The English Dane
This is the true story of Jorgen Jorgenson (born Jørgen Jørgensen), a nineteenth-century Danish adventurer who ran away to sea at fourteen and began a brilliant career by sailing to establish the first colony in Tasmania.
Twists of fortune then found him captaining a warship for Napoleon before joining a British trading voyage to Iceland, where he staged an outrageous coup and ruled the country for two months as Protector. He founded his own army of native Icelanders (eight of them), designed a new flag featuring three cod against a blue ocean background, and declared the country independent from its colonial ruler, Denmark.
The revolution was overturned by the British, who sent Jorgenson back to London as a prisoner. More escapades followed, from confinement in violent prison hulks to patronage by Joseph Banks and travels in Europe as a spy. But Jorgenson was dogged by his own excesses, and ended up transported as a convict to Tasmania – the very colony he had helped to found. Here he reinvented himself as an explorer, and, despite his sympathy for the people, was caught up in the terrible Aboriginal clearances, about which he wrote vividly in the last years of his life.
The English Dane tells the story of Jorgenson’s life, and uses his own manuscripts and letters to build up a portrait of an unforgettable character living in fascinating times.
Chatto & Windus 2005, Vintage paperback 2006.
Available in paperback from Amazon (U.K.) here.
Also translated into Icelandic by Björn Jόnson: Jörundar hundadagakonungur. Reykjavík: Skrudda, 2005.
“Sarah Bakewell has a fine story to tell, and she is its skilled servant … wonderful, intelligently told.” – Thomas Keneally, The Guardian
“Sarah Bakewell tells this dramatic story with pace and clarity … hugely readable.” – The TLS.
“An almost flawless portrait of a man in tune with his times but overwhelmed by them.” – The Australian.
“Her account of the world encountered by Jorgenson is as rich and nuanced as her description of his life, as his story becomes a way of exploring the changing reality of the early 19th century.” – The Independent.
“Such zest propels the prose that one is enthralled by Jorgenson’s rise and fall, and moved by Bakewell’s vivid portrait of a man whose flaws bulldozed his talents at all the wrong moments.” – The Daily Telegraph.