In 1782 a two-masted Dutch ship was built in Flensburg fjord, Scandinavia, which at that time was in Denmark. The ship was jointly owned by Hinrick Lock and Knut Anderson. It was named the Catharina von Flensburg, Catherine being the name of the Captain’s wife. Today we would technically call this ship a brig as it was an efficient cargo vessel that had a crew of seven.
A popular trip to do at that time for a ship based in Denmark was the run from St Petersburg, which had opened up at the start of the 18th century, down to Genoa. During a three-month winter spell the port was closed by ice but otherwise, it was a good run.
For many centuries, Russia had been exporting furs, tar, timber, and hemp. These could be obtained elsewhere in the Baltic but Russia had one good that was special, leather. Before St Petersburg, this leather had been coming out via river from Novgorod and was therefore controlled by the Hanseatic merchants. However now Russia could export directly and trade was brisk.
Russian leather, topped with strong smelling birch oil, was highly regarded. This was due to the fact it was extra durable, very strong, very good, somewhat waterproof, and insect repellent. It had a distinctive colour and a pattern of lines on the surface. What is more, however hard other European tanners tried, and many had, no one could match Russian Leather.
We do not know how often the Metta Catharina, as we now call it, undertook this journey. However, we do know a lot about its final journey in the autumn of 1786. When the ship reached the English Channel the weather began to deteriorate and the decision was made to anchor in safely in Plymouth Sound and wait for the bad weather to pass. She was not alone as another ship from Rotterdam, which was bound for Barcelona with wheat and cheese, also slipped in to anchor beside her.
Instead of subsiding the storm worsened and changed from the south-west and instead began to come directly from the south. This meant that the storm was now blowing directly into their anchorage. Neither ship could be moved at such a late stage and the Dutch ship was the first to drag its anchor and crash on the rocks.
The Metta Catharina broke free from her anchor at around ten at night, struck Drake’s Island on the Sound and got dragged over to the Cornish coast where she sank, somewhere not far from Mount Edgcumbe.