Fregatten Falster and Danish Frigate Design to 1746

The idiosyncrasies of the design of the frigate Falster, lost off Morocco in 1753, are discussed in the context of Danish frigate design in the century preceding 1746.

by Claus Christiansen

Danish foreign affairs

During the reign of king Frederik 5th Danish trade and shipping expanded. This trade flourished in full under the next king Christian 7th, but ended abruptly when the war with England starts in 1807. Under the leadership of minister of foreign affairs Johan Hartvig Bernstorff the government tried in whatever way to find new markets abroad, in order to trade Danish goods with cheap raw materials.

Danish merchantships were seen all over the world in these years, and the Dannebrog (the flag) waved over Danish colonies and trading places in the West Indies, the Bay of Guinea and in India. The Asiatic Company brought home enormous wealth each year and during the 20 years of king Frederik’s reign alone, Chinese and Asiatic goods for more than 24 mill. Rigsdaler were sold in the Copenhagen auctions.

The minister of foreign affairs, Bernstorff
The minister of foreign affairs, Bernstorff

The Mediterranean trade

Bernstorff also focused on the growing Mediterranean trade. During the reign of Frederik 5th large sums were earned by enterprising Danish and Norwegian merchants and shipping companies having their ships constantly doing carrying-trade especially between the war waging states England and France and the countries around the Med. Sometimes more than 400 ships were on their way.

But it was not always peaceful and without risk. In the Med. the well known pirates from Tunis, Tripolis, Algeria and Marocco were operating. With their small, fast privateers they attacked the peaceful merchantships trying to conquer them. If the attacks were successful, they towed the ship home, the crew was sold as slaves and the merchandise split among the local prince and the privateers.

Christian merchantmen sometimes worked as slaves for several years until ransomed by their native government. All European nations trading in the Med. area suffered from this odious behaviour.

Denmark and Norway were among the first states trying to come to a peaceful and under-standing agreement with the pirate states. Some few days after the coronation of king Frederik in 1746 Denmark-Norway signed a peace agreement with the worst of the pirate states, Algeria and later with Tunis and Tripoli. This cost a lot. Peace was bought, by promising the local prince annual gifts of money and goods, in exchange for them respecting our flag.

The Morocco situation

In the biggest pirate state Morocco, emperor Abdallah’s son prince Mohammed reigned a large portion of his empire, especially in the west at the open sea. In 1749 a jew from Morocco came to Copenhagen. Here his boasts about the enormous wealth, which trade with Morocco, could bring, convinced the government to try to expand this trade. As money was earned he proposed the government to send an expedition to the area, in order to have a formal trading treaty signed with Morocco.

In the year 1751 a squadron was ordered to the area. This squadron, commanded by Commander Simon Hooglant, consisted of his ship the frigate FALSTER (40), the frigate DOKKEN and 3 transport ships carrying 350 soldiers under the command of lieutenant-colonel Longueville. The commander received his orders on April 4th, 1751 and weighed for the area. The purpose of this squadron was to establish a trading station in Morocco.

Map of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean
Map of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean

Negotiations with the prince went on, but sadly the Danish negotiator was an uncarefull and unskilled negotiator, who made numerous mistakes. Anyway, a treaty was signed and FALSTER proceeded to Algeria and Tunis to renew the treaties with these countries.

Returning to the Road of Saffa, Commander Hooglant experienced the prince’s arrest of lieutenantcolonel Longueville and first lieutenant Kaas, who commanded the transport ships, together with all the soldiers. Negotiations for the release of the prisoners were unsuccessful and Commander Hooglant weighed for Cadiz awaiting further orders.

As minister Bernstorff realised what had happened, he decided to send some warships to the area as fast as possible. The frigates CHRISTIANSBORG and BLAA HEYREN, under the command of senior grade commander Lützau, were send as reinforcement These warships were capable of performing bombardment of the prince’s seaports thereby showing that the Danish nation would not accept this kind of insult, without retaliating.

Before entering into this warlike situation, plans for a peaceful solution were made. Therefore an experienced negotiator was selected to follow the squadron with the aim of negotiating the release of the prisoners, and more importantly, trying to negotiate and sign a formal and lasting trading treaty between Denmark and Morocco. If this succeeded, without the use of guns, this negotiator was supposed to stay in the area as a formal Danish consul. The man chosen was Andreas Aaereboe. Andreas Aaereboe.

