Laxness: Björn of Leirur

There were no psychiatrists in Shakespear’s day but he didn’t need one to create Iago. He didn’t need one to create Hamlet. Or King Lear. He simply needed to observe the people around him. He understood motive and desire and how it drove people to act in evil or self-destructive or foolish ways.
That’s what sets out a great writer from a mediocre writer. The ability to observe, to notice the tiniest details of how someone acts and to understand the meaning of those actions. It might be no more than the crooking of a finger, a glance, a turn of the head but it will tell the reader or the audience the inner mind of the character. Browning, in an act of genius, wrote “My Last Duchess” and within the confines of a poem created a portrait, not only of an innocent victim, but a portrait of evil in the person of the Duke. In no place does he say the Duke is evil. All is indirection.
In Paradise Reclaimed, Laxness creates a picture of the sociopath, Björn of Leirur. Laxness needs no course in psychiatry. He observes and records and gives us a devastating picture of both an innocent victim and a portrait of evil.
We begin with his foil and, perhaps, with his fool, Steinar of Steinahliðar. The farmer, Steinar, is so scrupulous about his property that he would never see damage or deterioration of any kind, indoors or out, without making haste to repair it.“ He is held up as an example of how a farmer should be. Through generations, the family has built up a farm worth twelve hundreds. Given the hardships of cold summers, hard winters, the regular fall of rock onto the fields, the diseases of both the people and the cattle, this is a major accomplishment.
Steinar is not rich. With the income from  his sheep  he is able to buy rye-meal and barley and other necessary items from the trading store at Eyrarbakki. Some old ewes are slaughtered for meat. The family does not wear Danish shoes. Shoes are made at home. In years when times are hard, Steinar spends the winters working on a fish boat. This was no little thing for the drownings of the fishermen are many, the work brutal. The fishermen live lives of extreme hardship.   
When Björn of Leirur, the repository of evil, appears, he comes with sheriff Benediktsson who is both his patron-collaborater and competitor. Björn has courted the sheriff from his arrival, even currying his favour by giving him horses, cattle and land. It is obvious from the description that they represent how society works in Iceland. The wealthy, ambitious farmers forming corrupt bonds with government officials.
Björn has gone to the major trading station at Eyrarbakki for training, then to Copenhagen to work for the Danish merchants. The Danes still control Iceland. When he returns to Iceland, he is appointed as the clerk to the sheriff at Hof. He receives some derelict crofts, joins them together, marries a woman because she is wealthy. With his land and her money, he has advanced in life and when the book begins, he is travelling the country as an agent for the Scots. Iceland is so poor that actual currency is seldom seen. Payment is often made in wadmal or butter. The Scots traders have gold and can afford to pay cash for ponies and sheep. As their agent, Björn is able to pay gold, silver and copper coins for shipment to Scotland. Björn also buys up wrecked ships. Any time someone runs into financial difficulty, he is there to take over the distressed property.There are many distressed properties because most small farmers have no savings. Their lives and their families lives depend on the weather, on the growth of the grass, on how much grass they can harvest to feed their cattle. No grains grow in Iceland. It is a country with one crop.
When Björn and the sheriff arrive at Steinahliðar, Björn gives Steinar´s children each a silver coin. His innocent gift presages the later coins that he will give to Steinar´s daughter.
There is here, right at the beginning, a foreshadowing of what is to come as the Sherrif says that Björn has had sex with , “all the better-class housewives and farmer´s daughters over in the west
Time passes and Steinar‘s daughter, little Steina, is confirmed. Religious confirmation in Iceland was and still is a major event. It is regarded as a significant passage. In both Independent People and in Paradise Reclaimed, confirmation signals to the men in the story that a girl is sexually ready.
The King of Denmark comes to Iceland to give the people a constitution. Steinar is too unimportant to be asked to the festivities but, inexplicably, decided not only to go to the outdoor reception for the king but to take him a gift of a white horse. This is no ordinary white  horse. He is the kind of horse that a farmer might have in his herd once in ten or twenty years. Both Björn and the sheriff have tried to buy the horse but Steinar has turned them down. Steinar loves his daughter and son and they love this horse with all their hearts. Steinar knows this but takes the white to Thingvalla and gives the horse to the king. The king, in return, invites Steinar to visit him in Denmark. Steinar returns home and, master craftsman that he is, he conceives of another gift for the king. He is going to build an intricate cabinet full of secret compartments. However, wood is a precious commodity and nothing he has will allow him to create the cabinet.
He goes to Björn of Leirur who is genial, kisses him (kissing as a way of greeting between Icelandic men was normal) and asks him what he wants. Steinar says he needs mahogany. Björn has recently salvaged a ship with a lot of mahogany. Steinar accepts a gift of some mahogany and, as if in an afterthought, Björn says to Steinar, “Listen, my dear chap, since you happen to live on the main track, would you not let me graze my colts on your pastures for a night or two if I should  happen to be driving them down this summer for shipment to the English?”
And Steinar, in all innocence, judging Björn as he would himself, says ‚You will always be welcome at Hliðar with your colts, night or day, bless you, my old friend.“ And Björn, liar and manipulator that he is, says, “It may well be that I´ll have a few drovers with me.“
And Steinar, foil or fool, replies, “You are all welcome at Hliðar for as long as you can find houseroom there. Good friends make the best guests.‘
Steinar, in all innocence or naivete, has made a bargain with the devil. He expects Björn, in spite of his reputation for both greed and womanizing, to behave within the bounds of good friendship. If he has heard that when you sup with the devil, you should use a long spoon, Steinar does not practice it. It may be that he, master builder, master craftsman, model farmer, since there is no evil in him, is not capable of recognizing the potential for evil in others.
He builds  his magic cabinet from mahogany. He goes to Denmark to give the king the cabinet and leaves his wife, daughter and son with the care of the farm. Under normal circumstances, they should be able to manage.
He is not gone long when Björn turns up one night in a rainstorm with two drovers. He tells Steinar´s wife about Steinar´s offer of grass and a place to stay. He has asked if he can bring a couple of colts to eat grass. Steinar has said that would be fine. To understand the betrayal that will take place, it is necessary to understand how precious is grass. Life depends on it. Every farm has a tún. That is an enclosed field that is manured. No animal is allowed into this tún. It is here that the best grass is grown, where hope for survival in the coming winter is placed.
Björn has said that he might have one or two drovers with him. Again, to Steinar´s wife, he says the same thing but instead of two drovers, ten fill up the living room. Having been given an inch, Björn takes a mile.
In Iceland, it was a common practice to have a room for guests. There were no inns. When people travelled, they often did so in dreadful weather. They sometimes stayed in tents but, more often, they stayed in churches or at farms. There were no roads and all travel and transport was by horse. Times when travellers would arrive, could not be predicted and farmers and their families, wakened in the middle of the night by people needing shelter would get up and provide food and a place to stay.
For a long time, it was common for the eldest daughter to help a traveller off with his clothes. Travellers were often cold, soaking wet and exhausted. Björn’s drovers don´t get the guest room. Björn does. Björn, following the old custom, asks that Steina help him get undressed. However, he immediately breaches the rules of both friendship and hospitality. This a girl who is around fourteen. She has never left the farm. She has no experience with any men, except a very shy, brief flirtation with a boy from a neighbouring farm. Björn pats Steina´s head and cheeks like he would that of a child but then runs  his hands over her breasts, stomach and buttocks. He then asks her to sleep at the foot of the bed.
In the morning, the family is startled “for Steinar’s hayfield and meadows were swarming with a greater horde of ponies than had ever been seen in these parts.” Where Björn had asked for pasturage for a couple of horses and Steinar had agreed, there were now 300 or 400 horses.
