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Ole Georg Olsen  

Memories Of My Grandfather And Relatives In Eistabøvoll, Valestrand And Sunnhordaland

Ole George Olsen, the son of Erik Olsen, minister at Stord, Fitjar and Valestrand parishes from 1792 to 1833. He was born in 1761 in Bergen. His son Ole was born in Copenhagen in 1786 or 1788. When he was minister in Holmens Rectorate, he was married to Antoinette Marie Grundvig, daughter of a minister of the Vestby Rectorate on Sjælland, Jørgen Grundvig, she was no doubt an elder sister or aunt to the bishop and hymn writer, Nikolai Fredrik Severin Grundvig.

Some years later his parents moved to Norway and he grew up at the parish house at Sævjarhagen on Stord. His father was an aggressive capable man that did all he could to further education and reading among the parishioners. I have met many people in this country that knew him. Many parishioners said that he was very kind and understanding. He was a good speaker and people listened when he stepped into the pulpit. He was never at loss for words to express his opinions, and he was direct in what he said to tramps or more worthy people.

As was the custom with many ministers of that time, he was socially inclined and drank quite a lot. His enemies made the most of this and after much discussion and argument he was dismissed. His friends said he was hardest on himself he acted impulsively at times. One day he arrived home from Bergen, and barely getting through the front door, he called to his wife and said, "You must get Ole's clothes ready immediately, I have hired him out to Captain Gabriel Krogh, as cabin boy. His ship will be leaving for Spain and Ole is going with him." His wife was upset and said, "What are you thinking of, he is getting ready for confirmation and will be confirmed this fall." He said, "That doesn't make any difference. I will take him with me to Valestrand Sunday and confirm him." "Yes, but the material for his clothes is not woven yet and he has no clothes for an occasion like that." That doesn't mean anything, he can use my green suit." "Your green suit is much too large for him." "Oh! You can shorten the pants, turn up the sleeves and it will do."

Ole's mother knew it was no use to argue anymore, so she wore the suit. He had to use one hand to hold the sleeve up when he shook hands. He often laughed about the experience when he was an old man. He got to Bergen and on board the boat in time. He greeted the Captain with "Hello Uncle". Captain Krogh was married to his cousin. "Listen here Ole, when you get an order here you says, 'Captain Sir.' I am not your uncle on board ship, don't forget that." I am not sure how long Ole sailed with Krogh.

History has it that Captain Krogh sailed the Mediterranean with English freight, and that Ole was with them when Napoleonic war with England broke out. Krogh lay with his ship in Malaga, Spain, and as he wouldn't risk losing his ship he was there six years until peace came in 1814, and he could sail his ship home. The ship was nearly ruined with the long layover during the war years.

Krogh had a reputation for being rather queer and hard on his men. When he arrived home after al those years he went to a hotel instead of home. His wife sent one of the small daughters over to the hotel with greetings, and a request for him to come home. "Whose daughter are you?" was his gruff answer. "Go and greet your mother, and say I will come home when I get ready," and with that message she had to leave.

This was the end of Ole's sailing trips. Now he returned to growing fruit trees, rare plants, and trees on his farm. He surrounded himself with many rose gardens and ornamental plants. His sense of beauty had evidently been more highly developed during his stay under southern skies.

A year later after he came home he married Ingeborg Marie Juel, a daughter of minister Christoffer Juel of Lyl in Thime Parish in Jæren. She was born in 1793. Her parents died when she was very young, and she was brought up in Uncle Lt. Colonel Munthe's home in Bergen. He leased one of the Tveita farms from the church department in Valestrand, which he traded after two years for Einstabøvoll further north in the parish. Later he bought the place from the church department for 600.00 specie dollars. The houses on Einstabøvoll were almost in ruins. The ancient main house had to be propped up. The farm was on a ledge and rose steeply, and the ground was rather barren. Now begins a series of agricultural experiments, which had not been tried in Sunnhordaland before. He noticed there were using less and less turf for their house roofs.

