The Jessens

Jim Wright’s initial assessment of the Jessens was that they 'lived in good style - nothing flash- but quite up to ordinary middle class'. Apparently Jes had not told the new teacher that he had studied at university in both Copenhagen and Heidelberg before fleeing Denmark. Jes, his younger brother Peter and Ann Marie Jensen had left their home on the island of Als in 1871 and travelled over 300 km to Hamburg to board the barque Eugenie for Hobart, Tasmania.

Als is an island in the extreme south of Jutland near the German border about the same size as Bruny Island, 33 km long and generally less than 10 km across. It is separated from Jutland peninsular by a narrow strip of sea. Als was then part of Schleswig-Holstein that had been ruled by the Danish kings since the fifteenth century. The population of Schleswig-Holstein was part German and part Danish and German was the lingua franca. Als was part of Duchy of Norborg and passed from Russia to Denmark in 1765. The Danish claim to the duchies was contested but in 1846 King Christian VIII declared that the union between the kingdom of Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig was permanent and indisputable. The independently minded population of Schleswig protested and when King Christian died in 1848 the duchies declared their independence. (German nationalists wanted to control the Baltic straits and to build a canal through the duchies to connect the North Sea with the Baltic and give Germany direct access to the Atlantic. Holstein was in effect part of Germany and wished to take Schleswig with it.) When fighting broke out the Prussian army supported the duchies and the Danish army was forced back across the river Eider.

Despite a truce in 1848 hostilities continued and in February 1864 German and Austrian armies occupied Schleswig. The Danes resisted but were forced to surrender in August and Germany’s control over the region was confirmed. On October 13, 1866, Prussia instituted universal compulsory draft in all its provinces, including the duchies that became Prussian provinces January 12, 1867. On October 1, 1867, the Prussian Constitution was extended to Schleswig-Holstein. The new Prussian/Danish border placed many Danes outside their home country.

Mjels is a village in the parish of Oksboel on the north western corner of Als and 4 km south of the town of Nordborg. In 1860 the population was about 450, including children. Until the latter half of the 20th century it consisted of 12 – 20 thatch roofed farmhouses surrounded by their fields. A manor house stood on the western edge of the village but in 1768 farmers had obtained freehold title to their lands as part of a program of agrarian reform. At this time serfdom was abolished together with the patronymic naming system. The village had an inn, a blacksmith and a fire-station. The local church was in the next village of Oksboel 2km to the west.

Jessen parentsJessen farm 1

The Jessen farmhouse (above right) stood in about the middle of the present village of Mjels (see map) that now is a triangular junction called Hjoernet (The Corner), where the road to the ferry at Hardeshoej, Faergevej (Ferry way), crosses Naesvej and Nedervej. The location is shaded dark green below. Leerberg properties are shown in yellow and Bondes in pink.

Mels in 1795

Title to the Jessen farm, Mjels number 8, was granted by the agrarian reform and by 1799 it was held by Christian Hansen. It was a large thatched roof building that burned down when struck by lightning in a very heavy thunderstorm on 15 July 1939. Jes Hansen Jessen was born 7 July 1848 in Mjels and baptised at Oksboel Church eight days later. He was the eldest of nine children of Jes Christen Jessen (1826-1913) and Thore Petersen Leerberg (or Leerbjerg) (1824-1879) and a great great gandson of Christian Hansen.

Christian Hansen and his wife Anna Sophie Iversdatter had
a daughter Karen who was baptized in Oksboel Church in January 1758. When she was eighteen she married Jes Christiansen Baurup came from Bovrup, in Varnaes Parish, that is just across the Als Fjord from Mjels in Jutland proper. His family had lived in this area at least since 1708 when his great grandfather Jes Christensen Baurup (Baurup after his birthplace) was born. Jes Christensen Baurup moved to Mjels to marry Christian Hansen’s daughter Karen Christendatter. His father Christen Jessen had been born there in 1708.

When a census was taken on February 13 1803 Jes Christensen Baurup was recorded as the owner of 2 Hornjet in Mjels previously held by his father-in-law. Jes and Karen now had three sons, Christen who was a national soldier, Jes and hans.together with his wife Karen Christensen and their 3 children Christen Jessen Baurup (born 1780) who was a national soldier, Jes Jessen Baurup (born 1788) and Hans Jessen Christensen Baurup (born 1790). A fourth son Peter who was born in 1785 was probably dead. The surname Baurup, that reflected Jes’ native place, was used by these children but abandoned by succeeding generations about 1827 who were thereafter known as Jessens.

