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Grønfjord (Green Harbour): Finneset

Some history and 360 degree panoramas

Fin­nes­et, a small head­land a few kilo­me­tres south of Bar­ents­burg on the east side of Grønfjord, is a place that recei­ves litt­le atten­ti­on the­se days, but it was one of the main cen­tres of civi­li­sa­ti­on and infra­st­ruc­tu­re for some busy years during the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The loca­ti­on is stra­te­gi­cal­ly cho­sen: it is not as far away from the open sea as, for examp­le, Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but it is well shel­te­red and a use­ful natu­ral har­bour, with shores on both sides that are easi­ly acces­si­ble. The head­land its­elf is flat and pro­vi­des ple­nty of space for a cou­p­le of buil­dings and some infra­st­ruc­tu­re.

Finneset

Fin­nes­et. Aeri­al pho­to from June 2019. On the sou­thern beach (upper right), remains of the wha­ling sta­ti­on are visi­ble, main­ly the flen­sing plat­form. The radio sta­ti­on was fur­ther to the left, clo­ser to the nort­hern beach (bot­tom side beach).

For the­se rea­sons, Nor­we­gi­an wha­lers cal­led this litt­le head­land Fin­nes­et (“Fine cape”) in 1904.

Finneset

Fin­nes­et, Octo­ber 2008.
The small hut to the far left was pro­bab­ly a Rus­si­an leisu­re hut.

Fin­nes­et: The wha­ling sta­ti­on (1905-1912)

The wha­ling com­pa­ny A/S Spits­ber­gen from Tøns­berg in Nor­way estab­lis­hed a shore sta­ti­on for wha­ling in Fin­nes­et in 1905. It was one two such sta­ti­ons in the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The second one was loca­ted in Kval­ross­buk­ta on Bear Island (Bjørnøya). In tho­se years, wha­ling saw ano­t­her zenith based on recent tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tions inclu­ding steam-powe­red ships and explo­si­ve har­poons shot from power­ful guns on the ships. This was all in strong con­trast to the rather pri­mi­ti­ve methods of 17th cen­tu­ry wha­ling, which were based on rowing boats and hand-thrown har­poons. With the new methods, wha­lers could go after the lar­ger, fas­ter bale­en wha­les inclu­ding the fin wha­le and blue wha­le.

This old iron thing, which reminds of the cut­ter of a huge kit­chen machi­ne, was part of the tech­no­lo­gy that belon­ged to the flen­sing plat­form. May­be it was part of the winch that was used to haul wha­les up?

Fin­nes­et: The wha­ling sta­ti­on – flen­sing platt­form

The point with the wha­ling sta­ti­on was to cut the wha­le into pie­ces small enough to boil them to retrie­ve the oil, which was the main pro­duct as alrea­dy in the 17th cen­tu­ry. But now it was used not just main­ly as lamp oil, but as an important raw mate­ri­al in the che­mi­cal indus­try, to pro­du­ce anything from mar­ga­ri­ne through fine lub­ri­ca­ti­on oil to explo­si­ves. Yes, at times wha­les were kil­led to pro­du­ce bombs! Total­ly dis­gus­ting.

Back to the remains of the wha­ling sta­ti­on at Fin­nes­et. The flen­sing platt­form was a cen­tral part of the instal­la­ti­ons. Here, the wha­le was hau­led up onto this woo­den plat­form with a strong winch to be cut up (“flen­sed”). The plat­form is still basi­cal­ly inta­ct after a good 100 years.

Fin­nes­et: The wha­ling sta­ti­on – buil­dings

The­re was of cour­se a num­ber of buil­dings, inclu­ding simp­le accom­mo­da­ti­on for the workers and more up-sca­le housing for the mana­ger and others, as well as sto­rage and work­shops. This old post­card indi­ca­tes that Fin­nes­et almost loo­ked like a litt­le sett­le­ment at times!

Finneset poastcard

Fin­nes­et, old post­card. Bar­ents­burg is visi­ble in the back­ground. The know­led­ge­ab­le Leif Trøn­nes has sug­gested that this pho­to was taken bet­ween 1925 and 1932. Then, the wha­ling sta­ti­on was alrea­dy aban­do­ned again, but the buil­dings and instal­la­ti­ons were still the­re.

And inde­ed, up to several dozen men worked at the wha­ling sta­ti­on, and addi­tio­nal­ly, from 1911 the­re was a radio sta­ti­on on Fin­nes­et, just a few metres fur­ther north, on the other side.

Here we have got remains of some buil­dings that belon­ged to the wha­ling sta­ti­on. Only the foun­da­ti­ons remain. The wha­ling sta­ti­on was alrea­dy in 1912. Some of the mate­ri­als may have been moved to Bar­ents­burg. Parts of the vital infra­st­ruc­tu­re were des­troy­ed during the evacua­ti­on 1943, during the second world war, to make sure the Ger­mans could not put them into use.

