Time capsule at the bottom of the lake - The steamboat "Jura"

Intro

Time capsule below the surface The steamboat JURA

"...then suddenly a huge black shadow appears - the silhouette of the ship's hull emerges..."

Henrik Pohl (underwater archaeologist), 2007 Eisenmann et al.: Denkmalgerechtes Tauchen. Unterwasserarchäologie. Wracktauchen. Spezialkurse zur Tauchausbildung, 2007, S. 7.

On February 12. 1864, the steamship "Jura" sinks to the bottom of Lake Constance after a collision with the "Stadt Zürich". The accident is soon forgotten. Only about 100 years later the wreck is rediscovered by coincidence.

Diver at the anchor winch of the "Jura" © Andrew Haller

At a depth of 40 meters the "Jura" presents one of the most challenging diving destinations on Lake Constance. What makes it so fascinating for divers from all over the world? The spectacular wreck is one of the few known industrial monuments under water. Legends surround the former cargo ship that go far beyond its original significance.

Bad luck vessel

Bad luck vessel

The fog muffles all the noise and the view reaches little further than 15 steps. Heavily loaded the "Jura" travels on its route from Lindau to Konstanz.

"Collision of the two steamboats "Jura" and "Zurich" near Münsterlingen. Get yourself over here right now."

Telegram to the steward of the Bavarian Lake Constance steamboat company in Lindau Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv

The telegram arriving in Lindau on February 12, 1864 at 12:45 p.m. does not immediately state the gravity of the situation. Space is limited and there is no information about the course of events or the seriousness of the accident.

The collision

Between Romanshorn and Konstanz the fog thickens. Captain Martin Motz orders the constant ringing of the ship's bell.

Ship bell of the "Jura" Picture and owner: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch

Passing by the "Stadt Zürich" must be imminent. When the chime of the oncoming ship is heard at about 10:50 a.m., Motz gives the command "Back". Too late - the "Stadt Zürich" already rams into the bow of the "Jura".

"...suddenly there was a crash. The iron stove toppled and the cabin windows were smashed in one by one."

Wilhelmine Kreusin (milliner, passenger), 1864 Picture: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch

The "Stadt Zürich" tears a big hole in the front part of the "Jura", where the 2nd class salon is located. On impact the sailor Martin Rupflin, who is ringing the bell, loses his life. The ship's boy Andreas Buschor is seriously injured. The courageous intervention by the captain of the "Jura" can prevent worse: he immediately orders the steamer to be evacuated, carries the unconscious ship's boy to the "Stadt Zürich", saves the ship's cash and is the last to leave the damaged ship.

Collision of the steamers "Ludwig" and "Stadt Zürich" 1861 Picture: Joh. Wirth, Der Untergang des Dampfbootes Ludwig, Öldruck, 1861, Inv.-Nr.: G.l.s.s. 4, Stadtmuseum Lindau

Already three years earlier, the "Stadt Zürich" rams another ship. In a storm, the "Ludwig", too, sinks within a few minutes, leaving 13 people dead. To replace the sunken steamship, the "Dampfboot-Actiengesellschaft Lindau" shortly later acquires the "Jura".

"Devil's Vessel"

The "Stadt Zürich" owes its nickname to a multitude of collisions. On 10 March 1860 it rams the "Königin von Württemberg", on 11 March 1861 it sank the "Ludwig" and on 12 February 1864 the "Jura". Only a few months later she damaged the "Stadt Lindau". Subsequently a journalist suggested selling the ship to Denmark, as it had already sunk more German ships than the entire Danish navy in the Schleswig-Holstein War of 1864. After modernisation in 1870, the ship remained in service under the new name "Zürich" until 1917/18.

Postcard, sent on 13 September 1901 Collection Seemuseum

After its evacuation, the "Stadt Zürich" reverses out of the fuselage of the "Jura", which sinks only moments after the collision. Crew and passengers are returned to Romanshorn.