Andreas Aaereboe, was almost 30 years of age in 1753 when the government proposed him to follow the mentioned squadron to Morocco, and to become the first Danish consul in the disreputable pirate states. Mid February 1753 Aaereboe left Copenhagen onboard a warship. In Cadiz he joined the Danish squadron on may the 12th 1753 they anchored outside Saffa on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

The avaricious prince Mohammed, expecting great gifts and willing to make peace, wanted the new consul to come to Morocco for verbal negotiations. Aaereboe was not happy with this proposal, going on this trip alone without Marine escort. Before he left, he asked for the Sacrament, to which the captain replied:

“You better prepare for everything. As you have neither wife nor children I wish you God speed. Present your case in such a way, that you end as a happy man worthy of the kings everlasting mercy”.

Negotiations were resumed and finally the treaty with Morocco was signed on May 16th. On June 3rd the prisoners were released and brought on board the squadron’s ships.

The loss of FALSTER

On this same day a large scale Sacrement was given onboard the ship DOKKEN. Suddenly at 4:30 PM a fire broke out in the frigate FALSTER. The fire was caused by a timberboy’s negligence in handling liquid resin in the forward orlopdeck. In spite of great effort the fire was inextinguishable. Commander Hooglant, together with all commanders, the ambassador and lieutenantcolonel Longueville were all onboard the CHRISTIANSBORG.

Hooglant, with his ship tried to approach the burning FALSTER, but had to give up in order to save the many crewmen in the water who had jumped overboard fleeing the fire on the frigate FALSTER. Launches with fire pumps and water baskets were send from the other ships for assistance. The frigates CHRISTIANSBORG and BLAA HEYREN and the armed ship NEPTUNUS anchored lee of the burning ship, had to cut the anchors at 5 PM, and sail in order avoid the fire. The frigate DOKKEN and the ship FREDERIK and LOVISE stayed at the burning ship.

At 5:30 PM the fire prevented from staying lee of the ship. Commander Hooglant then or-dered the cutting of FALSTERS’ anchors in order to set the ship aground. Only small for-ward sails were set, and Lieutenant Andreas Wilhelm Helmich prepared the rudder. The normal helmsman, able seaman Ewald Claus Henrich then took over, ordered to run the ship aground. But the fire escalated, making it impossible to stay at the quarterdeck. Lieutenant Helmich then ran for the forecastle, but as the main rigging caught fire, and the wind drew the fire further forward, the lieutenant together with 5 men, had to jump overboard. In the water they clung to fallen debris, until their rescue.

Shortly after the mainyard fell on the deck. Able seaman Helmich managed to helm the ship in spite of the fire, until the steering lines were burned. He then jumped over board saving himself in the last minute. The ship then ran aground. At 7 PM the three ships returned anchoring at the same place as before. At 7:45 PM some minor explosion were heard, probably from the grenade magazine.

At 8 PM fire reached the powder magazine and the entire frigate went up “in a violent explosion and fire”. At 9:30 PM Commander Hooglant returned to CHRISTIANSBORG reporting to the squadron commander senior grade commander Lützau. In the following morning lieutenant Stavanger was send to the wreck, but as fired upon from the shore, he did not manage to get on board.

The burning Falster
The burning Falster

At the fire the following men were lost: Second commander lieutenant Suhm, lieutenant baron Christian Carl Liliencrone and Morten Hirschnack, cadet Konrad Bruun, 3 lieutenant of the Marines together with 125 petty officers and seamen. 23 seamen and soldiers survived, by swimming to a small deserted rocky island. These miserable, naked and wounded men were soon taken as slaves.

The situation after the fire

On June 6th a warinquest was held on CHRISTIANSBORG. Following this Commander Hooglant was ordered on board the DOKKEN to sail home for Copenhagen. Aaereboe reports:

Under this terrible situation, my servant and I were conveyed in the royal barge. Halfway to the coast, we were met by a Moor [citizens of Marocco] ship”. “Entering Saffa I was followed by some hundred Moors, shooting all around me. I went to my lodgings at a French merchant by the name of Rey. Having hardly had a glass of water, I witnessed a large group of Moors dragging a number of dead people, who they had stripped of their clothes.

They demanded me to pay them to have the dead semen brought ashore for burial. Shuddering, I saw my dead friends, with whom I had spoken 2 days be-fore. I noticed lieutenantcolonel Ditthardt, Sea-captain Suhm, land-captain Dunklan, and lieutenant Hirsenak of my own family. Sea-cadet Bruhn, my present wife’s brother and lots of other seamen and solders for whom I immediately ordered the necessary coffins and grave clothes.

As the many dead bodies were buried in a hill outside the city, Aaereboe managed to have the captured 23 slaves bandaged and given new clothes.

Then a courier from the prince came and demanded me, to travel without delay to Morocco [the capital] bringing with me the 23 ill and some of them very wounded men with me. Even though I pleaded with the governor for their well being, I was ordered to bring them the 30 miles to Marocco. The Moor who headed the caravan forced my men by slashing and hitting them in the terrible hot climate, each travelling on a donkey.

