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Gotlands – the nation that vanished

There have been many occasions in this Lundensaren column when there has been reason to refer to Carl Sjöström and his printed nation registers. In fact, it is almost impossible to bypass Sjöström and his work if you are interested in life writing relating to Lund University and its students.

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City bailiff and life writer Carl Sjöström, here ceremonially attired as master of ceremonies of the boisterous student fraternal order, CC, from whose archive this photo (a cropped group photo from about 1890) is taken.

Carl Sjöström (1851–1918) was the son of a market gardener and thus a first-generation academic when, in 1872, he enrolled in the university whose alumni he would later study so intensively. He was a public official who worked as city bailiff in Lund from1889 until his retirement in 1916. One can surmise that the workload of this post was not that onerous, judging from the extensive research and life writing that Sjöström managed to do in parallel. The result was a number of printed registers of various groups of people, ranging from a rather small circle such as Lund’s mayors over the centuries to more extensive listings of all members of Lund’s St. Knut’s Guild over a period of more than 200 years.

Not least, Sjöström focused on Lund’s student nations and their members. After he produced his first register in 1883, of the Skånska nation, he went on to produce ten more such works, the last of which was posthumously published in 1922. By then he had covered all members of the nations that existed during his lifetime with the exception of the five new nations created through the division of the Skånska nation in 1889/1890 (for Sjöström, not enough time had passed for these members to have done anything of great historic interest) and the Östgöta nation, which instead had been covered by another life writing enthusiast, a vicar from Östergötland, Axel Setterdahl. In addition, Sjöström produced books about two Lund nations that disappeared: the short-lived Norrlands nation (active around 1803–1846) and Södermanlands nation (active 1838–1847).

However, Sjöström did not cover one of the Lund nations that vanished: Gotlands nation, which was active during the 1700s. Why was this? It was not because he was ignorant of its existence, as Sjöström mentions Gotlands nation several times in his register of Blekingska nation – a few students from Gotlands chose to become members, as their own nation had been disbanded. This meant that Blekinge nation’s inspector (supervisor) could for some time proudly claim to be head of “the united Blekingska, Kristianstads and Gotlands nations”. No, the most likely reason for Sjöström’s omission was a lack of source material. In contrast to the other Lund nations – disbanded as well as extant – Gotlands nation did not, as far as is known, leave an archive: no enrolment register, no protocols, no accounts or any other trace of their activities.

Nevertheless, there is still a way to find out about this vanished organisation (an option that Sjöström possibly missed), namely through a series of documents in the University archives: the so-called nation, semester or lecture tables. These tables, which all nations should regularly submit to the University, acted as documentation for statistics, social control and follow ups concerning the students, their life circumstances and the progress of their studies. Unfortunately, only fragments of the tables prior to the 1800s have been preserved, but even so, Gotlands nation submitted enough tables to be able to piece together a picture of the nation’s activity and size, as well as the names of a number of its members.

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This “Lecture Table” from the autumn semester of 1785 is the last preserved example from Gotlands nation. The table shows that all members went to one or more of the same three professors’ lectures: economist Clas Blechert Trozelius, orientalist Gustaf Sommelius and philosopher Matthaeus Fremling. Trozelius was Gotlands nation’s inspector for most of its known existence and Sommelius was his successor in the period just before the Gotlands students joined Blekingska nation.
Photo source: Lund University archives.

The very earliest Gotlands nation tables we have found are undated, but are probably from around 1703 and 1707 respectively and list a total of six names. After that, it took several decades before the nation’s tables turn up again in 1774–1785. It is not likely that there was a direct organisational link between the nation at the start of the century and that which figured in the latter half, so we have focused only on the later tables. There are preserved tables from nine semesters, mainly in the 1770s. Unfortunately, in several cases these consist merely of statistical summaries (division of members by faculty, age group and social background), but in a total of four tables between the spring semester of 1775 and autumn semester of 1785, the members’ names are listed, and it is therefore possible to compile a partial register of Gotlands nation consisting of 18 names in total. To this can be added a number of names found in other sources, namely people listed as Gotlands nation members in the University’s central enrolment register and printed doctoral conferment ceremony programmes. A complete inventory of the latter is not yet finalised, but to date we have found at least six such potential members. There are reservations regarding these, as we do not know whether the term “Gotlänning” actually refers to formal membership of the nation or just their geographical background. The former, however, is considered the most likely.

