#52Ancestors: Two Misfortunes and a Blessing

Another great article from Kendall Gibson, Wellington, New Zealand

I don’t know why my great grandparents, Hanna and Nicolai Larsen (with 3 children) decided to emigrate from Norway. Probably for the same reasons as most emigrants – better opportunities for their children, a chance of owning their own land, maybe poverty and hardship in their homeland?

Apparently the decision to emigrate to America was made together with Nicolai’s brother Johan Larsson, who had also left Sweden some time earlier to look for work in Norway.  They had planned to meet up on the Christiania (Oslo) docks prior to departure scheduled for early August 1873. But things didn’t go according to plan.

The first misfortune-

The Larsen family boarded the wrong ship! They found themselves on the sailing ship Høvding (meaning Chieftain) which was bound for New Zealand rather than America, heading for a country they had probably never heard of and with no concept of how far away it was or how long it would take to get there.



The second misfortune-

They didn’t meet up with Nicolai’s brother Johan. (Probably because they had boarded the wrong ship.) Nicolai presumed Johan went to America as planned.

How could this have happened?

As children we had heard these stories about the Larsen family’s misfortunes but I’d always wondered about the truth of it. How could anyone get on the wrong ship? International travel today is so very different.

At this time (in the early 1870’s) the New Zealand government was offering assisted migration hoping to achieve quick land clearance for the building of railways and roads. Scandinavian immigrants with strong backs and lots of healthy children were popular – and also sought after by other developing countries. Competition among unscrupulous government agents led to naïve country folk being taken advantage of. Norma Keesing in her book ‘The Immigration of the Scandinavian People to Hawke’s Bay’ explains what sometimes happened-

The captains of the ships and their agents needed as many people on board as they could (safely?) get away with. Tales are told of prospective travellers inquiring for a particular ship and being put on another ship altogether in order to make up that ship’s complement. So instead of sailing for America they would find themselves in New Zealand….……. Language difficulties also added to the confusion, with many a shady or dishonest agent or captain taking advantage of less worldly wise and less educated travellers…… Families were split up …. with brothers/sisters/parents never meeting up again.’ Keesing p7

It seems this is exactly what happened to the Larsen family.

A blessing-

Hanna and Nicolai had not told the emigration officials that Hanna was expecting their 4th child. Maybe they thought they would be charged more? Or the child would arrive after they got to America so there was no need to declare the pregnancy? But the journey to New Zealand took twice as long as the 50-60 days it took to get to America.

When a child is born at sea it is customary for the child to be named after the ship, and it is required that the birth be recorded by the captain in the ship’s log. Seven children born on that trip were recorded in the Høvding’s log but Christopher Høvding Larsen’s name was not among them. Fearing repercussions Hanna and Nicolai had decided to keep the knowledge of his birth a secret from the captain and officers.

End notes

Christopher Høvding Larsen: As his birth was not recorded in the Høvding’s log Chris had no official record of his birth so could not get a birth certificate. Having no identity papers was a problem for him in adult life. He must have managed to sort it out eventually though. Chris worked as a linesman for the Electricity Department. He died of tuberculosis in 1918. He was 44.



Johan Larsson: Over the rest of his life Nicolai tried many times without success to make contact with his brother Johan in America. With the advantage of modern technology it didn’t take me too long to work out that Johann didn’t go to America, he stayed in Norway and eventually returned to Sweden. In the Swedish Clerical Survey book of 1881-86 Johan is back living in his father’s household.  He lived a long life and worked as a ‘blekslagare’ (tin smith/metal worker). Nicolai died in 1888 aged 53, not ever knowing where his brother ended up, and saddened to have no contact with him. A great misfortune for Nicolai.

Hanna and Nicolai Larsen: Their journey to New Zealand was a 4 month long nightmare. (That’s for another story.) Emigrating to New Zealand was not their intention but they stayed, raised 11 children and were able to buy a farm of their own. A misfortune initially, but probably considered fortunate in the end, certainly by their descendants.



The Immigration of the Scandinavian People to Hawke’s Bay by Norma Keesing. (Published by the author) New Zealand, 1993

ISBN 0 473 01864 0



5 thoughts on “#52Ancestors: Two Misfortunes and a Blessing

  • March 27, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    Thank you for the post! My great-great uncle Ole Christophersen, his wife Karen Johannesdatter, and their four children were also on the 1873 Høvding to New Zealand (Ole’s brother Arne, my great grandfather, and their sister Karen emigrated to the United States – Minnesota – around the same time). When I was young my dad would occasionally talk about some cousins in New Zealand, but it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve actually been able to trace Ole and Karen and their descendants. They also had a very large family! I don’t know why they all left Norway but I imagine it was to escape the poverty of tenant farming and attain a better life for their descendants, which they did. This is a great story, I wish I knew more about my own ancestors’ journey.

    • April 4, 2018 at 10:18 am

      Hello Cathy

      Thanks for visiting and for commenting. I believe that drive back then is the same as what dirves us today: The dream of a better life.

  • March 30, 2018 at 4:29 am

    Sooo interesting . . thanks for sharing!

  • April 10, 2018 at 3:39 am

    So many layers of history uncovered. Thank you for your many investigations. You are an inspiration to many.


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