Written by Jan Perry, Museum volunteer, with Gabrielle Sexton, Museum volunteer
Anna Gadd, her spouse Johan Frederik Gadd and her young son Julius Gadd, of Abo/Turku Finland spent many years at sea, sailing all over the world and, in particular, to South Australia. Their ships, three and four masted, brought goods to Australia and carried grain from South Australia’s wheat belt to Europe.
Anna and Fred kept in touch with friends they’d made in Adelaide whilst in South Australian ports loading grain and wool for Europe. Their friends were Vera and David Deex. David Deex worked at Weman’s ships' chandlery and sailmakers in Lipson Street. The South Australian Maritime Museum occupies the Weman’s building now. The Gadd letters are part of the Museum’s archival collection, having been donated by the Deex Family.
The letters were written by Anna’s husband Frederik between 1907 and 1930. They are addressed to the Deex family. The two families had met through the business of shipping, so they are full of news about shipping. Vera and David Deex lived in Durham Terrace, Alberton, near Port Adelaide.
The letters reflect the reality of life, and death, at sea in the first quarter of the 20th century, especially for mariners on sailing ships engaged in the merchant trade across the globe. In the first letter, of 1904, Annie, Fred and Julius are in Port Victoria. They are all in good health but concerned about desertions from the Finnish ships. Fred asks for sweets and chocolate to be sent to his ship. Fred reminds David to write to the Russian Consul.
In London in 1907, (letter 2) Captain Gadd mentions that their most recent passage (from Australia to London) was very long, having taken 156 days, and that Julius has nearly lost his left hand due to an accident with a boom.
In letter 3 from Cardiff in 1916, Anna, Fred and Julius Gadd are living ashore and looking for work. The Cambrian Princess, their former ship, has been sold in Rio and they have brought two passenger steamers to England ‘to run on the East African coast’. He writes: ‘It is risky to move about here; it is no fun....when coming from Havre, in the “Matheus”, (we had) a German submarine alongside – but he had no time to fire at us, as a British patrol boat came up and frightened him away, so you see it was a close shave for us.’
Back in Finland, and retired, letter 4 is from Abo on August 1, 1927. The Deex family have been sending the South Australian newspapers and Fred is grateful. He laments the demise of the sailing ship and describes how he and Anna felt when they had to ‘break up’ their ship Rowena in Antwerp. He tells of other ‘old’ captains who have retired in his district – ‘Old Helsten’ of “Lindesfarne” is bank manager at Nystad and is married to a young girl and got a 4 year old daughter, just fancy the old boy, someone said poor Helsten.We were together at Macabi Island (Peru) when the girl was born’.
In 1928 and still at home in Abo/Turku, Finland Anna and Fred have purchased a steamship the Aura. Anna has had two operations within a month on her Adam’s Apple. Fred has sent the South Australian newspapers to the Harbour authorities so that they can see how the strikers are to be managed. ..’we have what we call “Skyddskar” this is all good and true men young and old fully armed just as soldiers and trained, we are about 400,000 men and women nurses and servants. ..This guard takes the kink out of the bolshevists backbone, every one of this guard lives at home and has their arms always at home......this guard is kept going by private money gathered by ordinary people and women’s needlework and so on.’
By November 1930 Fred Gadd is asking ‘but what has become of Australia now?...it is on account of all the Russians.’ (There have been wharf strikes in Australia.) Anna has had three operations and radium treatment in Stockholm since their last letter. She has a throat tumor. In this letter he gives the following list of Finnish mariners en route to Australia.
‘The Finn sailors are on the way out to you again, mostly to Port Lincoln.
“Archibald Russel” 20/9 for Port Lincoln
“Herzogin Cecilie’” 19/10 for Port Lincoln
“Lawhill” 12/9 for Port Lincoln
“Melbourne” 24/9 for Port Lincoln
“Viking” 6/9 for Port Lincoln from Callao
“Favell” 2/10 for Port Lincoln
“Hougomont” 7/8 from Vancouver to Port Natal
“Killoran” 27/8 from Copenhagen to Delgoa Bay
“Penang” was at Luderitz Bay 26/9
“Pommern” 8/9 to Cape Town
“Winterhude” 2/8 to Beira, Southeast Africa
‘Some of them sailors that are bound to S. Africa I expect will also come to Australia.’