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Skirmish of Halkokari


In the Crimean War (1853–1856), the British Navy raided the Finnish coast all the way up to towns in Ostrobothnia. After the British had destroyed some dozen ships and set fire to extensive tar stocks in Oulu, a local merchant named Anders Donner (Senior) suggested that the town should be defended by taking up arms. This resulted in the Skirmish of Halkokari against the British on 7 June 1854 outside Kokkola. The British were repelled by volunteers from Kokkola, assisted by two Russian infantry companies.

The British arrived in two steam frigates, but, owing to a shallow sandbank, they were forced to approach the town in nine gunboats. They were repelled by heavy rifle fire and fake structures that took the attackers by surprise. One particularly good shot was Matts Kankkonen, a peasant and seal hunter who shot Lieutenant Carrington, commander of the landing party. After the firing, the British withdrew.

The successful defence of Kokkola was one of the very few battles in the War of Åland in which the Russian side held its own against the French-British fleet. It occasioned great excitement and much press in Russia and led to the commission of the portraits of Donner and Kankkonen from Wladimir Swertschkoff.

In the conventional manner of official portraits, Anders Donner is shown in ¾ length against a featureless background and his personal features are emphasised. By contrast, the full-length portrait of Matts Kankkonen resembles a generic rustic type rather than the rendering of a particular individual. Behind him is depicted a view of the narrow straits in Kokkola where the skirmish took place.

Both men are shown bearing Imperial decoration and other awards. Donner is wearing a ring he received from Nicholas I, and on the table is a golden snuffbox Alexander II personally gave him in St Petersburg. Kankkonen is shown with two rifles he received as reward. The politically important victory at Halkokari strengthened the newly crowned Emperor Alexander’s favourable attitude towards the Finnish Grand Duchy.