swedish history

  • Walter Close and the Amalthea

    In a dock close to my home in the Western Harbour of Malmö, Sweden, a tiny, easily missed plaque commemorates a terrorist attack. Despite what you might think, this isn’t a tale of either ethnic minorities or white supremacists.

    On the night of 12 July 1908, a ship was blown up in Malmö harbour. The ship was named the Amalthea and the event became known as the Amalthea Incident. It resulted in two of the last death sentences in Swedish history.

    Socialism in Sweden

    The reason for the attack was that the Amalthea had aboard dockworkers from Hull, in eastern England, who were strikebreakers – men brought in by the dock authorities of Malmö to do the work striking local dockworkers refused to do.

    The antipathy of the locals towards them was so strong that they had to be accommodated aboard ship, not on land. They went to work each day under police escort. In the explosion, one man died and 23 were injured.

    Two of the three terrorists – Anton Nilson and Algot Rosberg – were sentenced to death. The third, Alfred Stern, received a life sentence. The local reaction was further outrage.

    Free the terrorists!

    A petition of 130,000 names called for the young socialists to be released. It’s hard to imagine Swedes supporting the release of terrorists, but this is what occurred just over 100 years ago.

    In October 1917, with the Russian Revolution underway, the Swedish government ordered the release of the terrorists, who went on to become icons of the labour movement in Sweden, Nilson dying in Stockholm in 1989, aged 101.

    A strange sort of victory

    A happy ending… Except, what of that one man who died? He is a forgotten figure in the rather vaguely termed Amalthea Incident? Walter Close was his name. Walter Close from Hull.

    Here was a dockworker from Hull – one of the most deprived cities in England, a man willing to work as a blackleg (or strikebreaker) aboard a ship in a foreign land. Not a rich man, I would imagine.

    And here were angry Swedish dockworkers in one of Sweden’s most deprived working class ports. And the idealistic socialists prepared to take a stand, killing another poor dockworker from Hull for the labour cause.

    Let’s spare a thought for Walter Close, man of Hull.

    Talking of monuments to history, what if statues could speak?