HomePage Hauge BoatBuilding Norway DeboraFamilies DeboraStory Archives


A Norwegian Colonisation Undertaking


The Debora Expedition sailed from Bergen in 1879 to establish a Norwegian colony on an Indian Ocean atoll called Aldabra. The organisers endeavoured to find practical and Christian people to create a settlement based on the teachings of the Norwegian preacher Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771 -1824). The expedition was aborted in Madagascar - a few of the participants remained in Madagascar and the rest settled in the British colony of Port Natal (Durban). They were the first group of Norwegian emigrants to settle in Port Natal.

The forty-seven persons who took part in the Debora Expedition were:- Captain Tobiassen and wife, mate Berentsen and wife, mate Oftedal, A Olsen and wife, I Iversen and wife, O Heidalsvig and wife (Høidalsvig), J Finsen and wife, K Bang and wife with three children (Amanda, Severin and Knut), F Larsen and wife with six children (Angel, Emil, Sigvart, the three sons of the late Sivert Andersen Hordnes, and Petra, Ludvig and Karl), H Johnsen and wife with three children (Sina, Josefine and Karl), A Andreassen and wife with three children (I don't remember their names), R Andersen, R Rasmussen, K Jensen, Hesselberg, Grang, O Fosdal, E Eriksen, P Bang, E Ellingsen, widow Egelandsdal and Miss Serene Larsen. Two children were born on the voyage: a son to Mr and Mrs F Larsen and a son to Mr and Mrs Andreassen.

Further information is now loading and follows this text - Please wait


Descendants of:
ELLING ERIKSEN and his son

Robert L. Hawks wrote:

I am related to the Debora Expedition descendant Michael B Fisk who drew my attention to the Debora Expedition webpages. Looking back through my notes, it seems Micheal Fisk has two old aunts in their 80s-90s still living in South Africa. I do not have their names.

The original Debora shipmates Elling Eriksen and son Erik Ellingsen were first and second generation removed from the Svingeset farm in Stryn, Nordfjord. My relationship is through Elling's father Erik Olsen's brother Ander, placing me third generation removed from the farm. Ander's son Ander came to the USA in 1860 and eventually settled near the site of the Custer's "Battle of the Little Big Horn" as one of the earliest homesteaders of the region, living amongst the American Indians. He convinced my grandfather, his nephew, to do the same, allowing me to be raised in this environment.

I live a few blocks from Mrs Winona Hoffman, the granddaughter of Sofie Nygaard. I was interested to see that her grandmother's story is listed on the Debora webpage under the heading 'A Norwegian Family in South Africa by Sofie Norgaard'

I have had the privilege to finally read "Cry, The Beloved Coutry" by Alan Paton, recently and last evening watched the movie. It is a gripping story and gives me a much stronger feel for Natal.

Robert L. Hawks

Montana USA : Wednesday, 27 January, 1999

Michael B Fisk wrote from Middlesex England :

24 February 1998

Dear David Larsen

I was delighted to learn of your existence (!) from Yngve Nedrebo of the Bergen Archives.

For about two years I have been researching my Norwegian roots and thus became particularly interested in the Debora Expedition 1879. My Great Grandfather, Erik Ellingsen, was on board and it is his story that is most quoted. I supplied a copy in both English and Norwegian to Yngve Nedrebo and you will know this has been published in Norway.

My Great Great Grandfather was also on board - Elling Eriksen.

My maternal grandmother was born at Entembeni, Daniel Nielsen's farm and I have carried out extensive research on the Nielson family. My Gran, Marie Ellingsen, told her daughters that her mother was a cousin of Gamle (Gammel) Larsen. I never discovered the true christian name, only finding out that Gammel is Norwegian for "old". This Larsen was said to be a foreman at the Durban Harbour Works.

The name Larsen prompted me to carry out some research into this name believing the connection to be with the Larsen family of the Debora. I even obtained the entire print-out of Larsens from the Archives in Pietermaritzburg - no luck!

I came across Finn Atlanter Larsen and his purchase of the farm Fredheim at Oribi Flats. He also dabbled in gold prospecting in the Barberton area.

I could not find a connection. My Great Grandmother was a Kristiana Pedersen (Pettersen) so I always wondered whether her sister married a Larsen.

When Erik Ellingsen died in 1936, his Will (dated 1931) had the names of: O Sivertsen and A D Sivertsen as Witnesses.

I wondered whether they were connected with the Sivertsen branch of your family.

In the Will, the Rev. Oscar Julius Hansen of Itemba Mission station was sole executor, but he too I have been unable to trace.

