Jules Verne in Copenhagen.

The Danish Jules Verne Society newsletter no. 1.

Nils Bjørn, Henrik Wilfred Christensen, Bjørn Larsen, and Lejf Rasmussen.

Translated from the Danish by Søren Rasmussen. Rev. 02, 21st of august 2006. 

© Copyright Det danske Jules Verne Selskab 2006.

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Jules Verne did not only write about journeys. He was also very fond of travelling himself, especially at sea. When the Verne family’s financial situation allowed it, Jules Verne purchased his own ocean-going yacht, which was later replaced by a luxurious steam yacht with an approx. 10-member ship’s crew.

Verne visited Copenhagen twice: in 1861 and 1881

Vernes 1st visit to Copenhagen.

At the first visit, Jules Verne is a young unknown law graduate from Paris, who on a pared budget is travelling the Scandinavian region, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, along with two friends. The journey is recorded in Verne’s diary. Appreciative acknowledgement is given to Dr. Friedmann Prose, Kiel, for having supplied us with information from his photocopy of the diary.

Verne’s travelling companions were the composer Alfred Hignard and the law graduate Émile Lorois. The route went from Paris to Lübeck via Cologne, Hannover and Hamburg. From Lübeck they travelled by ship to Stockholm. The departure from Paris was on July 2nd, and the urge to travel must have been significant, given that Verne’s wife, Honorine, was in the last stage of the pregnancy of the couple’s first child, (their son Michel). Hamburg was reached by the 3rd of July, and a couple of days were spent here. From Lübeck the journey continued on board the steamship “Svea” towards Stockholm. En route they stopped in Kalmar. The travelling party arrived at Stockholm on the 8th of July, where they accommodated themselves at “Hotel Rydberg”. From here (also at sea) they took the canal boat along Götakanalen to Göteborg and onwards to Kristiania, (now-a-days Oslo). A trip was made to Telemarken, where a notice from Jules Verne himself can be found in a guest book in the village of Dal.

The 1st of August Verne and Hignard leave Norway and travel via Hälsingborg and Elsinore, where Kronborg castle is paid a visit, to Copenhagen. Here, they accommodate themselves at “Hotel Phønix” (See notes on pp. 5-7.).
Verne was expecting a letter from Honorine, and when it arrived, he decided to travel back on his own in great haste, but Monday and Tuesday was spent on sight-seeing in Copenhagen, and it is during these days that Verne collects the impressions, which is later revealed in a chapter of “A journey to the centre of the earth”: Hotel Phønix (where prof. Lidenbrock and Axel where accommodated), Rosenborg Castle, Thorvaldsens Museum, The National Museum, The Royal Exchange, Kgs. Nytorv, The Citadel, the mills on the rampart around Copenhagen, the penitentiary at Christianshavn square, and in particular the ascent in the tower of Our Saviour Church at Christianshavn. Tuesday evening Verne travelled by train to Korsør and from here to Kiel on a ship carrying mail (see note), where he arrived early in the morning the 7th of August. Verne arrived in Paris as soon as the next day, the 8th of August, but too late: Michel was born the 4th of August.

The 3rd travelling companion, Émile Lorois, who did not accompany Verne and Hignard to Copenhagen, most likely stayed several days more in Norway. He then followed the same route to Copenhagen as the others. The police commissioner of Copenhagen has recorded his arrival at Copenhagen the 9th of August with accommodation at Hotel Royal, and his departure towards Hamburg the 19th of August. Same police authority has strangely enough not recorded Verne and Hignards visit. Within these 10 days, Lorois could have had the time so see quite a bit of Copenhagen. The police record can be found at the regional archives of Copenhagen.

A lot of details in Vernes novels can very likely be related to impressions obtained at this first journey around Scandinavia. Captain Hatteras e.g. returns from the North Pole via the route Korsør-Kiel, and the entire of the book “No. 9672” (Andr. Schou 1888) takes place at Telemarken and Kristiania. Besides Copenhagen “A journey to the centre of the earth” also refers to information about Hamburg. Verne did begin writing a book about a journey in Scandinavia; “Joyeuses Misères de Trois Voyageurs en Scandinavie” which however, to our knowledge, was never completed or published. The first chapter can be found at Zvi’s homepage (in French). In a note at the back of a German version of “Reize zum Mittelpunkt der Erde”, retranslated by Volker Dehs, it is incidentally claimed that Verne did not climb the tower of Our Saviour Church in 1861.

