A Danish historical investigator, Jorn Dyrholm, has just revealed at a Jorgenson conference at the University of Iceland that the portrait of Jorgen Jorgenson as a young man is in fact of Hans Hansen. If this claim stands unchallenged and proven, then the carving of Jorgenson on the Ross Bridge will be the only known portrait of our Danish adventurer, ruler of Iceland and colonial pioneer in Van Diemen’s Land.
There are some who doubt that Herbert’s carving is of Jorgenson, but the affirmative case may be argued on a number of points.
As an artist I look at the carving of the king on the Ross Bridge and it looks like a portrait, not a caricature like many of Herbert’s carvings. If this carving is a portrait, then the question is of who? The suggestion that Herbert knew Jorgenson is quite valid, especially with the way Jorgenson walked everywhere, all over the island. I find it easy to consider Jorgenson sitting on one of the sandstone blocks with Herbert capturing his likeness. There is no evidence of who the king may be and if it is a portrait, then there is a percentage chance that it is Jorgenson and in this instance, quite a high percentage chance, as he was a legend in his own lifetime as the ex-king of Iceland.
That considered, is the female next to Jorgenson a study of Norah Corbett? This carving has more of the look of a caricature in stone. Perhaps Norah was not present to have a portrait made and with Jorgenson, being a naive artist, he may have provided Herbert with a rough sketch.
One Jorgenson researcher has mentioned to me that though he wrote many letters home to Denmark from Van Diemen’s Land, there is no mention in them of Herbert making a stone portrait of Jorgenson.
This is a good point, however, in the light of his having once been declared an outlaw in Denmark and with a price on his head and with the general belief in Denmark that he had attempted to set himself up as a king in Iceland, it would have been a sensitive thing to write home and declare “and by the way, I’ve just had me carving done as the king on the new bridge in Ross.” That may not have gone down too well at all and he may have decided to keep the detail to himself, rather than inflame a difficult episode that had been sorted by his father, who secured a Royal pardon for Jorgen from his death-bed.
In the Mitchell Library in Sydney I have read in Jorgen’s hand in the pages of his book that he had received in Oatlands, ‘The Religion of Christ is the Religion of Nature’, how he viewed himself as a republican. Jorgen may have had no idea that Herbert was about to stick a crown on his head and once done, he may well have preferred not to know about it.
It must have been pretty tough being a mythic king, a butt of royal-type jokes and all the time seeking to be taken seriously, made all the tougher by being chained to a drunken wife who couldn’t read a word he ever wrote.
I remain surprised at how carefully the king on the Ross Bridge is carved. The eyes are more carefully sculpted compared to many of Herbert’s carvings. There is a more humane character coming through this work and a clearer artistic statement.
The only down-side with the image is the loss of the end of the nose, that cracked off and fell into the Macquarie River one frosty night in 1969. My attempt to repair this in an oil painting, published earlier in the Tasmanian Times, may help to bridge the gap.
Jorgon on Ross Bridge?
Jorgen Jorgenson: Painting by Kim Peart