Hans Egede, The Apostle of Greenland
ans Egede was known as
The Apostle of Greenland because of his missionary
work there which began in 1721 and continued for fifteen years.
Egede was born on January 31, 1686 in Harrestad, Norway. He received
his bachelors degree in theology in 1705 from the University of
Copenhagen. Influenced by Pietism, the prevailing Church movement of
those days, Egede decided to become a missionary to Greenland.
Egedes Description of Greenland
When Egede arrived in Greenland in 1721, no settled trade existed
there. With the support of the Bergen Company, Egede established
the town of Gothaab. The initial colony was not successful, and in
1733 the Danish government effectively became the chief support of
trading and missionary work there. It must have been in the days of
failure, when Egede was sending discouraging reports and appeals for
help back to Europe, that he sent his description of Greenland. As
early as 1722 Egede had written a report to the Bergen Company which
was printed in 1729, without his knowledge, as Det gamle
Grønlands nye perlustration. This book, the first extensive
description of Greenland, was so popular that it was translated into
German the following year. The content attests to Egedes interest
in the ancient Norse settlements in Greenland. He begins with a brief
narrative of the founding of the Norse colony and its later history.
He also describes the plant and animal life on Greenland, and gives
accounts of Eskimo culture, commerce and religion. When Egede returned
to Denmark in 1736 he assumed a supervisory position over the Greenland
mission. During this latter period he did most of his writing. In 1741
a much enlarged version of the 1729 book was printed. This edition
includes an extensive natural history of Greenland, accounts of the
manner of living of the Greenlanders, a brief vocabulary of their
language, their religion, knowledge of the stars, etc. The portion
of the book that deals with Greenlands geography and earlier
history is much expanded. Egede also added a map of Greenland as well
as eleven excellent woodcut illustrations.
A Brief History of Greenland
At the end of the tenth century Norsemen from Iceland came to settle
in the southwestern regions of Greenland. By the thirteenth century
the Norse colonization was at its height. The once uninhabited region
had 280 farmsteads and a population of 3000. The region also had a
bishops see with sixteen churches. The progress and prosperity
of this region did not last however. Because of the political
conditions in Europe, ties gradually loosened with the colony and
communication ceased altogether until the sixteenth century.
As the position of the colony weakened it is
believed that Eskimos then moved down from the North and that the
Norse settlers must have succumbed to their force.1 Information
about Greenland, which Egede later made use of, was recorded in the
early 1600s by Danish expeditions as well as English and Danish
seafarers who navigated Davis Strait in order to hunt whales and
barter with the inhabitants there. Throughout the seventeenth century
Greenland remained for the large part unexplored, and the old Norse
colony was all but forgotten until Hans Egede set his sights on what
he believed to be a much neglected part of the world.
Sara Shannon, Research Assistant
Louis. Hans Egede: Colonizer and Missionary of Greenland.
Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1952, p. 9.
Editions of Hans Egedes Description of Greenland
at the James Ford Bell Library
- Hans Egede, Det gamle Grønlands nye perlustration;
eller; en kort beskrievelse om de gamle nordske coloniers beyndelse
og undergang I Grønland.
Kjobenhavn, H.C. Paulli, 1729,
- There are three copies of this edition in North America.
- Des alten Gröenlands neue Perlustration, oder Ein kurtze
Beschreibund derer alten nordischen Colonien
. Franckfurt, Stodks Erben und Schilung, 1730. 47 pp. 17 cm.
- Being the first description of Greenland by a resident, the work
became immediately popular, and this German edition followed the
original edition by one year.
- Ausführliche und wahrhafte Nachricht vom Anfange und
Fortgange der grondländischen Mission. Hamburg, Christian,
Wilhelm Brandt, 1740. 288p. 8 p.l. 21 cm.
- In his 1722 report to the Bergen Company which was published
as Det gamle Grönlands .