The home field in Iceland was the most precious piece of ground on a farm. It was fenced with a rock or turf fence, no animal was allowed on it, it was fertilized and, from it, the precious grass that would keep the stock through the winter was harvested. In Iceland there was only one crop. Grass. During the three months of the growing season, enough hay had to be harvested to keep the stock for nine months. If there was no hay or not enough hay, the animals died. When the animals died, the people died. That is what happens in a one crop agricultural economy.
Already during that first night the home-field had been trampled beyond repair.“ The family is doomed. The generations of carefully husbanding the ground, keeping the stone walls in repair, building up the flock of sheep and the herd of cows is destroyed. The act is not just irresponsible but wanton. Björn of Leirur knows full well the consequences of what he has done and he has done it without any conscience whatsoever.
He will compound that by getting Steina pregnant. Although she does not understand its significance, he gives her a gold coin for taking her virginity, then silver coins and, finally, copper coins. He is an older man. She is only about fourteen. She has lived nowhere but the farm and does not even understand how it is that she has become pregnant.
By this time, Steina has had a son and there is an investigation. Björn arranges for a young man in the district to say that he got her pregnant. In return for marrying her, Björn will give the couple a croft and stock and even some money. The sheriff says that “It’s no fun for any woman to get landed with one of Björn´s illegitimate children.” And we know that Steina is just one of many young girls whom Björn has made pregnant and, using his money and his influence, has arranged for them to be married to someone else.
During the investigation into who made her pregnant, Steina refuses to name or, doesn´t really understand, who the father is.
The destruction of the home field by Björn leaves the family destitute. They become welfare cases.  In Iceland, there is no worse fate. The family is separated. The grandmother and grandchild are sent by the parish council to one farm, the daughter to another, and the son to a third. This is not welfare as we know it. The family members go to the farmer who will take the smallest amount of money from the sysla (municipality) to keep them. They are auctioned off not to the highest bidder but the lowest.
The destruction that Björn has wrought is captured when the Mormon bishop, Þjóðrekur, returns to Iceland and goes to deliver a message and a packet of needles to Steinar´s wife. Steinar has travelled from Copenhagen to Utah, joined the Mormon´s and sent the message and needles but  they have taken years to arrive.
When Þjóðrekur sees the farm, “The high walls of stone, most of them in a sorry state. The famous dikes that once had enclosed the home-field were also dilapidated, and in some places it was obvious that gaps had been deliberately torn in them to make access easier. The grass had been so cropped to the quick that nothing remained except a clump of marsh marigolds, and where the earth had been stripped clean of turf there was chickweed growing….The farm itself was derelict. The roof had been torn off and all the timber carted away. The tumbledown walls had been engulfed by dock-plants….An air of desolation breathed over the ruins.”
The family is in no better shape. Steinar’s wife is “now broken in health and unfit for outdoor work”. Steina works on a farm on one side of a river. On the other side all “now belonged to Leirur. Björn the agent bought up the crofts.” Steina is “worn out after a summer of drudgery, long days toiling in the rain with her rake far into the night.” At night, she can see the light on in the window of Björn´s house.
One night in the dark, she risks crossing the river to see Björn. When he realizes who she is, he cajoles her, tries to flatter her, promises to go away with her, but then leaves the room and, in awhile, an old woman comes and tells Steina to leave. Once again, Björn has proven to be a flatterer, a liar and a coward.
In the meantime, Bishop Þjóðrekur finds Steina´s brother. He gathers up the mother, daughter, son and grandson and says that he will lead them to Utah.
Björn, in an act that could have some redemption in it, doesn´t want his child to be taken away. He says that  he will raise him, educate him, make him a sheriff and a national poet. He says “Don’t think that I will let you fall into the clutches of the parish council again.” His promises are, as usual, empty and dishonest. He has had no compunction about the family falling into the parish council’s clutches before. He knows that the farmers usually made sure these paupers earned their keep. That they were often ill fed and ill treated. When someone became a pauper, they lost all their legal rights. They didn´t get them back until they repaid the municipality the amount of money spent on their keep. They seldom could earn enough money to pay back such debts and spent their lives living in wretched conditions.
Björn´s true values are made clear in a conversation with the sheriff. The sheriff says that parish councils not only are happy to see the paupers leave Iceland but are happy to have the chance to pay their fares to America to be rid of them. He knows that Björns wanting to keep his child in Iceland is a momentary whim so he turns the conversation to what he knows really matters to Björn, money.
He says, “And getting down to something that is worth spending words on–we have had an offer of a trawler in England, a big ship, my lad….After a year we would be ladling the gold from the sea.“
The sheriff wants Björn to put up the money for the purchase of a trawler and Björn replies that the Scots buyers of cattle, “are the kind of  people with whom I can do business, not the big boys in Reykjavik, and least of all with foreign bankers.“
However, in spite of his protestations, greed overcomes Björn. We find this out because Steinar, after his family has arrived in Utah (his wife has died on the journey), is sent back to Iceland. The trip from North America to Iceland was in two stages. From an East coast seaport to Scotland, from there on a second ship to Iceland. While he is in Scotland, he bumps into the sheriff who is “wearing an expensive fur coat and a tall tile hat of the same kind of fur; his moustache had been waxed and the ends turned upwards so that they stood erect like knitting needles.”
The sheriff tells Steinar that “I cleaned the old devil out of everything he had, in order to buy a trawler.” So Björn has been outsmarted, betrayed, by someone who better understands the somewhat wider world. The sheriff has come into possession of the ruined property at Hliðar and, on a whim, he gives it back to Steinar. When Steinar returns to Iceland and goes to his former farm, it is a ruin. However, instinctively, he starts to rebuild the walls.
In Björn of Leirur, Laxness gives us a portrayal of careless evil, of a man without a conscience, but he does much more than that. He provides us with a picture of a society in which men like Björn prosper and families like Steinar´s are ruined. It is obvious that Björn is not unique. The comments of the sheriff make that clear. It is equally clear that they ruin many of their fellow Icelanders.
Björn destroys Steinar´s home field casually, for nothing more than his own convenience. He does not care what the cost to Steinar´s family. He seduces and impregnates a young girl, one of many, according to the sheriff, simply to satisfy his lust. He´s married for money, not love and, so, fidelity has no claim on him.
If there is any justice meted out, it is Björn´s impoverishment by the sheriff who swindles him and moves to Scotland.
How prescient is Laxness. Paradise Reclaimed could be written today about the financial crash in Iceland. Those who caused it, some say no more than thirty or forty from the ruling family elite, cared not for the damage they did to their countrymen and women. Their reckless greed destroyed what others had built up over many years. They left the economy in the same ruins as Björn left Steinhliðar. They used the argument of the promise of the new age, the new technology, no longer of steam trawlers but of banking and the internet. 
Icelanders should have reread Paradise Reclaimed during the run up to the crash and listened to what Laxness had to tell them.
The bankers, like the sheriff, fled to the UK. Like the sheriff, they wear expensive clothes, stay in expensive places, eat expensive food while others do without their pensions, their savings, their investments.
Like Steinar starting to rebuild the walls of his farm, ordinary Icelanders have had to start rebuilding their lives.
Steinar´s family, his son, daughter, grandchild, find respite and solace among the Mormons in North America but it is the sociopathic personality of Björn of Leirur that has driven them there. Today, reports say that two families a week are emigrating from Iceland since the crash. Surely, they are akin to Steinar of Steinarhliðar and his family.