Looking at the Gotlands nation students as a group, there are two things that stand out. Firstly, that a large number of them studied in Uppsala before they came to Lund. In Uppsala there was then, as now a Gotlands nation, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the equivalent in Lund which arose in the 1770s was due to these Uppsala alumni, who, having been used to having their own nation, did not want to join another when they moved to Lund, and therefore created a sister organisation. Secondly, that a majority of the members for whom more detailed biographical information was available – around two-thirds – became priests, very often on their home island of Gotland. For this reason, their later lives can be followed in O W Lemke’s diocesan annals, Visby stifts herdaminne (1868). Reading about the lives of these Lund students in the annals is an activity that often swings between deepest tragedy and extreme burlesque, which the biographical items below will show.

One of the Gotlands nation students who can definitely be counted among the tragic group is Carl Christian Silvén. Silvén was born in 1763 and came to Lund in 1782, where he enrolled in the University on 15 November. The young Carl Christian took a good while to complete his studies, conducting his public defence in 1789 with a thesis on the origin of the name Peripatetic (de etymo nominis peripateticorum), an obscure subject if ever there was one, and then took a further few years to be conferred with a doctoral degree – it took place in 1793. In 1795, he became assistant vicar in Anga on Gotland, but was removed in 1811 for “drunkenness and inappropriate behaviour”. He ended his days at Visby hospital in 1820, where he died of gangrene after breaking his leg. A more tragic than screamingly funny human fate, in other words.

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The “Lecture Table” for Gotlands nation from the spring semester of 1782. The number of members was then eight – the highest membership we have found during the nation’s existence – among them is Carl Christian Silvén and Johan Rundberg’s brother, Gabriel Timotheus Rundberg.
Photo source: Lund University Archives.

Johan Rundberg is the first example of a story that evokes malicious humour. Johan Rundberg was born in Visby in 1759, son to the prospective vicar in Stenkumla, Johannes Rundberg. He came to Lund in 1780, but had previously studied in Uppsala. He is not listed in any of the semester tables, but there is mention of Gabriel Timotheus Rundberg (who was described in the Visby diocesan annals as “a bad person and an even worse vicar” and who died of “improper living”) and it is not unlikely that Johan was also enrolled in Gotlands nation. He was conferred with a Master’s degree in 1781 and later the same year became an assistant vicar in his father’s parish. In 1797, he was appointed as a vicar in Levide, but was removed in 1800 due to “abusive language, drunkenness, improper behaviour and finally fraud”. However, the fact that Rundberg had been removed did not stop him from turning up unannounced at a vicars’ meeting in Visby and acting as an extra external reviewer in one of the public defences. His short-lived activities as an external reviewer came to an end, however, when it was “finally necessary to get him to understand that his external reviewing was not well received and he could be ejected if he persisted”. With this last episode concluded, Johan Rundberg moved first to Gerum and then to Visby where he worked as a “lawyer and quack doctor” until his death in 1811.

Even though Rundberg’s life could be said to evoke malicious humour, the prize in this category would be won by Lars Olde, who was born in Lojsta in 1760, son to the assistant vicar of the town, Matthias Olde. He studied in Greifswald 1777–1779, in Lund 1783–1784 and back in Greifswald in 1785, where he gained a Masters’ degree. Lars is another who cannot be said with certainty to have been a member of Gotlands nation, but as his considerably calmer brother Johan Olde appears in the nation’s tables, it is not too much of a stretch to assume that his brother was enrolled in the same nation. His life after graduating is as varied as it is a burlesque. In fact, you could almost consider it as a possible subject for a film or novel.

