people around the pianoforte to sing. He himself participated as a bass. He conducted these amusements and was rewarded by the pleasure of others. Whilst his elders and betters remained seated at the card-tables, Geisler led the youngsters in other pastimes. Freedom and simplicity characterized his mind as well as his house. His wife and children were similarly cheerful and contented. Geisler´s house was a Palace of joy, his hospitality was excellent and he himself was an antidote to melancholy.
He played various instruments, albeit with more taste than skill. His voice was altogether agreeable. He had trained it through singing Italian songs, of which he had an excellent collection. He longed for beautiful things, especially beaux-arts, for which he had sensitivity and taste. He was a man of literate tastes. He liked poetry, but used it with sense and moderation - only to amuse good friends, beautiful women and to spread happiness. Geisler used his natural talents in society – as epitomised in a fashionable French epigram of the time that he translated”.

Geisler’s Marriage and Last Years

[p.60] When Eric Geisler was appointed permanent Surveyor at the Falún copper mine in 1755, he married Brita Charlotta Berger [b.1728], the daughter of the Inspector of Customs at Gävle, Anders Berger. They had been married for 18 years when Geisler died, and she bore him 11 children, of whom only two sons and three daughters lived to adulthood. In 1771, Eric Geisler was elected to the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. During the short period he was a member (not quite 3 years), he spent more than one and a half years abroad, and had few opportunities to participate in the activities of the Academy. Only one contribution from his pen is contained in the collections of the Academy. It concerns an instrument for making perspective drawings that Geisler had conceived in around 1750. The instrument was easy to transport and he had already used it in his numerous drawings of buildings in Falun and the surroundings. A similar instrument had already been constructed by Jonas Norberg, the Head of the Royal Cabinet of Models, in 1760. Geisler’s device was doubtless more ingenious and practical than Norberg’s since, among other things, it could be set up on an adjustable stand of the same kind as those used by surveyors for fieldwork measuring. Geisler presented the Academy with a description of his instrument together with a drawing of its construction but his contribution was not printed in its proceedings until after his death in 1774. As contemporaries said, the instrument ‘testified to his mechanical inventiveness’ as well as of his knowledge of optics and perspective drawings.
[p.61] [In addition], before Geisler was elected a member of the Academy he had forwarded the results of his systematic measurements of the air pressure in various levels of the Falun mine, that he himself had conducted with a partially home-made barometer, his personal contribution to the Academy´s collection of meteorological observations, then in progress. He was alao nominated by the Academy to a group of people who in 1770 were given the task of examine a proposal for a Canal [the Trollhätte Channel] from the West of Sweden to the Baltic. Geisler was thus engaged in technical and scientific activities of great interest.

Eric Gustav’s Geisler’s Diary

[p. 62] There are various, more or less detailed, and sometimes illustrated Swedish travel journals that are archived in archives and libraries. They have only been partly exploited by scholars and, only in exceptional circumstances, have such journals been published and extensively annotated. However, numerous valuable travel journals remain in archive, library and other collections, and they deserve to be published as a contribution to the history of technology. […]. Geisler´s diary and accompanying travel journal are written in two small note books. One of the note books was purchased in the autumn of 1771, which was when he started to plan a trip and asked for permission to go abroad after 23 years of work at the Falún mine. In neat handwriting he notes in the diary in tabular form the monarchical heads of European states from 400 B. C. to the year 1772, and also given the names of the Popes since 66 A.D. In addition, he notes, probably following a German source, several ‘discoveries of recent years’, some astronomical data, and various anthropological and statistical notes. The notebook itself (155x100 mm) has a light-red parchment cover decorated in pressed gold, with a pocket for paper sheets and a green silk ribbon to bind the book. A later hand has added on the first page: ‘Notes and journal during a travel through Norway and England - Scotland 117 24/1 – 30/11, by Eric Geisler, Markscheider in Falun, LED[??] by K.W.A. f 1720 d. 11/8 1773’.

Geisler’s journal entry relating to Sheffield

[p. 95]
The cast steels ovens are common blast furnaces in which the steel is melted and tapped off into iron ingots made of eight-cornered prisms with diameter of a ¾ inch and a length of 5-6 quarts.
Sheffield has a quite beautiful church of cut stone, and has, I am told, 40,000 inhabitants including adults and children.
A band of strolling players were also to be seen here, like in other bigger English cities.

[Sheffield’s Silk Mill]
The silk mill in Sheffield had cost 5000 pounds to build. The owner, a private man, is now bankrupt. We were permitted, contrary to our expectation, to visit the mill, that has 1 water wheel (a) and consists of 5,400 moving parts. On the ground floor of the mill (b), that appears to have a length of 50 to 55 ells, approximately 30 women were sitting along the two long walls, spinning silk onto ordinary rollers, and with no twining. On the same floor there was also some gears with some wheels and belts from the water wheel, that distributed the movements by means of upright revolving axles (c) that extended through the floors. On the second floor there were three or four cranks on a cylinder with 20 to 30 flanges, each furnished with cross-bars that slowly lifted the arms of 6 or 8 pulleys. The ends of the pulleys were equipped with pinions driving small wooden wheels with 5 to 6 yarn-winders on their spindles (g). Each wheel was driven by 2 yarn-winders. These yarn-winders wind the silk at several spots (h), the thread came down from the reels above (i). The yarn-winders´ movement made the thread move from the reels, taking it outside one moving shuttle (d), into another stationary shuttle (k). The diameter of the shuttle (d) is appr. 10 ells, when including the outer barrier appr. 11 ells. The winding of the silk took place at 3-4 various heights of the cylinder, but in a similar fashion so that each winding had appr. 100 slowly working yarn-winders, each with its rollers mounted under the third and fourth floors, winding off the silk from the rollers (l) onto 13 or 14 benches (m), each made up of between 45 and 46 winders, placed below (n). The winders were driven by a common vertical axle (o). In order to take the thread to and fro on the roller, small bars were pushed to and fro through a wide (r) axis, furnished with a small handle and loops of brass, that guided the thread. The spun silk was either yellow or quite white and was sold on, the former at between 25 and 27 pounds, the latter at 30 pounds. In the house, there was a storehouse for the raw silk and space for office and staff, and also for those who wove the prepared silk thread into cloth.