Jon Sighvatur Jacobaeus

The years in Iceland and Denmark

Jon Sighvatur Jacobeus was born on the 15th of February 1842 in the town of Keflavik, located on the Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland.  He was christened on the 1st of March 1842.  His parents were Holger Jacobaeus (b. 1797, d. 1864) merchant in Keflavik and his wife Charlotte Marie Jacobaeus (b. 1804, d. 1854). At the time, Holger Jacobaeus is the manager of the Knudtzon shop in Keflavik. 

Image from Keflavik in 1912, with the Knudtzon house in the backgournd
Processing fish in Keflavik, 1912. Knudtzon shop in the background. Photo, Magnus Olafsson. From the newspaper Timin, published 1st April 1989. Is on timarit.is

Jon Sighvatur was the 14th child of his parents.  They had then lost four of them, three in infancy and a boy which died year and a half old.  His living siblings at the time were:

  1. Regína Magdalena Jacobæus – 17 (Born 24th May 1824)
  2. Holger Christen Adolph Jacobæus – 11 (Born 13th May 1830)
  3. Christine Marie Jacobæus – 10 (Born 18th September 1831)
  4. Amalie Fredrika Unnur Jacobæus – 9 (Born 18th September 1832)
  5. Paul Holst Jacobæus – 8 (Born 12th December 1833)
  6. Christjan Wilhelm August Jacobæus – 7 (Born 19th January 1835)
  7. Charlotte Georgina Holgerine Jacobæus – 5 (Born 18th February 1836)
  8. Helga Margarethe Jacobæus – 4 (Born 13th July 1837)
  9. Peter Adolph Seerup Jacobæus – 3 (Born 26th September 1838)

Jon’s grandfather was Christian Adolf Jacobaeus (b. 1767, d. 1846), who was also born in Keflavik and worked as a merchant all his life there.  Jon’s great grandfather was the well-known merchant and last trade monopoly manager for the Danish king, Holger Jacobaeus (b. 1698, d. 1772).

Holger Jacobaeus, Jon’s father was the merchant manager in Keflavik until spring 1843.  He then looses his job.  Due to that, he goes to Denmark to find another job.  He leaves his, then pregnant wife, Charlotte Marie behind along with all the younger children.  Charlotte Marie moved to the farm Hrudunef in Leira with all the children and on the 4th of December 1843 gives birth their 15th child, Hans Hendrik Linnet Jacobaeus.  Around the middle of 1844, Charlotte Marie sails to Copenhagen in Denmark with all the children and her elderly mother.  She joins her husband, Holger in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen.  The family continues to live in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen well into the next year, because on the 31st of August 1845, Charlotte Marie gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl.  The twins are christened Michael Erick Jacobaeus and Charlotte Lovise Caroline Jacobaeus.

Around that time, the Danish government is commencing experimental fishing of herring around and north of the Faroe Islands.  The Danish government hires an Icelandic merchant named Hans A Clausen, who at the time resided in Copenhagen, to manage the experimental fishing of the herring.  Hans A Clausen hired Holger Jacobaeus to be his overseer in the Faroe islands, due to the fact that he himself couldn’t be there all the time.

Life in the Faroe Islands

Holger Jacobaeus, his wife and most of their children move to the capital city of Faroe island, Thorshavn.  It would appear that they moved there soon after the birth of the twins. It also looks like one of the twins died, because in the 1850 census, only one of them is present, Anton Michael Erick.  The other female twin is no longer mentioned.  The family lives in Thorshavn and once again on the 7th of April 1851 Charlotte Marie gives birth to their 18th child, Vellius Carl Ferdinand Emil Jacobaeus.

Photo of houses in Thorshavn Faroe Islands
The black house in the middle with the green turf roof, was the Jacobaeus family home in Thorshavn from 1845 to 1858. From Jim Jackson, Pymble Sydney.

Holgers work as an overseer of the experimental herring fishing appears to have gone well.  Both he and his boss, Hans A Clausen are said to have acquitted themselves very well during the period of the fishing experiment.  In 1848, Holger loses his job again, when the fishing experiment is abandoned by the Danish government due to poor catch.  Holger manages to get a new job with the Danish trade monopoly in the Faroe islands as a manager of their fish processing. 

Then a tragedy hits, when Holgers wife, Charlotte Marie dies on the 31st of January 1854, only 49 years of age.  And then, only a couple of years later, or in 1856 Holger becomes unemployed again, when the Danish trade monopoly ends its operations in the Faroe Islands.  According to records from the Faroe Islands, Holger became an alcoholic after that.  In 1858 he loses custody of his children and ends up being taken in by a farmer called Samuel Johnson in the village of Eidi.  It is there where Holger Jacobaeus dies on the 20th of April 1864, at the age of 66.

