Etikettarkiv: Marstrand

Augusta in Marstrand

Kerstin and I are on standing on the deck of S/S Bohuslän, the steamer that will take us on the same journey that Augusta and her family made in July of 1850 – from Gothenburg to Strömstad. It is a beautiful day – no clouds in the sky and a slight sea breeze. We are not alone enjoying this day out at sea. We wave to families in sailboats and small yachts and they wave back. Even people onshore wave as we pass by because S/S Bohuslän is such a beautiful and historic steamer.

S/S Bohuslän
Our 2019 summer sejour: A cruise with S/S Bohuslän from Gothenburg to Strömstad. Augusta made the same journey in 1850 onboard S/S Freja. (Picture credit: Gunilla Rietz).


Marstrand, July 2019

In the distance, we suddenly discern the island of Marstrand. This is and has been since the 1850s, Sweden’s most fashionable sea resort. So when Augusta visited Marstrand, it should not have come as a surprise that she met several of her wealthy friends from Stockholm

“At Marstrand, where the steamboat stopped for a short time, I met several Stockholm acquaintances, including Augusta Holmqvist and Lieutenant Claes Bergenstråhle.” (Augusta’s diary, July 1850).

Getting close to Marstrand

As we get close to Marstrand with its myriad of boats and people, I try to imagine what the small town would have looked like 170 years ago. What did the wealthy visitors from Stockholm do during their visit to Marstrand? How did they live and how did they entertain themselves?

The answers can be found in an autobiography by Johan (John) Georg Arsenius

John Arsenius description of Marstrand in July, 1850

John Arsenius (1818-1903) was a military man. He was also a professional oil painter, specializing in painting horses. Arsenius was staying in Marstrand in July 1850 with several of his Uppsala University friends. In his autobiography, he writes about this fun and memorable summer sejour. The amazing coincidence is that he was there when Augusta visited Marstrand. Did they have friends in common?

Yes, they did, because he mentions his friends by name. He writes about Augusta’s friend, Augusta Holmqvist (who I wrote about in an earlier blog) and Count Figge von Schwerin who Augusta describes in her diary the following year:

…in the evening we saw the great opera, “A Tale of the Queen of Navarre.” There I met Count Figge Schwerin who escorted me home and was quite himself, much disposed to let his lady alone carry on the conversation and himself look like he was sleepwalking. (Augusta’s diary, Stockholm 12 March 1851)

And then there is a Baron Rehbinder, who could be the same person Augusta describes in her diary in 1851 as the “the extremely beautiful Baron Rehbinder” with whom she is secretly enamored.

So, what did they all do to entertain themselves in Marstrand?

Playing Whist in Marstrand 1850

Arsenius describes boat rides, mention picnics, and vividly describes the card games, drinking parties, and the singing. Leading the singing is the famous songwriter and composer, Gunnar Wennerberg. Julius Günther, the famous Swedish tenor, is also in Marstrand to rest his voice (he also figured in a previous blog about Augusta).

In addition to all these activities, the group of friends decides to organize a play. After the dress rehearsal, they are in such a good mood that the 14 members of the cast imbibe 30 bottles of wine or porter with their dinner. They are a little worried about their first performance which is scheduled shortly after dinner. But the play is a success and it inspires them to set up two more plays.

The dinner before the opening night. Notice the pile of bottles in the corner.


The play: Four young women working in a fashion store get a surprise visit by their lovers. In order to hide them, they pretend their heads are wig blocks and continue to work on their heads as if they were working on wigs. One of the lovers takes care of the old owner of the store and flatter her by drawing her portrait.

Entertainment, then and now…

As we pass Marstrand, I look back at where the old clubhouse (Swedish: societetshus) would have stood (and which is now replaced by another clubhouse from 1887) and the park surrounding it. This is where they would have had their parties, plays, and picnics and Augusta would have walked there in her summer dress under a silk parasol.

The old club house (societetshuset) that was built in the 1840s.

But if Augusta was in Marstrand today, what would she be doing?

