Jon Olafssons memories from Tranquebar.

Jon Olafsson was born in Iceland on August 29, 1596. In 1616 he admits himself as a gun shooter in Copenhagen. He participates in some trips to the northwestern sea with Christian the fourth. In 1620 he served at Kronborg Castle. He tells about his time in Denmark in the first volume of his memories: “The insider Jon Olafsson's experiences as a gun shooter under Christian IV, written by himself”.

In the second volume, he describes his journey to India. In 1622 he traveled with Christianshafn to India. Here he does a good job for a year and then travels home with ”Perlen” in 1624. Back in Iceland as an old man, he recalls his memories. These are the best depictions of everyday life on the ships sailing to Trankebar and about the conditions in Trankebar during Christian the fourth. This is a short extract of Jon Olafsson's memories.

Jon Olafsson had tried to come along, when Ove Gedde in 1618 sailed with five ships to India. However he did not succeed, he could not be released from his service. In 1622 three of the first ships returned, and Jon Olafsson listened with interest to their reports from the first journey.
When ships were sent to India again, Jon Olafsson enrolled to the trip. A salary of 12 rigsdaler (Danish dollars) was agreed per month. It was raised to 13 rigsdaler in India. Jon Olafsson mention with pride that the normal salary for a gun shooter was 9 to 10 rigsdaler.


The trip to India took place with the ship “Christianshafn”, which traveled from Copenhagen on 8 October 1622. He describe the expedition in detail. They sailed through the English Channel. When the ship reached Berberite, (North Africa), they sailed far at sea and watched for pirates. At Cape of Good Hope, they got fresh water and provisions. The ship was pulled up  partly on land and the bottom was scrapped for seafood. The ship was also caulked from the waterline and completely up. That is, holes were sealed with ropes, pitchers and tar. Before departing from Cape Good Hope, the crew buried a coffin with letters home. A board with the C4 and the ship's name was placed over the buried coffin, and ships on return travel were asked to take the letters home. It was common practice.

The trip continued to Madagascar, where it got provisions. From Madagascar, they sailed along the east coast of Africa, They sailed all the way to the Sokotra Island at the entrance to the Red Sea before turning eastwards towards India. Here Jon Olafsson tells that it was common practice to stop and rob Arab ships on their way to India. In this way, many sailors travelling to Indian had gained big profit.

The ship entered the shore at Trinkonomali in Ceylon. Here they fired three gun shots to get in touch with Erik Grubbe. Erik Grubbe participated in Ove Gedde's trip to Ceylon a few years earlier. He was sent on a mission to the Emperor of Kandy. His mission failed. Perhaps therefore, perhaps for personal reasons, he hide himself on Ceylon. . Erik Grubbe did not want to come forward, but sent his waiter Svend Due, who got some food and some linen. Erik Grubbe should have made with his own coins, larins, with his name during his stay at Ceylon. Many have tried to find them, but they have not been found.
Christianshafn reached Trankebar in the summer of 1623. There was no harbor, so the ship had to anchor off the coast of Trankebar. Small boats sailed from the ship to land. Jon Olafsson tells that one day a sea monster of at least 600 cubits long, blocked the access to land. It did so for two days until castoreum was thrown into the sea. This report about the sea monster is not  understood or explainable today.

Half of the crew from Christianshafn were ordered to serve as soldiers at the fort Dansborg, among them Jon Olafsson. The other half of the crew were ordered on board the ship “Vandhunden”, and they went on a trade trip to Tenasserim in Burma. Jon Olafsson tells that it was customary that those who had been longest time in India were allowed to sail home with the first ships that vent back. Christianshafn got full load during the summer and left from Trankebar on September 15, 1923.

Jon Olafsson became a soldier at Dansborg. He became Chairman for his Bakke, which is a living room with 7 men. The main task was guarding on the fortress. He describes extensively the fortress, guard service and daily life. Every Saturday the soldiers got a fano for laundry and they hired a man to wash clothes. An old women were paid to fetch water. Jon Olafsson employed a boy, as his servant.

Many died on trips to and from India, especially of scurvy. In India, many died of the bloodstream (dysentery) and drowsiness (kidney disease and liver disease). Before the winter 1624 there were 80 people on the fortress. During the winter almost two thirds of the crew died, especially of dysentery.

The religious customs in Trankebar raised the curiosity of the newly arrived soldiers. Jon Olafsson mentions the temples, the temple festivals, where a large tall wagon is pulled through the streets with the gods. Temple harlots dances at the festivals, and they earns daily money for the temple by serving soldiers and other people. One day, he and two companions persuaded a priest to let them enter the temple and see what it contained. He writes: "There was not much to see in there, without the six idols on each side, the three highest gods in front of the gable, the beautifully decorated altar and the cloths of the temple harlots


The watch service at Dansborg could be hard and boring. After a visit by a general from Tanjore, everyone, including the soldiers, were given wine. The following night, the officer on guard found three soldiers sleeping on their post. They were sentenced to death according to the rules for their offence. However, because so many soldiers had died during the winter, and there was a lack of people the court decided to draw lots and only one to be shot. When the poor unfortunate soldier was bound by the pole with his eyes closed and his companions were ready to shoot him, he was pardoned by the general. There has clearly been a strong lack of soldiers at that time. 

