This is the story of a Russian merchant ship, a carvel-built three-masted galliot, 25 m long.
In the autumn of 1747 she was under the command of captain Carl Poulsen Amiel, sailing from Amsterdam to St Petersburg with luxury goods. Unfortunately the Finnish winter was very early this year. She probably sank off the coast in snowy or icy weather and probably nobody survived. There is actually a note in the local Finnish county register of a shipwreck in this area. Besides that, the St Michael was forgotten for 200 years.
In 1953, a fishing net got stuck in the waters off Borstö Island, Finland. When this was reported to the Navy, a diver was sent down and a very well preserved wreck was discovered at a depth of 42 m. All three masts were still standing up.
For many years the ship was known simply as the Borstö wreck. Finally, after extensive archival research, it was identified by historian Christian Ahlström, of Helsinki. In the files of the Danish customs, he found a detailed description of the St Michael, and the cargo, written when the ship entered the Baltic Sea in October 1747.
The ship has been partially excavated during several seasons of investigation by the Maritime Museum of Finland, headed by the project leader, diving archaeologist Anna Nurmio. Hundreds of artefacts have been recovered from the cargo. Golden watches, golden snuff boxes (photo below), luxury clothing are among the finds. There was even an entire beautifully decorated cariole (two-wheeled one-horse carriage) in the cargo. This cariole was intended for the Russian Czarina, Elisabeth Petrovna. The cross staff on the photo to the left was found in 1986. It was used for astronomical navigation.
Between 1995 and 1999 several pieces of intact Meissen porcelain dishes and miniature sculptures were found. This kind of porcelain has never before been found in a shipwreck. All pieces were packed in moss prior to shipment, which perhaps explains why they are not broken. Some of the sculptures were made by the famous porcelain artist Johann Friedrich Böttger. These sculptures were precious collectors' items already in the 18th century. Of the dishes, seven different series have been found. On the photo to the right is a dish painted in purple in Deutsche Blumen decor (photo by Markku Haverinen). After cleaning and conservation the porcelain pieces looked like brand-new.
Although there have been proposals to lift the ship, the required conservation and storage would cost much more than the actual lifting. Another proposal has been to lift it and then place it in a water tank on land.
Looking for Leads
This shipwreck is only one of those described in Christian Ahlström's 1997 book Looking for Leads, which can be ordered through international distributors. Here is an extract from the book:
Per Åkesson, 1998-99
The drawing is made by Henry Forssell, Helsinki. Porcelain photo by Markku Haverinen, courtesy Maritime Museum of Finland. Other photos courtesy Josef Braun. Page rev apr '10
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