Two girls on a jet ski catch my eye. They weave in and out of the wake from our boat, excited as they jump the waves. Yes, Augusta could be one of them. And Arsenius and Rehbinder might be the two guys who race the girls on their own fast jet ski…..

All Arsenius’ drawings are from his autobiography, published posthumously in 1924: John Georg Arsenius Minnesanteckningar – Kulturbilder från 1800-talet.

Augusta Holmqvist and Childbirth Fever

Kerstin and I are planning a trip to the Swedish west coast this summer. In July 1850, Augusta and her family went to Gothenburg where her brother August was to board the brig Mimer for a journey to Cape Town. But first, they decided to make an excursion by boat up along the west coast.

An excursion from Marstrand, 1850. Drawing by John Georg Arsenius (1818-1903)

“Here [ in Gothenburg] we spent two days and on the morning of the third, August and I, as well as Mr. Lindgren and Malla, traveled to Strömstad with the steamboat Freja while Mother stayed in Gothenburg awaiting our return.

At Marstrand, where the steamboat stopped for a short time, I met several Stockholm acquaintances, including Augusta Holmqvist and Lieutenant Claes Bergenstråhle.” (Augusta’s diary, July 1850).

Who were the acquaintances from Stockholm? Claes Bergenstråhle was one of Augusta’s friends from her teenage years in Stockholm, but Augusta Holmqvist was a name I hadn’t seen before.

Notice in the local paper on 17 July 1850 announcing that Mrs. Holmqvist with daughter (Augusta) and Mrs. Odencrantz (Augusta Holmqvist’s sister) with servants arrived from Stockholm and were taking in at Blom’s Hotel

Who was Augusta Holmqvist?

Jacobina Augusta Holmqvist was the youngest of 3 sisters. She was born in Jacob’s parish in Stockholm in 1832. Her oldest sister, Marie Charlotte, was born in 1822 and the middle sister, Johanna Emilia (Emelie), was born in 1823. The father, Johan Casper Holmqvist, was a merchant who also owned iron mills in northern Sweden (Sörfors and Gryttjen in the Medelpad province). In 1835, the family lived at Regeringsgatan 36 in Stockholm – the corner of Regeringsgatan and Hamngatan. On this location, the large department store, NK, was built in the early 1900s.

The view from Holmqvist's apartment, the corner of Hamngatan and Regeringsgatan
The view from Holmqvist’s apartment, the corner of Hamngatan and Regeringsgatan

As with all Augusta’s friends in Stockholm, Augusta Holmqvist’s family was wealthy. An eyewitness account of the Holmqvist family can be found in Marie-Louise Forsell’s diary. Augusta Holmqvist’s oldest sister Charlotte was Marie-Louise’s dear friend from studying for their first communion:

2 February 1843

”We went with Thilda Ekmarck and Hilda Myrin to dinner at Lieutenant Odencrantz’ in Castelli’s new house at Drottninggatan* [Lieutenant Mattias Odencrantz had recently married Augusta Holmqvist’s sister Emelie].   They own everything to make life happy and comfortable.  I imagine it would encourage young suitors to win Charlotte’ hand in marriage when they see what a splendid apartment Papa Holmqvist has gotten Emelie and how her dear Mattias seems to be swelling with contentment. It seems to me that they have everything to make them happy – except the ability to really enjoy all of this goodness that has befallen them.  For certain, they could not entertain their visitors. Adele Cassel, the fiancé of Gösta Odencrantz and who is usually outspoken, was completely quiet. This is the influence that Mama Holmqvist’s stiffness and quietness had on all of us.”

27 March 1843

”At around 8 pm, we went to Holmqvist’s  –  their carriage had been sent for us. It was, one could say, a small ball with a big supé. Even though the number of men was certainly over 30 and there were 20 young women, the dancing was meager. For example, the cotillion was made up of only 6 couples. But we made the best of it. Lieutenant Edholm really liked our dark-grey silk gowns and he was the only new one with which we danced. I felt sorry for Charlotte because she was plagued by the thought that we would all find it stiff and boring. Probably most thought it was.”