SS Waldensian, immigrant ship, 1878

SS Waldensian, immigrant ship, 1878
Did your people come to Canada with my people?
S.S.Waldensian (Montreal Ocean Steamship Co.)
Left Glasgow, July 21, 1878
Arrived Quebec, August 1, 1878
The Waldensian was 1407 tons. 7250 ft. It had several compartments set apart for passengers other than cabin passengers.
1.      
 Jon Gudmundsson, Labourer, single
2.       2. Bjorn Saemundsson, labourer, single
3.       Olafur Torlacius Helgason, Labourer, single
4.       Thorsteinn Kristjansson, Labourer, married
5.       Valgerdur Svensdottir, his wife, married
6.       Jon Shorsteinsson, child, single
7.       Jon Brandsson, farmer, married
8.       Margret Gudbrandsdottir, his wife, married
9.       Gudbrandur Jonsson, their child, single
10.   Askell Jonsson, their child single
11.   Kristin Jonsdottir, their child single
12.   Halflidi Gudbrandsson, labourer, single
13.   Kristjan Samuelsson, labourer, single
14.   Gudmundur Magnusson, labourer, married
15.   Helga Jonsdottir his wife, married
16.   Gudrun Gudmundsdottir, their child, single
17.   Olina Gudmundsdottir, their child, single
18.   Gudmundur Jonsson, farmer, married
19.   Thuridfur Halldorsdottir, his wife, married
20.   Gudmundur Gudmundsson, child, single
21.   Holmfridur Gudmundsdotttir, child, single
22.   Augerdur Petursdottir, occupation unknown, single
23.   Sturlaugur Gudbrnadsson, labourer, married
24.   Aslaug Gudmundsdottir, his wife, married
25.   Daniel Gudmundsson, farmer, married
26.   Arnbjorg Kristjansdottir, his wife, married
27.   Kristjan Danielsson, their child, single
28.   Adalbjartur Bjarnason, labourer, single
29.   Svein Gudmundsson, labourer, single
30.   Kristin Jonsdottir, domestic, single
31.   Gudmundur Jonsson, labourer, single
32.   Jens Sigurdsson, labouraer, married
33.   Gudrun Petursdottir, his wife, married
34.   Sigurdur Jensson, child?, 10
35.   Petera Jensdottir, their child
36.   Karolina Jensdottir, their child
37.   Johann Jensson, their child
38.   Jon Jonsson, farmer, married
39.   Sigridur Jonsdottir, his wife
40.   Thorbjorg Jonsdottir, their child, single
41.   Jon Jonsson, their child, single
42.   Kristin Jonsdottir, their child, single
43.   Helga Jonsdottir, their child, single
44.   Thordur Magnusson, farmer, married
45.   Sigurlaug Eiriksdottir, his wife, married
46.   Isak Jonsson, their child, single
47.   Gudridur Thordardottir, their child, single

Halfdanarsson Labourer, married
Sigridur Gisladottir, his wife
Eggert Eggertsson, Labourer
Sigridur Einarsdottir, his wife
Karitas Eggertsdottir, their child
Maria Eggertsdottir, their child
Indridi Hallgrimsson, farmer, married
Ingveldur Gudmundsdottir, his wife
Gudmundur Indridason, their child
Helga Indridadottir, their child
Thorolfur Gudnason, farmer, married
Una Simonardottir, his wife
Thorolfur Thorolfsson, their child
Gudni Thorolfsson, their child
Malfridur Thorolfsdottir, their child
Thorgerdur Thorolfdottir, their child
Holmfridur Thorolfsdottir, their child
Halldor Halldorsson, farmer, married
Gudrun Gudmundsdotttir, his wife
Elin Halldorsdottir, their child
Halldora Halldorsdottir, their child
Johannes Halldorsson, their child
Ingibjorg Halldorsdottir, t heir child
Sigridur Halldorsdottir, their child
Gudrun Halldorsdottir their child
Sigurlina Halldorsdottir, their child
Valgardur Jonsson, labourer, married
Kristin Jonsdottir, his wife
Kettill Valgardsson, their son
Arni Jonsson, Labourer, married
Gudlaug Eiriksdottir, his wife
Gudny Arnadottir, their child
Mensaldrina Arnadottir, their child
Gisli Eiriksson, farmer,married
Anna Einarsdottir,  his wife,
Einar Gislanson, their child
Margret Gisladottir, their child
Olafur Gislason, their child
Vilborg Gnnlaugsdottir, domestic, single
Brynjolfur Gunnluagsson, farmer, married
Halldora Sigvaldadottir,  his wife
Sigvaldi Brynjolfsson, their child
Magnus Jonsson, farmer, married
Gudbjorg Marteinsdottir,  his wife
Jonas Magnusson, their child
Sigridur Magnusdottir, their child
Josef Sigvaldsson, labourer, single
Gudmundur Marteinsson, labourer, married
Kristin Gunnlaugsdottir, his wife
Johanna Gudmundsdottir, their child
Helga Gudmundsdottir, their child
Marteinn Gudmundsson, their child
Gunnlauguer Gudmundsson, their child
Bjorg Gudmundsdottir,t heir child, this is the child who died in the sheds
Sigridur Einarsdottir, housewife, single
Edvard Thorleifsson, farmer, married
Sesselja Jonsdottir, his wife
Lara Edvardsdottir, their child
Jonina Rosa Edvardsdottir, t heir child
Kjartan Edvardsson, their child
ElinThora Edvardsdottir, their child
Lukka Edvardsdottir, their child
Kritin Edvardsdottir, their child
Sigvaldi Jonsson, labourer, married
Valgerdur Einarsdottir,  his wife
Halldor Jensson, Farmer, m arried
Sigurbjorg Fridfinnsdottir,  his wife
Kristjan Halldorsson, their child
Kristbjorg Halldorsdottir, their child
Johannes Halldorsson, labourer, married
Anna Sigurdardottir, his wife,
Leopold Sigvaldi Johannesson their child

