Page images


Discovery of Greenland.

Subjection to Norway.

of the Sagas orally existing were committed to writing, and copies multiplied. Monasteries, hospitals, and schools, were established, and learning was cultivated with great assiduity.

Of this, the golden age of Icelandic history, Adam of Bremen, in his Hist. Ecclesiastica, cap. 248, speaks as follows: "Thus, spending in simplicity a holy life, since they seek for nothing beyond what nature yields, the Icelanders can cheerfully say with the Apostle, 'Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.' For they have their mountains for towns, and springs for delights. Happy, I say, the race whose poverty no one envies, and happiest in this, that they have now all received Christianity. There are many remarkable points among their customs, especially charity, from which it comes that, with them, all things are common both to strangers as well as to natives. For a king they have their bishop, and to his nod all the people attend: whatever he has laid down, whether from God or from Scripture, or from the customs of other nations, that they have for law."

In the sixteenth century, the Reformation was forced upon the people by the monarch of the united kingdoms of Denmark and Norway; its progress was everywhere marked by blood, and even the Lutheran historian, Finn Jonsson, is unable to veil completely the atrocities which were committed. The venerable Bishop of Holar, Jon Arnason, the last Catholic prelate, received the crown of martyrdom along with his two sons, uttering with his dying breath, "Lord! into Thy hands I commend my spirit." The clergy either conformed or were ejected from their benefices; and the Crown seized on most of the Church property, which it sold for its own aggrandizement. Since 1551 the Lutheran religion has been established. A mission has been planted at Reykjavik by Romanists, but has not hitherto succeeded, the laws of Iceland forbidding the erection of any place of worship not of the established religion.

An event of considerable importance in the history of the island was the discovery of Greenland by Eirik the Red. This new country soon became a flourishing settlement, with a cathedral, two towns, and 190 farms. Shortly after this followed the discovery of America, by Leif and others, who pushed as far south as Massachusetts. But these pioneers opened a way which was not traversed by colonists, and the discovery led to no practical results.

In 1261, by a decree of Althing, the sovereignty of Iceland was made over to Hakon, King of Norway, with the understanding that no tribute should be exacted, that trade should be encouraged, and that natives of the island should be suffered to acquire honours and civil offices in Norway itself.

In 1880, when the crown of Norway was annexed to that of Denmark, the island was transferred without opposition to mark."" the Danish Government.

Previous to the Calmar union, Queen Margaret had made the trade with Iceland a royal monopoly, carried on only by vessels belonging to or licensed by the crown; this monopoly was kept up by her successors, and, after the union, by the Danish Government to a very late period, on account of its lucrative nature, and only abolished in 1776.

This injured the trade of Iceland to a very great extent, and would have been more severely felt, but for the facility of evading its restrictions. English merchant vessels continually trafficked with Iceland, bringing meal and clothing in exchange for fish. In 1413, one of the first acts of Henry V. was to send letters to Iceland, with five ships, relative to the opening of a market for English merchandise.

In 1402, the black death was brought into the country by Black a shipwrecked vessel, and for three years it devastated the deaLl1island, sweeping off nearly two-thirds of the population. The contagion had first been carried to Norway by an English boat. At Bergen, according to Torfceus, who follows Pontanus, the plague broke out in its most frightful form, with vomiting of blood; and throughout the whole country, spaced not more than a third of the inhabitants. The sailors found no refuge in their ships; and vessels were often seen driving about on the ocean, and drifting on shore, whose crews had perished to the last man.

About the same period, the coasts of Iceland were infested Piratical with English pirate vessels fitted out at Hull, Lynn, and elsewhere. Farms were plundered, churches despoiled, and whole families carried off to be sold into slavery. In 1512, the pirates even had the audacity to capture and murder the governor of the island. In 1614, one of these corsairs, named John, came into the harbour of the Westmann Islands, sacked the village, and carried off all the ornaments and valuables of the church. On his return to England, King James I. caught him, and, after having punished him for his offences, restored the pillage; but the church furniture was destined to be again lost, for in 1627 a Turkish or Algerine privateer, after having cruised along the south coast, plundering the farms and churches, anchored in the harbour of Heimey, and again robbed the church. The corsairs burned every building in the island

and carried away with them 400 persons in fetters, whom they conveyed to Algiers and sold into captivity. One of the unfortunates, a Lutheran pastor, named Olafr Egidsson, escaped two years later, and wrote an account of the sufferings they had undergone. In 1636, the Danish Crown ransomed the surviving Icelanders, but only 87 of the 400 were alive, and regained their native island.

In 1808, an English privateer, under the command of a certain Captain Gilpin, made a descent on the island, landed an armed force at Reykjavik, broke open the public chest, and carried off upwards of thirty thousand rix-dollars.

Icelandic Iq 1809 took place one of the most extraordinary circum

stances on record, which has been dignified by the name of the Icelandic Revolution.'

An individual of the name of Jorgensen was at that date prisoner of war in England. This man was a Dane, of a restless and adventuresome spirit. At an early age he had served as an apprentice on board a British collier; after which he had entered our navy and served in it till twenty-five years old, when he returned to his native country. He was speedily appointed to the command of a privateer of twenty-eight guns, the Admiral Juul, in which he fell in with two English ships of war, and, after a brief engagement, was obliged to strike his colours. On landing in England, he was paroled, and remained in London till December, 1808. Meeting there with a wealthy merchant named Phelps, he urged him to speculate in a trade with Iceland, where, according to Jorgensen's account, a large amount of tallow was lying ready for exportation.

