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Charlie Klengenberg - Pioneer Arctic Mariner
He was a Dane who was born 1869 as Christian Klengenberg Jorgenson, one of 8 sons of a soldier. He became a fisherman in 1879 where he learned his basic seamanship skills and in 1886 went to sea as the assistant cook on the Danish immigrant ship Iceland sailing to New York, Africa, the Indian Ocean, China and San Francisco.
In San Francisco he joined the four-masted schooner Jeanette as cook working in southern Alaskan waters. He later joined the Scottish five-masted barque Australia and then the full-rigged ship Graystone Castle both vessels traveling to and from Australia. In 1891 he joined the schooner Argo as cook doing dory fishing in the Bering Sea. He then was promoted AB on the barque Frias S. Thompson, in Hawaiian registry, trading between the United States and Hawaii. Later he joined the schooner Hara, fishing illegally in Russian waters, as cook. In 1893 he signed on the schooner Emily Schroeder as cook/steward for a voyage to Siberia and the Bering Sea. The ship was wrecked in a storm at Point Hope AK.
It was at Point Hope that Klengenberg met his Eskimo wife Gremnia. She signed on as assistant cook and they were together for 40 years and produced 8 children. Klengenberg left the ships at Point Hope to engage in floor whaling with a partner, Antone Bates. Later he traveled to Herschel Island in a small boat. From Herschel Island he took positions on the Mary D. Hume and the Jennie. His great hope was to own a vessel of his own. In 1896 at San Francisco he purchased the schooner Etna for $150 and completely rebuilt her. He took out an outfit of trade goods from the H. Liebes & Company. He sold the Etna in 1898 to Mr. Nelson, a manager of the H. Liebes & Company post at Blabbertown for $200 in trade goods.
The Etna was wrecked in a storm soon afterwards but Nelson apparently absconded with the the goods from the post before Klengenberg was paid for the vessel. Nelson was later murdered on Big Diomede Island. Looking for a way to get back into ownership of his own ship he found a small derelict schooner floating near Point Hope Alaska. Although hoping to claim her for salvage he was forced to return her to the gold seekers who had sailed her up from Puget Sound.
Captain Louis Lane brought up a flat-bottomed stern wheel steamboat of 25rt in his ship in 1899 to put into river service. Kelngenberg signed on as master to take her to Nome but on arrival there he left the ship to benefit from the feverish activity of the gold rush. He became master and nominal owner of the schooner Helen for a prospecting cruise and they wintered at Point Barrow. In 1900 he took four whales in one day as part of a floor whaling expedition.. a record. The Helen sank from leaky seams at Collinson Point. She was raised but lost again when blown away in a gale.
Captain McKenna engaged him to look after the store of goods he was leaving behind at Point Barrow. Captain McKenna returned in 1906 with the Olga which he left in charge of Klengenberg. They wintered at Langton Bay and while there he made a controversial decision to tear down the three year old warehouse of the Pacific Steam Whaling Company for firewood. The following winter he spent at Victoria Island.
It was that wintering–over that became legendary. The crew grew fractious and interpersonal conflict led to a confrontation between Klengenberg and Jackson the Chief Engineer. Klengenberg was wounded twice by rifle shots at close range during a struggle with Jackson who was shot dead. A son, Jorgen, was born late that night on the ship. In 1931 he died in hospital at Vancouver BC. His will specified that his ashes should be scattered over Victoria Island NT. They were delivered by his son Patsy, along with a case of liquor (it was rum as Scotty Gall later recalled). Many toasts were drunk to his memory by his assembled friends and acquaintances - with his wife holding the box of ashes. The next morning when everyone had sobered up they took the reluctant wife up in a plane and scattered from an airplane.
Patsy Klengenberg was the younger son of Charlie and Gremina Klengenberg. He had a trading post in the 1930s at Wilmot Island. He was a member of the crew of the HBC schooner Aklavik when Scotty Gall took her through Bellot Strait. He later purchased the vessel and he was killed in an explosion starting the engine of his ship circa 1939. Patsy Klengenberg Island, part of a group of islands called the Triple Islands south of Cape Flinders, the Eastern entrance point of Bathurst Inlet was named for him.
The Aklavik was later sold by the HBC to Patsy Klengenberg, at King William Island NWT, who then chartered her back to the Company. He was accidentally killed starting the heavy oil engine in 1947. The vessel was destroyed and sank as a result of the explosion. The engine had a heavy lubricating oil in the clutch. Patsy often put a blowtorch on it to lighten it up for starting on cold days. His adopted son was badly burned but survived after being pulled out of the water. He had to have many operations before he could resume a normal life afterwards. Patsy disappeared in the fire – he was assumed to have burned with the ship. A couple of weeks later Scotty Gall was going over the wreck and down in the water which had cleared up in the fall he could see Patsy, burned and killed when he hit the water.
Site News: November 13th, 2017
Databases have been updated and are now holding 50,543 vessel histories (with 4,571 images) and 57,599 mariner biographies (with 3,482 images).