During this period of turmoil in the Jacobaeus family, a few of the children are sent to Copenhagen from the Faroe Islands.  One of them is Jon Sighvatur Jacobaeus, because records show that he sails to Copenhagen on the 28th of April 1856, only 14 years of age.  It is most likely that he went and stayed with one of his older siblings or relatives in Copenhagen.

Australia beckons!

Jon Sighvatur appears to have become interested in sailing and this would have led him to England, because on the 2nd of November 1861, Jon Sighvatur Jacobaeus is issued with a certificate of “Second Mate” by the Privy Council in Liverpool.  (The privy council was responsible for issuing trade certificates in the British empire at the time).  On the trade certificate Jon Sighvatur is called John Jackson.  This is the name he adopted and used from then on.  I will use that name from here on as well.

As a second mate, John Jackson becomes a sailor on ships from England.  On the 20th of December 1861, he arrives in Sydney.  It appears that he came to Australia via New Zealand.  His brother Peter Adolph Seerup Jacobaeus settled in the town of Otago, New Zealand at the same time.  Peter became a miner in Otago, married and had a big family.

John decides to live in Sydney, so continues as a sailor, sailing on various sailing ships which operate out of Sydney.  During this time, he gains more experience as a sailor, because in 1867 he is issued with a new trade certificate as a “First Mate”, once again issued by the Privy council, Liverpool England.  Barely a year later he finally gains qualifications as a ships master. 

Masters certificate issued to John Jackson
Masters certificate, issued to John Jackson 24th of June 1868. (Jim Jackson, Pymble, Sydney)

He then captains on various sailing vessels, one of which was called “Grove Iron”.  It was owned by a George Richard Dibbs.  G. R. Dibbs was at the time a member of the NSW parliament and the ship operated out of Sydney.  John also captained a ship called “Orange Grove”.  It was also owned at the time by G. R. Dibbs.  John and G. R. Dibbs became the best of friends, which much later led to Johns coming ashore permanently, because G. R. Dibbs’s became a minister and later premier of NSW with enough influence to get John a new role with the government.

It is around 1875, when John is asked to become the captain of a barque called Francisco Calderon.  The company that bought the barque was called Dangar, Gedey and Co.  It was owned by Fredrick Holkham Dangar and G. R. Dibbs, which I have mentioned before.  The third owner was no other than the famous British politician Sir William Ewart Gladstone.  He had then, just recently resigned as the prime minister of Great Britain (1868 – 1874). 

The barque Francisco Calderon had only been built in 1873, purposely to serve the slave trade between China, Peru and Chile.  This indentured slave trade was finally outlawed in 1874 and the barque sold to Sydney.  Upon inspection in Sydney, the barque was found to have over two tons of leg and hand irons for the slaves.  It was cleared out and refurbished and then re-named Gladstone in honor of Sir William Ewart Gladstone, the third owner, which became prime minister of Great Britain again for three different terms.

Photo of the Gladstone
Gladstone – State Library of NSW

John Jackson was the captain of the Gladstone for the next ten years, or until November 1884.  During this period he sailed the Gladstone between Australia and England, mostly with freight and passengers.  In the book “This Century of Ours”, which details the rise and contribution the Dangar, Geyede & Co company made to developing Australia, they mention John Jackson a few times.  One story is about John’s visit to the then prime minister of Great Britain, Sir William Ewart Gladstone.  He was invited to stay at Sir Gladstone’s residence over a weekend, while in England.  Upon leaving, Sir Gladstone gave John a photograph of himself, sitting by a tree with an ax, like a woodsman.  This photo of Sir Gladstone is still in the possession of the family.

Man sitting in the woods by a tree with an axe
Photo of William Ewart Gladstone as a woodsman, Hawarden, 1877. National Library of Wales.

Another story is told, that early in October 1881, when running the east wind down in the barque Gladstone, from London to Sydney, commanded by the late Captain John Jackson, a Norwegian, by name Tunnel, was flipped overboard by the back flap of a staysail sheet. This man was heartily equipped with oilskins and sea boots, and as the barque was running heavy, it took sometime to shorten sail and heave to.  Meanwhile, willing hands were swinging out a boat, the poor chap, of course, being miles astern. Rowing steadily for over two hours dead to wind ward, nothing In the shape of floating matter thrown over could be seen.  The mate, John Rugg (later captain of the ship Neotsfield) in charge, said: “I will have another look round when on top of the coming roller,” and exclaimed, ”give way, boys, for your lives.  I see some sea-birds in the distance hovering over something, and they don’t leave the ship for nothing.” Providentially went the boat, helped by the flock of birds, and they soon came to the object of their interest.  Poor Tunnel was waving his cap by one hand and using a dead albatross as a lifebuoy with the other. He was soon in comparative safety, but collapsed in the boat. The return trip was done in quick time as darkness was settling in, and all got aboard the good ship with the exception of the boat, which was smashed in the embarkation. ln a few days our shipmate was able to return to duty, and stated that, although he could not swim a stroke, the air in the oilskins kept him afloat for a few minutes— long enough to enable him to see that the birds intended to make an onslaught. One big albatross swooped down on the water, and folding its wings, swam to the attack. To save the peck, Tunnel grasped its neck with the desperation of a drowning man.  Soon the bird was in the throes of strangulation, and floating lightly as its bones are hollow, made a fine lifebuoy, and eventually was the means of saving his life.  This story was also published in many newspapers at the time, both in Australia and England.  

