A local explorer

Martin Spangsberg


Martin Pedersen Spangsberg or Morten Spangberg (born 1696 in Jerne - now Esbjerg and died 1761 in Kronstadt) was second-in-command on Vitus Bering’s expeditions which led to the discovery of Kamchatka and the coastline as well as the possible connection between Asia and America. Spangsberg is best known for the discovery of the northern sea route to Japan and the exploration and mapping of the Kuril Islands (1738-39).

There is a statue of Martin Spangsberg situated on the lawn in front of the museum’s café, MS Smag.
From this location he looks out over Grådyb, which is the entry to Esbjerg harbour, the group sculpture “Man at Sea” and Wadden Sea, which is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage.


The story of Martin Spangsberg

In 1720 Martin (or Morten) Spangsberg volunteered to serve with the Russian tsar’s navy. Until his death in 1761, Spangsberg served the Russian tsar and participated for instance as second-in-command to Vitus Bering from the 1720s to the 1740s. Among other things, Spangsberg took part in expeditions to the northern Pacific and Kamchatka. The purpose of these expeditions was to explore, map and colonise the remote territories to the east of Siberia. From 1725-1730 they sailed to Kamchatka, where Tsar Peter the Great wanted to explore whether Asia and America were joined – and where to place the Imperial Russia’s eastern border.


In the summer of 1728 Vitus Bering and Spangsberg sailed on the ship Saint Gabriels up the channel that is known today as the Bering Strait, thus earning their place in the annals of history. However, the discovery of the strait was only one of many of Spangsberg’s talents. In the period 1733-1743 he took part in another expedition to Kamchatka, the so-called Great Nordic Expedition. The great expedition had even greater consequences, as Vitus Bering had to abandon his ship, the Saint Peter, in 1741 and land on an uninhabited island off the coast of Kamchatka. On this island, which was later named Bering Island, almost half of the crew perished – including Bering himself.

The Martin Spangsberg collection

To commemorate the local explorer Martin Spangsberg and his achievements in the service of the Russian tsar, Peter the Great, Tage Sørensen has in the past decades established a remarkable collection of a variety of objects. Most of the objects are copper etchings (chalographies) and original maps. In addition, the collection numbers many original books from the 18th and 19th centuries concerning the discoveries made and the journeys to the Arctic Ocean and the northern Pacific Ocean as well as literature about various related subjects (such as historical maps, travel guides and journals, atlases etc.).
In order to present this exhaustive collection to the public at large, all of the chalographies and maps, as well as the most valuable books, were digitised in 2016. A selection of these, together with a brief presentation, are available in the link below. PDF files of maps, chalographies and books are available upon request to fimus@fimus.dk. Please mark the subject ”Spangsberg-samlingen”.

A complete catalogue of the Martin Spangsberg collection containing a reading list and illustrations of maps and chalographies can be downloaded here.


Chalographies – or etchings – were mainly for the illustrations in first editions of travel journals from the 18th and 19th centuries. The illustration was painstakingly etched line by line on a polished copper plate with an engraver’s needle. When the plate was heated, all of the fine lines were covered with printer’s ink.
The illustration was printed on moistened paper with an etching press. Using this intaglio technique, up to 200 high-quality copies could be produced.
Many of these etchings illustrate descriptions of people, their clothes, traditions, houses and new animals or plants from the discovered regions. The descriptions themselves originate from travel journals or logbooks that were kept by the explorers (see some examples below).
John Webber was an artist on James Cook’s third expedition and many of the etchings from the South Seas were made by him.


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