The Princess and the Drejer

In 1876 as Peter Oluff Carlsen sat down to write a letter to the Royal War Ministry in Denmark, he had no idea of the excitement it would generate 140 years later. Filled with snippets of his former life back in his native country, Peter also included details of his Danish military service, how it ended, his profession as a Drejer [a turner and shaper of wood], and why the Carlsen family emigrated to Tasmania.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all contained within its pages appeared to be the words another son in Denmark’.

Written in Danish, this section appears to read: ‘endnu en Søn i Danmark’ which translates to ‘another son in Denmark’.
Written in Danish, this section appears to read: ‘endnu en Søn i Danmark’ which translates to ‘another son in Denmark’.

This new discovery immediately rang a few bells. Another child?  I’d heard that somewhere before…

Then I remembered reading about a family rumour involving Otto Albert Carlsen (a son of Peter’s) who apparently ‘got the princess pregnant’ back in Denmark.  There was confusion surrounding this though, as Otto had been born in Tasmania in 1880 and then moved to Western Australia where he married, therefore it couldn’t be true. Speculation then led to perhaps the rumour relating to not Otto, but his father – Peter Oluff Carlsen.

So as you can imagine, I quickly put two and two together and came up with a scenario somehow involving me wearing a tiara and rubbing shoulders with Princess Mary of Denmark (she’s a Tasmanian too, so it was bound to happen, right?). A connection to ROYALTY.  How exciting!

But alas, my research failed to turn anything up. As with many juicy good family rumours, the story of the Princess and the Drejer appears to be just that.  Rumours have to start somewhere though, and I’d love to find out more one day.

What this new information did lead to, however, was one more potential piece to the puzzle.  As Peter Oluff Carlsen and his wife, Ane Jensen, had their first child in Denmark in 1869, I’d assumed they married around that time.  I had been unable to find their marriage, but armed with the possibility of another child, the search was broadened.  The letter Peter wrote in 1876 also provided a new clue – he wrote this as Peter Ole Carlsen, a variation of his name I hadn’t seen before.

Coming across a marriage entry for a Peter Ole Carlsen and ‘Maren’ Jensdr [Jensen] on 29 January 1864, it was quickly assigned to the ‘strongly-maybe’ pile.  They married in Grenaa, Randers, Denmark, where ‘my’ Peter and Ann were from.

Could this be them? Perhaps Ane’s real name was Maren?  Or maybe this was an earlier marriage of Peter’s?

I had no idea, but was keen to find more.

And then I found a birth of a child!  Niels Oluf Martin Carlsen was born in Grenaa only five months later to (who appear to be) the same couple.

Was Niels the son left behind?

Not knowing a lot about Danish Genealogy or where to go next to find the original marriage or baptism records, the new information stayed on the ‘strongly-maybe’ pile for months. In the meantime, I enlisted someone to help have the letter properly translated. Unfortunately this fell through, with life and stuff and other things getting in the way at their end.

So revisiting the Carlsen’s again recently, I decided to focus on finding the marriage record of Peter and Maren. Digging into the depths of the Danish Church Registers, and viewing image after image of records, I found this:

Marriage entry for Peter Ole Carlsen, Grenå Sogn, 1864.
Marriage entry for Peter Ole Carlsen, Grenå Sogn,1864.
  • Age 23 – check!
  • Born in Kobenhavn – check!
  • Residence Grenaa – check!
  • Occupation kunstdrejersvend – excited check!!

Recognising ‘drejer’ in amongst all of those letters immediately, I took to trusty Google for further help and found reference to ‘kunst-drejer’ meaning art turner as an occupation. Svend translates to ‘companion’, and ‘vend’ also translates to ‘turn’. So at marriage it appears that this Peter was either a turner of art, or a turner’s companion.  Either way, it does look very likely to be our Drejer. We also know that Peter continued turning wood as a hobby in Tasmania, and had several creations displayed at the Melbourne and Philadelphia Exhibitions in 1875.

The corresponding entry for Maren Jensdatter recorded her as aged 28, also residing in Grenaa, and born in Voldby. Voldby is in Randers (where our Ane was born according to her naturalisation record), however in 1864 she would have been 18.  The record also lists Maren as ‘Girl’, so perhaps this was an error in transcription?  It’s also possible that Maren was a different person.

So far I’ve been unable to locate the original birth or baptism record of Niels, or find any details on what may have happened to him. If he was ‘another son in Denmark’, there is a chance that his descendants are out there searching for answers as well. It may be wishful thinking, but you just never know how and when new information may turn up.

Of course, there is another possibility that there was no son left behind, and that perhaps Niels died as a child before the family departed for Australia.

Revisiting my original (clunky) translation of the letter and including a couple of additional words changed things slightly. Updated, the line now translates to “but the gardens have a son in Denmark.”

While it reads like an amusing secret code, perhaps rather than writing of a son left behind, Peter was actually trying to convey that while now considered an English subject, his roots were in Denmark.  That he was the son, and Denmark was his home?

‘men haver endnu en Søn i Danmark’. Google Translate = ‘the watermelon is in the refrigerator’. ;)
‘men haver endnu en Søn i Danmark’. Google Translate = ‘the watermelon is in the refrigerator’. 😉

Without having the letter translated properly it’s hard to say, but the path The Princess and the Drejer took me down has been enjoyable to say the least.

Seeing Peter’s writing and reading his words, I can almost ‘hear’ his voice from the past.

Signature of P.O Carlsen, Officer at Port Arthur, Tasmania
Signature of P.O Carlsen, Officer at Port Arthur, Tasmania

It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a diamond-crusted tiara or inherit any royal jewels, but thanks to my 3x great grandfather putting pen to paper over a century ago, now have a treasure of a different kind.

Paper beats ‘rock’ every time.


Archive Collection: The wars in 1848 and 1864.

Archive Creator: Defence Archives (FOARK) Archive funtion medal cases.

The letter from Peter Ole Carlsen in 1876 was an application for a commemorative medal.    Interestingly, it also mentions a sister, Mrs F Brandt, residing in Copenhagen. Another clue in the puzzle, and another angle to pursue!

Peter Oluff Carlsen was also known as Peter Olaff Carlsen.


4 thoughts on “The Princess and the Drejer

  1. Paper definitely beats rock – what a treasure you have in this letter! And the signature; I just love seeing having the signatures of my ancestors, don’t you?

    Will you continue looking for someone to translate the letter “officially”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just love anything like this – there is something special about seeing an ancestors ‘hand’. I have a drawing my late grandmother did as a girl (aged around 6) that is probably my favourite find.

      I’ll definitely try again with an ‘official’ translation. I would love to pass a copy on to relatives, so need to track someone down who can help (fingers crossed!). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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