Jes Jessen Baurup, who took over the family farm when his father retired, was to first to adopt the modern form of nomenclature and was recorded as Jes Jessen at the baptism of his son in Oksboel Church in December 1826. (Most of the Jessen ancestors were baptised and married in Oksboel Church; they were also buried in the Churchyard, however it is rare for old monuments to survive for the plots are regularly reused to conserve space.) When he was 36 he married Margarethe Gronsund in the Marie Church in Sondeborg in November 1825. She was the daughter of Christian and Agatha (nee Hansen). Their son Jes Christesen Jessen was born in December the next year but when he was just over 2 years old his father died in February 1829 aged 40. Nine months later Margarethe married Hans Christensen, from Stolbro, who was then then 32, in the church in Oksboel.

From the 1840 census it seems that they had no children together. At that time Jes Christen was 14 and lived with his parents and two servants Jorgen Nielsen 27 and Kirsten Hansen Hau 20. They probably lived in a separate house, with the widow, Helene Marcussen 77, her daughter Helen Susanne Hansen 37, and her daughter Anna Helene Hansen, 9. Five years later the household was much the same except the two servants had been replaced by Peter Nissen, 27 and Catharina Maria Iversen, 26. Helene Marcussen and her daughter and grand-daughter were all there. This house known as Lillegade 4.

Jes Hansen Jessen

In April 1848 Jes Hansen Jessen’s father, Jes Christensen Jessen married the daughter of a neighbour, Thore Petersen Leerberg. Her family had lived in Oksboel Parish since at least 1763 and their house (shown in yellow in the above map) was next door to the Jessens separated by the fire-station. It still stands but now has a modern roof and is used as a school. The old inn stands across another road to the north of Leerberg. The name Leerberg means hill of clay and refers to the small ridge across the road from the house. The gentle undulations that characterise the area are glacial moraines formed as the last ice sheet that covered the region melted.

Their first child was born three months after the wedding and was baptised, Jes Hansen, a week later. The witnesses included his grandfather Nis Leerberg and his step grandfather Han Christensen. Two other witnesses were Helena Jensen, the wife of Hans who was another farmer in Mjels, and a farm girl Maren Christensen of Augustenhof.

Over the next 13 years Jes Jessen and Thore had another six children. Their first daughter Anna Maria was born in June 1850, Peter in September 1852, Ida Margarethe in December 1854, Thora in November 1856, Maria Cathrine in January 1859 and Anna in March 1861. Anna died in April of the next year but Thore was pregnant soon after and another girl, also baptised Anna, was born in February 1863. Their last child, Hans, was born in April 1866.

Looking at the witnesses to the baptism of these children tells us quite a lot about friends and relatives of the family. Five members of the Baurup family were involved. Some lived in Mjels, others in Nordborg and Jes and Johanna in Augustenhof. At least one member of the Leerberg family witnessed each baptism. Christian Bonde, another Mels farmer, was a witness for Peter and his daughter Anna Maria for Anna Jessen. (Thora Jessen later married another Christian Bonde before they migrated to Tasmania in 1884.) The servant Kirsten Hau was a witness at Thore’s baptism and relatives of other servants witnessed when other children were baptised. The village tailor Christen Holgersen officiated at the baptisms of both Anna Maria and Thore. The daughter of the shoemaker Las Lassen filled the same position for Ida. When Anna was baptised in 1861 one of the witnesses was Helena the wife of another Mjels farmer Peter Madsen. The Madsens lived about 400 metres from the Jessens and Leerbergs on the northern edge of the village.