Fin­nes­et: Spits­ber­gen Radio – fuel sto­rage

In 1911, Nor­way built a radio sta­ti­on cal­led Spits­ber­gen Radio on the nort­hern side of Fin­nes­et, in the immedia­te vicini­ty of the wha­ling sta­ti­on. Spits­ber­gen Radio made it pos­si­ble, for the first time, to com­mu­ni­ca­te direct­ly from Spits­ber­gen to the main­land – and vice ver­sa – without expen­si­ve, time-con­suming ship traf­fic to relay messages. Poli­ti­cal con­si­de­ra­ti­ons were cer­tain­ly an important part in the the Nor­we­gi­an government’s moti­va­ti­on to build the sta­ti­on: Spits­ber­gen was still no man’s land, the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty would not be signed befo­re 1920, and 10 years befo­re that, nobo­dy could know how the sov­er­eig­n­ty over the islands would be orga­nis­ed. It was just clear that someo­ne had to take the task. In 1906, an Ame­ri­can com­pa­ny had suc­cess­ful­ly estab­lis­hed a coal mining sett­le­ment in Advent Bay (now Advent­fjord) cal­led Lon­gye­ar City – now Lon­gye­ar­by­en – and the Bri­tish Nort­hern Explo­ra­ti­on Com­pa­ny had secu­red rights to explo­it mine­ral resour­ces in lar­ge are­as, such as Marb­le Island (now Ny Lon­don on Blom­strand­hal­vøya). Nor­way was clear­ly lag­ging behind, and they had to do some­thing about it if they were to have a word in the nego­tia­ti­ons regar­ding future sov­er­eig­n­ty over the archi­pe­la­go. Mail and tele­graph were a mat­ter of sov­er­eig­n­ty and public inte­rest, so the­re was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to be grab­bed which would at the same time pro­vi­de some real value to ever­y­bo­dy who had some busi­ness in Spits­ber­gen. Soon the radio sta­ti­on beca­me a busy place as many wis­hed to ope­ra­te their com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons bet­ween their mining pla­ces and the out­side world through Spits­ber­gen Radio on Fin­nes­et, which thus quick­ly beca­me a very cen­tral place.

Also the radio sta­ti­on had a num­ber of buil­dings, but also here, none is still exis­ting. Only scar­ce remains such as the foun­da­ti­ons remain to be seen. The­re are, howe­ver, a few excep­ti­ons. The main eye­cat­cher is this slight­ly weird buil­ding, which used to the the fuel sto­rage, a very solid con­struc­tion of con­cre­te.

Fin­nes­et: Spits­ber­gen Radio – anten­nas

Two lar­ge anten­nas were nee­ded to pro­vi­de reli­able radio com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on with main­land Nor­way. The anten­nas are long gone – it is said that one was still lying on the ground on Fin­nes­et in the mid 1990s. It would then have been pro­tec­ted by law as part of Svalbard’s cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge, but it is said that the remains fell vic­tim to a Rus­si­an clean-up action.

Finneset

Fin­nes­et in June 2019. The Rus­si­an hut that can be seen in the pho­to abo­ve is gone. The fuel sto­rage buil­ding and the foun­da­ti­ons for the anten­na ancho­rings can still be seen.

Here we stand on the foun­da­ti­ons of one of the two anten­nas.

Both anten­nas had each three solid ancho­rings and each of them had a lar­ge con­cre­te foun­da­ti­on. Three of them can be seen all in an equal distance from our view­point in the abo­ve pan­ora­ma.

Here, we are stan­ding in the midd­le of the old, small “sett­le­ment”. In this place, not far from the fuel sto­rage, the­re must have been a lar­ge, solid buil­ding, but I do not know what exact­ly it would have been. The foun­da­ti­ons of the anten­na ancho­rings are also visi­ble from here.

Spits­ber­gen Radio was at Fin­nes­et until 1930, when it was moved to Kapp Lin­né on the west coast. The new loca­ti­on pro­vi­ded a bet­ter radio con­nec­tion to the south, as the­re were no moun­tains that way, and an incre­a­sed distance to the new Rus­si­an neigh­bours in Bar­ents­burg may also have been wel­co­me. The Nor­we­gi­an wha­ling sta­ti­on had alrea­dy been aban­do­ned years ago, in 1912.

Pho­to gal­le­ry Fin­nes­et

And, final­ly, a selec­tion of “nor­mal” pho­tos from Fin­nes­et:

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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last modification: 2020-10-19 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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