You will no doubt have heard by now that I obtained a second account of the Debora voyage. This one written by a "Seaman James". He was in fact Rasmus Rasmussen who had previously been to Madagascar with the Agnes. He was perhaps the most skilled, most experienced sailor on the Debora.

Besides yourself (Larsen) and myself (Eriksen and Ellingsen) I have exchanged letters with descendants of Debora passengers.

(i) Heidalsvig (South Africa )
(ii) Finsen (France)
(iii) Hesselberg (Norway)
(iv) Bang (South Africa)

Yngve Nedrebo has been wonderful in terms of the help he has given me with my Norwegian genealogy and I, in turn, send the Bergen Archives all the information I have gathered together about the Debora folk and of course other Norwegian/South African settlers pre-1900.

Daniel Nielsen, originally assistant within the N.M.S. and then of Entembeni (left Bergen 1860) is perhaps the most documented Norwegian/South African I have in my collection. You have no doubt read "A Norwegian Family in South Africa" by his daughter Sofie Norgaand (nee Nielson). I have exchanged letters with her descendants in America.

You must forgive me for this somewhat brief (for me) letter as I fly to Swaziland in 20 hours time. I needed to let you know that I am extremely interested in Debora, it's passengers and descendants.

One of my most influential pen-friends descends from 3 (three) Norwegian Missionaries who sailed to S A on the Elieser. Thanks to her my knowledge of the N.M.S. has increased ten-fold.

I was amazed to learn that some people suggest that there were two Deboras!!! Also the story that Debora sank off the S A coast!

I have written in depth to Yngve disputing this, particularly as Mr Falck cannot come up with the evidence of the building of two Deboras (only one is documented - built Rosendal, Kvinnherad 1871/2).

I propose to write to you in-depth on my return from Swaziland (circa 15th March)

I am always very excited to make new contacts and especially with anyone whose ancestors were on board the Debora.

Finally a brief statement about the two Debora scenario:-

I respect Mr Falck as he is, after all, an expert in Norwegian maritime affairs. However, my guess is that the possible existence of two Deboras is based on the various registered ÔLester" (tons) of Debora.

Arriving from Carlstown (Charlestown) 39 lester (=80 tons)

Left Bergen with passengers 1879 43 lester (90 tons)

Arrived back in Bergen 1881 42 lester (88.16 tons)

I am certainly not an expert (and ignorant in Norwegian maritime matters) but I always thought that from the English point of view -

A ton = Unit of internal capacity of a ship (for purposes of registered tonnage, 100 cu feet. For the purposes of freight, usually 40 cu feet.

So the tonnage is the carrying capacity of a ship expressed in tons of 100 cu feet.

Ships are charged per ton on (i) cargo (ii) freight.

We have the underdeck tonnage:- The cubic capacity of the space under the tonnage deck, this with the addition of the capacity of all enclosed spaces above the deck gives the gross tonnage.

The deduction from the latter of the space occupied by crews quarters, etc, gives the net or registered tonnage.

So, as I see it, Debora's registered tonnage (lester) would without question be different as she was carrying cargo (coal) when she arrived back from Charlestown. She was then re-furbished to take a maximum of 50 passengers.

Must end now,

Best Wishes

Michael B Fisk

Michael B Fisk wrote from Middlesex England :

18TH March 1998

Dear Mr David Larsen

I have now returned from my trip to Swaziland. To my excitement a mountain of mail awaited me. Having examined all the information I am able to commence the task, or rather pleasure, of responding.

Thank you very much for your e-mails! I feel very old fashioned now that so many of my fellow historians are using e-mail - a most wonderful method of communication. Time does not permit me to reply in as much detail as I would wish, but I hope we can exchange more information in future.

I was absolutely delighted to receive your 20+ pages of the Norwegian Debora Expedition. Incidentally I have only just found out that the older Norwegians pronounce Debora De-bore-ra!

You will be very pleased to know that Yngve Nedrebo of the Bergen Archives in conjunction with Bjorn Davidsen and Odd Henriksen (of Det Norske Veritas) have sorted out the mystery of the three vessels Debora.

I am very pleased about this even though it is sad to learn that Tobiassen told his son that Debora had sunk at the South African coast soon after the vessel had been sold.

I completed my family history research for my paternal line (Fisk) back to pre-1700 and then my maternal line (Brook) back to pre-1500 and commenced my search for my Norwegian roots about two years ago. It has been a thrilling experience and I have gathered together a mass of information.

However this is of little interest to you so I will concentrate on our mutual interest - The Debora.