Jon Olafsson says a little about the financial situation in Trankebar. The salary was 10-13 rigsdales (Danish dollars) a month for a soldier. When exchanging a Spanish dollar, 10 fanos were paid for one dollar by the traders in the square. The fano was a small silver coin of about 2.5 g. The fano had at that time the value of 86 Kas. Kas was a small local coin of copper or lead. Jon Olafsson states that a Fano had the same purchasing power in India as a Danish rigsdaler (dollar) had at home. He also states that a Fano is equal to 11 Danish skilling. This last fits badly with the weight of the coins.


The Danish in Trankebar could not strike coins in silver and gold without the permission of Naik and it was not granted until much later in 1730. On the other hand, they could strike Kas in lead and copper, and so they did during the 225 years that Tranquebar was Danish from 1620 to 1845. . In the beginning, Kas was made of lead, later of copper. The Naik of Tanjore was ruler in the country where Trankebar is located. He collected taxes from the Danish and he also expected to receive appropriate gifts. Jon Olafsson describes the difficulties with the Naik. At one point, the Naik asked for three carloads of lead. When it was rejected, The Naik declared the treaty broken, which gave the Danish right to be in Trankebar. He now had his general Calicut besiege Trankebar. According to Jon Olafsson  Calicuts army was very big. It consisted of 40,000 men, 1.000 elephants, 1.000 horses and 1.000 camels. The numbers are probably exaggerated, but it may have been a great army and it was very serious for the few Danish in Trankebar. The Danish strength was down to 30 men. When it looked the most dangerous and Calicut was preparing to attack, the ships “Perlen” and “Jupiter” arrived from Denmark with reinforcement, and Calicut abandoned his siege. Roland Crappe, the former governor, had been in Denmark and returned to Trankebar with ”Perlen”. He had good relations to the  Naik. He now went to Tanjore to the Naik in with the king's gifts: Two copper cannons adorned with pictures of people, a portrait of Christian the Fourth and a made-up bed. .  Jon Olafsson was selected for the trip with Roland Crappe to Tanjore, but he had to stay in Trankebar with bloodstream (dysentery). He tells about the court in Tanjore. The Naik has 600 women in its harem. When he dies, some of his women will be assigned to the son. The others will be burned with him. From historical sources it is known, that when Naike Ragnato died on November 25, 1626, 119 of his women were burned with him.  Jon Olafsson chose to travel home with ”Perlen”. Before leaving from Trankebar, he was severely injured when there was some glows in a cannon that he should make ready for a new shot. ”Perlen” began the journey from Trankebar on September 24, 1624. The journey became long and dangerous. The ship was in a severe storm and lost mast and rudder. The first port was reached in Ireland in June 1625. Only July 30, 1626, ”Perlen” returned to Copenhagen with the cargo intact. The ships mentioned by Jan Olafsson are Christianshafn, Vandhunden, Perlen and Jupiter. There are coins from three of these:




Christianshafn was a 400 t ship. It was purchased for 10,500 rigsdaler and was equipped for 56,000 rigsdaler. Christianshafn traveled from Copenhagen on 8 October 1622. It traveled from Trankebar on September 15, 1923, and left in Copenhagen on May 27, 1924. The charge consisted of 400 barrels of peppers and some canvas. It was a valuable cargo. Christianshafn reached Trankebar two more times for.

The coin DAN ISBOR G  -  CHRIS TIANS HAFN originates from one of the first two stays in Trankebar. 


DAN ISBOR G - CHRIS TIANS HAFN.    07al   07ol




”Perlen” was a pinasse of 1100 t. It was purchased for 21,500 rigsdaler. In addition, the equipment of ”Perlen” and Jupiter was in total 110,000 rigsdaler. ”Perlen” and “Jupiter” left from Copenhagen on March 27, 1623. They reached Trankebar 15 March 1624.  ”Perlen” was the largest ship, which came to Trankebar in the time of Christian the Fourth

DAN NISB ORG - PER LEN                      
08al    08ol


Jupiter was a yacth. It was rated to a value of 2,300 rigsdaler. It left Copenhagen along with ”Perlen” in March 1623.
While waiting in Tranquebar for cargo for the return journey, Jupiter was sent on a trade mission to Macassar on Celebes.
After a successful trip to Macassar and Bantam, Jupiter stranded and wrecked in Bengal. 45 man drowned, only 8 men of the crew saved their lives and a rich cargo was lost. This stranding was a hard blow to the company, which suffered from lack of manpower and capital.

 DAN NISB ORG -  IVP TER                      
09al    09ol

The coins from Trankebar are today one of the most relaible sources of the story from the time when Denmark had possessions in India.