, he had announced the
forthcoming Instaebdekug ig y ydfirkug rekatuib, of which the
present book is the first German translation. This is based on entries
from Egedes diaries, kept during his years in Greenland. They
had been sent back to Denmark as annual reports. All fifteen of them
were lost in a fire in 1795. The account of his missionary work was
first published in 1730, and was reissued in 1737 and 1738, but it
never achieved the same popularity which this natural history of
- Det gamle Grønlands nye perlustration, eller
naturel-historie. Copenhagen, Johan Christoph Groth, 1741. 131 pp.
fold. map, 11 p.l. 20 cm.
- The present edition is a much enlarged version of Egedes
1729 Danish version. It includes an extensive natural history of
Greenland, accounts of the manner of living of the Greenlanders, a
brief vocabulary of their language, their religion, knowledge of the
stars, etc. The natural history section is illustrated with copper
engravings of good quality. The portion of the book that deals with
Greenlands geography and earlier history is much expanded. In
fact, this is an entirely different book from the one published in
1729. It attracted interest in other countries, probably because of
its description of whaling.
Map from the 1741 edition
- A description of Greenland. London, For C. Hitch, 1745.
220 pp.; fold. map, 11 pl. 20 cm.
View of whaling from the 1745
English translation. When they go a Whale catching,
they put on their best Gear or Apparel, as if they were going
to a Wedding-Feast, fancying that if they did not come cleanly
and neatly dressed, the Whale, who cant bear sloven and
dirty Habits, would shun them and fly from them. (p.102,
- This is an English edition of Egedes 1740 expanded work.
In the introduction Egede writes the second edition has come about
since he has got a fuller Light in these Matters partly
through his own observations and those of his son Paul, who had
remained in the North-West colony of Greenland.
- Beschryving van oud-Groenland, of eigentlyk van de zoogenaamde
Straat Davis. Delft, Reinier Boitet, 1746. 192 pp., Fold. map,
11 pl. 21 cm.
- This is the first Dutch edition. Interest in Greenland in Europe
at this time was stimulated by the whaling industry that developed in
the Davis Strait area and also the scientific interest in the peoples
and the plants and animals of Greenland. This book, therefore,
introduced the Dutch to the religion, manners and customs, hunting
methods, language, and other cultural aspects of the Greenlanders, as
well as exploring the commercial possibilities of Greenland. An
excellent map is provided, and the eleven illustrations depict
various aspects of Greenland life.
Map from 1746 Dutch
Seal-hunting, from 1746
Houses, 1746 edition. As to
their Houses or dwelling Places they have one for the Winter-Season,
and another for the Summer. Their Winter Habitation is a low Hut
built with Stone and Turf, two or three yards high, with a flat
Roof. In this Hut the Windows are on one Side, made of the Bowels
white and transparent. (p.114, 1745)
Games, 1746 edition. Ball-playing
is their most common Diversion, which they play two different ways.
They divide themselves into two Parties; the first Party throws the
Ball to each other; while those of the second Party endeavour to
get it from them, and so by turns. The second manner is like our
playing at Foot-ball. They mark out two Barriers, at three or four
hundred Paces distance one from the other; then being divided into
two Parties, as before, they meet at the starting Place
the Ball being thrown upon the Ground, they strive who first shall
get at it, and kick it with the Foot, each Party towards their
Barrier.; (p.161, 1745)
- Description et historie naturelle du Groenland. Copenhagen
and Geneva, C.& A. Philibert, 1763. 168 pp. Fold map, 10 pl. 19 cm.
- This is the first French edition, printed in 1763. This edition
has ten illustrations rather than eleven as in all of the other
editions. The illustration which was left out in this edition is of
young men who are getting exercise by wrestling.
- A description of Greenland. Second edition. London:
printed for T. And J. Allman, 1818.
- This later edition has an historical introduction and a life
of the author. It is illustrated with a fold-out map and numerous
wood engravings. The book does not have full-page illustrations as
with the earlier editions. Instead, figures cut from Egedes
1741 edition are placed over chapter headings.
Further Reading on Hans Egede and Greenland
Primary Sources at the James Ford Bell Library
- Blefken, Dithmar. Islandia, sive populorum &
mirabilium quae in ea insula reperiuntur accuratior descriptio.
Leiden, Henrici ab Haestens, 1607.