Erik Ellingsen, who wrote his account of the 1879 Debora Voyage was my Great-Grandfather. My Great-Great Grandfather Elling Eriksen was also on board.

You are aware that one of the Bang children was called Severin Bang. I have managed to discover a descendant Solveig Marina Bang - she lives in Dorpspruit in S. Africa (near PMB?). (DVL note: The handwritten document 'Memoirs of Severin Bang' was typed by Solveig Marina Bang and a copy was sent to Michael B Fisk)

.......another account of the Debora Expedition. This was by Seaman James who was in fact Rasmus Rasmusson. All my info. has been sent to Yngve Nedrebo (Bergen Archives) both in English and Norwegian. Some have been published.

Do let me know whether you require copies of anything.

Thank you very much for the information about the Larsen family. My elders were not family history orientated. However my 87 year old Aunt told me that my Grandmother told her that Gamle Larsen was related to her Mother. (My Gt Grandmother Christiana Pedersen, (Pedersdattel/married Erik Ellingsen 1880). I spent much time researching this connection without success. I even obtained a huge print-out from the Archives in Pietermaritzburg ref. every Larsen that they had in their records. Gamle of course is Norwegian for old and he was one time foreman of Durban Harbour Works (c 1900).

I was also interested to note that in Gt-Grandfathers Will dated 5 January 1931 the two witnesses were O. Sivertsen and A D Sivertsen! Do you know of them? (The sole executor of the Will was the Rev. Oscar Julius Hansen of the Itemba Mission Station but I have not discovered one item ref. this Rev. nor where the Mission Station was.

I of course have a good deal of info ref Marburg and The Norwegian Settlers, including a document (copy) of Finn Atlanter's purchase of Fredheim.

You have no doubt read the book, A Norwegian Family in South Africa by Sofie Norgaard (nee Nielsen). Sofie was one of the daughters of Daniel and Caroline Nielsen of Entembeni Farm (near Stanger). I became interested in this family as Caroline (nee Paulsen) delivered my Grand-mother Marie Margretha Ellingsen at Entembeni Farm in 1881.

I have researched this family in depth and worked out the tree back to C1500.

Daniel Nielsen arrived in Durban in 1860, working for the Norwegian Missionary Society as a carpenter, builder, etc. I have traced numerous descendants in S A and USA of the Nielsen family. Perhaps my most exciting experience was just two weeks ago when I met Elise Hoyland of White River (nr Nelspruit).

She is a descendant of Daniel and Caroline and also a descendant of the Heidalewig family. She has a veritable treasure chest of old photographs, letters and documents. It was a great thrill for me to hold in my hands the original diaries of Daniel Nielsen - starting 1860!

My best pen-friend now lives in England, but was born and bred in Zululand. She descends from 3 (three) Norwegian Missionaries, including the famous Markus Dahle. Thus she is an expert on missionaries and their work.

(By the way, you may be interested to learn that a young Norwegian historian is going to Madagascar later this year to research a book about early Norwegians in Madagascar.)

Forgive me for chopping and changing the subject but before I forget let me say that I am extremely pleased to hear from a Larsen. Other descendants of Debora passengers I have tracked down descend from:

K Bang
J Finsen
Ellingsens (our family)

How I wish we could examine the Ekland Diaries and Debora papers!

One of the fascinating subjects is the diverse religious beliefs of the Debora passengers: Lutheran, Free Church, Baptists, etc. Mr Knud Bang was one of the very first Baptists of Bergen (1871 list). The Bang family came from an area Borgund (near Alesund) where my Gt Gt G Father Elling Eriksen lived from C1861 - 1872. He was Lutheran but under Knud Bangs influence took up the Baptist faith C1874 in Bergen. After sailing on Debora Elling Eriksen sent for his wife and children who arrived in Durban on a steam-ship in 1881. (Seaman James discusses the religious difficulties in his Debora story).

Ref: The Natal Mercury, Mon. Nov 11, 1929. Although I have a copy of the photo of the surviving Debora passengers I was unaware that Mrs Petra Thorvaldsen was nee Larsen, until I read your e-mail!

Also included in your e-mail is a section headed History of Religion in Norway. This will particularly please my youngest brother in Australia who is the Ref R A Fisk.

I wonder whether you ever discovered whether Fredrik Johan Larsen, Lervig was a Baptist, Lutheran or otherwise.**

I would be very interested to know whether you have managed to contact any of the descendants of the Debora passengers.