Soon after he moved on the farm he began to sell the slate stone. Where the old main house still stands there was a long spur from mountainside. He started there, and on the large ledge, which resulted, he built additions to the main house. The earth had to be scraped off the top of what looked like a promising place and with thin iron wedges the slate was split in pieces one inch thick and up to four and five feet wide. There were passageways in the mountainside, which made the splitting possible. The earth was put in piles and all waste pieces were used to build terraces. First a solid wide wall was built, the inside filled with scraps of slate, earth was placed on top of that, and the whole was levelled off. In line with the main house, a large terrace was built and planted with berry bushes and kitchen herbs. Later it was made much larger and replanted.

The first floor in the main house was even with the upper edge of the terrace. The basement floor was even with the lane. One went up a high flight of stone steps to the main entrance, under which one could drive a cart and horse. He made a large yard right up to the cellar door. Below the house, paved with state stone and walled in were rose and various flowerbeds. Farther down the slope a large fruit orchard was planted.

He got grafts for many varieties of fruit from Bergen, where he was in good with the large merchants who got plants and seeds from foreign countries. He had boxes and baskets full of new plants every time he returned from a trip to Bergen. A little north of the large fruit orchard he found another slate ledge, and down on the flat ground it went quite deep and there found a strong vein of water which was deepened. Two water basins of stones were built a little distance from each other. The one fro the house was called the house well, the other was for the cattle and was called the barn well. A stone house was built over each water basin with steps going down to the water. Like most wells on the west coast they were not deep, but never ran dry even during dry spells. Evidently it was because of the constant supply that he built the barns on the flats. Between these buildings and the wells an apple orchard was planted and on the terrace gooseberry bushes.

The entire area was enclosed and called Klaksehagen, after a man from Klakseom in Fitjar, who had split sandstone there for several years for construction of rounding in the farm fences. Right towards the driveway lies the wall known as Longstone. How many feet long it is I have forgotten, but there was space for a big crowd. On Sunday afternoons during the summer it was a gathering place for the farmers and many of the young people. It had been sliced out of the steep rocky passage and Mother told how it had been a great chore for both man and beast to get it down from there to its place. When one stands on the Longstone and looks toward the north he has a magnificent view of the Bømlo fjord and Stord and north to Staksund-Otterøy, Kårevik Edøyno and the approach to Leirvik. Not to forget all the ship traffic past there to and from Bergen and Hardanger.

All the waste stone from the slate (flag) ledges was used in fencing, with slate on top. We small boys used to run around the entire farm on them. We just had to come down for some gates, and at the base of the mountain where it was too steep to haul slate (flag) pebbles or boulder were used. All the houses except the main house were constructed of the same material. When the farm was as its prime there were twenty-four houses on it. Now perhaps there are half as many. The largest stone building by the upper driveway, people also called it the Wall. The top floor was fitted out as a family accommodation, and no doubt, used to quarter the many families who would visit during the summer months. The lower level floor was used as a carpenter shop, wheelwright shop and, no doubt, there was a pair of lathes. The blacksmith shop was a little farther south by the corner of the garden wall.

While my father used the farm he called the higher terrace (Shoten) because of its oblong form, a name it kept. My grandfather (Gamle Olsen) as the neighbors called him was in many ways a talented man and had many interest. It was shown in the way he rebuilt the farm. He was also an inventor in some ways. He experimented with every thing. He understood how to bring out whatever talent his workers had so there were many carpenters and blacksmiths working there.

Many fruit trees and berry and rose bushes of various kinds spread over the neighborhood from Einstabøvoll. As the hired girl left to set up housekeeping for herself she always received bushes of various kinds. Where did the money for all this come from, you may ask. The answer is the mountainside. The manager of the slate and stone quarry got half the slate for his salary and the owner got the other half, so it was clear profit. They also took out slate for roads, paths and patios. It was also used for streets and sidewalks in many towns. It also helped because in the last century the wages were low (especially in the first half) a hired man's yearly wage was from $20 to $30. A hired girl's was about $ 10, and part was in clothes and shoes, most of which was made on the place. A day's wages for a day laborer was 20 shillings in the summer and 12 in the winter. 12 shillings in the summer and 6 in the winter for a girl with board. For the younger reader, I will explain that a Norwegian shilling was about 1 cent. A specie dollar was 120 shillings, so you can see it went a long way.