Damage to the "Jura" Picture: Stephan Siroky

Involun­tary man­slaughter?

One dead body and extensive material damage trigger an investigation. These, as well as other collisions, affect shipping traffic all over Lake Constance.

Investigations are carried out ex officio both in Bavaria and in the canton of Thurgau mainly based on witness statements regarding the cause of the accident, involun­tary manslaughter, and bodily injury. The captain of the "Stadt Zürich", Jakob Blumer, faces serious accusations.

Sketch of the sequence of events leading to the accident, "Records of investigation concerning the collision of the two steamboats "Stadt Zürich" and "Jura" on 12 February 1864 Picture: Polt Martin ©Staatsarchiv des Kantons Thurgau

Accusations that Blumer acted too late cannot be substantiated. All parties involved are eventually acquitted and the proceedings are discontinued. Nevertheless, the Swiss Northeast Railway dismisses its helmsman, Ciprian Strehler. Captain Blumer himself resigns a few days later. For the crew of the "Jura" the accident has no personnel consequences.

Cover of the investigation files of the General Directorate of the Royal Transport Authorities [Lindau]. Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Repertorium Nr. 36 (Schifffahrt – Flüsse und Seen (Ministerium), Ehemaliges Verkehrsarchiv, Generaldirektion der Verkehrsanstalten 143)

The main cause of the disaster are inadequate safety measures: Probably the paddlewheels drowned out the bell and the fog further muffled the warning signal. As a result of this and other incidents, larger safety distances during manoeuvring and the installation of steam whistles are mandated from now on. Coloured navigation lights, as they are already in use on other lakes at the time, are not yet approved by the authorities on Lake Constance.

Model ship built by Frank Rheiner based on drawings by Erich Liechti and a general plan by Ulrich Seitz. Collection Seemuseum

These safety standards are so common today that they were fitted in a model ship of the "Jura", although in reality she did not have them. The expert only discovers the fault when the model is already in the showcase.

Contemporary witness

Contem­porary witness

The "Jura" is to be salvaged. Four bids have been received in response to the corresponding invitation to tender issued by the General Directorate of the Royal Bavarian Transport Authority.

  • Helmed diver during work on the "Ludwig", 1862 Picture: Stadtarchiv Friedrichshafen: Bodenseebibliothek.

    Among the applicants for the salvaging is the portrayed Wilhelm Bauer, who invented the "Brandtaucher", the first German submarine. He has also gathered experience in salvaging sunken ships on Lake Constance.

Salvaging is not only about the later reutilisation of the ships, but also about the removal of any obstacles. Depending on the extent of the damage, the steamers are then stripped for parts and scrapped or restored.

Wilhelm Bauer, Plan for Salvaging Ships, 1857 Picture: Deutsches Museum, München, Archiv, BN47257; Animation: Stefan Köther

The submarine engineer Wilhelm Bauer, who is working for the Russian Navy at the time, creates drawings of the salvaging technology for sunken ships in 1857. In 1863 he salvages the sunken "Ludwig" at Lake Constance. For the "Jura", on the other hand, the corresponding endeavours are abandoned in the summer of 1864. A lift from a depth of 40 metres is probably too much effort. Also, the ship is technically outdated by now.

Major changes

When the "Jura" is built in 1854, the railway reaches the Swiss lakeshores. Many steamers become redundant due to the competition.

Port of Neuchâtel, around 1856 Picture: Musée d'art et d'histoire, Neuchâtel (Suisse)

The only known photograph of the "Jura" depicts the ship around 1856 in the port of Neuchâtel. Only a few years later, competition from the railway on Lake Neuchâtel is so strong that the fleet has to be scaled-down. The reason for this is larger quantities of goods, which require more efficient means of transport. In comparison, the steamers perform poorly because the transfer of goods from trains to ships is laborious manual work. Moreover, transport by water is much slower than by rail. In the course of this structural change, the "Jura" is sold via detours to Lindau on Lake Constance.

