Hirschenhof in Livland in seiner Gründungsphase in der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts

Gustav Gangnus


The German colony of farmers Hirschenhof in Livonia resp. Latvia - Werner Conze wrote a comprehensive monography about it in 1934 - was a peculiarity of Baltic history. The colony owed its existence to the kameralistic economic policy of the Russian empress Catherine II who wanted to populate deserted territories of her empire by West European settlers. The later colonists of Hirschenhof had been separated from the crowds of immigrants who settled along the lower river Volga, and until now it is impossible to decide whether a special purpose was intended for the little colony in Livonia. To the prehistory of Hirschenhof belongs an attempt of settlement by the Danish king Frederick V who settled about 4000 Palatines in Jutland and Schleswig in 1759/60. Among them were about 40 families, the later core of the Livonian colony.
They belonged to the settlers who settled on the Sanderflächen of the Jutish Alheide and Randböller Heide. Because of the infertility of the heath this project failed, however. When the failure became visible, the enlistment of colonists for the Volga region started on a large scale. The Danish colonists were mostly discharged from their contracts and moved to Lübeck where they joined thousands of new colonists. In experiencing together the Jutland colonization, the strains of the treks and the stay outside the overcrowded Lübeck, a group of Palatines developed a feeling of solidarity and crossed in a bloc of about 200 persons the Baltic Sea and signed the colonizing contracts for Hirschenhof together with some more small groups in Oranienbaum on 17 August 1766.
The first time was similarly hard and full of privations as it was in Jutland. The lack of houses and labour shortage, cattle plagues and a high mortality rate entailed attempts to escape across the border rivers Ewst and Dvina. In order to stop this, Russian military was quartered; seized deserters were punished like Latvian Läuflinge. Faced with these starting conditions, in the beginning several farms remained vacant, and only one Latvian Kronsbauer could be won for joining the colony contract. Also autonomy was out of the question. On the contrary, the first decades of the colony had been pervaded by quarrels with the overseers who had been installed above the colonists by the bureaucracy of the Tutelkanzlei in Riga. After one generation there was already a surplus population leading to an exodus. In 1788 for example, 30 craftsmen of Hirschenhof were registered in Riga. In the estate hierarchy of that time, however, the colonists ranked far down, and it was still to last a long time till the implant of the Russian empress was accepted in Livonia.