It took a lot of work and planning to get soil enough to fill up the crevices in the rocks. Soil was taken from hollows in the cliffs and mixed with fertilizer and spread on the fields. He was about the only farmer in Valestrand in those days that did any scientific farming. Two horses we're kept busy with all the hauling. Now when you walk on the post road you will notice, when you pass the north gate, rock waterholes. Without understanding that all the soil was scraped off and hauled away the outfields were not cultivated. A tenant farmer who had a working agreement with him did not bother much with his part of the bargain. The tenant was the son of the minister in the parish and after his father's death was a good friend of his follower (Claus Daa) also with the Bishop. So he did about, as he wanted to with fields, stone fences, forest and pastures. I asked my Mother once how he got by acting so independently with forests and pastures. I don't know she said but it helps when your minister is also your Uncle, he had to pay something for the privileges but guess he got it cheap.

There were quite a few workmen on a place like that from other parts especially from Telemark. They were better farmers than the people on the west coast, who were mostly fishermen. They were paid for a summer's work by getting their supplies for the winter fishing, such as oilskin clothing, leather shoes and food, nets and so on. Some made good money fishing and if fishing was bad you always had some fishing supplies until next time. Working conditions as mentioned before were wretched and before long immigration began. The country around there had an oversupply of working people that had to find other places and means of making a living. Fjord settlements with their fishing possibilities were nearly closed.

Among his many ventures, my grandfather put up a windmill on his farm but because of the mountain nearby, the wind came in gusts and the machinery was not always in good conditions so the flour produced was not good. It was later sold and put up near Haugesund. That was the place where the windmill has stood and was always called the Mill hill after that. I think the holes where the bolts were fastened in are to be seen yet. Near the ocean where Kjos Creek runs out of a little cove and goes under the local name of Cow Lake, because in the fly season the cows stood in the water. In the spring and fall the creek runs full and fast, and the tide runs in and out regularly. The ravine is narrow and they built a Tidewater windmill but that was also a disappointment. Instead he set up a grain mill in Tindahls creek nearby that worked well although they seldom had water enough except during flooding creeks. If there had been a mill there before Olsen's time I do not know. The tenants had their mill on Kjos creek in northern Einstabøvoll below the country road, which went in what we called Stonebridge Valley. There were in my childhood ruins of some worn out millstones that my Mother said had belonged to Paul Einstabøvoll but all other signs had disappeared.

A visitor who described the farm (Einstabøvoll) a few years ago in Haugesund newspaper said the place looked so imposing standing a little ways from the highway. The old road came down the steep and rocky pass winding along beside the stone wall to the so called horse yard and through the wooded landscape and towards the south with trees growing on both sides of the road, with the top branches joining overhead which was an invitation for the wayfarer to rest by the wayside. The new road built a few years after my grandfather died (1868) gives another feeling as it goes along the upper edge of the hillside and all one can see is a few court yard trees. There isn't even a bush planted beside the road. At least it was so when I left Norway.

In the olden days the entrance to the farm was from the sea. The first view was an imposing sight of the mountain ash, and in the fall the red berries made it outstanding, combined with the other trees growing around the barns and other buildings, among them the English Lord Tree. This tree was unusual there and I think the only one I saw in Norway. I did not dream at that time that later in life I would own many acres of them (Tamarack) and would cut them up for railroad ties and fence posts. In the southeast corner near the black knoll as it was called was a hollow with stones all around it. Later a lot of soil was hauled up to fill it and birch trees were planted and called Birch Hill. I asked my Mother why they planted trees in good garden soil but she said it was only a stone pile. It seems to me now as if my grandfather wanted to conquer the earth, so if one thing wouldn't grow he planted trees that were fitted to the place. In my youth it looked like a park, but later I understood many of the large trees were chopped down and many of the buildings were torn down or fell in ruins. It was probably too expensive to keep up, for an ordinary farmer and some of the rare trees were sold later by the owners for good money. It is hard in these materialistic times to put a value on the old things when it concerns our pocketbook.

