Mikael Carlsson writes about the Chalmers founder's final days
On July 3, 1811 [Cancellie-Rådet] and Commander William Chalmers died, or, as he himself would put it, left this earth for a better world.
The sun was ablaze, with no relief provided by the gentle sea breeze - the thermometer stood at 29.5 degrees, and the heat was too much for Chalmers on that day.
The maid Catharina Nyqvist had done what was in her power to relieve Chalmers' discomfort. The outcome was a given - Chalmers had not sought a cure for his "debilitating disease".
The week prior, Chalmers had mostly sat and looked out at his old workplace, the warehouse and auction space for the East India Company. All his life a passionate wine connoisseur, all he wanted now was to sip his beloved English tea. On many happier days, Catharina would run down to the cellar to bring back a bottle of wine for Chalmers and his many guests.
And of course there had been some amazing years. Chalmers delighted guests with stories from the Far East, and if that was not enough, entertained them with chess and other board games.
Chalmers had amassed an extensive library, but recently he was interested in only one book: one which dealt with education for poor children. And industrial schools in Germany. That school reformer Broocman was obviously a wise fellow. Chalmers need to draw up a will; this much became clear when Mr. Chalmers sat discussing with Dr. Dubb three weeks prior.
Although he had suffered at the end, he still had time to reflect and look back on his life.
Chalmers was born on November 13, 1748. When the news of the death of his father, merchant William Chalmers Sr., reached him, he was just eleven years old.
His mother Inga Orre survived her husband by six years. Fortunately for the orphaned boy, they left him substantial capital which would now be used in the best way possible.
Chalmers felt satisfied with how he had progressed in life. Compared to his brothers, he had done very well. He made several study trips to destinations such as England, France and Holland. At the age of 26, he was recognized with an induction into the Science and Letters society in Gothenburg.
Next came the prestigious assignment to represent the East India Company in China. His title was "kvarliggande superkargör".
Chalmers stayed in China for ten years, not returning home until 1793. The East India Company had problems, and he was asked to come home to help take care of it. He was to become director of the Company. Several circumstances in the outside world had contributed to the company's troubles. Chalmers used his good contacts in England, and initially it looked very promising. The company's sales multiplied during the first few years under his leadership.
Then came the setbacks.
Chalmers thought back on all his travels, all his efforts, with bitterness. The hardest part was probably two years prior, when the company declared bankruptcy without consulting with him. He had been on another trip to negotiate new contracts. As soon as he returned home, he found out the ugly news. To add insult to injury, they attempted to blame him for the miserable state of affairs.
Time had passed quickly with the massive, time-consuming engagements he was involved with. As the end approached, he became very aware of the situation of the poor and sick. He had been involved in social issues as a member of the Johannes mason's lodge in 1770. His work on the poverty committee, of which he had been a member since 1795, had been slow-going.
Perhaps now it was time to dedicate serious effort to the issue.
He decided to write his will when family doctor Pehr Dubb informed him that the end was near.
Chalmers had trust in his old fraternity brother; they had known each other for at least thirty years, and so Chalmers turned to Dubb to discuss the content of his will. They agreed that "begging will never be stopped unless children are first taught other ways to earn their bread."
Chalmers decided that half his estate would go to Sahlgrenska Hospital, and the other half to an industrial school to be opened for poor children that could read and write.
Text by Mikael Carlsson
Photo by Jan-Olof Yxell
Previously published in Chalmers magasin No. 1|2006