1.       Pall Gunnarsson, farmer, married, 25
2.       Jorunn Jonsdottir, his wife, 27
3.       Adalbjorg Johannesdottir, 4
4.       Jon Gunnarsson, single, 26
5.       Palina Jondsdottir, single, 22
6.       Bardur Sigurdsson, single,25
7.       Johannes Sigurdsson, single, 15
8.       Gisli Einarsson, farmer, married, 24
9.       Elin Bjorg Gunnlaugsdottir, his wife, 35
10.   Maria Magnusdottir, sngle, 48
11.   Jakob Eiarsson, single, 12
12.   Arnbjorg Einarsdottir, single, 10
13.   Jon Folmer Hansson, labourer, married, 28
14.   Elina Jonasdottir, wife, married, 37
15.   Einar Einarsson, single, 16
16.   Svanfridur Einarsdottir, single, 13
17.   Jon Einarsson, single, 11
18.   Jonas Jonsson, single, 5
19.   Elina Jonsdottir, single, 4
20.   Sigurlaug Jonsdottir, single, 1
21.   Johann Jonsson, labourer, married, 32
22.   Gunnlaug Johannsdottir, child, 9
23.   Thorbjorg Johannsdottir, child, 5
24.   Sigrun Sigudardottir, domestic, single 18
25.   Karitas Arnadottir, wife, married, 60
26.   Jonina Jonsdottir, child, 4
27.   Halldor Jonsson, labourer, single, 34
28.   Sigurbjorn Jonsson, labourer, single, 27
29.    Sigurbjorn Hansson, farmer, married, 51
30.   Adalbjorg Jonsdottir, wife, 46
31.   Albert Sigurbjornson, single 22
32.   Sigurjona Sigurbjornsdottir, single, 20
33.   Hans K. Sigurbjornsson, single, 20
34.   Adalbjorg Sigurbjornsdottir, single, 13
35.   Jakobina Sigurbjornsdottir, single, 11
36.   Thuridur Sigurbjornadottir, single, 8
37.   Thorsteinn Sigurbjornsson, single, 5
38.   Kristjan Jonasson or Jonsson, labourer, single 19
39.   Thorkell Olafsson, labourer, married, 30
40.   Helga Thuridur Johannsdottir, wife, 22 but ?sngle?
41.   Kristjan Jonsson, farmer, married, 25
42.   Anna Thorey Arnadottir, wife, 34
43.   Johannes Kristjansson, 3
44.   Kristjan Kristjansson, 2
45.   Sigurgeir Kristjansson, 6 months
46.   Johann Sigurdsson, farmer, married, 35
47.   Johanna Jonatansdottir, wife, 35
48.   Fridbjorn Johannsson, 12
49.   Sigurdur Johannsson, 9
50.   Johan Johannsson, 7
51.   Ingibjorg Johannsdottir, 4
52.   Sigurbjorg Johannsdottir, 1
53.   Julius Johannsson, 2

1.       Kristjan Arnason, labourer, married, 30
2.       Thora Jonsdottir, his wife, 30
3.       Kristjan Julius Kristjansson, 4
4.       ARni Olafur Kristjansson, 3
5.       Jonina Thora Kristjansdottir, 6 months
6.       Jonas Halldorsson, farmer, 33
7.       Johanna Jonsdottir, his wife, 32
8.       Sigridur Jonasdottir, 8
9.       Hallgrimur Jonsson, labourer, married, 49
10.   Nyborg Jonsdottir, his wife, 48
11.   Jon Gudmundsson, labourer, single, 19
12.   Krsitjan Niels Jonsson, labourer, single, 19
13.   Johann Johannsson, labourer, married, 27
14.   Valgerdur Gudmundsdottir, his wife, 27
15.   Stefan Jonsson, farmer, married, 47
16.   Stefan jonsson, farmer, married, 46
17.   Bjorg Kristjansdottir, his wife, 47
18.   Stefan jonsson, farmer, married, 46
19.   Bjorg Kristjansdottir, hiswife, 47
20.   Jonina Stefansdottir, single, 20
21.   Sigurlaug Stefansdottir, single, 12
22.   Kjartan Isefeld Stefansson, 6
23.   Baldvin Jonsson, labourer, married, 25
24.   Arnfridur Jonsdottir, his wife, 27
25.   Jon Baldvinsson, six months
26.   Sigurbjorg Sigurdardottir, housewife, married, 67
27.   Sigurdur Kraksson, farmer, married, 24
28.   Kristin Thorsteinsdottir, his wife, 24
29.   Halldor Sigurdsson, 6 months
30.   Johann Johannsson, farmer, married, 35
31.   Gudrun Olafsdottir, his wife, 35
32.   Sigurveig Johannsdottir, 7
33.   Valdimar Palsson, single 17, different name but marked as family with Johann and Gudrun
34.   Tryggvi Palsson, 15, also marked as family with Johann and Gudrun
35.   Gisli Eiriksson, laborer, sngle, 36
36.   Gudny Sigmundsdottir, domestic, single, 37
37.   Johannes Egilsson, farmer, married, 30
38.   Sigurlaug Stefansdottir, his wife, 31
39.   Stefan Johannesson, 7
40.   Helga Johannesdottir, 1
41.   Egill Johannesson 3 months
42.   Sofanias Olafsson, labourer, single 32
43.   Arni Thorleifsson, labourer, married, 61
44.   Elisabet Jonasdottir, his wife, 50
45.   Gudrun Halldorsdottir, domestic single, 16
46.   Valdimar Jonsson, 8
47.   Arni Hallgrimsson, 7
48.   Kristjana Jonsdottir but ?Gudmundsdottir, domestic, 32
49.   Indridi Fridriksson Reinholt, labourer, single, 16
50.   Magnus Gudmundsson, labourer, single, 22
51.   Josep Josefsson? Jonssson, farmer, married, 42
52.   Sigridur Eyjolfsdottir?, child, single, 16
53.   Johann,  no last name, single, 15  Magnus, Josef, Sigurdur, Johann are marked as family unit
54.   Sigbjorn Sigurdsson, farmer, married, 31
55.   Steinunn Magnusdottir, married, 30
56.   Gudny Sigbjornsdottir, 6
57.   Gudridur Sigbjornsdottir, 4
58.   Kristjana Sigbjornsdottir, 2
59.   Sigrun Sigbjornsdottir, 13
60.   Bjorn Bjarnasson, labouarer, single, 20
61.   Eyjolfur Kristjansson, farmer, married, 53
62.   Lukka Gisladottir, wife, 45
63.   Gisli Eyjolfsson, single, 24
64.   Thorsteinn Eyjolfsson, single, 22
65.   Jon Eyjolfsson, single, 21
66.   Margret Eyjolfsson, single, 18,
67.   Sigridur Eyjolfsdottir, single, 10
68.   Sigfus Petursson, farmer, married, 37
69.   Gudrun Thnora Sveinsdottir, his wife, 33
70.   Gudrun Salina Sigfusdottir, 7
71.   Sigurbjorg Sigfusdottir, 4
72.   Gudny Johanna Sigfusdottir, 2
73.   Child? Olof Margret Sigfusdottir, Infant
74.   Gunnlaugur Magnusson, farmer, married, 55
75.   Gudfinna Vilhjalmsdottir, is wife, 47
76.   Sigurdur Gunnlaugsson, single, 13
77.   Gudfinna Gunnlaugsdottir, 11
78.   Kristin Thorsteinsdottir, 17
79.   Sigurdur Oddsson, farmer, single, 55
80.   Magnus Thorsteinsson, farmer, married, 36
81.   Vilhelmina Gudmundsdottir, his wife, 26
82.   Eyrikur Magnusson, 8
83.   Thorsteinn Erlendsson, single, 68
84.   Gudmundur Mangusson, six months
85.   Kristbjorg Thorsteinsdottir, single, 24
86.   Johann Gudnason, six months
87.   Sigurbjorn Stefansson, farmer, married, 24
88.   Sesselja Eriksdottir, his wife, 24
89.   Helga Arngrimsdottir, housewife, single, 60
90.   Gudrun Eiriksdottir, domestic, single, 22
91.   Eyjolfur Jonsson, farmer, married, 45
92.   Sigurveig Sigurdardottir, his wife, 45
93.   Gudmudur Eyjolfsson, 11
94.   Gdbjorg Eyjolfsdottir, 7
95.   Svanhvit Ejolfsdottir, 5
96.   Brgvin Kristjansson, married, 35
97.   Kristjana Bregvinsdottir, 7
98.   Runolfur Bergvinsson, 6
99.   Margret Bergvinsdottir, 4
Bjorn Jonasson, farmer, married, 29
Sigridur Sigurdardottir, his wife, 32
Steinnun Thorbergsdottir, 8
Thorbergur Thorbergsson, 8
Kristin Jonasdottir, housewife, single, 32
Jakob Sveinbjornsson, child, single, 10
Eirikur Jonsson, farmer, married, 27
Vilborg Stefansdottir, his wife, 28
Ingibjorg Gudmundsdottir, housewife, single 34
Fridrik Jonsson? Jonasson, 10
Gudni Hansson, 4
Eirika Eiriksdottir, 6 months
Bergljot Eiriksdottir, 6 months
Einar Gudmundsson, farmer,  married, 43
Gudrun Asfrimsdottir, is wife, 42
Gudmundur Einarsson, sngle 23
Halldor Sigurdsson, 12
Asmundur Eiriksson, farmer, married, 26
Eirikur Torfason, farmer, single, 30
Arnfridur Asgrimsdottir, housewife, sngle, 45
Arni Magnusson, farmer, married, 55
Ingibjorg Thorkellsdottir, his wife, 36
Arnfridur Asmundsdottir, hosewife, single, 40
Petur Gudmundsson, 12
Sigurjon Jonsson, 1
Gisli Arnason, farmer, married, 22
Gudrun Thorsteinsdottir, his wife, 22
Bjarni Gislason, farmer, 26
Kristjan Kristjansson, farmer, married, 28
Svanfridur Jonsdottir, his wife, 21
Thorsteinn Kristjansson? Einarsson, farmer, 21  KK, SJ and TK are marked as all on same ticket
Josef Helgason, farmer, married, 33
Helgi Jon Josefsson, 5
Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, farmer, married, 45
Thorunn Sigurdardottir, his wife, 44
Anna Eyjolfsdottir, 11
Jonina Eyjolfsdottir, 4
Adalmundur Gudmundsson, farmer, married, 24
Julianna Einarsdottir, his wife, 29
Johann Gunnarsson, farmer, single, 26
Jon Sigurdsson, farmer, married, two ages given, 21 and 29
Margret Gudmundsdotttir, his wife, 26
Olof Margret Jonsdottir, 2
Johannes Jonsson, farmer, single, 51
Pall Th. Thorsteinsson, farmer, single, 21
Jon Jonsson, farmer, married, 36?
Kristin or Katrin Bjornsdottir, his wife, 47?
Jon Bjarnason, 11
Josef Bjarnason? Bjornsson, farmer, married, 47
Malmfridur Hallgrimsdottir, his wife, 49
Josafat Josefsson, 12
Helga Josefsdottir, 11
Hallgrimur Josefsson, 8
Kristjan Josefsson, 6
Gudrun Josefsdottir, 3
Kristjan Eiriksson, farmer, married, 28
Ragnhildur Thorlaksdottir, his wife, 26
Einar Jonsson, farmer, married, 42
Olafia Hansdottir, his wife, 40
Sigurdur or Sigurgeir Einarsson, single, 17? Or21
Sigvaldi no last name, 15
Bjorn, no last name 3   but both these children included as “family” with Einar and Olafia
Jon Emundsson, farmer, married, 27
Jonina? Juliana Einarsdottir, his wife, 25, has child during the voyage
Eirikur Eymundsson, farmer, married, 32
Helga Jonsdottir or Johannsdottir, his wife, 32
Margret Eiriksdottir, 4
Johann Eiriksson, 2
Sigfinnur Petursson, farmer, married, 35
Sigurbjorg Sigurdardottir, his wife, 35
Oli Sigfinnsson, 15
Halli Bjornsson, 9
Jorgen Bjornsson, 19
Sigridur Bjornsdottir, 12
Eln Sigurbjornsdottir, 12
Friman? Finnujr Gjudmndsson, 8
Gudrun Sigfusdottir, six months
Sigridur Vigfusdottir, married, 41
Rosa Palsdottir, married, 19 from Halli to Rosa, the group is marked as one family
Einar Bessason, farmer, married, 54
Lilja Vigfusdottir, his wife, 54
Asbjorn Asbjornsson, labourer, single, 25
Petur Petursson, Lbourer, married, 26
Sigurveig Jonsdottir, his wife, married, 24
Gudrun Jonsdottir, hosewife, married, 62
Gudrun Petursdottir, six months
Jon Thorsteinsson, farmer, married, 54
Kristin Jonsdottir, his wife, 54