In the basements rooms, we had in the winters, two or three men busy with carpenter work with the lathe, they made many wooden utensils, milk cooling tubs and pails. They also made wagon wheels, which were in great demand. Grandfather was one of the first to make them in that neighborhood. Mostly they used a light drag or long sleigh to haul hay. Grandfather improved that by putting low wheels on the back end of the sleigh, which made it easier for the horse to pull both up hill and down. They also made them of better wood and polished them and put cushioned seats on them so, on occasion, could drive the family to church in it. It was called carriage sleigh. They used the country road towards town and one could easily see it was not really made for high-wheeled wagons. The only one in my childhood that used a carryall was, Hope the minister, probably because Haugesund road was only built that far in 1860. The northern part towards Valevåg and Tittelsnes wasn't built until 1874 and then carryalls and other types of wagons were used. In the machine shed were many implements, like a harrow and roller. He tried to make a seeder but the result was not satisfactory. When the next youngest son Hans Jacob was educated as a blacksmith and machinist he made a threshing machine with wooden cylinder with iron edges that pounded grain out. He also made a fanning mill and iron plow. When one sees all the modern farm machines and lets his thoughts go back to his youth and compares the old wooden machines with little iron edges with new iron and polished steel plates you wonder how the old people got their work done, not to mention all the new machinery that is necessary now that didn't exist in their wildest dreams. In my Uncle Hans Jacob's later years he started to make fancy carriages with polished and fine carved seats. The springs were of hammered iron and were strong and solid, but wouldn't win any favors in the driving public now but were wonderful in those days. I can remember the last one he went to Bergen with, a one-horse carriage painted black with golden trimmings and carvings. I was carefully wrapped in rugs and sacking and put in the boat for the trip to Bergen where he sold it to an elderly couple of businessman class. Father, many years later, made the remark, "No doubt but what is was a fine carriage."

When vaccination for smallpox was introduced and became law, my grandfather was elected to do it. Most people did not look at it kindly, it was something they could not understand, and fatalism was sort of ingrown, so if they were going to have smallpox they would get in spite of that experience. So it took a man of authority to get it done. An old man from there told me may years ago in this country that there wasn't a man over there that frightened me as much as old man Olsen. Our Mother used to tell us when we had misbehaved, I am going to send for Mr. Olsen and he will stick you in the arm with the needle. When we saw him coming in his pea jacket and hat on we took to the woods. I have met many people that had worked for him in their youth in this country and always spoke of him with respect. But when he came walking with his cane you had better be busy for he wasn't long on patience, but many that worked in the farm were there for years and there was always a kindly intimacy between master and worker. Olsen was in many ways a stimulating power in the parish; his many ventures provided work agitation and other workers from neighboring parishes brought new ideas. People in those days, after their long struggle against Danish autocratic rule, were little backward with little belief in anything new.

So things moved slowly in those days. Who for example would listen now if someone tried to tell you to drain a swamp to make a field for potatoes and grain? It was plain stupidity to them. All the swamp was good for was grazing and turf for fires. To take the stones out was another crazy idea. The stones were there because they were supposed to be there was their reasoning. Olsen's ventures in fruit, although slow, were admitted in time by the people. If Olsen in Einstabøvoll can get it to grow I guess we can too. They planted a few apple trees and berry bushes, fruit of which tasted good and gave some of them a little money. A boy named Bård from Stange, a nearby farm, came to Einstabøvoll as a shepherd boy, and grew up on the place as one of the family. When one of grandfather's son's went to Bergen to learn the blacksmith trade, Bård came later, also to learn the trade. After they finished their course they worked together until Uncle's death. Bård married one of Paul Einstabøvoll's daughters and after his father-in-law died, took over the north half of the farm. When the church department in the 1870's sold the farm to Knut Knutsen of Grindheim on Moster Island, Bård got a small part large enough for a few cattle, where he built a blacksmith shop. He lived and worked there until he died. When any of grandfather's children came home to visit as soon as they had greeted their mother they went up to visit him or met Bård on his way to visit them, and they were soon busy bringing up old memories and stories from their youth. I could sit there for hours listening to them; it is too bad I have forgotten so many.

The life among the country people there was quite lively and rich both socially and intellectually. Not quite as dead and drowsy as many believed. When my father in 1862 became Olsen's son-in-law he ran the farm for my grandfather, and was supposed to take over the place. In the first place the hillside that had given the biggest income had been stripped, nearly bare, and the market wasn't good as slate was now common and cheap. All the unnecessary houses on the place had to be kept up and it got to be a burden as hired help got more expensive as the years went by. The fruit trees were a good income but getting them to market was hard then because most of the time you had to send a man to Bergen to sell them on the street by the harbor. Also transportation was uncertain with sailboats and head winds so the fruit was not always in good condition when it got to the market, especially the berries.

