An extraordinary period of British naval and colonial history (1790-1830) brought to vivid life through the bizarre and dramatic seafaring adventure . . .
Jorgen Jorgenson was a Dane who made Britain his adopted country, and became caught up in its story at opposite ends of the earth. The son of a Copenhagen clockmaker, inspired by his hero Captain Cook, he came to London. Here he became a sailor and at twenty-three was among the small party sent to establish a new colony - Tasmania. Twists of fortune found him captaining a ship for Napoleon against Britain: captured, his life was under threat. He escaped execution, but next a pile of London gambling debts drove him to sail with British traders to Iceland. Now comes his long-dreamed of moment of glory. When Danish officials in Iceland bar their trade, Jorgensen and his fellows (including the young botanist William Jackson Hooker) simply stage a coup. For seven summer months Jorgensen rules Iceland, proclaiming it free from Danish rule, its ancient rights restored and 'at peace with all the nations of the world'. A British warship arrives, and his rule is at an end, but on the voyage home, Jorgen is a hero once more, saving them all from a fire at sea. He was not yet thirty. Much lay ahead, from imprisonment in the hulks, patronage by the British establishment, and travels in Europe as a British spy.
But Jorgensen was dogged by his own excesses, and spiralled downwards to prison again, until he was transported as a convict to Tasmania, the colony he helped to found. Here his second life began. He became a mighty explorer, cutting through the bush across icy mountains and flooded rivers. Despite his sympathy for the people, he was caught up in the 'Black Line' and the terrible Aboriginal clearances - movingly described here. Finally he won freedom and status and fame, before drink and a violent marriage dragged him down again. It's a great story - all the ripping yarns you need rolled into one, and a real eye-opener about the workings of power at the birth of the British empire.
- Publication Date:
- 20 / 10 / 2009