JORGENSEN, Jorgen (1780-1841)


JORGENSEN, Jorgen (1780-1841)
adventurer
was born at Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1780. His father, Jörgen Jörgensen was well-known as watch and clock-maker to the court of Denmark, and other members of his family held respected positions. His schooldays were unhappy and he was expelled at the age of 14. He was put to work in the country, and at his own request was soon afterwards sent to sea in an English ship. Four years on a collier taught him some seamanship, and being taken by a pressgang he served for some years on English men-of-war. At the Cape he joined the Lady Nelson in which he proceeded to Australia. He appears to have been a mate on the Lady Nelson when she went to Hobart in 1803. He was next on a sealer in New Zealand waters and then sailed for England on the Alexander. It put in to Otaheite after a storm and stayed two months. He gathered there the materials of his State of Christianity in the Island of Otaheite published in 1811. He reached England in June 1806, introduced himself to Sir Joseph Banks, and kept in touch with him for some years. Trapped in Copenhagen while visiting his parents when war was declared between Denmark and England, Jorgensen was given command of a small ship of war and sent to France to convey troops. On the way he was intercepted by H.M.S. Sappho and captured. He lingered in England for eight months on parole. Hearing that Iceland was short of food, he suggested to a merchant the advisability of sending a trading ship there and the Clarence was sent with Jorgensen on board as interpreter.
The Clarence arrived at the port of Havnefiord early in January 1809. Jorgensen advised that the vessel should hoist American colours, but it was afterwards disclosed that the ship was English. The Danish officials refused to allow any trading and the vessel was obliged to return. Jorgensen so impressed the owner with his personality that he lent him a thousand pounds to pay his debts, and fitted out a fresh expedition of two vessels the Margaret and Anne, and the Flora. Jorgensen and the owner sailed with it and also (Sir) William J. Hooker, then just beginning to make his reputation as a naturalist. They became great friends and Hooker kept his interest in Jorgensen even in his adversity. Nearing Iceland Jorgensen's seamanship saved the Margaret and Anne from running on a rock. When they arrived in June 1809 Count Trampe, the governor of the island, would permit no trading. On a Sunday, while most of the inhabitants were at church, a party of English seamen surrounded the governor's house while Jorgensen, the captain of the vessel, Mr Photos the owner and the agents, forced themselves into the governor's room and arrested him. Jorgensen then took charge of the governor's residence, ingratiated himself with the islanders, and drew up a proclamation addressed to them. Taxes were remitted, increases of salaries were given to the clergy, and the people were promised peace and cheap food. Jorgensen formed a small body guard and announced his full title "His Excellency, the Protector of Iceland, Commander in Chief by Land and Sea". He seized Danish property and was lavish with public money, made a tour of the island, and for several weeks everything went smoothly. Then H.M.S. Talbot, commanded by the Hon. Alexander Jonas, entered the harbour in August 1809. After some investigation the Danish government was restored and Jorgensen taken to England. On the voyage the Margaret and Anne took fire and was lost, and Jorgensen on the Orion was prominent in saving those on board. Arrived in London he was not molested until a week after the arrival of the Talbot, two weeks after his own vessel. He was then arrested and put in prison, where he heard that Banks had washed his hands of him though Hooker remained his friend. He was brought before the transport board which decided that he should be confined as a prisoner of war who had broken his parole. Jorgensen in confinement spent his time in voluminous literary work. After 11 months on a prison ship he was transferred to Reading on parole. He was 10 months there and was finally released about the middle of 1811.
