Georg Anton Schäffer

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Georg Anton Schäffer.

Georg Anton Schäffer (rarely russified as Yegor Nikolayevich[1] or Egor Antonovich[2] Sheffer; von Schaeffer in Portuguese sources;[3] born in Münnerstadt on 27 January 1779,[4] died in Jacarandá,[5] Brazil in 1836[5][6]) was a German physician in the employ of the Russian-American Company who attempted to conquer Hawaii for the Company and, ultimately, the Russian Empire. The bloodless Schäffer Affair (1815–1817) or the Hawaiian spectacular, as it was called by contemporary Russians, became a significant financial blunder for the Company.

In the 1820s Schäffer became an agent of the Empire of Brazil and recruited thousands of German emigrants, the ancestors of many members of the present-day German Brazilian community, for resettlement in Brazil.

Early life[edit]

Georg Anton Schäffer, native of Franconia,[3] son of a distillery owner,[3] studied medicine at Wurzburg's Juliusspital College of Medicine.[7] He joined Imperial Russian service as a surgeon, serving in Moscow before 1812. During the Napoleon's invasion of Russia (1812) he was involved in Frantz Leppich's ill-fated combat balloon project.[7] In 1813 he was a ship surgeon on board the Suvorov.[7] Disagreements with the captain prompted Schäffer to leave the ship in Sitka. Governor of the Russian-American Company Alexander Baranov, who also happened to be at odds with Suvorov's captain, hired Schäffer into the Company's service.[7]

Schäffer affair[edit]

In 1815 Schäffer sailed to Hawaii to retrieve the Company goods seized by Kaumualii, chief of Kauai island.[8]:91–95 A simple mission led by an inexperienced but ambitious physician unfolded into a major blunder for the Company. Kaumualii, who sought outside help in his domestic rivalry with king Kamehameha, invited Schäffer to his island and manipulated him into believing that the Russian-American Company could easily take over and colonize Hawaii. Schäffer, "losing all touch with reality",[9] planned a full-blown naval assault of the rest of Hawaiian islands and sought support for his "conquest" in Saint Petersburg. Mounting resistance of Native Hawaiians and American traders forced Schäffer to admit defeat and leave Hawaii in July 1817, before his triumphant reports from Kauai reached the Russian court. The Company recognized a loss of not less than 200,000 roubles but continued entertaining "The Hawaiian project" until 1821. The Company then sued Schäffer for damages, but after an inconclusive legal standoff found it easier to let him go back to Germany.

Return to Europe[edit]

In July 1818 Schäffer arrived in Denmark where he learned that Alexander left Russia to attend a congress in Aachen.[10] He did not get through to the tsar, instead sending his reports to Nesselrode and Ioannis Kapodistrias.[10] He pleaded the tsar to give a go-ahead for another incursion, taking Hawaii "in one blow, with such a military force that would be sufficient to both guarantee Russian possession and instill respect".[10] Schäffer claimed that "though not of the military profession, I am quite familiar with weaponry and, moreover, I have enough experience and courage..." for the job.[10]

The case was delayed until Alexander's return to Russia, and again involved bureaucratic review by various state offices.[11] In March 1819 Schaffer, fearing a final refusal, submitted another proposal. This time he demonized the Americans and their alleged goal of pushing the Russians out of the region, one colony at a time.[11] According to Schäffer, leaving Hawaii to the Americans would spell a loss of all Russian possessions in the region. A preemptive strike at Hawaii, he wrote, was essential to retain the Russian America.[11] The directors of the Company continued raising similar proposals, until Nesselrode voiced his and Alexander's firm aversion against any conflicts in the Pacific.[12]

Remnants of the Hawaiian project promoted by Peter Dobell[13] and Anders Ljungstedt circulated inside the Company until 1821.[14] Matvey Myravyov, the Governor of the Russian-American Company in 1820–1825, closed the debate saying that "Schäffer staged a funny comedy and the Company paid dearly for it. I do not think that it can ever be played again. As for merely having a midway harbor and a supply of fresh food — there are no and there will be no obstacles to it anyway."[15]

