Project news, information on progress and articles that pertain to the topic of Svensksund.

The Russian Army Fleet at Svensksund during the fall of 1789

The first famed Battle of Svensksund took place on the 24th of August 1789 (13th of August according to the Russian calendar). The battle between the Russian and Swedish Army fleets resulted in a Swedish defeat. The victory was not decisive as most of the Swedish vessels along with the Swedish king himself, Gustavus III, were able to retreat to the west and find shelter at the Lovisa Svartholm fortress. The Russian Army fleet still had to deal with the Swedish forces which remained on land at Kymi. The Swedes were expelled from the are as the Russians launched a large campaign on the 1st of September 1789, disembarking troops on several different locations. The Russian Army fleet remained at Svensksund for the autumn, only returning to St. Petersburg as winter approached. Remains after Russian camsites and artillery positions can be found in several locations on the island of Kuutsalo outside the modern city of Kotka.

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Russian artillery position at Kuutsalo from the First Battle of Svensksund.

Boatsmen in the Swedish Army Fleet during the War of Gustavus III

The boatsmen that served onboard the Army fleet during the war of Gustavus III came from Swedish and Finnish boatsmen’s companies:
Roslag’s 2 Companies; Östergötland Company; Tjust Company; Bohuslän’s 2 Companies; Åland and Southern Finland Company; Gotland’s 2 Companies; The Cities of Skåne’s Company; Norrland’s 2 Companies; Södermanlands’ 2 Companies; Småland Company; Västergötland Company; Öland’s 2 companies; The Stockholm City Company; Uppstäderna’s Company.
The Åland and Southern Finland Company was the only company providing boatsmen from Finland. The region is predominately Swedish speaking which is probably a contributing reason why boatsmen were only recruited from this area.

Late 18th century Swedish Boatsman.

Svensksund, Gustavus III and the Finnish National Poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (5 February 1804 – 6 May 1877) was a Finnish-Swedish poet. He also made a career as a teacher in the town of Borgå (Fin. Porvoo). Runeberg is praised as the national poet of Finland and he is celebrated annually on February 5, the day of his birth.
Runeberg authored the lyrics of “Vårt land” (Eng. Our Land), that became the Finnish National Anthem. The poem is the first poem in the epic “Tales of Ensign Stål” (Swe. Fänrik Ståls sägner), which Runeberg wrote between 1848 and 1860. “Ensign Stål” is considered the greatest Finnish epic poem outside the native Kalevala tradition. The poem describes the events of the Finnish War (1808–1809) between Sweden and Russia. The poem also includes parts of the previous war of 1788-1790 and some of the characters represented in the poem are veterans of the earlier war.

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The Finnish National Poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg

The Black Horse and Ironside

The personal account of Nils Bruncrona of the first Battle of Svensksund

Captivating personal accounts occasionally emerge from the pages of history. One such story emerges from the diary of the Swedish Lieutenant, Nils Abraham Rabbe, later knighted Bruncrona. Bruncrona was a veteran of the War of Gustavus III and was taken prisoner during the first battle of Svensksund in 1789. Bruncrona was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1763. His father held a position at Uppsala University as professor of law. His father died early and the whole family had to move to Finland to live with a relative in Sagu parish. Nils enrolled in to the Swedish Army fleet at an early age. He also partook in two expeditions to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In 1789 he was adjutant on board the admiralty ship Björn Järnsida (Ironside), a turuma frigate named after a famous Viking warrior. The Ironside was under the command of Count C.A. Ehrensvärd. Bruncrona kept a journal during the war and the following article is mostly a rendering of his original accounts written in Swedish complemented with the battle report by Prince Nassau-Siegen.

Turuma-class frigate. Jacob Hägg. Swedish Maritime Museum, OB766.

The 1789 Battle of Svensksund

Two separate naval battles took place at Svensksund, just outside the modern city of Kotka, during the war of Gustavus III. The first battle of Svensksund took place on the 24th of August 1798 (the 13th of August according to the Russian Julian calendar), a year before the more known second battle of Svensksund. In both battles, the Russian Army Fleet outnumbered the Swedish Army Fleet.

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The Battle of Svenskund 1789 by J.T. Schoultz. Fo207422DIA. The Maritime Museum of Sweden.

The representation of war in museums - case Svensksund

War and conflict are sensitive subjects and therefore raise several moral questions which museum professionals are faced with. For instance curators at war museums can be expected to have the moral responsibility not to overlook the experiences of non-combatants in wartime. Jay Winter, who is an accomplished historian and a professor at Yale University, has written an article ‘Museums and the representation of War (Museum studies, Vol 10, No 3 2012)’ deals with these issues and I have used his article to further examine the representation of the Naval Battles of Svensksund.

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The small Svensksund 1790 exhibit in the Maritime Centre Vellamo will be replaced with a much more comprehensive exhibition in 2020.

The ethnic composition of the crew of the St. Nikolai

In my last article about the wedding comb, I raised the question of how a comb apparently belonging to a small Finno-Ugric group, within the Russian Empire, ended up inside the wreck of Saint Nikolai. Since the discovery of the comb, another one of similar style and pattern has also emerged. The appearance of the latter comb points to the Mordvins as well. As the Russian ship St. Nikolai sank beneath the waves of Svensksund on the 9th of July 1790 the Mordvins were not the only ethnic group onboard the St. Nikolai, as the following evidence will point out.

Bashkir riders in Europe in 1813. Башкирские казаки в Европе, 1813 год. Source Wikimedia commons.

The wedding comb of St. Nikolai

The wreck of Russian frigate St. Nikolai has been a subject of ongoing research since 1948, when it was discovered. Over 2300 artifacts has been excavated from the wreck are stored in the collections of The Maritime Museum of Finland and The Kymenlaakso museum. These objects as whole provide us a tantalizing glimpse to the life on board in the 18th century. Most of the objects, that were retrieved by divers, are personal, small everyday things by nature which had belonged to the members of the crew.

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The special comb from the St. Nikolai. H61200:98.