Heavy goods transport through Switzerland

Now that the "Jura" has become redundant on Lake Neuchâtel, the "Société de Bateaux à vapeur du Lac de Neuchâtel" is planning to deploy the ship during the tourist season on Lake Lucerne at their own expense. The two shipping companies based there are not enthusiastic about competition. They decide to buy the ship for CHF 60,000, roughly half of the original purchasing price of CHF 137,000. The steamer is dismantled and transported to Central Switzerland by horse and carts. Here the "Jura" disappears into storage, as the existing fleet covers the demand. With the sale for CHF 70,000 to Lake Constance, the two companies in Central Switzerland end up with a loss of around CHF 44,000, as they still have to pay for the two transports, the assembly and dismantling costs.

The screw steamer "Speer" is taken by horse-drawn carriage back to Lake Zurich in one piece in 1897. ETH-Bibliothek Zurich, Picture Archive (photographer unknown / Ans_05547-059-AL-FL / Public Domain Mark)

The size of Lake Constance with the special situation of various neighbouring states means that the structural transformation in the transport sector takes a different course than in the rest of Switzerland. Because the cross-connections across the lake can hardly be replaced by rail.

Map of Lake Constance, relief representation of its surroundings and timetables of the four railway lines, 1857 Illustrated newspaper of 9 May 1857, Rutishauser Kunst- und Kulturfonds, Kreuzlingen; Detail Lightboxes: Bodenseebibliothek, Signatur K 26/2004

The consequence of this is a specialisation in ships. Large ferries for the transport of goods travel the crossings. The steamers carry mainly passengers now and are being converted accordingly.

Postcard, sent on 13 July 1908 Collection Seemuseum Postcard, sent on 13 July 1908 Collection Seemuseum

The postcard shows the loaded Bavarian ship "Dampftrajekt II" in the port of Romanshorn. These train ferries are real workhorses that are in service on Lake Constance since 1869. They carry up to 18 loaded railway wagons. However, their coal consumption is considerable. This earns them the nickname "coal eaters".

Older ships like the "Jura" carried passengers below deck. More modern steamers, such as the "St. Gotthard" depicted here, offer travelers a comfortable journey even in bad weather with salons built up on deck. On these ships there is hardly any space left for goods.

Ice cream at the port

A sherbet seller in the port of Konstanz. What would have been unthinkable in the days of freight transport becomes reality with increasing steamship tourism in the 1860s. The ports are expanded to make boarding easier. Hotels, restaurants, spa facilities and bathing establishments are built around them. The age of steamers with simple design to transport goods, is over. Ships of this first generation, such as the "Jura", are converted into passenger ships or scrapped in the 1870s.

Postcard Collection Seemuseum

Out of sight, out of mind: the "Jura", already outdated in 1864, is quickly forgotten after only ten years of operation and an eventful history. It will take almost 90 years to rediscover her.

Diving destination

Diving desti­nation

In February 1953, during the search for a crashed plane, Ludwig Hain accidentally discovers the "Jura". The discovery is kept secret.

The helmet diving equipment Hain used on Lake Constance in the 1950s weighs at least 70 kg. The experienced wreck diver works for scrap metal dealer Martin Hugo Schaffner. During search operations Hain is pulled across the lake on a harness.

Ludwig Hain putting on a diving helmet, around 1950 Picture: Lino von Gartzen, courtesy of family Hain

"Bomber-Schaffner"

Petrol station owner Martin Hugo Schaffner suffers from the petrol price war in the 1940s. Inspired by a picture in an American magazine, he decides to salvage a ditched bomber from Lake Zug. After two years of preparation, he and his team actually succeed. The shrewd businessman sells tickets for the tour around the plane and thereby turns the scrap metal into cash. A tour through the whole of Switzerland follows and "Bomber-Schaffner" — as he is now known - successfully fishes for planes in other waters. From Lake Constance alone he salvages ten planes.

