Mikko Huhtamies: From Salvage to Lifesaving in the 18th-Century Baltic
The passage to St Petersburg (est. 1703) in the Gulf of Finland can be considered one of the most important 18th century crossroads in international shipping. Increased shipping resulted in several shipwrecks per year. In Helsinki and other coastal towns of the Gulf this brought forth a new kind of lucrative enterprise: organized salvage. Salvaging/diving companies (dykeri- och bärgningskompanier, 1729) became a new instrument with which to harvest the sea. Long-distant shipping from Helsinki (to Spain/Portugal) was largely based on these salvaged “recycled” ships or their parts.
The question of salvage in the Baltic and its relation to lifesaving is a virtually unexplored issue. The diving companies’ sources rarely mention rescued human lives. However, the salvors emphasize that they risked their own lives. Organized lifesaving was established by the Crown at the Gulf of Finland in the late 1860s, starting at the island of Hogland with the introduction of new lifesaving technology. Volunteer societies were established as late as in the 1890s. Wrecking transformed to lifesaving as well in Estonian Dagö—an island well-known for its respective opportunities.
Mikko Huhtamies is a lecturer at the University of Helsinki’s Department of Philosophy, History and Art Studies as well as at the Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies (Urbaria). His research focuses on maritime history from 1300 to 1900, shipwrecks and rescue operations, the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland, the history of cartography, the history of diving technology, and 16th century wars.
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