I know I don’t normally talk about Reykjavík history on this blog, I save that for my tours mostly, but I just feel this story is too good not to share it. So I hope you enjoy this one off Reykjavík history lesson about Iceland’s favorite rascal.
If there’s any event in Icelandic history that I would like to go back in time for it would have to be the summer of 1809 when a Danish man called Jörgen Jörgensen convinced some English merchants to sail to Iceland despite the Danish monopoly on trading. This was his second voyage to the country, his first one failed somewhat miserably, but the reason why Iceland was such a feasible option in his opinion was a food shortage that resulted from the Danish monopoly and the hope that this could be profitable for him and his travel partners.
Jörgen was quite the character but he had a knack for getting himself into all kinds of trouble. At the time of his voyage he was actually on parole in England and was not supposed to leave the country. It doesn’t seem like he cared much about minor details like that.
So Jörgen, also known as Jörundur here in Iceland, arrived in Reykjavík and I don’t know exactly what happened but when the governor of Iceland at the time refused to let them do business with the Icelanders Jörgen and his shipmates arrested the governor and Jörgen basically crowned himself the king of Iceland. More specifically the Protector of Iceland (although king undeniably sounds better). He ruled the country for around 2 months before the Danish seized power again.
Jörgen said he wanted to liberate the Icelandic people from the evil Danes and let them trade with whoever they wanted. His ultimate goal was for the Iceland to become independent but he was just going to rule the country until we were ready for that – you know, with our best interest at heart and all that. He even made a new flag for Iceland that you can see here below.
Jörgen has always been one of my favorite characters of Icelandic history and the stories of his escapades just sound so hilarious to me. He and another man called Phelps actually built a fortress to protect the city where the National Bank of Iceland now sits by Arnarhóll. Of course when you build a fortress you need some weapons for it so they dug up some old rusty canons from the ground in Bessastaðir and transported them over to the fort. He then got his most able men, mostly drunks and hobos, to man the fort.
After his short stint as the Protector of Iceland he got into all kinds of troubles for drinking and gambling and not paying his debt. Somehow he always managed to get out again though and on to the next adventure. Near the end of the Napoleonic Wars he even worked as a spy for the British army as he traveled through France and Germany.
Jörgen ended his life in Hobart Australia where he had been sent as a convict from England. Again he somehow managed to get what they called a ticket of leave where he basically got to roam around like a free man, marry and acquire property but he was not allowed to carry firearms or board a ship (although that hadn’t stopped him before). He later got pardoned but stayed in Tasmania, got married and eventually died.
These stories kind of remind me of Baron Munchausen except the stories of Jörgen are all true.
To make the story of Jörgen Jörgensen, Jörundur Hundadagakonungur (Jörundur the king of the dog days), even better there’s actually a bridge in Ross in Tasmania built by some convicts with the carved out head of Jörgen on it. He’s wearing a crown like the true king that he was.
The story of Jörgen Jörgensen is just one of the many stories I tell on my Reykjavík Walking Tour. You might want to check it out next time you’re in Reykjavík.