Johanna Hård was accused of being involved in the last case of piracy in the southern archipelago outside of Gothenburg in 1823. Although she was never condemned she was popularly known as the ringleader, in what is perhaps an example of how easy it is for a vulnerable woman to be turned into a scapegoat. The oral story of Johanna Hård has persisted across the generations and can be found in written versions in newspapers and books.
Johanna Hård was born Johanna Jungberg in Gothenburg in 1789. Towards the late 1700s her paternal grandparents, like many others at that time, packed up and left Varaslätten to go to Gothenburg. Her father initially worked as a haulier in the Majorna area of that town, later moving, with the family, to what was known as ‘rackarens hus’ (the executioner’s assistant’s house) in Kvarnberget. In the first years of nineteenth century he and his wife, Anna Britta, came into possession of Bällskär Nordgård in Backa at Hissingen, which had probably been Anna Britta’s childhood home.
Not much more is known of Johanna Hård’s early years. By 1813, however, she had arrived in Vargö in the southern archipelago outside of Gothenburg. There she married Fredrik Hård, a widower with three children who ran a herring saltery. Apparently theirs was a happy marriage. Everything changed in 1817 when Fredrik Hård died, leaving Johanna Hård penniless. It was the children who inherited the herring saltery.
Thus Johanna Hård, Fredrik’s servant Anders Andersson, and Fredrik’s daughter Anna Maria moved to Styrsö where they lived in the building which currently houses Café Öbergska at Styrsö Bratten. Johanna Hård presumably lived off of smuggling and by running a speakeasy. Smuggling had, at this time not long after the end of the Napoleonic wars, become a common past-time as a consequence of the reintroduction of harsh trade importation laws in Sweden.
Johanna Hård’s reputation on the island of Styrsö was not the best if the local pastor’s notes are anything to go by. Her reputation only worsened after she stood by Anders when he was jailed for stealing. In 1822 she gave birth to a stillborn child. Although the father’s identity was not given it is fairly likely that it may have been Anders Andersson. The parson suspected Johanna Hård of committing infanticide but a medical investigation proved that the child had never taken a single breath. In March 1823 things began to look brighter for Johanna Hård: now that all of the late Fredrik Hård’s children were dead she was finally able to sell the herring saltery. This gave her the funds to acquire a house on Vrångö, to which she and Anders moved.
The fateful event which would change Johanna Hård’s life occurred in May 1823. On Ascension weekend Anders Andersson and a fisherman named Christen Andersson, a boatswain called Johan Andersson Flatås, and Christen’s servant Carl Börjesson all boarded a vessel named Jungfru Mette just beyond the Skagen strait. They killed the crew and made off with some of the cargo. Subsequently they set the rudder in such a way that the vessel would sail directly westwards. However, they had miscalculated and shortly afterwards the Jungfru Mette got stranded on Fotö in the northern archipelago outside of Gothenburg. A few days later the four pirates were discovered by the district police chief who put them in prison in Gothenburg. The men all claimed, however, that it was Johanna Hård who was the instigator of the plan. She vehemently denied the charges and, given the absence of proof of her involvement in the crime, she was eventually set free. Anders, Johan, and Christen were in the meantime condemned to death and executed at Långås Lider in Kållered whilst Carl was condemned to penal labour for the rest of his life. These events were closely followed by the press. Piracy was one of the most taboo subjects within the archipelago.
Johanna Hård headed to Stockholm shortly after having been found not guilty and apparently lived out her days in a law-abiding, albeit poor, manner at various addresses in Gamla Stan (the old town). The census records reveal that she was an honest trader. In popular history Johanna has been presented as a determined yet hard and evil woman who stopped at nothing to carry out her plans. Nevertheless it seems unlikely that she was the mastermind behind the crime. At that time she had finally obtained a permanent home in Vrångö, she had her own boat and a servant, perhaps not the most reliable individual but nevertheless helpful with the fishing. Would she really risk all this on such a dangerous and uncertain plot? Perhaps it was because she was a new arrival in the archipelago as well as a woman with a poor reputation that she was made the scapegoat for the last incidence of piracy in the southern archipelago.
Johanna Hård died in 1851 at the Sabbatsberg poorhouse in Stockholm.