The 1855 census records Retainers Jens Frederiksen Poulsen and Peter Johansen from Nordborg Parish, Dorthea Sophie Nielsen from Havnbjerg Parish as well as Kirsten Hansen Hau and Jørgen Nielsen from this town also lived on the Jessen property. In the farm's retirement house (location marked in light green in the above map) lived his mother Margrethe Grønsund and his stepfather Hans Christensen. She continued to live there as a widow for 19 years after Christensen died in October 1860. She died in June 1879.
Although we cannot be certain several enquiries among the parish' oldest suggest that this is the retirement house. (Photo from unknown year)

Ann Marie Jensen

Ann Marie Jensen was born Maria on 27 March 1851: Her mother was Gertrud Nicolaisen from Holm, a village 5 km west of Nordborg and her father Simon Jensen from Ginding in Sahl Parish of Ringkoebing county 300 km away in the west of Jutland. Ann Marie was named after Simon’s mother Anne Marie Michelsdatter, and was Gertrud’s second child; she already had another daughter, Gertrud Georgine, who was born 24 January 1849. Georgine’s father was Hans Jensen Erlaw.

In 1845 Gertrud (or Gertha) Nicolaisen was an unmarried 19 year old girl working as a seamstress in Roedenaebvej ( a short distance north east of Mels) for a tailor Rasmus Jensen, 43. Jensen and his wife Dorothea Marg. Iversen, 40, and both were born in Mels. (A Catharina Maria Iversen, 26, was servant in the house of Jes’s grandmother Margretha Gronsun in Mels at the same time.) Rasmus and Dorothea had one daughter Helena Maria, then 16, living with them. (Also in house was another unmarried seamstress, Ellen Hansen, 24, who was born in Bransboll). Perhaps Simon Jensen, from Sahl, who was the same age as Gertrud, was a relative of Rasmus staying with them for the summer in 1850. Gertrud and Simon never married, but she later married Lorenz or Lauritz Nissen in Nordborg on 2 May 1858 in Nordborg. Ann Marie was then seven. Gertrud had two more daughters with her new husband, Ingeborg Marie, and Anna Bothilde.

Roedenaebvej 1850

We do not know how Jes and Ann Marie first met but there is a good deal of evidence that links Ann Marie and her mother to the Jessen family in Mels. When she was baptised in the church of Nordborg 27 April 1851 one of the witnesses was Jess and Peter’s aunt Maria Katrina Leerberg and another was their mother’s sister-in-law Anna Maria Jorgensen. A third was the Mels tailor Christen Holgersen. Catharina Iversen, who worked with Gertrud in 1855, had been a servant in the Jessen house in Mels at the time of the 1845 census. It is possible that after Gertrud married Lorenz Ann Marie moved into Mjels and lived with the Leerberg family and she Jess and Peter grew up together.

The Impact of War

We know little about the early life of Jes and his siblings. The younger ones, Anna and Hans had died as very young children. Colin Madsen, one of his grandsons remembers being told that Jes had studied at both Copenhagen University and in Heidleberg but that has not been confirmed. His daughter Clara had a large portrait of him in military uniform and his bayonet, that served to poke the fire in the house in Albuera St. Jes was only 16 when the war with Prussia ended so we must assume that his military service was with the Prussian Army in the War with France in 1870-71. The Prussian constitution had been applied to Schleswig Holstein in 1867 and universal conscription introduced in 1866.

The family story is that Jes emigrated in October 1871 with Peter, then 18, so the latter was not conscripted. Anne Marie Jensen came too, probably because Jes’ family would not allow them to marry at home.

The eldest of the Jessen girls, Anna Maria had married a Didriksen and moved to Sondeborg but died in January 1871 when she was only 20. So when Jes and Peter left Mjels ten months later they left behind their father who was 45 and four sisters. Ida Margarethe, 17, Thora,15, Marie Catherine,12, and Anna II, 8. In 1879 their mother Thore Petersen Jessen died, three days after her mother-in-law Margarethe. Jes Hansen Jessen’s sister Marie Catherine then married Christen Gustenhof in 1881 when she was 20 and another sister, Ida, married Claus Christen Torre three years later. As her dowry Ida received the title to seven hectares of land that had originally be on the same title as Hjornet, her father’s property. This property was later enlarged and named Nederlundgaard. Ida’s youngest son, Claus Clausen, married another Jessen, Maren, but not closely related to Ida’s family.