Conductor with diver Gottlieb Scherrer and swiss wrestling champion Josef Schnellmann, Zug, 1952 Picture: Collection Oskar Rickenbacher

After the accidental discovery, Schaffner wants to salvage the wreck and market it as a restaurant. But he dies during the planning phase. Hain can’t shake the thought of the "Jura" so together with his colleague Heinz-Günter Masermann he tries to raise funds for the salvage. From 1969 onwards they and their small team of privy divers, photographically document the well preserved ship for the first time.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The first thing Ludwig Hain sees of the "Jura" is a "white chimney". Perhaps it is the steam release pipe photographed later.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The glass panels at the doors of the companionways to the passenger salons are still partially intact.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

On the toilet door that was later removed the inscription "Abtritt" ("privy") is clearly legible on the enamel plate.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The wreck is labelled "JURA" with iron letters on on both sides of the paddle wheels boxes.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The first thing Ludwig Hain sees of the "Jura" is a "white chimney". Perhaps it is the steam release pipe photographed later.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The glass panels at the doors of the companionways to the passenger salons are still partially intact.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

On the toilet door that was later removed the inscription "Abtritt" ("privy") is clearly legible on the enamel plate.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The wreck is labelled "JURA" with iron letters on on both sides of the paddle wheels boxes.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The first thing Ludwig Hain sees of the "Jura" is a "white chimney". Perhaps it is the steam release pipe photographed later.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The glass panels at the doors of the companionways to the passenger salons are still partially intact.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

On the toilet door that was later removed the inscription "Abtritt" ("privy") is clearly legible on the enamel plate.

Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

The wreck is labelled "JURA" with iron letters on on both sides of the paddle wheels boxes.

The first thing Ludwig Hain sees of the "Jura" is a "white chimney". Perhaps it is the steam release pipe photographed later.

"As you will know, we have discovered the "Jura". I myself recovered the bell in 1975."

H.K. (Diver), 29.3.1980 in a letter to Escher Wyss AG Picture: Heinz-Günter Masermann, 1969. Courtesy of I. Masermann

Despite investigations at the manufacturer of the "Jura", which are documented in the correspondence from diver H.K., it is not possible to raise the necessary funds for a salvage. Another reason to abandon the project is that the wreck is being discovered for a second time.

Treasure hunt

After indications of a shipwreck near Münsterlingen, Hans Gerber begins the most important search of his life in the summer of 1974.

Without exact clues leading to the scene of the accident, the plans of Gerber and other members of the Kreuzlingen diving club have little chance of success. The longer the search continues, the more the numbers of divers are dwindling. But "Jura-Hans" is determined. After 52 dives, on 25 September 1976, he finally discovers the "Jura".

Picture: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch
Diver at a staircase allowing passengers to board from a dinghy, 1970s/1980s Picture: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch

The visit to the "Jura" is initially reserved for Hans Gerber's colleagues. He leads them to the right entry point, which he determines by bearing points on land. Already during these first dives souvenirs are taken to the surface.

  • Stretcher, cart and anchor, found 1976 in the mud next to the "Jura" Picture: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch

    The recovery of heavy objects such as the anchor, the hand truck or the pack frame is very risky. If the amount of air in the balloon lifting them to the surface is incorrectly dosed, the buoyancy body could break through the water surface. As a result, the air escapes from the balloon, the object crashes back into the depths and threatens to kill the divers.

Suddenly famous

More and more divers visit the "Jura". Soon the demand is so frequent that the dive is commercially marketed.

The "Jura" becomes known beyond the diving circles. In the meantime, the media, too, become aware of it. The highlight of the coverage is a live broadcast directly from the "Jura" in 1986. The unusual edition of the TV show "Karussell" increases awareness of the "Jura" immensely.

Screenshot of the TV-show "Karussell", 31. Mai 1986 Picture: Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen SRF

Due to high demand, commercial trips to the wreck are organised. Still without GPS, participants depend on someone to guide them to the right place. Since only a few know the place, the search for the ship is conducted with towing anchors. This causes severe damage to the "Jura".

