S/s John Grafton

Orrskäret Luoto


The John Grafton, shipwrecked in the Luoto archipelago in September 1905, symbolises various kinds of societal conflicts and turmoil: the war between the empires of Russia and Japan, the independence demands of Finnish activists and the efforts of Russian revolutionaries to overthrow tsarism. Speeches were not considered to be enough to overthrow tyranny, but weapons were also needed. In an initiative that supported armed resistance, an arms shipment was to be moved to the Bay of Bothnia and from there further to those who needed weapons. Japan had financed the arms cargo because it aimed at decentralising Russia’s war resources on various fronts. The shipment comprised rifles, revolvers and explosives. The initiative was a partial success.


After a wide variety of setbacks, this mysterious steamship reached the coast of Kemi, where part of the cargo was discharged to the island of Möly.  Then the vessel headed for the Luoto archipelago. In the same way as Kemi, the northern part of the Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia was among the main centres of resistance in Finland. Led by cutter Haze, the John Grafton arrived with its lights off to the place where the weapons were moved to local boats and a flat-boat towed from Kokkola. This had to be done very quickly to avoid being caught. The effort took all night.


Captain John Nylander and his crew were to transport the rest of the arms cargo to the south, but the vessel hit the rocks in the morning fog. The aim then became to move the weapons ashore in lifeboats. A sailing ship called the Mikasa also arrived later from Pietarsaari to move the cargo. Because no weapons were to be left for the Russians, the vessel was finally blown up after the crew had been moved away. The explosions were heard in a large area. People say that the explosions even slammed the doors of the Tankar lighthouse open. Captain Nylander and his crew were brought to Sweden in sailing boats.


Before the arrival of Russian soldiers, local residents swiftly collected the weapons floating on the sea to their boats and hid them in the archipelago and on the mainland. The Russians also managed to collect weapons from the sea and to seize some from the local people later. Over the course of time, weapons from the Grafton ended up in all parts of Finland. The wreck was auctioned. During the Finnish Civil War, in late winter 1918, the Grafton’s arms were used by both the Reds and the Whites – parties that previously had jointly supported Finland’s full independence from the Tsar’s Russia. However, more efficient than the Grafton’s old-fashioned weapons were the modern arms transported by the steamship Equity, which was unloaded at Tolvmangrundet in the Luoto archipelago in early November 1917. The jaegers who arrived on the ship organised the distribution of the arms to the White Guard. 


Activists in Helsinki were informed about the submersion of the John Grafton by telegraph: “Moster har avlidit, hon sprack” (“Aunt is dead, she broke in half”). Both the domestic and international press wrote a lot about the Grafton. Colourful rumours and stories also spread. A Russian newspaper warned about Finland having a revolutionary armoury and breaking away from its mother country Russia. Russia tightened its grip by, for example, reinforcing its troops in Finland. After diverse episodes, Finland finally became independent on 6 December 1917.


The memorial of the John Crafton, erected in 1930, can be found on the island of Orrskäret. The diving club Kokkolan Merisaukot has investigated and mapped the sinking location carefully.