What follows below is the first chapter of The Anglo-Finnish Society 1911-2011 by W.R.Mead


The Anglo-Finnish Society came into being as one of the consequences of Finland’s time of troubles.  From 1899 onwards there was a mobilisation of British opinion on behalf of Finland.  Members of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party were especially responsive to Finns who came to London to call attention to the situation in their homeland.  The press in general, assiduously cultivated by Finnish activists in Britain, was sympathetic.  A Finnish Tourist Association had been founded already in the 1890’s while Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolaget (FÅA), linked with John Good and Company in Hull, sought to encourage visitors with publications in English in 1894 and 1899.  A Finland Bulletin appeared intermittently between 1900 and 1905.  Finland, an English Journal devoted to the cause of the Finnish people, appeared in June 1899 (Fig 1).  Literature in English on Finland was already available in Miss Clive-Bayley’s Vignettes of Finland (1895), the indomitable Mrs Alec Tweedie’s Through Finland in Carts (1897), Alexander MacCallum Scott’s travelogue Through Finland to St Petersburg (1899), Rosalind Travers’ Letters from Finland (1910), Arthur Reade’s Finland (1915), Isabella Phibbs, The Grand Duchy of Finland (1903), George Renwick Finland Today (1911) and Paul Waineman (Sylvia McDougall) A Summer Tour in Finland(1908).  The British press was alive to the Finnish situation at the time.  Among the best reports were those to the Manchester Guardian by Professor John Dover Wilson, “some time English lecturer at the University of Helsingfors”.

The inaugural meeting of the Anglo-Finnish Society was held on Sunday, 17 December, 1911 at 8.00 pm at 77 Holland Park Avenue, London; Mr Llewellyn Atherley-Jones, a radical MP, took the chair.  The founder members were Alexander MacCallum Scott MP, H M Nevinson, Edward Westermarck, Aino Malmberg and Rosalind Travers.  Alexander MacCallum Scott was elected President; Herbert Young, Chairman.  The Hon Treasurer was Captain Wilén of 22 St Mary Axe:  The prime movers behind the organisation were the Honorary Secretaries Aino Malmberg and Rosalind Travers.  For press purposes, Aino Malmberg described herself as “the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman and a graduate of the ancient university of Helsingfors . . .  the Finnish translator of the works of Rudyard Kipling, Bernard Shaw, Hall Caine and Olive Schreiner . . . and a leader of Finland’s struggle for liberty”.  Rosalind Travers, who had relatives in Finland and who married H M Hyndman, a Labour Party parliamentarian, was a friend of Ramsay Macdonald, Keir Hardie,

Cunningham Graham and other radical politicians.  She had been lecturing with great success allround the country on the Finnish situation and had established good press relations.  Her unusual book Letters from Finland, which included in its appendix all the documentation dealing with the constitutional crisis following the suspension in 1899 by the Tsar of the Finnish constitution, went to the publishers in April 1911.

The foundation of the Society was reported by The Morning Post on 18 December 1911.  Its aims were noted and it was added that “Senator Leo Mechelin, Finland’s most distinguished statesman, has expressed his approval of the project.”  At the meeting there were a number of speeches and Finnish music was played. It was reported that “Madam Malmberg” explained that the Finns had no army or guns with which to fight for freedom: they could only spread knowledge of themselves and by that means gain the sympathy of Europe.  Among other points, it was noted that Rosalind Travers “spoke strongly against Russia’s rumoured proposal to open gin shops in rural Finland, as the Finns themselves were almost entirely in favour of prohibition”.

A pamphlet was produced for general circulation.  It ran as follows –

“We desire to found a Society for the convenience of those English people who are interested in Finland and for the various Finns living in this country who are concerned about the welfare of their native land.  There appears to be a curious sympathy between Britain and the people of this remote corner of Europe.

“Britain is Finland’s largest customer . . .  British economic and sociological writings have had much influence upon this alert and progressive race.  Moreover, the number of books that have been published here during the last few years are proof of a strong and widespread interest in that country, and those writers who maintained the general sympathy for Finland during the ‘bad times’ have not lost touch with her since.

“We propose therefore, to coordinate all this diffused interest by means of a Society whose objects shall be (1) to bring together those English people who feel an active sympathy with Finland (2) to unite the Finns now living in this country regardless of their political differences  (3) to maintain an impartial record of current Finnish events in some journal  (4) to collect a library of general information upon Finland and to act as an unofficial bureau of knowledge concerning the same.”

