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Linnaeus’ tea set, adorned with loops of the flower that bears his name – Linnaea Borealis. Photo: Teddy Thörnlund.

At home with
the Linnaeus family

The house was built in 1693 as the home of the director of the botanical garden. The architect was the university’s great reformist, professor of medicine, Olof Rudbeck the Elder. When Linnaeus moved in, the house had been empty for a number of years, and was, according to Linnaeus, “more like a robbers’ den and an owl’s nest” than a professor’s residence. The house was renovated for Linnaeus’ and his family, and in 1743 they could move in.

Opposite the dwelling, on the other side of the front yard, there stood farm buildings including a henhouse, brewing house, servants’ quarters and a coach house. A fence separated the more private sphere from the botanical garden, where there was always a good deal of hustle and bustle. Linnaeus gave practical lessons in the garden, where master gardener Nietzel worked with a large number of assistant gardeners. The garden was not limited to exotic plants: there were also exotic animals. In the garden’s vivarium (as it was called) there were hamsters, several species of ape, parrots, raccoons, and for a short while a small agouti (a relative of the guinea pig) from South America, over which both Linnaeus and his wife shed tears when it died.

Linnaeus seems to have had a warm affection for his animals, and he observed and described them with great perspicacity. There were animals in the house too, including a cockatoo which learned to imitate Linnaeus’ voice, to the confusion of visitors. Linnaeus also had a dog, but perhaps the best-known story is about the raccoon, which shamelessly reached into visitors’ pockets in search of titbits, stole food from the kitchen, and was frequently chased out by Linnaeus’ wife and the servants.

The house in which Linnaeus lived looks fairly large with its three storeys and many rooms, but when one considers how much activity went on there at the same time, it appears fairly cramped by today’s standards. The large room on the upper floor was Linnaeus’ private lecture room. It was visited by students with a particular interest in the subject. In the adjoining rooms, Linnaeus had a library, a study and his collections, from which he could quickly fetch any natural object he wished to display. Linnaeus’ lectures were popular, and occasionally the attendance was so great that there was a queue on the stairs.

The couple’s children who grew up in the house were four daughters and one son. Linnaeus and his wife Sara-Lisa had another two children who died when they were small. Linnaeus had a special relationship with his youngest daughter, Sophia. When she was born she was not breathing, but Linnaeus managed to help her with artificial respiration. The son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, took over his father’s professorship but died as early as 1783 of pneumonia. The following incumbent was Carl Peter Thunberg, who lived in the house for a few years. The entire botanical garden was eventually moved to its present site below the castle, as well the director of the garden and the plants. The house then became the official residence the University’s director musices, and so remained until 1934, when the composer Hugo Alfvén retired. The Swedish Linnaeus Society then took over management of this building, which has so many stories to tell.

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