Port side wheel house, 2013 © Bernd Nies

Due to the ongoing destruction, various private individuals are calling on the authorities to take action and protect the wreck. This also reflects a new assessment of the recent past: industrial history is increasingly gaining recognition as a cultural asset.

Industrial heritage

Indu­strial heritage

In 2004, the canton of Thurgau takes possession of the wreck and places it under protection. This relaunches the debate on the handling of cultural assets under water.

As a souvenir of their excursion, the divers not only bring impressive pictures back to the surface. Again and again, moving objects are pocketed or larger parts are removed. The ship and its contents are in serious danger.

„The Jura was [a] beautiful steamboat. Unfortunately, the wreckage is no longer in such good condition. Many souvenir hunters have nicked all sorts of things over the years."

Bernd Nies (diver), 2013 Picture: © Bernd Nies

Archaeological remains do not disintegrate at equal pace depending on their environment. Without diving, dropping anchors or manipulation, the preservation conditions in fresh water at 40 metres depth are ideal. Decomposition processes advance very slowly.

Diver at the bowsprit of the "Jura", 2010 © Andrew Haller

At 4° C the temperature on the bottom of the lake is constantly low. This and the lack of light and oxygen slows down the decay process caused by microbes.

One of 26 portholes, 2013 © Bernd Nies

Exhaled air introduced by divers severely accelerates decomposition. For this reason, diving inside the wreck is nowadays prohibited.

At 4° C the temperature on the bottom of the lake is constantly low. This and the lack of light and oxygen slows down the decay process caused by microbes.

Collapsing cell walls

Preserving archaeological wet wood is complex because cell walls weakened by water and decomposition collapse and shrink while drying. They have to be supported and strengthened from the inside by substitutes and additives (e.g. plastic, sugar). The spalling of the hammer from the engine room of the "Jura" shows that improper conservation has stopped these processes insufficiently. This object is even more challenging because it consists of different materials that require different conservation methods.

Hammer from the engine room of the "Jura", salvaged between 1976 and 2004 Collection Seemuseum. Picture: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch

Various poorly preserved parts of the ship prove that conservation on land poses great challenges. For this reason, the "Jura" is not salvaged and her condition is constantly monitored by the Archaeological Office of the Canton of Thurgau.

Fragment of door, presumably recovered from the companionway to the second class salon, in 1977 or 1983 Collection Seemuseum. Picture: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch

Common cultural heritage

The past belongs to the general public. Monuments like the "Jura" are therefore protected, documented and exhibited.

After the divers initially fear a diving ban, authorities collaborate with them on a code of conduct for the "Jura". This enhances understanding for the protected status, because the common desire for long-term conservation unites them.

Notes to document the "Jura", 2017 Picture: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch /GUE Global Underwater Explorers, Marcel Ruckstuhl

Since there are no construction plans of the "Jura" left, comprehensive scientific documentation is imperative. In 2017, on behalf of the cantonal archaeological office the wreck is comprehensively surveyed and its condition recorded. With these results, non-divers can also be drawn under the spell of the "Jura" whilst divers gain precise knowledge about their diving destination. Just how great its fascination is, is proven by the fact that "Jura-Hans" has been to the bottom of the lake over 800 times.

"It lies [...] largely in the hands of divers whether they want to continue to preserve a great diving destination for future generations."

Hansjörg Brem (Cantonal archaeologist Thurgau), 2019
Wreck of the Jura on the surface, 2018 Movie: AATG Amt für Archäologie Thurgau, www.archaeologie.tg.ch / GUE Global Underwater Explorers / bemoved productions

It cannot be ruled out that one day another significant wreck may appear in Lake Constance. Thanks to the experience with the "Jura", newly discovered underwater monuments can be better protected and preserved for posterity.

Hint

Hint

Unique objects like this can only be experienced live in the exhibition. Outside the protective display case the lard pot from the ship's galley would be an olfactory experience, too. But if you get very close, you can smell the scent of a bygone era.