Marine contacts between Kuressaare and Riga in the 19th century

Marine contacts between islanders and the Livonian administrative, economical and intellectual centre Riga have been documented since the founding of the city. The establishment in the 14th century of the residence of the bishops of Oesel - Wiek, which placed the founding of Kuressaare, only 94 nautical miles from Riga, likely to facilitate relations with the more southern centres of Christianity. However, it was maritime trade that gave the main impulse to the development of shipbuilding and seafaring on the comparatively remote Saaremaa. High - grade rye and barley for malt, dried in smoke barns, were exported through Kuressaare. Salt, metal, roof tiles and other essential commodities were imported.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, relatively small single - masted ships with open decks, steered by local skippers were used in the traffic between Kuressaare and Riga. In the early 19th century, Christoph Friedrich Schmidt (1779 - 1831) became the most important merchant in Kuressaare. He set up a department store focused on trading with Riga and fended off his competitors J. Jacke and H. D. Schmidt from Pärnu, who had been negotiating the grain trade of Saaremaa from the middle of the 18th century.

He has also founded a ship building dock on the outskirts of Tori where some ten two - masted 30 - 35 1ast (1 last - about 2 tons) sailing ships with closed deck were built between 1810 - 1825. Theodor Wilhelm Grubener (1817 - 1885) became Schmidt's successor in the maritime trade with Riga and he continued building bigger sailing ships.

Passengers were transported between Saaremaa and Latvia on bigger boats (ferryboat, uisk), more than 17 metres in length. A big uisk went to Riga from the harbour of Muratsi estate near Kuressaare and to Kurland from the coast of Sääre estate in Sõrve.

Beginning from 1856 the passenger ships on the Riga - St. Petersburg line also stopped on the roads of Kuressaare. In 1872 a passenger harbour of Loode near the town was completed.

In 1873 the shipping company "Osilia" was founded in Kuressaare; in 1875 they bought a new passenger and post - conveyance steamer "Konstantin" that facilitated the connection between Kuressaare and Riga over the next 36 years.

Whith the completion of the new, deeper town harbour on the Roomassaare spit at the end of the 19th century, the fame of Kuressaare as a resort town grew, and contacts with Riga remained lively until World War I.

In later years no one has managed to restore the maritime contact between Kuressaare and Riga to its former level.

The author of the article is a historian and publicist, head of the Society of Maritime Culture.

BRUNO PAO "Yearbook of Saaremaa Museum"