1.       Kristjan Arnason, labourer, married, 30
2.       Thora Jonsdottir, his wife, 30
3.       Kristjan Julius Kristjansson, 4
4.       Arni Olafur Kristjansson, 3
5.       Jonina Thora Kristjansdottir, 6 months
6.       Jonas Halldorsson, farmer, 33
7.       Johanna Jonsdottir, his wife, 32
8.       Sigridur Jonasdottir, 8
9.       Hallgrimur Jonsson, labourer, married, 49
10.   Nyborg Jonsdottir, his wife, 48
11.   Jon Gudmundsson, labourer, single, 19
12.   Krsitjan Niels Jonsson, labourer, single, 19
13.   Johann Johannsson, labourer, married, 27
14.   Valgerdur Gudmundsdottir, his wife, 27
15.   Stefan Jonsson, farmer, married, 47
16.   Stefan jonsson, farmer, married, 46
17.   Bjorg Kristjansdottir, his wife, 47
18.   Stefan jonsson, farmer, married, 46
19.   Bjorg Kristjansdottir, hiswife, 47
20.   Jonina Stefansdottir, single, 20
21.   Sigurlaug Stefansdottir, single, 12
22.   Kjartan Isefeld Stefansson, 6
23.   Baldvin Jonsson, labourer, married, 25
24.   Arnfridur Jonsdottir, his wife, 27
25.   Jon Baldvinsson, six months
26.   Sigurbjorg Sigurdardottir, housewife, married, 67
27.   Sigurdur Kraksson, farmer, married, 24
28.   Kristin Thorsteinsdottir, his wife, 24
29.   Halldor Sigurdsson, 6 months
30.   Johann Johannsson, farmer, married, 35
31.   Gudrun Olafsdottir, his wife, 35
32.   Sigurveig Johannsdottir, 7
33.   Valdimar Palsson, single 17, different name but marked as family with Johann and Gudrun
34.   Tryggvi Palsson, 15, also marked as family with Johann and Gudrun
35.   Gisli Eiriksson, laborer, sngle, 36
36.   Gudny Sigmundsdottir, domestic, single, 37
37.   Johannes Egilsson, farmer, married, 30
38.   Sigurlaug Stefansdottir, his wife, 31
39.   Stefan Johannesson, 7
40.   Helga Johannesdottir, 1
41.   Egill Johannesson 3 months
42.   Sofanias Olafsson, labourer, single 32
43.   Arni Thorleifsson, labourer, married, 61
44.   Elisabet Jonasdottir, his wife, 50
45.   Gudrun Halldorsdottir, domestic single, 16
46.   Valdimar Jonsson, 8
47.   Arni Hallgrimsson, 7
48.   Kristjana Jonsdottir but ?Gudmundsdottir, domestic, 32
49.   Indridi Fridriksson Reinholt, labourer, single, 16
50.   Magnus Gudmundsson, labourer, single, 22
51.   Josep Josefsson? Jonssson, farmer, married, 42
52.   Sigridur Eyjolfsdottir?, child, single, 16
53.   Johann,  no last name, single, 15  Magnus, Josef, Sigurdur, Johann are marked as family unit
54.   Sigbjorn Sigurdsson, farmer, married, 31
55.   Steinunn Magnusdottir, married, 30
56.   Gudny Sigbjornsdottir, 6
57.   Gudridur Sigbjornsdottir, 4
58.   Kristjana Sigbjornsdottir, 2
59.   Sigrun Sigbjornsdottir, 13
60.   Bjorn Bjarnasson, labouarer, single, 20
61.   Eyjolfur Kristjansson, farmer, married, 53
62.   Lukka Gisladottir, wife, 45
63.   Gisli Eyjolfsson, single, 24
64.   Thorsteinn Eyjolfsson, single, 22
65.   Jon Eyjolfsson, single, 21
66.   Margret Eyjolfsson, single, 18,
67.   Sigridur Eyjolfsdottir, single, 10
68.   Sigfus Petursson, farmer, married, 37
69.   Gudrun Thnora Sveinsdottir, his wife, 33
70.   Gudrun Salina Sigfusdottir, 7
71.   Sigurbjorg Sigfusdottir, 4
72.   Gudny Johanna Sigfusdottir, 2
73.   Child? Olof Margret Sigfusdottir, Infant
74.   Gunnlaugur Magnusson, farmer, married, 55
75.   Gudfinna Vilhjalmsdottir, is wife, 47
76.   Sigurdur Gunnlaugsson, single, 13
77.   Gudfinna Gunnlaugsdottir, 11
78.   Kristin Thorsteinsdottir, 17
79.   Sigurdur Oddsson, farmer, single, 55
80.   Magnus Thorsteinsson, farmer, married, 36
81.   Vilhelmina Gudmundsdottir, his wife, 26
82.   Eyrikur Magnusson, 8
83.   Thorsteinn Erlendsson, single, 68
84.   Gudmundur Mangusson, six months
85.   Kristbjorg Thorsteinsdottir, single, 24
86.   Johann Gudnason, six months
87.   Sigurbjorn Stefansson, farmer, married, 24
88.   Sesselja Eriksdottir, his wife, 24
89.   Helga Arngrimsdottir, housewife, single, 60
90.   Gudrun Eiriksdottir, domestic, single, 22
91.   Eyjolfur Jonsson, farmer, married, 45
92.   Sigurveig Sigurdardottir, his wife, 45
93.   Gudmudur Eyjolfsson, 11
94.   Gdbjorg Eyjolfsdottir, 7
95.   Svanhvit Ejolfsdottir, 5
96.   Brgvin Kristjansson, married, 35
97.   Kristjana Bregvinsdottir, 7
98.   Runolfur Bergvinsson, 6
99.   Margret Bergvinsdottir, 4
Bjorn Jonasson, farmer, married, 29
Sigridur Sigurdardottir, his wife, 32
Steinnun Thorbergsdottir, 8
Thorbergur Thorbergsson, 8
Kristin Jonasdottir, housewife, single, 32
Jakob Sveinbjornsson, child, single, 10
Eirikur Jonsson, farmer, married, 27
Vilborg Stefansdottir, his wife, 28
Ingibjorg Gudmundsdottir, housewife, single 34
Fridrik Jonsson? Jonasson, 10
Gudni Hansson, 4
Eirika Eiriksdottir, 6 months
Bergljot Eiriksdottir, 6 months
Einar Gudmundsson, farmer,  married, 43
Gudrun Asfrimsdottir, is wife, 42
Gudmundur Einarsson, sngle 23
Halldor Sigurdsson, 12
Asmundur Eiriksson, farmer, married, 26
Eirikur Torfason, farmer, single, 30
Arnfridur Asgrimsdottir, housewife, sngle, 45
Arni Magnusson, farmer, married, 55
Ingibjorg Thorkellsdottir, his wife, 36
Arnfridur Asmundsdottir, hosewife, single, 40
Petur Gudmundsson, 12
Sigurjon Jonsson, 1
Gisli Arnason, farmer, married, 22
Gudrun Thorsteinsdottir, his wife, 22
Bjarni Gislason, farmer, 26
Kristjan Kristjansson, farmer, married, 28
Svanfridur Jonsdottir, his wife, 21
Thorsteinn Kristjansson? Einarsson, farmer, 21  KK, SJ and TK are marked as all on same ticket
Josef Helgason, farmer, married, 33
Helgi Jon Josefsson, 5
Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, farmer, married, 45
Thorunn Sigurdardottir, his wife, 44
Anna Eyjolfsdottir, 11
Jonina Eyjolfsdottir, 4
Adalmundur Gudmundsson, farmer, married, 24
Julianna Einarsdottir, his wife, 29
Johann Gunnarsson, farmer, single, 26
Jon Sigurdsson, farmer, married, two ages given, 21 and 29
Margret Gudmundsdotttir, his wife, 26
Olof Margret Jonsdottir, 2
Johannes Jonsson, farmer, single, 51
Pall Th. Thorsteinsson, farmer, single, 21
Jon Jonsson, farmer, married, 36?
Kristin or Katrin Bjornsdottir, his wife, 47?
Jon Bjarnason, 11
Josef Bjarnason? Bjornsson, farmer, married, 47
Malmfridur Hallgrimsdottir, his wife, 49
Josafat Josefsson, 12
Helga Josefsdottir, 11
Hallgrimur Josefsson, 8
Kristjan Josefsson, 6
Gudrun Josefsdottir, 3
Kristjan Eiriksson, farmer, married, 28
Ragnhildur Thorlaksdottir, his wife, 26
Einar Jonsson, farmer, married, 42
Olafia Hansdottir, his wife, 40
Sigurdur or Sigurgeir Einarsson, single, 17? Or21
Sigvaldi no last name, 15
Bjorn, no last name 3   but both these children included as “family” with Einar and Olafia
Jon Emundsson, farmer, married, 27
Jonina? Juliana Einarsdottir, his wife, 25, has child during the voyage
Eirikur Eymundsson, farmer, married, 32
Helga Jonsdottir or Johannsdottir, his wife, 32
Margret Eiriksdottir, 4
Johann Eiriksson, 2
Sigfinnur Petursson, farmer, married, 35
Sigurbjorg Sigurdardottir, his wife, 35
Oli Sigfinnsson, 15
Halli Bjornsson, 9
Jorgen Bjornsson, 19
Sigridur Bjornsdottir, 12
Eln Sigurbjornsdottir, 12
Friman? Finnujr Gjudmndsson, 8
Gudrun Sigfusdottir, six months
Sigridur Vigfusdottir, married, 41
Rosa Palsdottir, married, 19 from Halli to Rosa, the group is marked as one family
Einar Bessason, farmer, married, 54
Lilja Vigfusdottir, his wife, 54
Asbjorn Asbjornsson, labourer, single, 25
Petur Petursson, Lbourer, married, 26
Sigurveig Jonsdottir, his wife, married, 24
Gudrun Jonsdottir, hosewife, married, 62
Gudrun Petursdottir, six months
Jon Thorsteinsson, farmer, married, 54
Kristin Jonsdottir, his wife, 54
Gudmundur Arnason, farmer, married, 50
Gudny Arnadottir, his wife? , 50
Jon Sigurdsson, farmer, married, 48
Solveig Jonsdottir, his wie, 49
Albert Julius Jonsson, single, 22
Thorunn Ag. Grimsdottir, single, 24
Gudny Albertsdottir, six months
Josef Jonsson, labourer, married, 47
Stefan Josefsson, single, 12
Arndis Jonsdottir, wife, 48
Jon Josefsson, 7
Gudrun Bjorg Josefsdottir, 5
Gudmundur Thordarsson, farmer, married, 38
Thorunn Jonsdottir, his wife, 54?
Sigridur Arnadottir, single, 22
Jonatan Arnason, single, 15
Benjamin Arnason, 12
Thordur Thordarsso, farmer, married, 48
Kristin Thorsteinsdottir, his wife, 27
Gudmundur Thordarsson, single, 25
Gudridur Thordarsdotttir, single, 14
Thordur Thordarsson, 10
Sigurbjorg Thordardottir, six months
Ana Bjornsdottir, domestic, single, 23
Sigurdur Sigurdsson, farmer, married, 36
Kristin H. Ofeigsdottir, his wife, 25
Kristrun Olafsdottir, domestic, single, 22
Jon Sigurdsson, labourer, married, 54
Metusalem Jonsson, labourer, sngle 26
Hoseas Arnason, 13
Stefan jonsson, labourer, single, 28
Bjorg Jonsdottir, domestic, single, 25
Vigfus Josefsson, farmer, married, 48
Sigurbjorg Hjalmaradottir, his wife, 52
Sigurrin Vigfusson, single, 21
Herman Vigfusson, single, 19
Sigridur Vigfusdottir, 13
Stefan Jonsson, labourer, married, 26
Solveig Jonsdottir, his wife, 21
Sigurbjorn Jonsson?, labourer, sngle, 18
Jon ? 14
Jon Sigurdsson, farmer, married, 33
Holmfridur Sigurdardottir, his wife, 21
Ingibjorg Josefsdottir, 11
Gudbjorg Josefsdottir, 9
E. Sigurdsson, farmer, married, 30?
Katrin Magnusdottir, his wife, 40?
Sigridur Jonsdottir, 13
Petur Jonsson, 5
Holmkell Josefsson, labourer, single, 20
Hoseas Josefsson, 13
Gudrun Einarsdottir, domestic, married, 37
Vilhjalmur Sigmundsson, 5?
Borghildur Sigmundsdottir, 3?
Halldor Oddsson? Vilhjalmsson, labourer, single, 20
Jon Arnason, labourer, married, 74
Jonas Jonsson, labourer, married, 26
Kristjan?, 4
Stefan Hemansson, labourer, married, 41
Stefan Stefansson, 2
-add one girl born at sea
Jonatan Petursson, farmer, married, 78
Thorunn oddsdottir, his wife, 67
Helga Jonsdottir, child? Age?
Halldora Sigurdardottir? Sigfusdottir,, 10
Jonatan Jonatansson, farmer, 34
Jon Olafsson, farmer, ?
No ticket number recorded for the following lnames:
Eirikur Eymundsson, single, 32
Sig? Jonsson, single, 26
Bjorn? Bjarni Gisalson, single, 26
Kristjan Jonasson? Jonsson, married, 19?
Margret Gudmundsdottir, married, 26?
Olof Margret Jonsdottir, 2?
Jon Bergman (Sigurdsson), single?, 29
Joef Sigvaldason, single, 19
Not on the list, two children
Gudrun Thorsteinsdottir, 12
A child, 1.5 years old

