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Henrik Gabriel Porthan

Born 8 November, 1739, Viitasaari. Died 16 March, 1804, Turku.

Master of Philosophy 1760, Royal Academy of Turku

Docent of Rhetoric (Latin), 1762
Library Amanuensis,1764
Acting Professor, 1776, and full Professor of Rhetoric and Verse (Roman Verse), 1777–1804
Rector, 1786–87 and 1798–99, Royal Academy of Turku

Knight of the Nordstjärneorden (Swedish Order of the Polar Star), 1799
Kanslianeuvos (honorary title given to senior civil servants), 1802

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Lauri Lönnström
Translated by John Calton

The Aurora Society and Finland’s first newspaper

In 1770, Henrik Gabriel Porthan helped found the Aurora Society, which published Finland’s first newspaper, Tidningarutgifne af et sälskap I Åbo (later Åbo Tidningar), in January, 1771. Many notable figures of the day wrote for the paper, such as J. H. Kellgren, the first head of the Swedish Academy, A. N. Edelcrantz, the inventor of the first optical telegraph, and J. Tengstöm, the first archbishop of Finland. The fortnightly paper contributed to the spirit of the Enlightenment by publishing educational stories and anecdotes. And it has proved an important resource for the study of history: in the newspaper Porthan reprinted a great number of documents which, in their original manuscript form, were destroyed in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827. The newspaper was in print until 1861, by which time its popularity had been surpassed by another Turku newspaper, Åbo Underrättelser, which is still available at the Helsinki newsstands, and as such is Finland's oldest newspaper in circulation.

Stockholm's Utile Dulci Learned Society, which met behind closed doors and was the forerunner to the Swedish Academy, served as a model for the founders of the Aurora Society. Besides Porthan, Society members included the future Justice of the Supreme Court, Pehr Juslén the Younger, the future Bishop of Porvoo, Magnus Jacob Alopaeus, and the founder of the Swedish Museum, Carl Fredrik Fredenheim, who conducted one of the first archaeological excavations of the Roman Forum. The Society’s agenda underscored a strong Swedish identity but also the importance of the Finnish language and Finland’s ancient history. In this respect it differed from many other learned societies of the time.

Image: Wikimedia Commons​
Image: Wikimedia Commons​


  • K. Tarkiainen, ‘Porthan, Henrik Gabriel (1739–1804)’. National Biography of Finland online, Finnish Literature Society. Accessed 10 February 2015. In Finnish.
  • Markkanen, T., A. Tiitta, & P. Havaste (eds.), Suomalaisia tieteen huipulla – 100 tieteen ja teknologian saavutusta (‘The best of Finnish science – 100 scientific and technological achievements’), Gaudeamus, 2014. In Finnish.
  • Finland’s first newspaper’, (newspapers in education), Finnish Newspapers Association online. Accessed 11 February 2015.
  • Nordisk familjebok, Ural–Vertex (’Nordic who’s who, Ural-Vertex’) Westrin ed., Nordisk familjeboks förlags aktiebolag 1921.
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