A vessel, the Clarence, was fitted out and freighted with meal, potatoes, rum, sugar, and coffee.

M. Jorgensen embarked on board the Clarence, together with Mr. Savigniac, an Englishman employed as supercargo, and sailed in December, thereby breaking his parole. In January, 1809, the ships anchored off Reykjavik, but permission to land the cargo was peremptorily refused, although it was acknowledged that the island was in extreme want of the various articles on board. Messrs. Jorgensen and Savigniac at once proceeded to capture a Danish brig which had just arrived freighted with provisions, an act which so alarmed the Danish officials of Reykjavik, that they consented to communications being opened between Mr. Savigniac and the natives; at the same time, how

* For the details of this I am indebted to Mr. Hooker's Tour and Sir George Mackenzie's Iceland.

ever, they issued a proclamation, which was forwarded over the island, threatening any one with death who ventured to trade with the English.

The goods were now brought on shore, and Mr. Savigniac remained in charge of them, whilst Jdrgensen returned to England with the Clarence in ballast, having, in the first place, restored the captured brig to its owners.

In June arrived Count Tramp, the governor, who had been absent during these transactions. In the same month, the Rover, a British war sloop, commanded by Captain Nott, arrived off Reykjavik, and Count Tramp entered into a convention with him, by which it was stipulated that British subjects should be permitted to carry on a free trade with Iceland during the war, but that they should, at the same time, be subject to Danish laws. This agreement was signed, and the governor undertook to have it printed and circulated freely. This he did not do; the old proclamation threatening death still remained up, and was probably still circulated. Five days after the drawing up of the convention, Mr. Phelps himself arrived in the Margaret and Anne, a fine ship, carrying ten guns. Jdrgensen was also on board. Savigniac at once proceeded to the vessel and laid the state of affairs before Mr. Phelps. The merchant waited several days, expecting to see the proclamation of free trade with English vessels posted up; but as the former notice threatening death was still unrepealed, and there seemed to be no intention on the part of the governor to issue the convention drawn up between himself and Captain Nott, Mr. Phelps gave orders to Captain Liston, the master of the Margaret and Anne, to seize the person of the governor and detain him as prisoner, directing him also to make a prize of the Orion, a brig belonging to Count Tramp, provided with a British licence, which, however, it had forfeited.

Mr. Liston, in pursuance of these directions, landed twelve of his crew with arms, and made a prisoner of the governor, without any resistance having been offered. Jorgensen, a thorough adventurer, ready for any emergency, at once assumed the government of Iceland, declared himself Protector, and commenced the exercise of his power by issuing proclamations, which announced that Danish authority was at an end in Iceland, that the ancient constitution of the island should be restored, that all Danish property on the island should be confiscated for public use, and that there should be free trade. Jorgensen announced also that Iceland should have her own flag, which was to be three stockfish, split, proper, on a ground azure.

The bishop and clergy in a synod accepted the new government: Jorgensen made a journey to the north, and was received with open arms everywhere, and several natives were enrolled as soldiers. The new army, which was to resist all warlike inroads on the coast, consisted of eight men armed with old fowling pieces and swords, in green uniforms, and mounted on sturdy ponies. The soldiers scoured the country, intimidating the Danes, securing confiscated property, and rousing the enthusiasm of the natives.

Delighted with his army, Jorgensen assumed the title of his Excellency, the Protector of Iceland, Commander-in-Chief by sea and land, and posted up a proclamation, on the llth July, which shows the impudence and assurance of the man. Its first article ran :—" We, Jorgen Jorgensen, have taken upon ourselves the government of the country until a regular constitution is established, with the power to make war and conclude peace with foreign potentates." The second article announced that, having been unanimously elected by the enthusiastic soldiery, he had taken upon himself the conduct of the military department. By the third article a new flag was appointed for Iceland, and Jorgensen swore to defend its honour with his heart's blood. By the sixth, all factious officials were banished to the Westmann Islands. The eighth announced that an ambassador would be sent to his British Majesty; and the sixteenth forbade all irreverence towards the sacred person of Jorgen Jorgensen.

The harbour of Reykjavik was next put in a state of defence by order of his Excellency, Mr. Phelps executing this order with great alacrity, assisted by a crowd of natives. A battery, denominated Fort Phelps, was speedily formed, and mounted with six guns which were dug out of the sand, where they had lain for a hundred and forty years, and which were perfectly useless. The public money chest, which contained 2,700 rix-dollars, was seized by the new governor, and a Danish vessel which came into the harbour was also captured by his orders.

But the end of Jorgensen's power was nearer than he had expected. The Talbot sloop of war, Captain Jones, arrived in Havnafjord, and to him the Danish merchants applied. The vessel was at once brought round into Reykjavik harbour, and among the first objects that met the captain's eye was the deep blue flag with the three white stockfish waving over the courthouse. Immediately upon his arrival, Count Tramp, who had now been detained for nine weeks a prisoner on board the Margaret and Anne, demanded an interview with him. This was granted, and Captain Jones, after having examined into the pros and cons, concluded that he was officially bound to interfere

« PreviousContinue »