When all of grandfather's sons went into other careers, the farm was sold in 1868 for $2,900 specie dollars including some household and garden furniture and tools. The magnificent place fell into decay; many of the houses stood there without any care and fell into ruins. The grass grew over where there had been beautiful lawns and flowerbeds. The place had many owners through the years. The present owner is a distant relative of the Olsens so has a family feeling and love for the old place with its traditions.

In the spring of 1868 Grandfather Olsen took a trip to Bergen to visit his family there, also his brother Rolf Olsen, then minister in the parish of Fusa. While there he was suddenly taken ill and after a few days passed away. One evening my father and Bård went down to the harbour to watch for his boat. I was four or five years old so naturally I tagged along in my father's footsteps. When we stood there looking over the Fjord we saw a boat with men in it rowing over in our direction. When they got close to shore and saw us they rowed faster. Bård said, "They must be strangers. They don't seem to know the harbour too well." When they came to us, they said, "We have a letter here for a man named Thomsen." Father said, "You came to the right place. I am the Thomsen you want." "We have a letter from the minister in Fusa." Father asked, "Is it something about grandfather's brother?" "Yes, here is the letter." Bård and Father exchanged glances. Father opened the letter and said, "It is what I feared, old man Olsen died." I little realized that the last time I would see him was when he left here a week ago. Bård who had grown up with the family from a small boy felt as if he had lost a father, his voice shook and his eyes filed with tears, he went home with us for the night.

The minister said in his letter that as Olsen's family had all left Valestrand and were spread around so many could not get to the funeral anyway, he had decided it was best to bury him in Fusa. So we decided as there was no steamship for several days and it only stopped in Mosterhavn and Leirvik, and we had to take another boat to sail to Bjorn fjord after we got farther north. Olsen's second wife Lorentzen (born Holterman) had not traveled with him and father was building a new house and could not get away. He got Bård who had a large fishing vessel to sail us northward. The next morning the boat was supplied with a large straw mattress and bedding. We crowded in, grandmother Lorentzia, my mother, me and my brother Lorentz, 1 ½ years old. We sailed off in a mild south wind with a little rain now and then. On Stord Island we stopped at Hystad to pick up Mother's sister. Mrs. Gjatien. Her husband who was a professor at the Seminary there could not get away. We sailed northward near Nuen and that night stayed at a place called Forøy Harbour and reached our destination the next day. A large number of the family from Bergen and others had already arrived. I remember the day of the funeral as very foggy and rainy. The day after some of his children and relatives came from Stavanger and were so sorry they had come too late to see him again. Some days later we took the steamship home. I think it was the old Vikingen. I remember we had quite a snowstorm that night and a rough trip over the Bjørnafjord in the strong northwest wind. I think my Mother had her hands full watching me; it was my first trip on a steamship that I can remember so I wanted to see everything and roamed all over. We passed a ship from Holland with three large sails; it was round front and back. I can still remember it as something large and mysterious.

Now a little about Grandfather Olsen's children, Erik the oldest was born in 1816. While the family still lived in Tveita, he studied for the ministry. After his ordination he was assistant professor in Kristiansand for several years. Later he was a minister in Jølster and Sunnfjord, after some years there he had to resign because of paralysis in his feet. He now rented some rooms at Langbollen on an old nobleman's estate in Sandriken Kvinnherad where he started a preparatory school, which he conducted for several years, until his paralysis forced him to his bed where he laid for several years. When Langbollen was sold in the late 1870's to Thor Ask and Jon Netland from Hallestrand, he had to find other living quarters. In 1881 he rented the main building on Einstabøvoll but a few days before he moved into it he was suddenly taken ill and died in August 1881. The day he was supposed to move in, his body was taken to his childhood home, and was buried in the neighborhood he had left as a young man. He had often wanted to see his old home once more but the wish was not granted, but the tired wanderer got to rest in the old churchyard in Valen under the large ash tree that was planted on his mother's grave. She died in 1841. The trees also threw shadows over one of his brother's grave who died at age 9 years. Also over my brother Hans' grave who died when he was six months old.