1. Dr. Friedmann Prose, Kiel. Personal correspondence
2. A Verne biography by Volker Dehs
3. Peter Harold: Jules Verne en Suéde in Revue Jules Verne no. 19-20
4. William Butcher: Personal correspondance
5. Henrik Wilfred Christensen: Studies conducted at the Royal Danish Library and the Regional Archives of Copenhagen.

Jules Vernes’ diary from the journey to Scandinavia 1861

Traces of Jules Vernes’ visit to Copenhagen in 1861

Henrik Wilfred Christensen has conducted archive studies and has found a few traces from the 1861-visit.

In the contemporary Danish newspaper “Berlingske politiske og advertissements-Tidende” of Monday the 5th of August 1861 there is a column called “travellers”, which mentions anyone currently staying at the hotels in Copenhagen. At the bottom of the part that deals with “Hotel Phønix” it says:

“Attorney-at-law Werne and Hignard from Paris”

Since this column does not occur in every newspaper, and since “Berlingske Tidende” was not published on Sundays, it can’t be known for certain when Verne had arrived, nor how long he intended to stay in Copenhagen.

Despite this, we see it as a quite reliable source to Jules Vernes’ visit concerning his stay at the “Hotel Phønix” with Hignard, and that the dates, we know, are fairly accurate. Finally, it is interesting that he at this time refers to himself as attorney-at-law. In a debate in the Danish newspaper “Politiken” in 1959 it is questioned whether Verne actually visited Copenhagen in 1861. This should hereby be brought to an end.

Hotel Phønix, Bredgade.

“Hotel Phønix”, where Jules Verne took lodgings in 1861, was one of the finest hotels in town. It was located at “Bredgade” no. 37 on the corner of “Dronningens Tværgade”. “Hotel Phønix” opened in 1847 and was taken over by the Danish Communist Party after World War 2. It later re-emerged (as a phoenix from the flames!) as a hotel and is now-a-days a four starred hotel with a large pub in its cellar. 

In 1916 Danish magazine “Før & Nu” wrote:

In 1837 the estate was conveyed to the royal engineer and restaurateur at “Stadt Lauenburg” (two seemingly quite heterogeneous positions!) W. Murdoch, who under the name of “Stadt Launburg” established a hotel, which ten years later became a “private limited company of the arrangement of a hotel” named Phønix, with an ever increasing reputation, and which multiple times, the last time around a few years ago, has undergone significant expansions and when it comes to distinguished elegance modern comfort occupies a leading position among the hotels of Copenhagen. (Source: “Før & Nu, 1916, p.168)

So; as early as 1861, Verne has a taste for comfortable living.

In “København – før, nu og aldrig”, volume 6 ”Frederiksstaden og Nyhavn” by tobias Faber, the above-shown picture of “Hotel Phønix”, which is made by H.P. Hendriksen in 1860, is found on page 109. This must be the closest one gets to the appearance of the hotel when Jules Verne lived there in 1861. It is a bit exciting to imagine that it is behind one of those windows you can see in the picture, that Jules Verne and Hignard lived from the 4th of August till 6th of August 1861.

Advertisement for “Hotel Phønix” from a programme for
Casinos’ 1923 version of “Around the world in eighty days”

The departure

In the Danish newspaper “Korsør avis” from Monday the 5th of August 1861 it says:

“list of recollection”/”Tuesday the 6th of August”/”Departing steam ships”/”at half past ten evening after the arrival of the evening train”/””Hermod” to Kiel”.

The steamship Hermod.

Jules Verne is most likely to have boarded the train from Copenhagen at the afternoon / evening of the 6th of August 1861, and has arrived at Korsør at 10.30 PM (if the train was on schedule). From there he has embarked the steam ship “Hermod”, which has taken him to Kiel. He has arrived well on the morning of the 7th. The trip from Kiel to Paris via Hamburg has taken approx. 24 hours, so he would be in Paris the 8th of August – but too late: Honorine had already given birth to a son, (Michel).

The railroad to Korsør.

At Korsør in April 2006, the 150 anniversary of the opening of the railroad to Korsør were celebrated, the one Verne made use of only 6 years after its opening. The following pictures are from the local newspaper in Korsør, “Korsør-posten”. Unfortunately, they are a bit blurred. The timetable matches well the one which Verne, as well as Lidenbrock and Axel, used in 1861 and later. The picture of the station building is also supposed to be from around the time of the opening of the railroad.


Announcement of the opening of the railroad to Korsør, along with its schedule.

