Convicts of Van Diemen’s Land – The Convict King

Convicts of Van Diemen’s Land – The Convict King

Jorgen Jorgenson “The Convict King”

Jorgen Jorgenson (Jorgensen) was born the son of a Danish watchmaker in 1780 and proceeded to live an adventurous life. He was an adventurer, explorer, king, spy, convict, constable and writer. Among other things.

Jorgenson developed a habit of finding himself in places at significant times. I guess adventure can put you in such situations.

He joined the Danish navy at age 14, and as a privateer was onboard the Lady Nelson with Matthew Flinders during his exploration of Bass Strait, the establishment of both settlements on the River Derwent and the discovery of the Tamar estuary.

Jorgenson joined the whaling ship Alexander as assistant captain and harpooned the first whale slain by the new settlers on the River Derwent.

He returned to Denmark in 1806, sailing a cargo of whale blubber back to Europe and becoming the first Dane to have “sailed around the world”. 

This is when things really began to get interesting for Jorgenson. 

The King of Iceland

Denmark was at war with Britain. As captain of Danish ship Admiral Juul, he was captured and imprisoned by the British in 1807 as a prisoner of war.

Jorgenson talked his way to being part of a British trading party to Iceland in 1809, and when the Danish governor of Iceland was deposed, Jorgenson declared Iceland free from Danish rule, and self-proclaimed himself as “King” of Iceland, even though his role was closer to administrator. His reign lasted for 50 days. He even designed a flag.

The Three Cod Iceland flag designed by Jorgenson during his 50 day reign as King of Iceland.

In Iceland, Jorgenson is referred to as “King of the Dog-Days”.

After his brief reign as ruler of Iceland, he was again imprisoned by the British. Through his connections he was released and sent to the European continent to work as a spy. 

Jorgenson soon returned to England. Life in England brought him nothing but heavy drinking, gambling debts and imprisonment for fraud. He was sentenced to 7 years of exile, but remained in England. He was captured and sentenced to death which was commuted to exile for life in 1822. Even then, Jorgenson remained in England for a further three years in Newgate prison working as assistant to the surgeon and publishing his writings.

His writing got in him in more trouble and was finally sent to Van Diemen’s Land. Jorgenson arrived in Van Diemen’s Land for a second time in April 1826. This time as a convict.

Return to Van Diemen’s Land

In Hobart Town Jorgenson worked briefly at the customs house where he identified a significant forgery of bonds. He received a large reward from the merchant Anthony Fenn Kemp.

His gift of the gab succeeded in him being appointed as lead expeditioner to explore the north west via the central plateau, becoming the first white man to cross the region, but the expedition was forced to turn back due to bad weather and lack of supplies.

Lieutenant Governor Arthur, influenced by Anthony Fenn Kemp and other Hobart Town merchants, gave Jorgenson his ticket-of-leave and he was granted a large acreage and took up a new career as a police officer in Oatlands.

Freedom and Despair in Oatlands

Jorgenson had a role in the Special Police Corps in the Black Wars, marching on the Black Line.

Jorgenson married Irish convict Norah Corbett in New Norfolk in 1831. She was an alcoholic and public drunkard. Jorgenson’s gambling and drinking continued, resulting in numerous arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct, breaches of the peace and suspension from the police.

In 1833 he was sent north to Ross to investigate the delay of construction on the Ross Bridge. The sandstone intended for the building of the bridge kept being stolen, but Jorgenson’s investigation led to no arrests.

There is a carving on Ross Bridge of the Convict King of Van Diemen’s Land by convict stonemason Daniel Herbert.

The “Convict King” of Iceland is depicted wearing the crown as one of 186 carvings on the Ross Bridge.

Funny thing, is there was never any official approval for any carvings in the design of the bridge. In all, there are 186 carvings on the Ross Bridge!

When sober, he continued writing, even publishing his own autobiography in 1835, and he wrote articles for local newspapers. Jorgenson was granted his free pardon in August of 1835.

With his marriage causing him nothing but despair, Jorgenson drank and gambled away his remaining years. Norah died in 1840 of alcoholism and malnutrition. 

Jorgenson’s life may have been full of remarkable moments but ended in the least remarkable way. The former “King of Iceland” died in 1841, found drunk in a gutter in Hobart Town and died of pneumonia in Colonial Hospital (now Royal Hobart Hospital) with no money and no family. His place of burial is presumed to be in St David’s Park, Hobart. 

To me, being stuck too long in one place was not good for Jorgenson’s livelihood. He was easily drawn to the entrapment of human addictions and troubles.

His best days were when he was traveling around the world finding mischief that way. I believe I can relate to him in this way.

You can find previous Convicts of Van Diemen’s Land stories below:

Mary McLachlan – First Woman Executed

Billy Hunt – The Convict in Disguise

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