The oldest of Erik's sons became a teacher at an agricultural college, he lived in Trondheim. The other son was a minister in Nordfjord and his daughter, Ingeborg Marie, was married to her cousin, Andreas Juel of Halsnøy Kloster. Olsen's other son, Christoffer, was born in 1818 and died in 1853. He was married to Dorothea Hertzberg from Kvinnherad. He was a blacksmith and it was said that he was equally capable of fixing a thief proof lock, gunlock or ship's anchor and did first class work. He lived on his grandfather's place, Sævjarhagen on Stord Island. He usually had three men working for him; it was considered an honor to have been trained by him. He drowned while sailing on an overloaded boat that sank and he went down with it. Antoinette Marie was born in 1821, Married to Abraham Olsen Rusti, a schoolteacher living in Sogn. One son was artist Olaf Rusti who lived for many years in Germany, later in Bergen.

Andrea Christine born 1823, married to Johannes Pedersen from Jæren, lived for several years on Haukås in Sveio, died in Stavanger in 1907, no children. Marie Magdalene was born 1825, married to Taurelius Cornelius Thomsen from Engesund in Fitjar. They went to America in 1882.

Anne Munthe born 1827, married Amund Vikinsen Gjøstein from Voss. He was a teacher at a seminary in Stord, and had eleven children.

Andreas Juel was born in 1829, was professor at a teacher's college in Kopervik Karmøy. Later a school superintendent in Stavanger. He married Janikke Norman, a granddaughter of the first mentioned Gabriel Krogh. Of his children one daughter was a mission's teacher at Madagascar. Three immigrated to South Africa where one son died years ago. The youngest daughter taught in Oslo. Peder Nicoli Bentzen born 1831, was a teacher in Oslo and lived the last years of his life on Halsøy Kloster. He died in 1917.

Hans Jacob Berntzen (Olsen) born in 1832, married to Hannah Boye. One child, a daughter Ingeborg Marie, married to a merchant named Pedersen, later a banker from Stavanger, was educated as a machinist and had twice received scholarships from the government to go to other countries to study machinery of various kinds, and later to Sweden to study manual training for the school system. He later had a factory for slippers and saddle clothes, clips or pins in Vormestrand Ryfylke. He is supposed to have made Norway's first bicycle, the one in the museum at Stord was the first one in Sunnhordaland. I have ridden on it myself and heard about his ride from Haugesund to Einstabøvoll in 1875, when the evil one passed the countryside. This story I told in the Visergutten some years ago, he died in 1925.

Christian Holberg Gran Olsen was born in 1835, married to Pauline Dabberhin from Hamburg, Germany. They had nine children. He was an instrument maker; he had a shop in Oslo. He was with the lighthouse system and made the large telescope on Holmenkollen in Oslo. That was one of the largest in the world at that time, about 1870. He also invented many things connected with the telegraph system and lived to be quite a bit over 80 years old. Many older people remember Kikkert Olsen as he was called in later years.

The family from Einstabøvold is spread over a large part of the world and has produced names that were quite famous in various places and professions. There are many people from Valestrand and their descendents in whom the memories and traditions of grandfather on Einstabøvoll still live. That is why I refresh these family memories. Now when Norwegians travel on the Oslo fjord toward Nuen and swing west by the lights at Leirvik, one can see Valestrand country near Tittelsnes with their gravel hills standing out. Towards the east to Gramshaug and Osterøyno, when he looks in the telescopes, he sees on the west of the mountains some of the house roofs and large trees. Also the orchard right by the mountainside three real tall trees. Lombardy poplars. In my childhood there were five trees but in the picture I saw only three. For tourist with a love and feeling for the old and different places it would be worthwhile to go ashore in Valevåg to go by bus to Haugesund and to Eidsvåg and stop off and see all the old places with its many memories.

Now he sits bowed and stricken in years
And with his family around the hearth
He often talks of Legend and Myth.
That shortens time for old and young
And so it was that Christmas Eve
The young shouted, Tell us, Tell us
So he turned his mind backward in time
And told them of his childhood years
by J.S. Welhaven

 

Written by
Tolleif George Thomsen
from "Saga from Western Norway"

Compiled by
Carolyn Thomsen Mutchler


With written permission from Carolyn Thomsen Mutchler

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