Gabriel Bonsdorff (1762–1831)
Gabriel Bonsdorff was known as a fervent researcher of nature and wildlife, especially insects. He worked as a professor historiæ naturalis et artis veterinariæ at the Royal Academy in Åbo (Turku), later as a professor of anatomy, surgery and veterinary medicine at the same university, and also as the rector of this royal, later imperial, academy. His important scientific collections included 4,855 plants, 4,108 insects, 2,326 gastropod species, and 2,300 minerals. This collection was destroyed – along with many other invaluable items including all documents concerning Brinkhall – in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827.
In 1817, Gabriel Bonsdorff received the honorary title of Archiatre – the first time this title was ever bestowed on anyone in Finland. By then, he had already been president of Collegium Medicum, the Finnish central authority for medicine of that day. It was in this capacity that Bonsdorff made his greatest contributions to society, and this eventually led to the knighthood he was awarded in 1819.
In 1822, as the president of Collegium Medicum, he made a request that county veterinarians be appointed and an institute for veterinary medicine be established – and that decrees on animal ailments be revised. An Imperial Letter of October 1824 from St Petersburg expressed approval, in principle, for the establishment of such an institute, and the first concrete measure to that effect was the granting of an annual subsidy of 500 roubles for hiring a doctor as a teacher at this establishment.
Alongside his professional duties, Gabriel von Bonsdorff was an enthusiastic and prolific architect. In summer 1796, he studied architecture in Stockholm with H.M. Intendent Carl Fredrik Sundvall. In those days, no tuition in architecture was offered in the eastern half of Sweden, i.e. what is today Finland. Bonsdorff was involved in many of the old Åbo Akademi University’s building projects as an expert and a designer. He was, for example, involved in the extension of the Old Academy House in Åbo (Turku). He gained his experiences of planning a manor in 1794-96, when supervising the building of the present manor house of Jokoisten kartano in Jokioinen.
Today, we know over 30 building projects in which Bonsdorff was involved. The most important one was his own home – Brinkhall Manor.
On Brinkhall, Bonsdorff designed the manor house and outbuildings, and created an English park – in those days something very rare in these parts. He also introduced the cultivation of seeds for domestic herbs. He enlightened the peasantry about new crops, methods and sound habits of life – and the healing effects of herbs. Music, too, was very important to Bonsdorff and his family.
Gabriel von Bonsdorff was also involved in the clearing of rapids and waterways. He was one of the founders of the agricultural society Finska hushållningssällskapet in 1797 and musical society Musikaliska Sällskapet i Åbo in 1790.
Gabriel von Bonsdorff died at the age of 68 during the 1831 cholera epidemic in Turku.
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