Sunday, 12 September 2010
More about "my" Peder Thorsen
When I was a child, I was told about "Captain Thorsen" by both my parents. My mother remembered him well, and would always say: "He was a man of great style! Elegant and aristocratic." My father would talk of the time he was taught how to sail in a small rowboat his grandfather had adapted by affixing a keel and mast (and incidentally: with my grandmother watching anxiously from the upstairs window!), and of the story behind the large and dramatic painting in my grandparents' home: A vessel with torn sails in the middle of a storm. This was Peder Thorsen's ship Thorgny. He had brought her into harbour (Le Havre, I think it was) on November 10th, 1891, after a terrible storm in the Atlantic on the way home from South-America, when a painter came and asked to paint the ship in the state it was brought in. Peder bought the painting and brought it home (I have it today). My father also told me of how Peder as a young man had brought a vessel with all sails up through the narrow sound "Kreppa" outside Kragerø - a sound so narrow that the sailing vessels usually were dragged through by rope fastened to rings in the rocks. Peder sailed through just to impress a girl living next to the place!
I always had problems combining these two personalities: the elegant "aristocrat" and the daredevil captain. I had seen pictures of him in his old age, and he really was a fine man! But the daredevil? Then I found a photo in an old suitcase belonging to my father, and there he was! This was "my" Peder Thorsen, a man I could perfectly well imagine being fully at home on a sailingship in the middle of a storm in the Atlantic! The suitcase also contained several log books, copybooks with letters sent home to the ship owner, and some manuscript fragments. One was Peder Thorsen's own CV, listing his career as a sailor from 1873 when he started out as a deckshand till he left the sea in 1912. The second was a story of a journey across the North Sea in the 1870's and the third a fragment of a story from the West Indies - unfortunately only a small passage of this story remained. Here, suddenly, was Peder himself speaking to me, telling me about his life at sea, his negotiations with merchants in England and in South-America, his reports back to his employers on cargo and prices, weather and schedules. It was an amazing experience, reading about his life, and my respect for this greatgrandfather grew! Here was a man brought up on an island outside Kragerø, with barely any schooling at the outset, working his way up to captain and sailing "the seven seas" as representative of the ship owners, buying and selling cargo, negotiating prices and freights in foreign countries. He must have been quite a man!
And incidentally: he was shipwrecked no less than three times!
His story from the North Sea had obviously been intended for publication in a newspaper. I don't know whether he ever sent it, but thought it deserved to be read by more than me, so I copied it and sent it to the local history society. It was published in their yearbook in 2002 ("Turen til Cork" in "Historieglimt", Kragerø & Skåtøy Historielag Årbok 2002, pp.31-34).