Hans Christen Bonde (1839-), the second son of Christen Hansen Bonde (1815-1884) and a close neighbour, was married to Kirsten Marie Leerberg (Jes Hansen Jessen’s mother’s younger sister). Their sixth son, Christian Christensen Bonde then 19, and several friends from Mjels emigrated to New Zealand. C C Bonde and Lars Lassen went to London and boarded the vessel England for their journey ending up in Palmerston North in 1870. He was allotted Section 417, Lot 65 (22 acres) in Roberts Line but did not take it up. Leaving a debt of £9/10. Christian was to have the money he owed the Government deducted from his wages if he reappeared on any roadworks in the Seventy Mile Bush. Christian was one of a group of young men who abandoned Palmerston seeking better conditions in the Hawkes Bay. One of the group was Hans Claudius Bertleson, the son of the schoolteacher in Mjels. While in New Zealand Christen was naturalized as a British subject and stayed in that country for nine years.

Christian Christiansen Bonde may have gone back to Als because of his father’s ailing health or because he was betrothed. On 27 Dec 1883 in their Parish Church in Oksbol he married a cousin, Thora, who was Jes Hansen Jessen’s sister,. She was then 27 and he was 30 and after their marriage they lived in Uge, across the water in Jutland where they had five children. Perhaps Christian planned to return to New Zealand where his brother had settled but Thora had other ideas. In 1893 they followed Jes and Peter to Tasmania but the other Jessens and Bondes stayed close to Mjels.

With three of his children now living in Tasmania, and Ida and Marie Catherine married, Jes Christensen Jessen retired in July 1895 aged 69 and moved into the retirement house at Lillegade 4. He sold the farm to Christian Nielsen at that time. In 1920 it passed to Nielsen’s daughter Anne Christine Marie Nielsen and her husband Nils Christen Mortensen. In 1927 they moved to Færgevej 62 and in March of that year and the old property was again sold, this time to Mathias Hans Petersen March 17th 1927. Petersen was the son of the innkeeper Christian Petersen

When Ann Marie Jessen died in Hobart in 1941 Denmark was again occupied by Germany and communication ceased. None of her family could write Danish and so links could not be re-established after the War. Although Thore, ‘Granny Bonde’, also died before the War ended there were sufficient links remaining for the Bondes to re-establish contact through the Gustenhofs. Ida’s youngest son, Claus Clausen, married another Jessen, Maren, but not closely related to Ida’s family. Many years later their daughter Karen Eriksen renewed contact with the Tasmanian branch of the family. (See under Making Contact).

By the time that contact was re-established the Jessen home was no more. On Saturday 22 July 1939 as German and Danish forces fought to control Sondeborg a fierce storm struck Mjels. Lightning struck the farmhouse and set fire to the thatched roof and the building quickly burnt to the ground but the occupant escaped unhurt. All that remained was a barn (shown here).

In 1940 several local farmers exchanged land. When Hans Christian Petersen took over the adjoining property at Faergevej 39 he also acquired the 6000 sq m of land on which the Jessen farmhouse had stood. The area has now been developed with modern houses. Hans Jacob Petersen, son of Hans Christian, and his wife now live in Nordborg and are neighbours and friends of Karen Eriksen.

However the home of C C Bonde at Ostervj 16 still remains and relatives still live in the village. His grandfather Hans Petersen Bonde acquired Ostervej 16 through his first wife Elsebeth. In 1808 he bought Ostervej 1. Both properties went to his fifth son Peter Christensen in the 1880s and then to his son Christian Christiansen Bonde in 1947. His daughter-in-law Thyra still lives there. The first photoo below shows it in the 1920s and the lower photo as it was in 2001.

Renewing Contact

Ida’s grand-daughter Karen Eriksen renewed contact with the Tasmanian branch of the family. The relationship was re-established due to earlier correspondence between Thora Bonde and Ann Marie Jessen and the youngest Torre daughter Margarethe who had married Jes Gustenhof in 1920. When Ann Marie died in 1941 Denmark was again occupied by Germany and communication ceased. None of her family could write Danish and so links could not be re-established after 1945. Although Thore, ‘Granny Bonde’, also died before the War ended there were sufficient links remaining for the Bondes to re-establish contact through the Gustenhofs.

Hans Jacob Petersen, son of Hans Christian, and his wife now live in Nordborg and are neighbours and friends of Karen Eriksen.

AJH at Mels
Jessen House 2Mjels house
InnOksboel Church
Author at Mjels, Village from old mill site
Jessen house ca 1940, Typical Mjels house
Fire station, Leerberg House
Inn, Interior of Oksboel Church