B
B

I haven’t type all the names.
There are according to this passenger list, 409 people from Iceland. No. 74 is Valgardur, labourer, married, his wife, Kristin, and Ketill, their son. These are my great great grandparents and Ketill, my great grandfather, whom I remember because when I visited him in his home on 4th ave. in Gimli, he used to give me a peppermint. Also, he had his coffin on two trestles in his basement.
The destinations for the Icelanders were 132 for Fort Garry via Collingwood and 50 via Sarnia, Ont. 105 were destined for Toronto and 9 for Halifax. 122 were destined for the Western States.
During the trip there was one child born and four people died. 2 children died during the voyage and were buried at sea. I child died in the shed. One old man on board died at the wharf. This was Jon Arnason, a labourer, married, but no wife listed, his age is uncertain but believed to be 74.
64% of the Icelandic passengers were single
43 Icelanders were between 40 and 50 years old.
22 Icelanders were 50 years or older.
My thanks to Donald Gislason of Toronto for giving me this manifest many years ago when I had supper at  his home. He said, “Oh, I nearly forgot. I’ve got your great grandfather in my filing cabinet”, jumped up and brought back this ship’s list of passengers. It was very kind of him, much appreciated then and still appreciated now.

Icelandic farm workers, 1772

In 1774, Uno von Troil wrote about how Icelanders were employed. They principally fish and take care of cattle.
In both summer and winter, they fish. When they return home after having cleaned their fish, they give them to their wives to dry them. During the winter, when the weather is so bad they can’t fish, they take care of their sheep and cows and spin wool. In summer, the mow the grass, dig turf, collect fuel and search for their sheep and goats that have wandered away. They also butcher their cattle. They weave wadmal that they wash in urine. Wives tan leather. A few men work with gold and silver.
The women, he says prepare fish, take care of cattle, the milk and the wool, sew, spin and gather eggs and down.
The amount of work farm workers have to do is set out in local bylaws. A man has to mow an area of 30 fathoms square of manured soil (as would grow on a tún) of hay. That’s a square of 180 feet. Or, if the land is not manured, then he has to scythe forty fathoms square, 240 feet to a side.
If he is not scything grass but digging turf, then he has to dig 700 pieces of turf eight feet long and three feet wide in a day.
If there is a snow fall and the snow piles up so it reaches the horses bellies (small Icelandic horses, remember, their bellies are close to the ground), he has to clear away snow from enough ground to feed a hundred sheep.
As for women, they have to rake as much hay as three men can scythe. That’s a square 90 x 90 fathoms or 540 feet to a side. If a woman is weaving, she has to weave three yards of wadmal in a day.
 The wages of man are four rigs dollars and twelve yards of wadmal. A woman gets two rigs dollars and five yards of wadmal.
When working men aren’t needed at the haying and are sent to the coast to fish from the 25th of September to the 14th of May, the farmer is to supply them with six pounds of butter and 18 pounds of dried fish every week. Von Troil thinks this is quite generous but then points out that when they are at the farm, they can get milk, skyr, etc. and that is not available at the fishing stations. When they are at the farm, the working men are to be fed five pounds of dried fish and three quarters of a pound of butter each week.
A hundred years later when our ancestors were faced with one natural calamity after another, cold weather, volcanic eruptions, communicable diseases, and they saw that it was now possible, because of the English ships that came to buy sheep and horses, that they could leave, conditions had not changed much for the people working on the farms.
Someone writing in 1872 would have said the chief occupations of the Icelanders is fishing and taking care of their cattle. There were no forests, mines, cities. Iceland was still a country of farms with the wealthy farm owners doing everything possible through politics and control of the law, to keep society the same. Why wouldn’t they? They had a supply of cheap labour. While the resources of the country were such that there was no wealthy aristocracy, descriptions of the well-to-do farmers show that they lived in comfort, that their children were educated, were given preference for positions in the civil service, the church and in business.
Given the scarcity of land, the poor wages that meant it was difficult to save enough money to buy even marginal land, the rules that restricted people from fishing more lucratively, it was no wonder that stories of land and opportunity were passed from farm to farm. If a man could scythe a field 180 feet square of manured hay in a day for someone else, he could scythe it for himself. If a woman could rake a square plot of hay 540 feet to a side in a day for a farm owner, she could rake it on her own farm just as well.
There was no way of creating more grazing land in Iceland. There were no opportunities for young people. Icelandic women, von Troil, says are very fertile, many have twelve or fifteen children. A farm could not be divided into twelve or fifteen plots. The eldest son might get the farm but that left a dozen brothers and sisters having to become indentured servants. This wasn’t just a problem in Iceland. The same problem, although perhaps not so severe, existed in other countries. In an agrarian society, everything depends on ownership and control of land. There is only so much of it.
A hundred years would pass from the time of von Troil’s visit until the emigration to North America began but little would change except, finally, the giving up of the Danish trade monopoly, the coming of the English and Scots with silver and gold that could be used to buy passage to the New World. The availability of ships that would take people to England and Scotland and others that would take them from there to North America. And, finally, the need of both the United States and Canada for settlers, a need that meant both governments and businesses such as the railways, would encourage and assist the emigration.
As a boy, I used a scythe but the most I scythed in a day was half a lot, 66 feet by 75 feet. It was hard work. To do it well, your body has to work like a machine, your arms and body swinging, not stopping until you need to take out a whetstone and sharpen the blade and that blade must be razor sharp. There is a skill to it. 
It demands much of your arms, your back, your legs. It is mind-numbing like any repetitious physical job. Paintings of the noble workers scything and raking hay may look romantic, nostalgic, but there is nothing romantic or nostalgic about work that turns people into machines. In Canada, the settlers worked on farms at harvest time to earn cash. The work was brutal but, at least, they said, there was lots of food. They were paid in cash and there was lots of food. And they were already living on their own land.

Icelandic hardships, von Troil, 1772

Besides the calamities caused by cold summers, icebergs, unseasonal storms, von Troil say that other calamities occur that make the life of Icelanders difficult.

Polar bears arrive every year and kill sheep. The Icelanders, as soon as they see a polar bear, get together and drive them away. Because they don’t have guns, they have to use spears. The government encourages the killing of the bears by offering ten dollars to anyone who kills a bear and also buys the skin of the dead bear. The bear skins can only be sold to the Danish king.
Another disaster is landslides. Von Troil says that these are so large, at times, that both farm land ad houses are destroyed. He mentions that in 1554 an entire farm in Vatndal was ruined and thirteen people killed.
The other disaster is created by huge snowfalls that result in avalanches. One night, in 1699, two farms were buried in an avalanche that killed all the people and animals.
He says that he cannot pass over the effects of earthquakes that often happen, before a volcanic eruption. In 1755, there were fifteen violent shocks that were so strong that they destroyed farmhouses and buildings.
He adds that at one time the population was larger but that contagious diseases have reduced the number of people. The plague killed many and many places have been entirely depopulated by famine. “In the years 1707-1708, the smallpox destroyed 16,000 person; so that the number of inhabitants cannot exceed 60,000.”
He thinks that the “food and mode of living in Iceland do not at all contribute to the strength of the inhabitants. One seldom meets with any of t hem above fifty or sixty years of age, and the greater part are attacked in their middle age by many grievous complaints.
“It is remarkable that among the female sex, who there, as almost everywhere else, live to a greater age than the men, those particularly who have had many children attain to an advanced age….the women are commonly very fruitful; and it is no rare thing to meet with a mother who has twelve or fifteen children.”
He says that the diseases most common are scurvy, leprosy, gout and rickets. It is obvious from his descriptions that there are no real treatments or medications that would be of any use. With a very restricted diet, malnutrition, extremely hard labour, the constant damp both inside and out, the harsh weather, it is surprising that the Icelanders manage to survive as long as they do.
The life von Troil describes in 1772 is brutal with few pleasures. Every day is a struggle to get enough hay, to get enough milk, to get enough fish, to survive. For a hundred years more, the Icelandic peasant had to endure this life but all things change and although those alive in 1772 wouldn’t live to see the change, their descendants would.
At last, when the opportunity to emigrate to North America came, it is no wonder that the Icelanders survived the harsh conditions in New Iceland. They were used to difficult, punishing weather, used to struggling to find enough to feed themselves, used to working at hard labour. They were used to walking long distances. The men were used to rowing boats on the North Atlantic in winter. They were used to living in small, crowded spaces with only the barest amenities. The first years in New Iceland there was cold, lack of food, disease, poor living conditions but they’d seen all this before. The difference was that there was all around them the possibility of a better life. The coming year didn’t have to be like the one before. There was arable land to clear and sow, land that was theirs, the opportunity to fish for themselves with no share for the landowner/boat owner, no share for the church, no Danish stores that set both the buying and selling prices, all the wood they could possibly want for building and fuel.
They still suffered from scurvy, small pox, rickets but, soon, that would be over. Soon they no longer had to live on boiled fish heads, on sheep bones softened in whey. Women working as domestics in Winnipeg no longer spent entire days hammering dried cod to eat with butter. They didn’t have to rake hay for ten hours a day or longer.
The Icelandic emigrants took their lives in their hands and voted for change. The cost was alienation, sometimes death, but they broke the cycle that had gone on for hundreds of years, gone on with so little change that von Troil’s observations were as accurate and valid in 1872 as they were in 1772.
Many emigrants did not grow rich but they had a place of their own to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, they weren’t indentured servants. It was enough.
  

Agriculture in 1772, Iceland, von Troil

Just in case anyone has thoughts about how their ancestors must not have been very good at agriculture and if they’d just worked harder, been smarter, they could have grown oranges and watermelon, or even wheat and oats, here’s an account an abridged account of agriculture in Iceland in 1772 by Uno von Troil.
As may be seen in many passages of ancient Icelandic accounts, grain formerly grew in Iceland. At the current time (1772) “Governor Thordal sowed a little barley which grew very briskly but a short time before it was to be reaped, a violent storm utterly destroyed it, so that only a few grains were found.
“If we consider besides these strong winds, or rather hurricanes, the frosts which frequently set in during May and June, we shall realize there are a number of difficulties that check the progress of agriculture in Iceland. If notwithstanding these obstacles, it can ever be brought to a thriving condition, it must certainly be under the present indefatigable governor, who has the welfare of the country much at heart, and, in conjunction with the government, studies every possible means to promote it.
“I consider these violent winds, and the Greenland floating ice, which every year does great damage to the country, as the chief cause of the diminution of the growth of wood, as well as of the ill success in the late attempts for introducing agriculture.
“The ice comes on by degrees, always with an easterly wind, and frequently in such quantities, as to fill up all the gulphs on the north-west side of the island, and even covers the sea as far as the eye can reach. It also sometimes drives to other shores. It generally comes in January, and goes away in March. Sometimes only reaches the land in April, and remaining there a long time does an incredible deal of mischief. It consists partly of mountains of ice that are sometimes sixty fathoms high above the water”.
“The ice caused so violent a cold in 1753 and 1754 that horses and sheep dropped down dead on account of it, as well as for want of food.”  Hunger was so great that “horses were observed to feed upon dead cattle, and the sheep ate each other’s wool. In the year 1755, towards the end of the month of May, in one night the ice formed more than one inch thick. IN 1756, on the 26th of June, snow fell to the depth of a yard, and continued falling through the months of July and August. In the year following, it froze very hard towards the end of May and the beginning of June in the south part of the island, which caused a great scarcity of grass, insomuch that the inhabitants had little or no fodder the ensuing winter for their cattle. These frosts are generally followed by a famine.”
“Followed by a famine.” What do we know of famine in North America where grocery stores throw away vast amounts of food every day? Where even street people can get food from various agencies? Where schools often provide food? Where churches have programs to feed the poor? There is waste on a tremendous scale. There is unfairness built into the system. There are poor diets and hungry kids in school. But there is no famine. Famine is when there is no food. No food. Where people slowly die of hunger because there’s been cold weather, storms, no grass. There’s no food no matter where you look or how far you walk before you can’t walk anymore.
An inch of ice in May. Three feet of snow in June. Farm that! 
There was nothing Icelandic farmers could have done against the storms. Nothing they could have done against the icebergs. Nothing they could have done with ground too cold to grow grass. Three months they had every year to harvest enough grass to feed their sheep and cows over the nine months of winter.

