Peter Jansen Wessel, The Tordenskjold came later, and was an awarded name, was born in Trondheim , Norway on October 28, 1691, the tenth child of Jan and Maren Wessel. Jan, an Alderman, was the brother of Caspar Von Wessel, who would one day be a Rear Admiral. Peter came from a huge family ! As mentioned above he was the tenth child of what would eventually be 18 children. His father was a man of some means who ran an import - export business, operated deep - sea vessels, and owned profitable farms. Jan was also a member of Trondheim' s City Council. His mother, Maren, also came from a Norwegian family of wealth.
As a child Peter was hard to control, and his religious parents had much trouble dealing with the youngster. In Christian Adamson's book, " Admiral Thunderbolt ", Peter is described as, " A natural born leader, and a born scrapper, who loved to excercise these talents." After two of Peter's brothers, Hans and Iver Christian were reported missing aboard the Golden Swan, Peter's father Jan decided to give him a safe trade that he could learn on dry land. To his dismay, Peter was apprenticed in Trondheim to the tailor, Mogens Sindberg. Mogen was a hard hitting teacher who did not like nonsense. Peter was equally belligerent. One day as they were walking back to the tailor shop, Peter made a snow ball, dipped it into a watering trough, and then threw the ice hard snowball at his teacher. The snowball hit the tailor in the back of the head, and knocked him foward into the snow. Peter, not wanting to take the blame, then saw another boy that he disliked walking across the street. Peter acted as though he was standing up for his teacher, accused the boy of the wrongdoing and then pounced on the poor boy. Mogens Sindberg, however. had had enough of his rough and tumble apprentice, and beat Peter's bottom for the infraction. Then he told the boy to pack his things and go back home. His father next tried to apprentice Peter as a barber - surgeon, but the boy liked this little more than being a tailor.
At this point Peter was tired of his father's way of life and wanted to be in the navy like his brothers, so in 1704 he stowed away on a ship that was headed for Copenhagen. It was here that Peter sought out the King's chaplain Dr. Peter Jespersen, who had helped his brothers become cadets. Dr. Jespersen could not get him into the Danish - Norwegian Navy as a cadet right away because there were no openings, but was able to get him aboard a transoceanic merchantman as a junior deck boy. Peter Wessel's brother Henrik, however, called in a favor, and got Peter on the Christianus Quintus of the West India Co., a frigate with 30 guns. The favor came from the Steersman Cornelius Van der Stolck. On this voyage Van der Stolck taught young Peter what most would have learned as a cadet on a full man - of - war . During the year and a half voyage Peter learned almost everything there was to know about handling a frigate in all situations.
After a short period in Copenhagen after he returned, and another rejection at the Naval Academy, Peter joined the crew of the Fredericus Quartus, which was headed for India. On this journey there were so many deaths on the homeward leg that Peter was promoted to the rank of 3rd Steersman. That may not sound very prestigious, but it was a rank of privilige. On the way home they also found out from a passing ship that Denmark / Norway were at war with Sweden. When Peter got back to Copenhagen he also discovered a place had opened up for him as a cadet, so he headed at once to Bremerholm, and filled out his papers at the academy. One of the first things Peter did was to put on his new dress military uniform, steel gray cloth lined with red satin. He was most proud when he strapped on his black leather scabbard, and placed his new sword into it. Peter could not help but think to himself, " Only officers wear swords."
Part 2 : Young Officer
On July 7, 1711, 2nd Lieutenant Peter Jansen Wessel was assigned to the 26 gun, and former French frigate " Postillion ". Once fitted out they went on convoy duty in Skagerak. While aboard Captain Rostgaard told Peter that Governor - General Lovendal was having built 6 small brigs called, " snaus", at nearby Langesund. When they returned they anchored in Rostgaard, which was just 12 miles from Langesund. Peter, ever the opportunist, received permisssion to take the ship's longboat to Langesund, to see if he could move his career along a little faster by speaking to some high level people in Langesund.
Peter Wessel arrived late in the day, after all the work at the yard had ceased, and found the builder whose name was Pedersen having a beer in the town's tavern. Pedersen was not an easy man to get to know, but Peter was the first naval officer to show any interest in his ship building project by coming in person so he showed Peter some kindness. He told Peter that the first vessel, the snau named Ormen, was not quite finished yet , but when Peter asked if he could see the ship anyway, Pedersen said that the light had gone out of the day, but that he would show the young officer the ship in the morning.
Peter examined the ship the following day, and liked what he saw very much. It was very small compared to the Postillion, being only 36 feet long, and only 13 feet at her beam, but it was sturdy and looked like a fast ship . The feature he liked the most was that this little ship did not need much water to stay afloat in, and therefore it could go where other ships could not. Unlike the Postillion this ship only had one deck and no ports for guns, of which she would carry only five.
When Peter found out that the ship would be ready to sail in just a few months he decided on a bold move. He was going to make an appeal directly to the Governor- General. To do this Peter somehow got himself assigned to the courier service, and at his first delivery to Admiral Lovendal, he made his case. Peter was in luck because General Hausmann was there as well. Peter spent only about an hour with the two highly ranked officers, but impressed them both very much. He could not, however, find the right moment to ask about being allowed to command the first snau, the Ormen.
Paperwork in those days took a while to get sorted, looked over and signed, so Peter had to wait to be called to retrieve them. When they were ready Admiral Lovendal sent for Peter, and gave him the papers. He also handed Peter a sealed envelope that would change Peter's career, and lead him down a path that would make him one of the most respected sailors in Danish / Norwegian history. The envelope contained Peter's orders to take command of the new snau, Ormen. Peter had gotten what he wanted by the force of his personality, and without even having to ask !
Next : Part 3 : Peter Wessel : Ship Commander.
Go with Odin's wisdom, Freyja's love, and Thor's protection !