In London for some months Jorgensen spent most of his time in drinking and gambling, until even the kindly Hooker would lend him no more money. Jorgensen then got a post as mate on a vessel bound for Lisbon where he left his vessel and went to the British front in Spain, got himself arrested as a suspicious character, and, free again, went back to Lisbon where he became penniless. He somehow found his way to Gibraltar. He represented that he had been engaged in naval service and was taken back to England in a hospital ship. He endeavoured to have some of his manuscripts published without success, managed to borrow more money, and wrote to the colonial office representing that he could obtain important information relating to an expedition concerted between the Americans and the French to be sent to capture the Australian colonies. He had gambled away everything he possessed and was in the fleet prison, when he was released by the foreign office and sent to the continent on secret service in June 1815. In the meantime the details of the supposed plot to invade Australia had been sent to Governor Macquarie (q.v.), who in his reply dated 30 April 1814 admitted the paucity of Australia's defences, but thought Bonaparte had too many commitments in Europe to enable him to spare forces to send to Australia. Jorgensen, in spite of occasional lapses into gambling and drinking, continued to be supplied with money from the foreign office, and presumably did obtain some information of value. From France he travelled to Germany where he was presented to Goethe. He lived for eight months at Berlin in a respectable way, but in November 1816 he fell among sharpers at Dresden and lost a considerable sum he had with him. In June 1817 he returned to London where he states he was handsomely rewarded for his services. He published his Travels through France and Germany in the years 1815-1817, a volume of over 400 pages which was unfavourably criticized in the Edinburgh Review, and was a complete failure. He began drinking and gambling again and presently was arrested on a charge of having pawned his landlady's furniture during her absence. He was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for seven years, but this was delayed, and in the meantime Jorgensen was given a position as assistant to the surgeon of Newgate gaol infirmary. He professed repentance and one Sunday was allowed to preach a sermon of his own composition to his fellow outcasts. He did his work well and in November 1821 was given his liberty on condition that he left England. But he did not carry out this condition, and in October 1822 was again arrested, sentenced to death and respited. He obtained his old position and again preached to the convicts. In October 1825 he was sentenced to transportation for life, and at the end of November was sent to Australia in the Woodman. He was employed in the infirmary and when later on the surgeon suddenly died, Jorgensen was put in charge of the hospital. There had been much sickness in the early stages of the voyage, but when the vessel arrived at the Cape there was not a single patient in the hospital.
The Woodman arrived in the Derwent on 26 April 1826 and Jorgensen was given a position in the naval office. A few weeks later when £4000 was burgled from the treasury Jorgensen found the money and the robbers. Again in good favour with the authorities he was placed in charge of a surveying expedition in the north-west of the colony. He worked for three years in the country, and returning to Hobart became editor of a local newspaper for a short period. He had been given his ticket of leave and in 1828 received a conditional pardon. He was appointed a constable in the field police force and was successful in the struggle with the bushrangers. In 1830 he was engaged in the "Black War" against the aborigines. In January 1831 he married an ex-convict woman, Deborah Carbon, and settled in Hobart. There in that year he published his Observations on the Funded System. He began drinking heavily again, but about 1834 was given another chance as divisional constable at Rose, where he did good work against the bushrangers. Six months later, having received a family legacy of £200, he returned to Hobart, spent his money and became bankrupt. He wrote his autobiography, the first portion of which appeared in the Van Diemen's Land Annual for 1835, the second in the 1838 volume. About 1840 (Sir) Joseph Dalton Hooker, then a member of an expedition to the Antarctic, son of Jorgensen's old friend, came to Hobart and found Jorgensen. His father had never forgotten his friend, but it was now too late for anything to be done for him. He died of inflammation of the lungs in the Hobart infirmary on 20 January 1841. The manuscript of the journal of his expeditions in 1826 and 1827 is at the Mitchell library, Sydney. Many other manuscripts are at the British Museum. In addition to the volumes already mentioned Jorgensen published in London in 1827 The Religion of Christ is the Religion of Nature.
Jorgensen had a remarkable personality ruined by complete instability of character. Confident, fearless, plausible, capable and unscrupulous, he could ingratiate himself with everyone, and, however far he might fall someone would throw him a rope to help him on his feet again. His amazing life of adventure has attracted many writers, the latest of whom, Rhys Davies, gives a bibliography of some 40 items at the end of his biography, Sea Urchin. Other references will be found on page one of J. F. Hogan's The Convict King. Much of the writing on Jorgensen is based on his autobiography which is not always accurate.
Rhys Davies, Sea Urchin; J. F. Hogan, The Convict King, which substantially reproduces Jorgensen's Autobiography; Marcus Clarke, Stories of Australia in the Early Days; Chas Knight, The English Cyclopaedia, Biography, vol. 3; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vol. VIII, pp. 72, 241, 653.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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