Hundadagurinn - The Dog Days of Summer

Here we are in the "Dog Days of Summer." This describes the oppressively hot days between mid-July and mid-August. Our weather sure has been unbearably hot in some of our communities. Our story today is about Iceland's "Convict King" also known as the "Dog Day King." Do you have an ancestor who was one of his bodyguards? Read more below!


First, a few tidbits of information: The Icelandic word for dog is hundur. So in Iceland, the Dog Days are called Hundadagarinn. Some things we hear about Dog Days:

  • These hot days are not fit for a dog.

  • This is when dogs eat grass.

  • Dog Fish (dolphins) grow fat, become blind, and swim to the shore during Dog Days.

The name Dog Days actually comes from a reference to the constellation Canis Major. In the summer, the sun and a special star, Sirius - the Dog Star, rise and set at the same time. The ancient Greeks believed this brightest star in the sky, after the Sun, helped the Sun to shine brighter and create more heat. The summer heat is actually from the Earth's tilt. The Sun hits the Earth more directly and for more hours in the day.

As for Iceland's Convict King - The Dog Day King, let's get on with the story! You might find some of your ancestors in this tale!


Jörgen Jörgenson, was born 7 Apr 1780 in Copenhagen. He was the son of a royal clockmaker in Denmark and he was an adventurer with a life full of ups and downs.


Young, teenage Jörgen set off as a sailor. Eventually, he was made the captain of a Danish War Ship fighting against Britain. He was captured and put in a British prison but later was released. He met an Icelandic merchant, Bjarni Sívertsen, who told him about the plight of the Iceland trade. The short version of this reason -- Iceland was under Danish rule and the Danes were busy fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. With his experience in sailing and trading, and after racking up a pile of gambling debt, Jörgen decided to sail on a trading ship heading to Iceland with a merchant from England who planned to break the Danish trade monopoly that was established in 1602. Violators were severely prosecuted. However, Denmark was weakened by the long and fierce Napoleonic Wars and the English merchant thought this was a perfect opportunity.


The Danish ships bringing essentials to Iceland were rare. Both Icelandic and Danish ships were captured by the British. In 1801, the British Navy attacked Copenhagen and they destroyed almost the entire navy fleet. The few ships that Denmark sent to Iceland were intercepted by the British Navy and this caused much destitution for our ancestors. Denmark joined the Napoleonic Wars when the British fleet left Copenhagen in ruins and captured the remaining ships in the Danish fleet.


Jörgen knew that Iceland was suffering and he came up with a great plan to further his fame and commercial interests while at the same time “helping” the Icelanders. Jörgen had met a soap merchant named Samuel Phelps. He needed tallow to make soap. This is a hard fatty substance made from animal fat. The Icelanders had tallow ready for trade and Jörgen was going to get it at a good price for his friends. So, his Icelandic adventure begins.


When Jörgen first landed on Iceland in 1808, they were refused a trade permit. They captured another ship in the port and then were able to trade. Since it was already winter, this did not work out so well. Jörgen returned to England where he and Phelps made another plan. Jörgen, known in Iceland as Jörundur, went with Phelps to Iceland as an interpreter along with essential trade goods the next year.


Once again, they were refused a trade permit. Phelps, Jörundur, and the crew took matters into their own hands and arrested the Danish appointed governor, Frederich Christopher Trampe - a Danish-Norwegian count. Jörgen promised that he would reinstate Icelandic self-government and that the Icelandic people should have a society such as the people in America and Europe had at this time.


After two weeks, he announced: We have taken over the government of the country until a regular national government is determined. He was known as "The Protector of Iceland." He created a new constitution. Prices were lowered and trade was established. He began working on health and school issues. He even had a new flag for Iceland that showed three fish in the upper left quarter on a blue field.


Jörundur enlisted the help of some Icelanders. They rode around Iceland dispensing the new rules, creating new positions for those who agreed, and taking away powers and property from Danish officials and those who would not comply. Among the men helping Jörundur and in his squad of bodyguards were the following. A * is for those who had descendants emigrate to North America. The other three did not have a descendant emigrate. However, the emigration story has touched all families in Iceland so we can trace back our lineage to these three men. The direct lineage will not be there. The following are "Jörundar hundadagakonungs fylgdarmaður" (The Dog Day King Jörundar's Bodyguards) along with their Icelandic Roots ID#. Use the Relationship Calculator in the IR Database to see how you are related.


*Jónas Jónsson - IR#I175654

*Gísli Einarsson - IR#I3045

*Gísli Guðmundsson - IR#I181328

*Samson Samsonarson - IR#I66451

*Sveinn Pétursson Hjaltalín - IR#I179485

Dagur Jónsson - IR#I187040

Jóel Jónsson - IR#I181290

Þorleifur Sigurðsson Sívertsen - IR#I42992


The Icelandic Merchant who first met Jörundur is Bjarni Sigurðsson Sívertsen. IR#I192109


The IR Database has hundreds of people with the first name of Jörgen and Jörundur.


The Danish government soon arrested Jörundur and restored Danish rule in Iceland. He was again sent to prison. A British warship came to take him back to England. On the voyage home, he becomes a hero for saving the ship and crew from a fire - along with Count Trampe. Jörundur continued to lead an amazingly ambitious and most glorious existence. He was in and out of trouble and was transported as a convict to Tasmania. But here he became an explorer with much fame and was part of making Tasmania a British Colony. He went down again with problems from drinking and had an up and down life until his death on 20 Jan 1841.


From everyone on the IR Volunteer team, Happy Hundadagarinn! Learn to pronounce HUNDUR.


For further reading: Þjóðólfur. 21 Oct 1892. https://timarit.is/page/2030055

Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars. http://www5.kb.dk/export/sites/kb_dk/en/nb/komponentgalleri/nb/713787158x1x.pdf

The Constellations and their Stars: http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/

History of the Icelandic Flag: https://www.government.is/topics/governance-and-national-symbols/icelandic-national-flag/history/


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