KIM PEART, Remembering the bicentenary of Jorgen Jorgenson’s rule of Iceland, 25 June to 22 August 1809
It is a mystery out of the pages of history that these carvings exist, as a search of similar stone bridges around the World reveals that the stones of the arches were normally left plain and undecorated, located as they are away from view and usually out over flowing waters. It is not known who made the decision to allow this time-consuming extravagance on a controversial bridge that had already ran over its scheduled completion date by many years. Dan Sprod, the author of the authoritative work on Jorgenson, ‘The Usurper’, believes that these carvings of the Jorgenson’s are likenesses, as the convict community in Van Diemen’s Land was a close- knit one and Daniel Herbert would have known them. There is also little doubt that Jorgenson returned to Ross on his frequent journeys around the island and may have even sat on a stone for Herbert to capture his likeness. Whoever approved this work has permitted a most unusual legacy of colonial art that is of World heritage significance, but its actual heritage value is also yet to be determined, along with what all those strange designs carved into the stones actually mean. There is work waiting to be done on this bridge, like its completion, many years overdue.
Report from Iceland ~ 7 August 1809
UPSIDE DOWN AND INSIDE OUT
Iceland is a land where the insides of the Earth bubble out with boiling mud, or flow as molten rock across the surface. Now politics on this island of ice and heat is living up to the nature of its geology, with the old order turned upside down and inside out with the rule of Mr Jorgen Jorgenson.
Despite early rumours running rampant around Iceland, there has been no blood flowing through the streets, only the merriment of the summer markets and with Jorgenson having lifted Danish restrictions on travel, more people have come in from outlying districts to meet up with family and friends.
But, I could only here of all this, having been made a guest of the Protector, Mr Jorgen Jorgenson, in the old prison. I say ‘old prison’, because our pirate king let out all the prisoners, some of whom are now wearing green uniforms as the royal guard of the pirate king and now use the old prison as the new military barracks.
There was still room for trouble-makers within its walls, which I became dubbed as for daring to report of fears of violence and referring to Jorgenson as a pirate king. He doesn’t like that and wants to be seen as a revolutionary and republican. But taking the whole island under letters of marque issued by the British Government and becoming the ruler, how else can anyone with an honest frame of mind view the current reality?
So for my troubles of telling the truth about this so-called revolution, I was duly granted free board and lodging until Mr Jorgenson decided that it was safe to let me loose. All said and done, he is not a bad fellow and his rule is showing itself as fair to the people, but no one believes this will last. When the next British warship calls into Reykjavik, some kind of showdown is expected.
When Jorgenson returned from a tour of the north with five of his green-clad troopers, he was to discover the trader Phelps busy at work constructing a fort with old Danish guns once buried here, certainly getting into the spirit of nation-building, but whether this is for protection against other Pirates or British warships, remains to be seen.
I should report that the young botanist with the party, Mr. William J. Hooker, a protege of Sir Joseph Banks, has been busy scouting around for plants, visiting the volcanic attractions and collecting Icelandic clothing. As a frequent visitor to government house, now the residence of the pirate king, he appears to be on quite friendly terms with Jorgenson.
I tackled Hooker about his view of the situation, but he was keeping out of any comment, declaring that he was visiting Iceland purely for science, liked Jorgenson as a person and was fascinated to hear his stories of adventure around the World through Africa, New Holland, New Zealand, Otaheite and Brazil.
Life goes on, as they say, so until the next time I can send a dispatch from the long sunny days of the Icelandic summer and providing I am allowed to remain at large, I will sign off.
THE ROSS BRIDGE KING IN EXHIBITION
An exhibition of drawings of the Ross Bridge carvings by June MacLucas, made in 1988, opened on the evening of Friday 31 July at the Burnie Regional Art Gallery, where these full-size works of all the carvings on all six arch faces of the bridge are in the gallery’s permanent collection. This is in effect a de-facto Jorgenson bicenternary event, as the drawings include the carving of Jorgenson as the king.
Randolph Wylie, the curator of the exhibition, informs me that there were 75 people present at the opening and the artist also flew in from South Australia, where in recent years June has gone underground, literally, making art in caves.
Jorgenson has another claim to fame in Burnie, with a street named after him, ‘Jorgensen Street’, in honour of his time as an explorer with the Van Diemen’s Land Company in 1827. With a party of four and three dogs, they were seeking an overland route from the wild West Coast to Hobart. They lost the hunting dogs, nearly starved to death and only three returned to Circular Head after Clement Lorymer drowned in the Duck River.
The exhibition of June MacLucas’ drawings is a rare opportunity to have a close-up look at the art of the Ross Bridge, which is a bit hard to see from the shore. It may be another 20 years until June’s drawings will be available to view again, as this is how long it has been since their last exhibition and once in protected storage, these works on paper remain hidden from view.
The exhibition will be open to the public until Sunday 13 September.
ANOTHER LITTLE JORGENSON MYSTERY ~ JORGENSEN STREET
The suburban area of Burnie in which ‘Jorgensen Street’ is found was approved for subdivision in July 1947 and the plan shows Jorgenson’s name spelt ‘Jorgensen’. An article in The Advocate of 12 May 2001 entitled ‘Burnie’s Link with a Convict King’ shows a photo of the street sign with the spelling ‘Jorgenson’. Now lets go to Google Earth for a look and if you do and look at a panorama street photo, the view of the sign now shows the spelling as ‘Jorgensen’, as per the original survey plan. But, The Advocate photo is of the other side of the sign and so, here lies a mystery: has the sign been changed, or is the spelling different on both sides? If there is a reader in Burnie, you may like to have a look and report in.
