The first Finn visited Australia in 1770. Herman
Dietrich Sporing was a naturalist and draughtsman who belonged to Joseph
Bank´s scientific staff aboard the Endeavour.
The first Finns to arrive in South Australia
were seamen who jumped or deserted their ships during the
nineteenth century. Little is known about these men because South Australian
lists of deserting seamen did not record nationality until 1874. The
first Finn recorded on these lists is John Mikkelson who deserted ship
in January 1874.
Gustaf Wilhelm Salberg was the first naturalised
Finnish South Australian. He arrived in South Australia from Turku,
Finland 1862. He was working as a cobbler and shoe repairer in North
Adelaide when he received British citizenship in 1866.
Stephen Hacklin was an even earlier Finnish immigrant. He arrived
in Australia in 1858. Hacklin was working as a farmer in Spalding when
he was naturalised in 1894. By the early 1890s 57 male Finnish South
Australians and one female Finnish South Australian had been naturalised.
It has been estimated that a further 42 Finnish immigrants resided in
the colony at this time. Most of these people arrived in South Australian
from the Finnish provinces of Turku, Pori, Vaasa, Oulu and Raahe in
the early 1870s. Many of them settled in Adelaide and in South Australian
Erik Nyholm was another early Finnish South Australin. He was
a seaman from Ostrobothnia who is known to have deserted his ship in
1872. Nyholm was naturalised in 1881 when he was 30 years old. It is
likely that he was involved in the immigration of a group of 10 Finns
who departed Hamburg for Adelaide aboard the Pracida on October
24, 1883. Another seven Finns arrived in Adelaide in 1884. This total
of 17 arrivals included nine women. At this time there were more Finnish
women in South Australia than in any of the other Australian colonies.
Erik Nyholm was listed in the 1886 South Australian Directory as a
Googwood Park coppersmith. Nyholm died in Burwood in New South Wales
It appears that a group of itinerant Finnish labourers worked throughout
South Australia in the years before World War I. A group of 20 Finnish
navvies were among the men who constructed the Kapunda railway.
Before the 1921 Australian Census Finns were included in the Russian
birthplace category because the country was part of Russian empire until
1917. In 1921 there were 160 Finnish South Australians.
A considerable number of Finnish seamen jumped ship in Wallaroo, Pt
Pirie, Pt Lincoln and Pt Victoria during the 1920s while their ships
were in port loading grain. Axel Stenross and Frank Laakso were among
the Finnish seamen who were paid off in South Australian
Axel Alfred Stenross was born in the village of Finby in Finland
on September 23, 1895. After serving an apprenticeship in his fathers
boat building yard Axel moved to the Aland Islands where he lived and
worked for about five years. He then worked as a cook on ships in the
Baltic Sea during the summer months.
On October 23, 1924 in Cardiff, Wales, Axel signed on the Olivebank
as ships carpenter. The Olivebank was a four-masted berque
under Captain Karl Troberg. Axel had dublicates of his shipwright tools
in case they were lost overboard. Some of his tools had belonged to
On September 28, 1925 Frank Laakso joined the Olivebank.
He was born on the island of Little Nagu, Finland, on January 5, 1900.
Axel and Frank were paid off in Pt Lincoln on March 18, 1927.
Axel and Frank initially set up camp at Kirton Point and worked on
the construction of Pt Lincolns railway station. On January 6,
1928 Axel and Frank bought the Gulf Docking Slip and began building
fishing boats and dinghies and undertaking repair and salvage work.
In 1933 there were 133 Finnish South Australians including only one
woman. Fifteen Finnish South Australians lived in Pt Lincoln in 1936.
After Adelaide this was the largest concentration of Finnish South Australians.
Most of these people were fishermen. Some of them worked in Axel Stenross
On April 1, 1940 Axel and Frank moved to the Happy Valley slipway on
Pt Lincolns north shore, the current site of the Axel
Stenross Maritime Museum which was opened after his death in 1980.
The exact number of boats built by A.A. Stenross and Co. is uncertain.
It is thought that the company built at least 44 boats between 20 and
45 feet in length (between 6 and 13.7 metres) and 250 20-foot (6 metre)
An unusual instance of seamen jumping ship occured at Pt Victoria in
the late 1940s. A group of Finns deserted the windjammer they were enlisted
on while it was loading wheat. They were afraid that the USSR was going
to take control of Finland in the aftermath of World War II. Some of
these men were caught by police and returned to their ship. Four of
them found Pastor Freund-Zinnbauer, a Lutheran clergyman who helped
many European immigrants in the post-war period.
Pastor Zinnbauer took the four men to the Immigration Department and
paid the amount of one hundred pounds guarantee for them. The pastor
also found somewhere for the men to stay. They later repaid his kind
By 1947 there were only 102 Finnish South Australians, still including
only one woman.
Following World War II approximately 500 Finns resettled in South Australia.
Most arrived after 1957 due to economic problems in Finland. Many gained
employment in the forestry industry in the South-East towns of Millicent,
Mt Gambier and Nangwarry. Some Finns settled in Adelaide and Whyalla.
In 1961 there were 614 Finnish South Australians.
The number of Finnish South Australians declined during the 1960s.
Some returned to Finland while others immigrated to the United States.
In 1966 there were 534 Finnish South Australians.
A group of Finns resettled in South Australia during 1968 and 1969.
They immigrated in search of employment opportunities.
Finnish South Australians have settled throughout the metropolitan
area, the South-East and in regional centres such as Whyalla. They are
employed in the range of occupations.