Finally, I am 63 years old, not hard of hearing(!) but extremely difficult to contact by telephone. I work strange hours - 12 hour shifts - sometimes night work, sometimes weekends, etc. So I could be sleeping at 12 noon or midnight on my time off. I am a fanatical family history researcher! I was born and bred in South Africa but at the age of 23 came to England.

**The Baptist Congregation of Bergen in 1872 was lead by Missioner Gottfried Hubert of Nyegaard! In the congregation we had both Amund Gustensend and Knud Olia Band who were two of the migrants on the Agnes. As you know Knud returned to Norway and later returned on the Debora.

Many Norwegians are buried in the graveyard at Bethany Farm, near Entebeni Farm (near Stanger). One Debora passenger lies there - O. Heidalsvig. Bethany Farm is owned to this day by the Haggemann family who are closely entwined with the Nielsen family.

Erik Ellingsen is buried at Red Hill, Durban.

I have only glossed over the varied and interesting points ref Debora. Once I get up to date with my other history loving pen-friends I shall write again. In the meantime any news about Debora and its folk is of interest to me.

I have a contact in Johannesburg who once told me she has a large map of Southern Africa on which she has plotted every ship-wreck/sunken ship over the past 200 years. I shall ask about Debora.

I must do something about this e-mail!!!

I am so pleased to have made contact with another Debora fan!

My very best wishes

Michael Fisk.

Ref: Larsen

Typed letter I have:

Prime Ministers Office

Minute No 765

Date: 15 March 1928

Ministers have the honour to recommend that His Excellency the Governor-General may be pleased to approve, in terms of section 122 of the South Africa Act of 1909, of the issue of Crown Grant to Finn Atlanter Larsen, in respect of the holding known as Fredheim, situate in the County of Alfred, Province of Natal, in extent 1030 acres, sold to him under the provisions contained in Proclamation No 31 of 1907 (Natal).

M B Fisk wrote from Middlesex England:
30 April 1998

Dear David,

Some people still write letters although e-mail is rapidly becoming popular - and I can see why!

I hope you are well and continuing to "dig up" new information about Debora and her passengers. Did you ever contact Elise Hoyland?

I did not get a reply from David Hansen - I wrote to him the day after you phoned me. (20.03.98). I was quite excited at the prospect of learning something about the Rev. Oscar Julius Hansen who was sole executor of the Will of my great-grandfather Erik Ellingsen (1931). I have a feeling that Rev. Hansen has some other connection with my family. I would also love to know what denomination he was. He was quoted as being of the Itemba Mission Station, Lower Tugela. Did I take down David's address correctly?

Isn't it amazing how new information keeps on surfacing with regard to the Debora and passengers. This year alone we have "Seaman James's story" and finally confirmation of which of the 3 Debora's was ours (pity we can't find a photograph).

Now I have some more exciting news. Reading through extracts of the Rev Peder Eidberg's book:- "Baptistmenighten, Bergen G Jennom 100 "C" (Bergen 1970).

I was delighted to learn that the Debora passengers Helge Jonson (Johnson) in a letter dated Tulear 22 October 1879 and addressed to "The Community of Believing and Baptised in Bergen" tells us about Debora's voyage and arrival in Tulear October 17, 1879. (Helge was one of the first Baptists of Bergen, listed in 1872. Also on this list was Knud Bang) and by the way Amund Gunstensen who had sailed on "Agnes" in 1872. Gunstensen had insisted that only members of the Baptist community and "Frimenighet" should sail on the Debora. When non Baptists joined the Debora Gustensen declared he would not participate.

Also in Peder Eidberg's book is a private letter written by Erik Ellingsen dated Natal, 14 November 1879. This was about the Baptist community in Durban.

More excitement was to follow. I finally received a 12 page document entitled,"Incidents in the life of Severin A Bang", as told to his daughter Inga. A most interesting story with much information about his father Knud. Severin confirms that the Debora was only one year old when she sailed in 1879!!

The historian who comes from Daniel Nielsen's area in Norway has asked me to help as he is writing a story about Debora and Norwegians who went to S A 1879. Would you mind if I sent your notes as well?

Sorry, much to say, but no space!

Best Wishes,

Michael Fisk

PS: Debora Passengers

Widow Egelandsdal was the nurse on Debora.

P Bang was in fact Peter Jorgesen a relative of the Bang family.

Serene Larsen was Cyrene Solbakken, states Severin Bang. She was the sister of Mrs Frederick Larsen. She later married a Norwegian Captain Olsen who soon after died of fever.

HomePage Hauge BoatBuilding Norway DeboraFamilies DeboraStory Archives