The Google street view also reveals that two streets begin at the end of Talina Street and branch around the reserve located behind the sign. The other street name is ‘Truganini Street’, which makes a rather haunting image considering Jorgenson’s role with the Tasmanian Aborigines during the Black War as a constable in the Field Police stationed in Oatlands and his book on the Tasmanian Aborigines belatedly published in 1991. Truganini was the last surviving full- blood Tasmanian Aborigine on the island who died in 1876 and with her and others on Kangaroo Island off South Australia taken there by sealers, the passing of an era into the mists of time, with their stories and their songs, like that sung by Fanny Cochrane Smith at a recording session in 1903 that can be heard in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
The reserve embraced by the two streets appears to have no name, whether on the 1947 survey plan, on current street maps, or on the ground when hunted for via Google street views.
INVESTIGATION INTO THE ROSS BRIDGE ART
The Tasmanian Government has secured Federal Government funding to strengthen the Ross Bridge, which will be good for public safety, but there is also another need that should be given high priority by all levels of government. It has now been 36 years since the first and last book was produced on the amazing art of the Ross Bridge by Daniel Herbert, with the work by Greener and Laird that makes the claim that the works are inspired by Celtic traditions.
I have presented a document to the Tasmanian Government proposing an investigation into the art of the Ross Bridge, which would seek to identify the meaning and root inspiration for the work. Anyone with a knowledge of Celtic Art can quickly see that these carvings are not what we now call Celtic Art, which was developed from Viking art styles brought to Ireland by Norse invaders and settlers over a millennium ago.
If this investigation gains support, it may determine what the inspiration for the art actually was, what the art means, the full story of Daniel Herbert and what the real value of the Ross Bridge is as a World heritage icon. There may be no other bridge in the World like the Ross Bridge, with carvings along all of its arches. This was not normally done and as this added an immense amount of time and expense to the completion of the bridge, there is also a mystery as to who actually approved this art work by a convict gang.
Should it turn out that the value of the Ross Bridge as an International heritage icon is much higher than anyone ever expected, then its continued use as a working bridge may be brought into question and the thousands of dollars about to be spent strengthening it for traffic may have been better invested in knowing its true value to Tasmania, to Australia and the the World.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone interested in supporting this project, which I have been promoting since 2004 and once prepared an archival brief for with the secretary of Heritage Tasmania and which was presented in person to the Ross Bridge Committee at one of their meetings in Ross.
Ross Bridge Repairs media release of 7 July 2009:
2003 DOCUMENTARY FILM ON JORGEN JORGENSON?
I was puzzled and intrigued when I kept reading of a 2003 documentary film on the life of Jorgen Jorgenson. Even Prince Frederik of Denmark refers to this in one of his speeches in Tasmania in 2005, siting this as part of his research on Jorgenson:
Like a good Jorgenson story that improves with the telling, this might be the moment when I leave well alone; but, the reader might now be dying to know, so rather than prolong the agony, I will reveal the truth of it and the trick as well.
In 2003 the ABC Lateline program announced a History Challenge, where the best stories would go to air. While promoting the Jorgenson bicentenary events at the time, with the founding of British settlement in Van Diemen’s Land, I submitted an item for consideration, ‘Jorgen Jorgenson – Our Convict King’. This did not gain broadcast, but the story was included on their web site and anyone reading this will plainly see at the very top, TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT.
DOCUMENTARY FILM ON THE LIFE OF JORGEN JORGENSON
After encouragement from Danish folk in Victoria and a letter from the Premier of Tasmania, Hon. David Bartlett MP, I prepared a description for a six-part documentary film on the amazing life of Jorgen Jorgenson, which has been sent to Screen Tasmania for consideration. As the Ross Bridge features in this story and its art might be used as a window into the period, I have also suggested a seventh supplementary program on the art of the Ross Bridge and the story of Daniel Herbert, that could be produced as part of the Jorgenson documentary film series.
Its a big story that goes all around the World and through so many extraordinary events and real-life tragedies, that the Jorgenson story demands a high quality ABC-BBC standard, with high level support in Denmark, Iceland, England and Australia. Even Irland becomes important to the story, as Jorgenson’s wife, Norah Corbett, was an Irish convict and through her eyes we have a very unique window into the female convict experience.
Such productions do not fall out of the sky. Like a political campaign, they must be won. I have suggested that a working group be formed, if the Tasmanian government would like to see this project happen, with the specific purpose of selling the idea and once sold at the right level in Denmark, Iceland, England and Australia, then a net may be caste over this project and it dragged from the sky to become reality.
The documentary series would have wonderful educational potential and a one hour special could be drawn from the content for this purpose that is suitable for children and accompanied by an illustrated book.
I have listed 5 countries that enter the Jorgenson story, but others where he spent significant time include South Africa, New Zealand, Tahiti, Brazil, St Helena, Belgium, France, Germany and he was in hospital on the Rock of Gibraltar after being injured in a naval engagement when a sailor with the Royal Navy.
I have been here before, in 2004, when working unpaid with a Tasmanian film company to get this project up. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful and I have come to see that the only way that this story may happen, is if there is enough popular support demanding it.
If you believe this is a story that should be told, the speak up.
I welcome suggestion.
THE CONVICT KING
‘The Convict King’ by James Francis Hogan, 1891, is available to read on-line, having been made available by the University of Sydeny Library in 2003. This work is largely an account from Jorgenson’s own hand with his 1835-1838 ‘A Sred of Autobiography’, later issued as a single volume in 1981 by Sullivan’s Cove.
Earlier stories on Jorgenson with the bicentenary of his rule of Iceland in 1809 can be found by using the ‘Advanced Search’ box in the Tasmanian Times.
KIm Peart ~ Vandemonian ~ Brisbane