Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Something Big And Useless

In the current issue of British Rowing’s Rowing & Regatta, No. 40, rowing historian and writer Chris Dodd has an article with a photograph showing members of Stavanger Roklub getting ready to participate in the town’s parade on Norway’s National Day on 17 of May.

This made me think of a funny story about Norway, from a Swedish point of view; and it has a very loose tie to rowing.

At the Peace Conference in 1814, Denmark, being an ally to France, lost the territory of Norway to Sweden. The Norwegians protested and nominated Kristian Fredrik to be King of Norway on 17 of May the same year. This led to a war declaration from the Swedish King and the Swedish army immediately attacked Norway. After a couple of weeks fighting, Norway surrendered, and was from thereon in a political union with its eastern neighbour, and technically run by the Swedish king.

Then in 1897, King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited King Oscar II of Sweden. The King of Siam was rowed up on the Royal Barge to meet King Oscar. Among the many gifts that King Chulalongkorn brought to the Swedish king was a big, white elephant.

To get some advice how to reciprocate this gift, King Oscar called in his friend Count Sven Lagerberg, who was a general and the supreme commander of the Swedish Army. Count Lagerberg, who was a witty man, was commonly known as “Sven - Hell, No”. He got the nick-name after his younger brother, also an army officer, happened to call him by his first name, not by his military rank, in front of the troops. General Lagerberg then barked at his brother, “Sven – Hell, No!” [“Sven – i helvete!”]

When King Oscar asked Lagerberg what he would suggest that the king could give to the King of Siam, adding, “What do I have that is big, and totally useless?” General Lagerberg replied, “Your Majesty, how about giving him Norway?”

Poor Norway! The country peacefully separated from Sweden in June 1905.


  1. Biskop Anton Niklas Sundberg blev berömd för sitt grova språk.
    - Svär inte så förbannat, Sven! Folk kan tro att det är jag, sa biskopen till generalen Sven Lagerberg, också känd för sitt mustiga språk.
    Generalen kallades för Sven i Helvete.
    Carl H Lagerberg

  2. Carl! Varmt tack för ditt tillägg. Var det inte Biskop Sundberg som sade, när han i Stockholm missade tåget till Uppsala: "Där gick tåget åt helvete, och jag som skulle med..."