Here follows Aaereboe’s personal description of how they all were held in civilian captivity for more than 8 days before he was finally allowed to see the prince Mohammed. After several days of hard negotiation the prince gave in and signed a treaty. Gifts were given the prince, and Aaereboe, together with the 23 men left for Saffa once again.

Entering the city of Saffa we were picked up by the royal barges and taken onboard the flagship. Salutes were given us, and I was embraced by the holy man. We both had tears in our eyes, as I delivered the treaty to him.

Then Aaereboe went ashore again, and the next day the squadron weighed for Copenhagen. The government and the Copenhagen merchants were extremely delighted with the result of the expedition. The treaty of June 18th 1753 brought not only peace with the pirates but led to the establishment of a completely new trade connection. The Danish – African Trading Company was formed, and on the birthday of the king March 31st 1755 the company received its charter giving the company a trading monopoly in on the west coast of Africa.

Aaereboe was given a house in Saffa were he lived, until he was moved to Sale. There Aaereboe experienced the great earthquake on November 1st 1755 killing more than 30.000 people. Aaereboe describes this tragedy in details. Aaereboe managed to sign peace treaties with Tanger and Teutan in the northern part of Morocco before he was ordered home.

The Morocco situation here after

A Danish warship commanded by captain Kaaes anchored mid June 1756 outside Saffa. A new consul was reinstated, and Aaereboe returned to Copenhagen onboard SLESVIG. On August 29th 1756 Aaereboe was home. Aaereboe then became the king’s personal friend called in several times for telling interesting stories of this far away country and its strange inhabitants.

Then the emperor Abdallah died, and his son Muhammed became emperor. Things then became worse from a Danish trading point of view. The emperor demanded greater and greater tribute and gifts, he broke every other agreement and behaved tradewise totally unpredictably. In 1766 the company was closed, giving the shareholders an average of only 60% of their money. In all the government had lost millions of Rdl.

A new treaty was signed in July 1767, promising free sailing and undisturbed trade on all the coasts of Morocco, under the condition that Denmark would give annual gifts in terms of boats, cordage, timber and money.

The Algerian situation

The Algerian situation was that the treaty of 1746 left our ships peacefully trading and sailing in the Med. But suddenly in 1769 greater tribute and gifts were demanded. Hostilities broke out, and August 14th war was declared on Denmark. Pirates formally swarmed the Med. capturing several Danish merchant ships enslaving the crews. To punish this, the Danish government sent a expedition, comprising 10 warships, under the command of Admiral Kaas. July 2nd 1770 they anchored outside Algeria and Kaas demanded the release of the prisoners and compensation for the captured ships.

The king refused to give in, and the Danish ships started firing at the city. However this did not bring any result due to strong wind and low calibre guns. In the squadron 2 old merchant ships were equipped as bombs. These started throwing bombs on the city, but unfortunately these old ships could not stand this unusual “job”. They started to leak all over, so the shooting had to be stopped, preventing their sinking. In Copenhagen frustration about this unsuccessful expedition broke out. Who was to blame? A commission was re-established and led to the fall of the minister of foreign affairs Bernstorff.

Ærebo’s last years

Aaereboe, who was sent to Algeria trying to ease the situation was finally called home in 1771 after more than 8 years of service in Algeria. He bought a house in HOLBÆK and one in Copenhagen. In 1787 he can be found in the census records of Holbæk. Part of the house still exists. He lived in Holbæk and Copenhagen randomly from 1786-98, buying another Holbæk house in 1799. He bought land and additional houses in the Holbæk area. On July 9th 1801 his wife dies, forcing the 78 years old man to stay in Copenhagen. In 1807 he sells all his Holbæk properties.

On August 28th 1813 Aaereboe dies just after his 90 years birthday. Aaereboe bequeathed all his property to the family of his wife. This Bruun family was well known, and had several very interesting characters. Among these were the Marine lieutenant Peter Urban Bruun, who won great honour of braveness commanding the gunboat HOLBÆK during the bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807, and later on in the gunboat war with England 1807-1814.

Further reading:

The Frigate Falster and Danish Frigate Design to 1746

Andreas Aaereboe, by Albert Thomasen, special edition by Holbæk County Newspaper, printed 1924.
The History of the Danish-African Company,
Annex to J.L. Rasmussens book about, Copenhagen 1818.
Officerer i Den Dansk-Norske Søetat 1660-1814, by T.A.Topsøe-Jensen and Emil Marquard, Vol. I, Printed by H. Hagerup, Copenhagen, 1935.