- The first edition of an account of trade and travel in both Iceland
and Greenland, by a German preacher accompanying merchants from
Hamburg in 1563.
- Blefken, Dithmar. Scheeps-togt na Ysland en Groenland.
Leiden, P.Van der As, 1706.
- This Dutch edition is part of Pieter Van der Aas great
collection of voyages and travels to all parts of the world.
- Egede, Niels Rasch. Tredie continuation af relationerne
betreffende den Grønlandske missions tilstand og besckaffenhed.
Copenhagen, Johann Christoph Groth .
- A diary of a merchant-missionary in Greenland, covering the years
Pellham, Edward. Gods power and providence: shewed, in the
miraculous preservation and deliverance of eight Englishmen, left by
mischance in Green-land anno 1630, nine moneths and twelve dayes: with
a true relation of all their miseries
with a description
of the chiefe places and rarities of that barren and cold countrey.
London: printed for R.Y for Iohn Partridge
1631. In Awnsham
Churchills A collection of voyages and travels.
3rd ed. London: Lintot and Obsborn, 1744-46. Vol.4, pp.743-755.
- Egede, Poul Hansen. Efterretninger om Grønland,
uddrangne af en journal holden fra 1721 til 1788. Copenhagen,
Hans Christopher Schrøder, .
- When Hans Egede went with his family to Greenland in 1722, his
son Paul was twelve years old. Although Paul returned to Copenhagen
for his education from 1731 to 1734, he spent most of his time in
Greenland until poor health forced him to return to Denmark
permanently in 1740. From that time on he was an instructor to
missionaries planning to go to Greenland. He spoke the language like
a native and translated some of the books of the Bible into Icelandic.
His book is a history of the Greenland
missionary undertaking from the beginnings to 1788, although the
years following his return from Greenland are given rather brief
coverage, being mostly news taken from letters written by missionaries.
The earlier years contain his own experiences and observations,
including commentary on the people of Greenland, the going and
coming of ships between Greenland and Denmark, the growth of the
Danish settlements, the coming of the Moravian Brethren as missionaries
and other contemporary events. He includes an extract from the
Vatican archive concerning the ancient Norse settlements on Greenland.
Altogether it is useful, and one of the few sources for the history
of this period in Greenlands history. It includes a good map
locating settlements and churches.
Two journals: the first kept by seven sailers in the isle of
St. Maurice in Greenland, in the years 1633, 1634, who passd
the winter, and all died in the said island: the second kept by
seven other sailers, who in the years 1633 and 1634, wintered at
Spitzbergen, with an account of their adventures and sufferings
from the bears and whales, insupportable cold and storms,
&c. London: printed for Henry Lintot and John Osborn
1744. In Awnsham Churchills A collection of voyages and
3rd ed. London: Lintot and Osborn, 1744-46.Vol.2,
- La Peyrere, Isaac de, 1594-1676. Rélations de
lIslande, et du Groenland. Amsterdam: Jean
Frédéric Bernard, 1731. In Jean Frédéric
Bernards Recueil de voyages au nord. Amsterdam, J.F.
- A ten-volume collection of accounts of voyages of exploration and
trade, chiefly to the northern regions, but including also voyages
to Louisiana, Korea, Turkistan, and elsewhere.
Louis Bobé. Hans Egede: Colonizer and Missionary of Greenland.
Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1952.
Gad, Finn. The history of Greenland. London: C.Hurst, 1982.
Ingstad, Helge. Land under the pole star: a voyage to the Norse
settlements of Greenland and the saga of the people that vanished.
London: Cape, 1966.
Pioneers of Eskimo grammar: Hans Egedes and Albert Tops
early manuscripts on Greenlandic. Copenhagen: Linguistic Circle
of Copenhagen, c. 1986.
Jansen, Henrik M. A critical account of the written and
archaeological sources evidence concerning the Norse
settlements in Greenland. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, 1972.
Krabbe, Thomas Neergaard. Greenland, its nature, inhabitants,
and history. Copenhagen: Levin & Munksgaard, 1930.
Seaver, Kirsten A. The frozen echo: Greenland and the exploration
of North America, ca. A.D. 1000-1500. Stanford: Stanford University