Nothing is known about the size of membership of the Society, though its annual subscription was one guinea – no mean sum in 1911.  Scraps of information about its programme have been found in various places.  For example, The Lady reported a kantele recital in February 1912 by Pasi Jääskeläinen (who belonged “to an old and well-born farming family in northern Finland”) at University College London.  An appearance at the Society by Dr Tekla Hultin who “made a little speech” resulted in suspension from her parliamentary seat, The Nation reported in July 1913.  On 31 July 1912 Aino Malmberg wrote to Alma Söderhjelm that fifteen to eighteen members of the Anglo-Finnish Society would be travelling to Finland.  About the same time, there came into being “a new Finland Bulletin”, four to eight pages long.  One thousand five hundred copies appear to have been circulated – most of them well beyond the circle of the Society (there used to be several in the library of the Royal Geographical Society).  It had been agreed in April to circulate a monthly summary of news to members; it is unlikely that the project continued.  Meanwhile, a guidebook for circulation among members of the Society was received from Finland, though Aino Malmberg in a letter to Alma Söderhjelm (16.7.1912) dismissed it as “awful rubbish . . . written badly . . . translated worse”.  There was obviously a regular division of opinion as to how far the Society should assert itself politically.  “Mr Good of Hull” FÅA Shipping Agent and the first (as yet unofficial) Finnish consul in Britain was reported as “anxious to keep politics out of the Bulletin”.

It is interesting that in 1912 news was also circulating “of a scheme for opening a shop in the West End where examples of Finnish Arts and Crafts would be sold”.  The rumour continued that “the Anglo-Finnish Society, which at present has no home of its own, might take rooms in connection with the shop”.  Independently of the commercial impracticability of such a project, the suggestion seemed to ignore the fact that the Society had no capital and very little income.  There is no record as to what the new Honorary Treasurer – a Mr J E Hand, 102 Guilford Street, WC1 – thought about it.  At any rate, on 23 March 1914 estimates for a possible shop were sent to Reuter for forwarding to Tekla Hultin.  “I am afraid that the amount of capital required will be thought rather large in Finland”, Reuter commented.  The idea of a shop on the analogy of existing Russian, Danish and Austrian shops, seems to have come from a Mr Owen Fleming, who was claimed to be “knowledgeable on Finnish art etc.”  At least there was success in creating a modest Finnish section at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in November 1912.

Nevertheless, it is evident that there was plenty of political manoeuvring.  Aino Malmberg was fearless in her assault upon perceived Russophile intellectuals.  She wrote to Reuter (26.4.1913) of a meeting with Professor Bernard Pares.  “He was nervous and shaky and assured me a hundred times that he was perfectly impartial”.  Malmberg also worked hard, but unsuccessfully, to establish a Finnish Parliamentary Committee.  She wrote to Alma Söderhjelm of an activist dinner party held on 14 January, 1914 at “the Lyceum Club (ladies)” where there were speeches, poems and songs.  The company included Viscount Bryce, Sir Thomas Barclay, Beatrice Webb and Rosa Newmarch (a new recruit with her Sibelius connections).  The occasion was held under the auspices of the so-called “The Friends of Finland” (the Anglo-Finnish Society?).

Perhaps for personal reasons, Rosalind Travers was less active than might have been expected.  Aino Malmberg complained in a letter to J N Reuter “The Anglo-Finnish Society gives me any amount of work and dear Miss T does absolutely nothing and only puts the work most mildly and kindly on my shoulders” (13.11.1912).  Reuter had already reported elsewhere (12 November 1912) that “Miss T does not seem to be doing anything.  If the members of the Society are not to be kept informed of what is going on, they are not likely to keep up their membership”.  In May 1913, a new honorary secretary was appointed – a Mr T W Goode, principal of one of the LCC teacher training colleges.  He was described by Reuter as “a very able man, and very sane, quite different from some of the extremists who are connected with the Society”.  Goode was in Finland later in the year – and Reuter reported (21 November) that he had been “ill with smallpox which he is supposed to have contracted while travelling in Finland in a train in which there were Russian workmen”.

The finances of the Society were described by Reuter as “negligible”.  And it was evidently a problem to find money for any publication.  In February 1914, the committee of the Society agreed “to accept a grant of fifty pounds annually” for the production of an Anglo-Finnish Record “on the clear understanding that (it) does not become an organ for political propaganda pure and simple.  The Society is debarred by its constitution from engaging in a political campaign”.  As with other international organisations, the Anglo-Finnish Society ceased to function following the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.