It was like a mathematical formula. Twenty people on the farm. Twenty people times nine months of skyr, Icelandic moss, preserved meat, dried fish, rye flour, butter, seaweed. Enough grass to feed four cows, fifty sheep times nine months. The horses, although critical to travel and trade, were on their own. Grass from the home field was too valuable to be wasted on horses. The sheep came first because they provided milk and milk meant staying alive and if you didn’t stay alive, you didn’t need a horse. Dead men don’t ride horses.   

(Notes and quotes from Uno von Troil’s letters, 1772)

Uno von Troil, Iceland, 1772

 Uno von Troil
In 1772, Uno Von Troil, joined Joseph Banks in a journey to Iceland. Afterwards, he wrote a series of letters about the expedition. The language is now archaic and, for many people, difficult to read. Therefore, I have “translated” as best I can, some of his writing into modern day English. There will, of course, be errors, for I am no scholar, but hopefully they will be minor and will neither mislead the reader, nor interfere with the pleasure of reading about Iceland a hundred years before our ancestors began to leave for North America.
Because I must change the archaic spelling so much, I’ll use quotation marks only to indicate that the material is taken from von Troil.
“The Icelanders are of a good honest disposition, but they are, at the same time, so serious that I hardly remember to  have seen any one of them laugh; they are by no means so strong as might be supposed, and much less handsome. Their chief amusement, in their leisure hours, is to recount to one another the history of former times; so that to this day you do not meet with an Icelander who is not well acquainted with the history of his own country; they also play at cards.
“Their houses are thatched with turf and so small that you can hardly find room to turn in. They have no floors; and their windows, instead of glass, are composed of thin membranes of certain animals. They make no use of chimneys, as they never light a fire, except to dress their victuals, when they only lay the turf on the ground. You will not think it strange, when I inform you, that we saw no inns, except shops and warehouses; and on our journey to Hecla we were obliged to take up our lodgings in the churches. 
“Their food principally consists of dried fish, sour butter, which they consider as a great dainty, milk mixed with water and whey, and a little meat. They receive so little bread from the Danish company, that there is scarcely any peasant who eats it above three or four months in the year. They likewise boil groats, of a kind of moss (Lichen Islandicus) which has an agreeable taste. The principal occupation of the men is fishing, which they follow both winter and summer. The women take care of the cattle, knit stockings, etc. They likewise gut and dry the fishes brought home by the men, and otherwise assist in the preparing this stable commodity of the country.
“Besides this, the company has yearly sent fifteen or twenty ships hither, and who possess a monopoly which is very burdensome to the country, export from hence some meat, eider-down, and falcons, which are sold in the country for seven, ten and fifteen rix-dollars apiece. Money is very rare, which is the reason that all the trade is carried on by fish and ells of coarse unshorn cloth, called here wadmal; one ell of wadmal is worth two fishes; and forty-eight fishes are worth a rix dollar in coin.”
The startling thing about von Troil’s letters is that they differ very little from Mackenzie’s account of Iceland in 1810, 38 years later, or even from Kneeland’s description in 1874, just over a hundred years later. It is accounts like these that make clear how trapped the people were by the small amount of useable land (one cannot say it was arable for it was only used as pasture except for the home fields and those were not cultivated, only fertilized), by the weather that would not allow grain to ripen, and by a Danish monopoly that sold commercial rights to a group of traders whose sole purpose was to extract as much wealth from the country as possible.However, something that is occasionally mentioned is that the lack of progress was also the result of a land rental system (share cropping) that penalized any land renter who improved his land. If he leveled the frost mounds in his home field, for example, the land owner would raise the rent.Any benefit from making improvements would not go to the renter but to the large land owner.
As much as the Hanseatic League traders exploited Icelanders, the turning over of trade to a commercial  monopoly was not unique. Numerous governments sold the rights of trade to companies, including the English government when it gave the Hudson Bay Company the right to vast amounts of Canada. There was no kinship between the kings and queens and the natives in North America, South America, Australia, the Dutch Indies, India. The people there were there to be exploited so that wealth could be accumulated in the “mother” country.
The surprising, even shocking element in Iceland’s story, is that there was, in fact, kinship between the Icelanders and the Norwegian and Danish crowns yet they were exploited as if there were no kinship. The Icelanders were not savages in a distant land. They were the descendants of Norwegians, Irish, Scottish, some Danish, settlers. They were Lutheran. They spoke a Scandinavian language. The farming landowners often sent their children to Denmark for their education. It made no difference. For whatever reason, the Icelanders were “other”.
When the Danish king came in 1874 to give Iceland a constitution, he said he was sorry that he could not speak or understand Icelandic but that his son was learning it. Iceland had been a vassal state of Denmark’s for hundreds of years but was so unimportant to the Danish crown that Icelandic was not learned by members of the royal family. The language, except for the romantic aura of the sagas, was relegated to all those other colonial languages that weren’t worth learning.
  

The Langspil, Mackenzie, 1810

When Sir George Mackenzie travels around Iceland, he is accompanied by letters of introduction. He is no young man without means but a powerful, titled, well-to-do Scotsman, highly educated and recognized. He was the youngest person, age 18, to ever be inducted into the Scottish Royal Society. His recognition was for proving that diamonds are made of pure carbon.
He comes to Iceland because of his interest in the geology. However, since, there are no commercial inns or way stations in Iceland, he and his friends must stay in churches, farmhouses or tents. They must find grass for their horses. Although they have with them some food and are able to shoot birds and catch fish, they are in need of the milk, cream, skyr, rye bread and fish that can be provided by the local farms. Because of his connections, Mackenzie is able to stay at the homes of the wealthiest farm owners, the best-off priests. He does not have to stay in the Icelandic farm homes that he describes as wretched, filthy, ill-smelling and crowded.
Yet, his book, Travels in the Island of Iceland During the Summer of the year MDCCCX (1810), is highly valuable because of his observations of life in Iceland.
His attention to culture can best be seen during his visit to Indreholm, the home of Chief Justice Stephenson. It is here, during a supper unimaginable to the ordinary Icelander who lived on coarse rye bread, skyr, milk, butter, dried fish and, perhaps once or twice a year, meat. There is boiled salmon, baked mutton, potatoes imported from England, sago and cram, London Porter (imported), and port wine (imported).
It is while dining on this banquet that Mackenzie’s group hears music coming from another room. They were delighted. They’d never heard anything like it before and thought it might come from a piano-forte. To their amazement, the music was from an Icelandic instrument called a Lang-spiel. The musicians were Mr. Stephenson’s son and daughter.
The Lang-spiel (as he spells it) was brought to the guests so they could see it. Mackenzie, in his thorough manner, describes it.
It “consists of a narrow wooden box, about three feet long, bulging at one end, where there is a sound-hole, and terminating at the other like a violin. It has three brass wires stretched along it, two of which are tuned to the same note, and one an octave lower. One of the two passes over little projections, with bits of wire on the upper part. These are so placed, that when the wire above them is pressed down by  the thumb-nail, the different notes are produced on drawing a bow across; and the other wires perform the same office as the drones of a bagpipe. In short, it is simply a monochord, with two additional strings, to form a sort of bass.

“When the instrument in near, it sounds rather harsh; but, from an adjoining room, especially when two are played together, as was the case when we first heard the music, the effect is very pleasing. The tunes we heard played were chiefly Danish and Norwegian. Mr. Stephenson’s daughter made me a present of her Lang-spiel.”

What Mackenzie was listening to was a traditional Icelandic drone zither. It can be played by plucking the strings by hand or with a bow or by hammering on the strings. In Iceland, because wood was not available from locally growing trees, the Langspil was made from a variety of driftwoods.
In 1855, 45 years after Mackenzie’s musical evening, a book was published explaining how to make Langspils and how to play them. However, the Langspil nearly disappeared by the mid 1900s. There has been a concerted effort to resurrect it and various bands include it among the instruments on which they perform.
If you’d like to buy one, you can do so at http://langspil.webs.com/langspil.htm

