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Peter Wessel Tordenskiold
Danish-Norwegian Naval Hero
(1690 - 1720)

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Tordenskiold

 


Some time ago I found accidentally this rather insignificant postcard in a bric-a-brac shop in Copenhagen, featuring the motor ferry "Peter Wessel" which during the 1940s operated the ferry route between Frederikshavn (in Jutland, Denmark), and the town of Larvik in the southern part of Norway. 

Postcard picturing the Motor Ferry "Peter Wessel".

Looking at the back of the card I had one of the biggest surprises ever: the card was addressed to my parents in my childhood home, when our family lived in Jutland in the 1940s!! Without telling the dealer anything (otherwise he would have charged me ten times more than he actually did) I bought the card for a song, as I believed that it rightfully belonged to me :-)  Home again, I studied the card further, and was immediately turned on. The card is franked with a Norwegian stamp, featuring the Danish-Norwegian naval hero Peter Wessel -- aka Tordenskiold -- after whom the ship on the card was named. 

The backside of the card, franked with the Norwegian Tordenskiold-stamp, and cancelled in Larvik (Norway) on 17th July 1947.

  • The backside of the card, franked with the Norwegian Tordenskiold-stamp, and cancelled in Larvik (Norway) on 17th July 1947. 

Norway 1947. Close-up of the stamp used on the card. The stamp is part of a set of 11 stamps, issued 15th April 1947, in celebration of Norway Post's 300th anniversary. The stamp is based on a painting by the German artist Balthazar Denner, created in 1719), on the background of battle ships in fight.

Denner's original painting as it appears on modern Danish matchboxes.

  • Norway 1947. Close-up of the stamp used on the card. The stamp is part of a set of 11 stamps, issued 15th April 1947, in celebration of Norway Post's 300th anniversary. The stamp is based on a painting by the German artist Balthazar Denner, created in 1719), on the background of battle ships in fight. 

  • Denner's original painting as it appears on modern Danish matchboxes. 

Peter Wessel was born in Trondheim in Norway, as the tenth child of alderman Jan Wessel of Bergen. Wessel was a wild unruly lad who gave his pious parents much trouble, eventually stowing away in a ship bound for Copenhagen. Here, the king's chaplain befriended the boy and sent him on a voyage to the West Indies, and finally procured him a vacant cadetship. After further voyages, this time to the East Indies, on 7 July, 1711, Wessel was appointed 2nd lieutenant in the Navy and shortly afterwards became the captain of a 4-gun sloop Ormen (The Serpent), in which he cruised about the Swedish coast picking up useful information about the enemy. 

He also commanded the 6-gun vessel Lindorm, and earlier, was second-in-command on the 26-gun frigate Postillion

In 1716 Wessel was ennobled and assumed the name Tordenskiold (Thundershield). 

In 1716 Wessel was ennobled and assumed the name Tordenskiold (Thundershield).

  • Tordenskiold's coat of arms. Fragment of the below First Day Cover, issued by Denmark in 1990, in celebration of Tordenskiold's birth tercentenary. 

Denmark 1990. First Day Cover cancelled 5th October 1990, in celebration of Tordenskiold's birth tercentenary.

  • Denmark 1990. First Day Cover cancelled 5th October 1990, in celebration of Tordenskiold's birth tercentenary. 

In spite of Tordenskiold's rather short life -- only 30 years -- his name lives on in modern Danish language through the expression "Tordenskjold's Soldiers", which is used when a small group of people play many different roles, often in an attempt to deceive an adversary. Characteristic of Tordenskiold's victories is that he attacked the enemy with an inferior force as was the case in 1719, when he attacked the heavily manned Swedish fortress Karlsten outside the town of Marstrand on the Swedish west coast, and in no time captured the Swedish battleships. He called on the commander of the Karlsten fortress, Colonel H. Danckwardt, and demanded he surrender within the next five days, but the commander had no intention of surrender, and for five days nothing happened. 

 

Denmark 1990. Tordenskiold's Victory at Marstrand.

The sixth morning Tordenskiold took as many of his crew as possible and formed a small company. He landed a short distance from the fortress and started his little "army" marching past the commander's dwelling again and again, giving the colonel the impression that he had many more soldiers than he really had. It was, however, the same group of men who marched by every time that a "new" company passed the fortress. Finally, Tordenskiold went up directly under the window of the commander's residence and shouted out the famous words: 

"Why the Devil are you hesitating? Haven't you realized that your time is up?" Colonel Danckwardt became so scared that he surrendered immediately!  

The situation is beautifully immortalized through this painting by the Danish painter Otto Bache (1839-1927). 

  • Denmark 1990. Tordenskiold's Victory at Marstrand (Sweden). 

Colonel Danckwardt's surrender contributed much to the ending of the Danish-Swedish war (also known as the Great Nordic War) in 1720. During a travel abroad that same year, Tordenskiold was killed in Hannover (Germany) in a duel with a Swedish colonel, Staël von Holstein of German-Baltic nobility. 

His corpse was brought to Copenhagen and buried in Holmens Kirke without much ceremony; according to Danish law dueling victims were not allowed a Christian funeral. 

When researching for this page, interestingly, I have found that a township in Minnesota, USA, is named Tordenskjold after the Danish naval hero. A French visitor to this website has pointed me to a link giving the early history of the township, including evidence of the naming of the place. Thank you Bruno :-)   Further, Mr. Blair Stannard (Canada) has provided the following information in Norwegian, which I have translated to English: Through Mr. Stannard I am aware of at least one American postcard, cancelled in Tordenskjold in 1892

Norwegian 
Tordenskjold, (1870-1904), postkontor og kommune i Otter Tail fylke. Kommunen ble til i 1869 med navnet Blooming Grove, men endret allerede året etter navn til Tordenskjold, oppkalt etter den norske sjøhelten Peter Wessel Tordenskjold. Postkontoret ble opprettet 27.10.1870 med Kelmer (Helmer / Hjalmer?) Hoff som postmester. Stavemåten Tordenskiold er også sett. Det ble nedlagt 13.2.1904. 

English 
Tordenskjold (1870-1904), post office and municipality in Otter Tail county. The community was established in 1869 with the name Blooming Grove, but already a year later changed its name to Tordenskjold, after the Norwegian naval hero Peter Wessel Tordenskjold. The post office was established 27th October 1870 with Kelmer (Helmer / Hjalmer?) Hoff as postmaster. The spelling Tordenskiold [with an 'i'] is also seen. The post office was closed on 13th February 1904. 

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Revised 05 jun 2007 
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