Four men and dog aboard a sailing ship
John Jackson, furthest to the left on board the Gladstone. ca. 1900 – State Library of NSW

In 1884, John is still captain on the Gladstone.  At the time his good friend G. R. Dibbs had become the finance minister of NSW.  John is in Sydney, when G. R. Dibbs tells him a new position is being established in Sydney, which would suit John very well.  It was an appointment that had to be passed by the parliament.  The role was to oversee all the assets of the Sydney harbor trust.  G. R. Dibbs tells John that he will put him up as a candidate and assures him he will be the only one.  On the morning of the debate in parliament, John is leaving on the Gladstone for another trip to England, as the role was not secured yet.  G. R. Dibbs is in parliament and when the appointment comes up, he nominated John Jackson for the role.  To his surprise, another candidate is also put forth by the opposition.  After quite a debate, the parliament votes to appoint John Jackson to the role.  With that, G. R. Dibbs, the finance minister rushes out of the parliament, well knowing that John had just left on the Gladstone for England on another trip.  He runs down to Circular Quay and rushes towards a tugboat lying alongside.  He shouts to the skipper “have you coal and water?” to which the skipper says “yes Sir”. Dibbs then tells the skipper “The Gladstone cleared the wharf at 8:30 am, sail south east until you find her, tell Captain Jackson he has the job, tell him to appoint the first mate as Captain, the second mate as mate and the chief apprentice the second mate”.  The skipper of the tugboat quickly sprang into action and sails quickly out the harbor.  He catches up with the Gladstone and relays G. R. Dibbs message to Captain Jackson.  Captain Jackson does as proposed by G. R. Dibbs and leaves the Gladstone on the tugboat back to Sydney harbor and promptly went to F. R. Dangar, the owner to the Gladstone and resigned as captain.  F. R. Dangar had known about this and had agreed with the course of action, so it was no problem.  In fact they presented John Jackson with 500 pounds when he left their service.

With the new role came an office and responsibilities.  Captain John Jackson was also made harbour master of Sydney.  He served in this role until his dying day. 

John Jackson married twice.  First In January 1861, he marries Mathilda Cashman, the only child of John Matthew Cashman, then executive councillor and immigration officer in Sydney and his wife Ann.  With her he had five children, three girls and two boys.  His wife, Mathilda dies in 1896.

Johns second marriage was to a widow, Mary Dunstan in 1902.  Surprisingly, they had a son in 1905, who was christened James William Jackson.

Photo of John Jackson sitting in a chair with a book
John Jackson (Jon Sighvatur Jacobaeus) in his senior years. (Family Photo, Jim Jackson, Pymble, Sydney)

John Jackson dies in Sydney on the 7th of December 1907.  The following obituary was published at the time in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Captain John Jackson, who for a great number of years was in charge of the Government wharfs, and who recently, prior to Mr. Hickson’s return from England, was a member of the Harbour Trust, died on Saturday, after an illness of about three months. He was a trusted Government officer, and acted as manager of the resumed Government proper-ties, which included the Rocks. Captain Jackson was respected by all those he came in contact with, and he practically died in harness. Prior to entering the Government service he was master of several vessels trading to this port, notably the Gladstone, in which he successfully brought emigrants from England. Captain Jackson was a native of Iceland. He left that country at an early age, and to his often expressed regret, never returned to the land of his birth.

During his period as harbor master of Sydney a number of events took place which have been detailed in the newspapers at the time.  This often required him to take action and/or mediate disputes.  Everyone agrees that he was the utmost gentleman and extremely honest in his dealings.  John was a tall man, about 6 foot 3 inches (193cm).  He had a huge beard which he retained until his death.  With six children, he has quite a number of descendants in Australia.

In 1992 at the international terminal in Circular Quay, a plaque was unveiled bearing the names of master mariners, in recognition of their participation in the development of Australia. Johns name is also there.

Phot of a plaque with John Jacksons name among others

As mentioned before, John Jackson had six children with two wife’s. His descendants are scattered over Australia. Some of them have had interest in documenting John Jackson’s past. I reached out to his grandson, Jim Jackson, who lives in Pymble in Sydney. Thanks to him for helping me with a lot of information about Johns life in Australia and sharing some of the photos and documents.

Photo with Simmi Valgeirsson and Jim Jackson
Author with Jim Jackson, the grandson of John Jackson (Jon Sighvatur Jacobaeus)