Social class in Iceland, 1810

 Portrait of Sir George S. Mackenzie
When reading, Travels in the Island of Iceland by Sir George S. Mackenzie, it is hard to believe that it was published over two hundred years ago. It reads well, is crammed with the details of daily life in the Iceland of the time, and the people he describes, and he describes many, come to life.
Mackenzie’s book was published in 1811. Could it really have been that long ago that he describes his visit to Indreholm? “This is the house of the Chief Justice Stephenson, from whom we had received an invitation when first we met him at Reikiavik…. It is situated in a large extant of flat, boggy ground. We arrived at the house about five o’clock…. It is rather a groupe of buildings than a single habitation; and, together, with the outhouses and the church, it looks like a little village.
The house is quite large. It needs to be, besides Mr. Stephenson there is his wife, daughter, two sons, a young lady under his guardianship; his father-in-law and two nephews. There is no mention of where all the servants required to run this establishment live.
At a short distance from the house is a water mill. The dairy and the other outbuildings are detached from the house. There is a smithy and when Mackenzie visits, the servants are busy sharpening scythes and he notes that they are using charcoal that is locally made from birch wood.
When they arrive at the house, they are “ushered into the best room by Mr. Stephenson…Almost immediately after we had seated ourselves, the ladies of the family made their appearance; and we had coffee, wine, biscuit and English cheese set before us. This was merely a prelude to a more substantial dinner, or rather supper, that was brought in at 8 o’clock. It consisted of boiled salmon, baked mutton, potatoes (from England), sago and cream, London porter and excellent port wine.’
Mackenzie and his friends are certain that the ladies will join with them for supper but they are surprised that “The females, of the highest, as well as the lowest rank, as in former times in our own country, seem to be regarded as mere servants. During our repast, our hostess stood at the door with her arms akimbo, looking at us; while her daughter, and another young woman, were actively employed in exchanging the plates, and running backward and forward with whatever was wanted.”
While they are eating, they hear music and immediately stop eating because they have only once before heard music in Iceland and that was at a ball in Reykjavik which Mackenzie describes as the miserable scraping of a fiddle.
What they were hearing was the Lang-spiel played by played by Mr. Stephenson’s son and daughter. “When the instrument is near, it sounds rather harsh; but, from an adjoining room, especially when two are played together…the effect is very pleasing.” According to Mackenzie, “Mr. Stephenson’s family is the only one in Iceland that can be said to cultivate music at all. He himself plays upon a chamber-organ, which he brought from Copenhagen a few years ago.”
Mackenzie is impressed by Stephenson. Why wouldn’t he be? Mackenzie, himself, is a baronet, a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Mr. Stephenson is “the head of the Icelandic courts of justice, and a privy counsellor of Denmark, with the title of Etatsraad and…has been very assiduous in his endeavours to distinguish himself in the walks of literature….has himself written various works on politics, history, and morals. All these amount to about twenty different books. He is the owner of a very good library of seven or eight hundred volumes, among which are a number of English works, history, novels, and poetry; and a valuable collection of Icelandic books and manuscripts.
Mackenzie says that the pastures around the house are very good. “Adjoining the house are two small gardens, well inclosed with walls of turf, in which cabbages and turnips, and sometimes potatoes, are cultivated with success, for the use of the family.” There is also a small island nearby that produces forty pounds of Eider down for export.
“Mr. Stephenson has considerable property in this part of the country, as well as in more remote districts of Iceland. In his own hands he holds land sufficient for supporting twenty-five cows and three hundred sheep. He has lately brought over from Norway some fine-woolled sheep of the Spanish breed.”
“Connected with his property at Indreholm, there is a large fishing establishment, comprehending about twenty boats of different sizes, the use of which is given to the people coming from the interior of the country.
 The opulence of Mr. Stephenson’s life is provided by the hardships of the ordinary Icelander. Every year men walk or ride to the coast to risk their lives at the fishing. When fish are caught, “they are divided into two shares more than the number of men employed. These two shares belong to the owner of the boat, who provides lines and hooks. When he furnishes nets, which are generally used during the early part of the season, he receives one half of the fish caught. All the people engaged for one boat generally live together in the same hut. The previous arrangements being made, a long period of hardship and privation begins. In darkness, and subjected to intense cold, these poor people seek from the ocean the means for subsisting their families the following winter….They generally remain at sea for eight to twelve  hours” at a time. They take nothing to sea to eat, only some whey to drink.   
Mackenzie, as he and his companions travel about Iceland, notes the condition of the Icelanders who are not so fortunate as to have a special, favorable relationship with the Danes. As they are travelling, they meet up with a country priest who was travelling to the coast to buy fish. The priest pitches his tent beside them for the night. Mackenzie says, “This person was more miserable in his appearance than any one of his profession whom we had seen in Iceland; his habiliments being such as would scarcely have distinguished him from an English beggar.”
“The cottages of the lowest order of people are wretched hovels; so very wretched, that it is wonderful how anything in human form can breathe in them.”
There may not have been royalty in Iceland, no Lords and Ladies, no aristocracy but Mackenzie’s journal makes clear how great was the difference between the wealthy, well connected farm owner and the ordinary person.
(With notes and quotes from Travels in the Island of Iceland by Sir George S. Mackenzie, 1810)

S. E. Waller, artist, 22, gift to Iceland

 The Empty Saddle by S. E. Waller. A friend brings a horse back from battle. The owner is dead. The new widow stands on the balcony.

Six Weeks In The Saddle, by Samuel Edmund Waller, was published in 1874. He traveled to Iceland in the summer of 1872 and spent six weeks with three horses and his local guide, Bjarni. He should have had six horses but the demand for Icelandic horses was so great that the price had doubled before he got to Reykjavik. He didn’t have a lot of money. He’d been making a living by illustrating books.
The astounding thing is that he was born in 1850 and, in 1872, was only 22 years old. He made the trip on a small Danish ship. He arrived by himself in Reykjavik, bought three horses, hired his guide, packed  his belongings onto one of the horses, and went off on a six week adventure filled with danger and hardship. He went to Iceland because he’d read Njal’s Saga and had fallen in love with it. As an artist, he wanted to sketch the landscapes of the saga, plus he wanted to experience as much of Icelandic life as possible.
No wonder he was made so welcome in Icelandic homes. In 1872, there were still no roads. Farms were very isolated. Foreign visitors to any individual farm were rare and, in many cases, the foreigners stuck to themselves bringing tents and food and, except for the guides, being self-sufficient. The big draw were the geysers. They were one of the wonders of the world. Others land in Reykjavik, rent horses, hire guides and drovers, make the trip to the geysers, return to Reykjavik, then they go home.
Waller wanted none of that. He had little money. However, even if he’d had the price of three more horses, he’d have wanted to spend time with Icelanders because he was in love with the sagas and the landscape.
No wonder he was so welcome everywhere he stopped. No wonder the young women played games with him, sang with him, played music for him. While they were exotic to him, he must have been every bit as exotic to them. A young man from England, appearing suddenly, congenial, talented, educated. No wonder beautiful young women kissed him on the cheek.
How exotic he must have appeared can be seen in some of his comments at the end his book. He says, “All over the country I was asked questions upon political economy, the condition of Denmark, the best way of bridging the river Thjorsa, and all varieties of engineering. I was asked to translate Latin and Greek…if I knew the Queen and had spoken with  her..I was asked questions upon fish-curing, upon law-making, and upon currency.
These are people who want to know all sorts of things, who know that knowledge is out there in the wider world, they want to know everything, everything.
One of the last places he visits is Thingvalla. He describes it in detail and tells a bit about its history. “It is impossible to give any idea of the feelings of deep interest with which I regarded every inch of this romantic spot, and tried to imagine what an appearance it must have presented 900 years ago. I wondered where Hallgerda’s booth was. I know that it was just down by the water that Gunnar first saw her sitting in the doorway. Njal‘s booth too, was some two or three hundred yards down the river on the other side. It was here that the desperate battle took place between Njal´s assassins and his avengers, and it was between the water and the lava that so many of t hem were killed.“ How many of us know Njal‘s Saga that well?
Waller’s father was an architect and Waller spent a short time as an apprentice to him;  however, he never practiced architecture but, instead, pursued  his dream of being an artist. He went to art school. He worked for a brief time on a farm and learned to love animals. He was passionate about horses and they figure largely in his paintings. His paintings received acclaim and he had numerous exhibitions at the Royal Academy from 1871 to 1902. He died in 1903 at the age of 53.
If you put his name into Google, you will see a large number of his paintings. They are romantic, sentimental, dramatic, nostalgic, and command high prices. Copies of them are widely available.
I, for one, am glad he made his trip to Iceland and wrote Six Weeks In The Saddle. I’m pleased that I discovered it for it gives a very different view of Iceland and Icelanders than the accounts of many of the explorers and scientists or professional travelers.

Sports fishing at Sorg, Waller, 1874

Waller arrives at Sorg. He sends his guide, Bjarni, off to Reykjavik on errand. Waller enjoys sports fishing and he asks the local farmer to take him to fish. When they arrive at the river bank, the farmer says, “It’s cloudy. That’s good. The flies won’t bother us. The farmer tells Waller some stories about how dreadful the flies are and Waller dismisses it all as exaggeration.
He has a wonderful day fishing. Every time he casts his rod, he catches a fish.
When Bjarni returns, Waller asks him to go with him to the nearby lake. But, this time, the sun is hot. When they get close, they can see “a sort of mist hanging over the shore.”
“ ‘Oh, Helveta!” said Bjarni, “the flies are up.’ “
Suddenly, Waller begins to feel hundreds of sharp little stings. A wind comes up, chases the flies away, then the sun goes behind a cloud and all seems well. Waller begins to fish.
Iceland may have not fierce tigers or lions, no venomous snakes, no rampaging elephants, but it has its hoards of midges and just after Waller has hooked his first fish, the sun comes out again and, in a moment, “ ‘the devil was unchained’ “…from the earth, the grass, the rocks, in fact, from everywhere rose a living fog of countless myriads of long winged flies.
“Sting, sting, sting, on they came. It was useless to attempt to beat them off. We had our handkerchiefs out in a moment, and tied them round our heads, leaving a small slit for one eye….We pulled our socks up over our trousers, put the wading boots over the socks, tied string round our sleeves, and attempted to get away.
“our poor horses, maddened by the attacks…had galloped away….My broad-brimmed hat was weighed down upon my shoulders by the heaving masses of these insects. Not a spot of colour of my coat was visible…(Bjarni) had the  appearance of a  man wrapped in a living cloak, and as he walked, solid lumps of flies fell from his back on to the ground.”
Bjarni chases after the horses, gets them and brings them to Waller. “They (the  horses) were covered with blood, and much frightened….Murder’s white coat showing the (blood) stains very vividly. His eyes were swollen and full of flies, as were the nostrils of both.”
When they get back to the farm, Waller discovers that his face, neck, and wrists were swollen dreadfully, and covered with bites, and his right arm was covered in a rash from the shoulder downwards.
No crazed berserker could have been more formidable than the tiny Icelandic flies for what they lacked in size, they made up in numbers. Myvatn, midge lake, takes its name from them, midge water, but the name seems harmless enough. Even in Canada, Mosquito Lake doesn’t conjure up a desperate fight for survival against a tiny enemy. Although, when I taught at Snow Lake, Manitoba, I went fishing in a creek when the black flies were out and my daughter’s sweat shirt came loose at the back without our noticing it for a few minutes. By the time we did notice, it looked like she had a cluster of grapes on both sides of her spine.
The farmer, on the first fishing expedition, had said to Waller, that two horses had died from fly bites and Waller had thought it a gross exaggeration. By the time the second fishing trip is over and he and Bjarni are back at the farm, he knows it was no tall tale.
The next time you visit Iceland and go to Mývatn, think of Waller and his desperately running for a mile before he escapes from the midges.