? November 1845

”Yesterday I wrote and declined to be a bridesmaid for Charlotte Holmqvist. I cannot in outfit compete with Ottiliana and Georgine Sparre and little Ahlberg ….”.

The newly rich families aspired to have their daughters marry into aristocracy.  Johan Casper Holmqvist managed well in this regard – all three daughters married noblemen. Charlotte even acquired the title of countess. And both Emelie and Augusta’s husbands became marshals of the royal court.

  • Emelie married Lieutenant Mattias Jakob Leonard Odencrantz.
  • Charlotte married Count Claes Otto Vilhelm Sparre af Söderborg.
  • Augusta married Lieutenant Patrik Oskar Reuterswärd. He later became a member of parliament and a businessman.

Augusta Holmqvist’s Short Life

Augusta Holmqvist married in November of 1852, a year and a half after our Augusta had run into her at the fashionable west-coast resort, Marstrand. The following year, she was blessed with a son, Carl Fredrik Casper Reuterswärd (1853-1932).

On 24 February 1855, she gave birth to a healthy daughter but acquired childbed fever also known as puerperal fever. Augusta Holmqvist died two weeks later on the 12th of March. She was 22 years old. Two days later, the little daughter was baptized Hebbla Johanna Cecilia Augusta by the famous pastor Wallin.

Puerperal Fever

Puerperal fever was commonplace in the 1800s. It usually started on the third day after delivery. The symptoms, besides fever, included headache, rigor, severe abdominal pain and distension. Some doctors noted that it appeared to be epidemic at some hospitals. It was also known that more women died from puerperal fever when they gave birth in hospitals compared to giving birth at home.

Remember that in 1855, the medical establishment had yet to accept the germ theory of disease, that is, that microorganisms or germs could cause disease. Although John Snow had just published a paper suggesting that cholera was caused by a microorganism and that boiling the water would prevent the spread of the disease, many still believed that bad air, miasma, caused the disease.

Tuberculosis, which our Augusta was afflicted with, was sometimes thought to be caused by repressed feelings and a sensitive disposition. It wasn’t until 1882 that Robert Koch proved that it was caused by a bacterium.

Ignaz Philip Semmelweis

Dr. Semmelweis is not as famous as John Snow or Robert Koch, or Louis Pasteur for that matter. But his research had an immense impact on the postpartum survival of mothers.

Dr. Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician who worked at the Vienna General Hospital in 1846. The hospital had two maternal clinics and he realized that they differed in maternal mortality rate due to puerperal fever (4% vs 10%). The only difference was that the clinic with the highest rate also served as a teaching clinic for medical students.

In 1847, a colleague of his died after having accidentally been pierced by a student’s scalpel while doing a postmortem examination. The autopsy of his colleague revealed the same pathology as that of women who had died from puerperal fever. Dr. Semmelweis hypothesized that maybe medical students carried some ”cadaverous particles” on their hands and which were transferred from the autopsy room to the birthing clinic.  He postulated that a solution of calcium hypochlorite might destroy the particles and ordered everyone to wash their hands in this solution before going to the birthing clinic.

The results were immediate. The death rate due to puerperal fever dropped to 1.9% within 3 months. The following year, there was 0% mortality during some months.

The medical establishment did not believe in his cleanliness hypothesis. Dr. Semmelweis was dismissed from his position and harassed. Because of his anger against the establishment, he was committed to an asylum where he shortly thereafter died. It wasn’t until Louis Pasteur developed the theory that germs cause disease that Dr. Semmelweis’ work was scientifically explained and accepted.

Dr. Semmelweis would be delighted to know that his keen observation and logical experiment were vital in establishing the germ theory of disease and that all children today learn to wash their hands with soap and water.


* Castelli owned the house at Drottninggatan 53. He had a store where he sold accessories and other fine goods. The interesting thing is that Mademoiselle Frigel, whose private school Augusta attended, lived in one of the apartments in this house. But according to the household examination books, there are no records of any Odencrantz or Holmqvist living at this address.