100 YEARS SINCE THE YOUNG
SAARUKKA MEN MINED GOLD IN AFRICA
Erik Leander Saarukka of Nedervetil had a restless
family. His oldest son Viktor emigrated to America 1891 and later
returned to Finland. His sister Ida spent the rest of her life there.
There were 13 children in the family. Sons Axel, Ernst and Hugo
traveled to South Africa. Axel and Hugo also spent two years in
Canada; they are buried in South Africa.
Ernst Saarukkas son Heimer showed us notes
and photos and pointed to the globe, indicating its a long
distance between Saarukka in Nedervetil and Johannesburg, South
Africa. Going back in time 100 years, they had to take a horse and
cart to go from Nedervetil to Gamlakarleby, took a train down to
Hangö and waited for a boat to go to Hull, England, then continued
with a long boat trip to South Africa.
He talked about the adventurous travel between
their home town and the gold field in Johannesburg, and then how
they toiled in the dangerous mines, breathing suffocating stone
dust and heat for 5 shillings a week.
Worlds Richest Gold Field
The gold field in Transvaal was discovered in 1886
and became the worlds richest gold field. At the turn of the century
it produced half of all the gold in the world. A mine opening could
go vertically down 1,000 meters into the ground, with tens of thousands
of meters of openings going sideways. There was the noise from the drilling
machines, the thundering hammers and clattering dump cars. It sounded
like a thunder clap when the carts were overturned and the contents
skidded through iron pipes to the elevator. Heimer said when his father
and uncle were there the dust flew around in the air, filling their
lungs, and producing attacks of coughing.
Heimers father made two trips with Axel during
1898-1905. He was the only one of the brothers who ended his days in
Finland. By 1895 Axel had traveled to Johannesburg. He was a 21-year-old
bachelor. Earning possibilities were good and an able-bodied man managed
well. A man could advance to foreman of the mine. No wonder that brother
Ernst was tempted by the adventure and income possibilities.
In 1896 Nedervetil residents Johan Julius Hongell,
Johan Julius Emmes, Karl Viktor Emmes and Anders Gustaf Skriko emigrated
to that dark part of the world.
Ran Away from Guards
In 1897 General Bobrikov had been named as Governor-General
of the Grand Duchy of Finland. He decided that Finnish men should perform
their compulsory military service in the Russian Army. When Ernst refused
to report for duty, he was arrested and transported under guard to Nikolaistad
(Vasa). But Ernst, who was married to Milla Peitso in 1898, had other
plans. While he took a loving farewell of his wife at the station in
Östermyra, the armed guard looked away discreetly. Ernst took advantage
of the inattention and disappeared in the crowd. He hopped on a northbound
train, crossed the Swedish border at Haparanda and went on to South
In 1899 the Boer war began in South Africa, a war
between the English and the Boers. It was a bloody transaction and went
on for three years. In the Orange Free State in Kimberly diamonds were
discovered in 1869 and in 1886 gold was struck in Transvaal. England
was expanding in every direction, and the greed and temptation were
so great that war broke out. Because of the war mining stopped in all
the gold mines. Brothers Axel and Ernst decided to return to Finland
to wait for the war to end.
According to Heimer, his father said they had to
watch two fronts the English and the Boer front. They went on
foot and bicycle in the direction of the east coast toward the Indian
Ocean and Mozambique.
Wandering Through the Jungle
The African jungle was a constant danger. The men
were armed but had to be watching constantly. Getting provisions from
the Boer farmers wasnt entirely risk-free because the Boers mistook
them for Englishmen, enemies, and squareheads. Week after week went
by. Eventually they were far enough from the war action to use the railroad.
The name of the city where they began their return journey is unknown.
But finally Axel and Ernst were home and their mother met them with
a horse and wagon at the railway station in Gamlakarleby.
From Canada to Rhodesia
When the Boer war ended Axel Saarukka, who was married
and living in Canada, returned to South Africa and Rhodesia. It was
a long journey. The first ten days were by train through Canada, two
weeks on a boat to London, and then five weeks by boat to Cape Town.
Axels brother Hugo, who followed them to Canada
and later to Rhodesia, died of an illness of the mind in 1913 in Johannesburg.
At the same time that Axel left Canada Ernst, who had stayed home while
Axel was in Canada, traveled again to South Africa. He stayed there
nearly three years until 1905.
Ernst and Hugo Saarukka from Nedervetil,
Finland in Johannesburg in 1903. Sitting between them is Heribert Sundqvist
Axel and his family returned to Finland in 1906.
For a few years he was a farmer, bought a truck to transport merchandise
and built a house in Hakalax. Several years later he returned to South
Africa. His wife and several children followed in 1913. Two years later
she returned to Finland for the birth of her 8th child. Daughter
Arla was born 28 November 1915. Six months later she received information
that Axel died of pneumonia 16 June 1916. In 1924 Helga and the children
moved to Canada. She died in 1954 at her home in Capitol Hill, Vancouver,
71 years old.
Thereby ends the changing destiny of several emigrants.
Ole Granholm, Österbottningen,
15 June 1997
Translated by June Pelo