The Company attempted suing Schäffer for damages but he counter-attacked, demanding reimbursement for his alleged business expenses, and in the end the Company found it easier to simply let him go back to Germany.[12] By this time the United States established a permanent consulate in Honolulu; Kaumualii, the only ally of Russians, was subdued by Kamehameha's son and successor Liholiho.[16]

Brazilian adventures[edit]

Instead of settling in Europe, in 1821 Schäffer organized a group of 47 Germans aspiring to flee their homeland and took them on a journey across the Atlantic, to Brazil.[6] Schäffer's group was granted lands in Bahia and set up Frankenthal, the first successful German settlement in Brazil (present-day Ilhéus).

In September 1822 the Brazilian government dispatched Schäffer to Frankfurt[3] to recruit more European settlers. He arrived in 1823, styling himself as a major and a plenipotentiary of Dom Pedro I of Brazil .[3][17] This mission effectively launched the German emigration to Brazil. Schäffer was credited with bringing 5,000 Germans over five years (1824–1828). They settled in rural colonies; some of these ultimately failed (e.g. São João das Missões), others (São Leopoldo,[18] Novo Hamburgo) exist to date. Schäffer's Germans also formed the core of the first foreign units of the emerging Brazilian Army:[19] all unmarried men landing in Brazil faced compulsory military service, a fact that Schäffer did not advertise in advance[19] (his German recruits had to sign a thorough eight-part contract[20] that did not mention the draft obligations). Carlos Oberacker suggested that militarization of German settlers was Schäffer's own proposal, based on his knowledge of the Russian Cossacks.[21]

Schäffer's unorthodox sense of reality backfired in Brazil, twice. In 1827[6] Schäffer returned to Brazil and applied to the king for a noble style of marquis; Dom Pedro refused, providing only a cash reward. In 1829 Schäffer demanded a different favor, this time of being appointed the Brazilian ambassador to a European court, and was rejected again.

Schäffer stayed in Brazil despite these setbacks, until his death in 1836.[6]



  1. ^ Naske and Slotnick, p. 42
  2. ^ John Carl Parish (1963). Pacific historical review, Volume 32 page 397.
  3. ^ a b c d e Gomes, p. 19
  4. ^ Birth date as in Croft, p. 14
  5. ^ a b Von Tschudi, p. 200
  6. ^ a b c d Mills, p. 32.
  7. ^ a b c d Croft, p. 53
  8. ^ Khlebnikov, K.T., 1973, Baranov, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies in America, Kingston: The Limestone Press, ISBN 0919642500
  9. ^ Bolkhovitinov 1973, p. 60.
  10. ^ a b c d Bolkhovitinov 1973, p. 68.
  11. ^ a b c Bolkhovitinov 1973, p. 69.
  12. ^ a b Bolkhovitinov 1973, p. 71
  13. ^ Mills, p. 30, provides background information on Dobell and a brief history of his own projects.
  14. ^ Bolkhovitinov 1973, p. 72
  15. ^ Russian: Шеффер сыграл смешную комедию, за которую компания очень дорого заплатила, и я не думаю, чтобы можно было возобновить ее; иметь же просто пристанище на пути и там запастись свежей провизией никакого препятствия нет и не будет. - Bolkhovitinov 1997, p. 301.
  16. ^ Bolkhovitinov 1973, p. 73.
  17. ^ Von Tschudi, p. 195
  18. ^ According to Degen, p. 8, São Leopoldo reached 5,400 residents by 1850.
  19. ^ a b Macaulay, p. 188
  20. ^ Von Tschudi, pp. 195-198, provides a full copy of the contract dated May 12, 1821.
  21. ^ Degen, p. 5. Note that Degen, who cites Oberacker, calls Schäffer "secretary to Princess Leopoldina".