After graduation, Olde became battalion chaplain for the Psilanderhjelmska regiment, an enlisted regiment in Swedish Pomerania. He was, however, transferred from this post at the start of Gustav III’s Russian War, in which he took part in 1790 as a preacher in Sweden’s archipelago fleet. This means that in all likelihood he participated in both the Battle of Viborg Bay and the Battle of Svensksund. The same year the war ended, he went on leave and instead earned a living as an “adventurer, ship’s officer and iron carrier in Hull”. We can only speculate as to why he chose this somewhat bizarre path for a vicar, but it didn’t last beyond 1793, when he became a preacher at the royal court. In 1801, he became a curate in Levide on Gotland.

One might think that Olde would settle down as a man of the church on his home island, but that was not to be the case. In 1803, he was removed from his post when the bishop Johan Möller during an inspection complained about Olde’s “extreme negligence and improper administration”. This, strangely, did not prevent the parishioners from choosing him as vicar in 1806, whereupon Olde’s unsteady course of negligence and improper conduct continued. Following the inspection in 1817, there were complaints about him embezzling church funds, casting off his wife, cancelling holy communion due to a lack of wine, neglecting both funerals and baptisms, and misusing other people’s names to borrow seed from the storehouse. An old man from Pejnarve complained particularly that “instead of light and joy we how have only darkness and sorrow because of this wicked man and the shocking example he sets for our growing children”. On the question of whether he could think about not having a woman staying in his house, Olde answered that “it is not up to the men of the parish to decide who I have in my house and I will not change my mind about this until it is legally proved that her conduct is indecent”. The parishioners hit back by refusing to take holy communion and repair the vicarage. Finally, Olde was removed from his post by a royal decision in 1823. The end of his varied and almost romantic life came on 29 January 1831 in Visby.

On the basis of the account above, Gotlands nation in Lund could be thought to have produced nothing but drunkards and incompetent vicars. Of course, that is not the case – it is a well-known truth in the writing of history that those who leave the biggest impression in the sources are those who tend to attract legal or administrative measures. Many members of Gotlands nation appear to have lived calmer lives after graduation than the nation members above; the Visby diocesan annals often only contain information on their birth, marriage, studies and year of their appointment – often to low positions in the church or as a vicar – as well as the year they died. The head of the nation in 1775, Sven Fohlin, is a good example. In the diocesan annals, you can read about his contemporary at the nation Johan Snöbohm in a typical assessment of those priests who have not neglected their duties and where facts are not limited to purely biographical data: he was “a gifted preacher and good-humoured socialiser”. However, it is not possible, of course, to base a whole popular history article on that...

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Economics professor, Clas Blechert Trozelius, was Gotlands nation’s inspector from 1776 until the end of his professorship ten years later.
Photo source: Lund University Art Collection (photo: Fredrik Tersmeden).

Were the failings of the above-named less successful alumni of Gotlands Nation perhaps due to having been under a bad influence while they were at university? We can note that the professor who was inspector of Gotlands nation during most of its existence, economist Clas Blechert Trozelius, went down in history as one of the least competent Lund professors of the 1700s and even at the time he was “persecuted and despised by everyone”. He was finally forced out of his professorship in 1786 after arriving drunk for a meeting with his fellow professors and then insulting the vice-chancellor. His resignation as professor (and thereby inspector) was probably the beginning of the end for Gotlands nation in Lund. His successor, Gustaf Sommelius, would have taken on a nation in decline and chose after a few years to instead accept the inspectorship of Blekingska nation in 1791. It is unclear at that stage if there were any members of his former nation still in the city. However, we do know that Blekingska nation enrolled its first member from Gotland in 1798, Johan Peter Jonasson, a shoemaker’s son from Visby.

Fredrik Tersmeden & Henrik Ullstad
Archivists at the University Archives
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