The station building at Korsør


Verne’s 2nd visit to Copenhagen

As mentioned initially Jules Verne was enthusiastic about sailing. During the course of time he owned three ships, all by the name of “Saint Michel”. The first two were smaller sailing boats; the third was a larger ship with a steam engine, built in 1876 and bought by Verne in 1877 at a cost of 55,000 francs.

After several other trips aboard the “Saint Michel III” it was the plan that a journey to the Baltic Sea region, with stops in Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Kristiania, should be made. This 2nd journey is far better documented than the first. By 1881, Jules Verne was internationally well known, the contemporary press wrote about the famous writers visit, and Verne’s brother wrote a travelling journal “De Rotterdam a Copenhague”.

The summer sailing commenced at the end of May 1881. Besides the captain, Ollive, the crew consisted of a marine engineer, two stokers, a chief steward, three deck hands, a ships mate and a cook. The passengers were, besides Jules Verne himself, Paul Verne and his son, Gaston, and a lawyer from Amiens, Robert Godefroy. Rotterdam is reached by the 5th of June, and here the ship has to wait for the weather to clear up. The 11th they continue the journey via Rotterdam and Wilhelmshafen. Because of (probably well founded) fears of the foul weather along the western coast of Jutland, it is decided to go through the Ejder and the Ejderchannel to the Baltic Sea. Back then, the channel was old, narrow and fitted with small locks. Not until some years later, the far larger Kielerchannel was build. Due to this, the ships bowsprit had to be disassembled to pass through the locks. The 17th of June “St. Michel III” leaves Rendsburg, and arrives at Kiel the same evening. The journey through Schleswig-Holstein is described in very picturesque ways in Paul Vernes’ travelling journal. 

After a 24 hour stay in Kiel they sail at the evening of June the 18th, heading towards Copenhagen. It is a beautiful, clear evening in the time of the light summer nights and as soon as 7 AM the next morning the entry to the Oresund strait is reached. At 10 AM they vaguely begin to see the towers of Copenhagen through the misty weather. They berthed directly opposite “Kvæsthusbroen”, where several ship routes to different locations emanated at that time. “St. Michel III” stayed eight days in Copenhagen, guests were entertained aboard and trips were made onshore.

The following is a citation from the journalist N. J. Berentsens’ account of his interview-visit aboard:

 “To the French, we tell the ferry by Nyhavns’ bridgehead”. And onboard we meet Jules Verne, who wears his 53 years of age with splendour, dressed in a reefer jacket with the red ribbon from the legion of honour in his buttonhole, a flat cap and smoking a beautiful tiny meerschaum pipe. Immediately at his approach, Jules Verne had greeted Our Saviours Churchs’ Tower as a good old acquaintance. Our museums he has heard a lot about. He was especially looking forward to visiting the (museum of) Old Nordic arts and reacquainting himself with Thorvaldsens. 

Berentsen, among other things, writes in his recollections of the visit that Verne did not know his books had been translated into Danish and that he (Verne) the next day would visit the publisher and buy some copies, which he also did. As I, on behalf of the publisher Andreas Schou apologized for probably not having the means to honour the writer, he only smiled. It made no difference to him.

Also the well renowned weekly magazine “Illustreret Tidende” visited Verne onboard “St. Michel III”. Further reading and a description of the ship later.

Of the Copenhagen sights Paul Verne mentions in his travelling journal, especially the museums the Ethnographical Collection, Museum of Old Nordic Arts and the Rosenborg Collection deserves attention. During the visits at the two last mentioned museums, the tour was guided by chamberlain J. J. A. Worsåe (1821-1885). Worsåe was the director of the museum and had personally supervised the organization of these collections of art. That Worsåe himself hosted these tours shows us, that Verne was a gentleman of high repute, and not an ordinary tourist. Worsåe was former Secretary of Culture, and the equivalence of his position would in present time be director of the Cultural Heritage Authority. Thorvaldsens museum was also paid a visit. One evening, perhaps Midsummer Day, the illuminated Tivoli was visited, and this leaves a lasting impression with Paul Verne. In the travelling journal several other of the buildings in Copenhagen are mentioned, among them the Royal Exchange, Christiansborg Castle (which burned down a few years later in 1884), Amalienborg Castle, Kgs. Nytorv, the Royal Danish Theatre, Church of Our Lady, and, last but not least, Church of Our Saviour at Christianshavn. Here, the account of Paul Verne and his sons’ ascent of the tower will be reproduced. Apparently, Jules Verne did not participate.

“After the Church of Our Lady, where the chorus is decorated by thirteen statues by Thorvaldsen depicting Christ and the Apostles, I am bound to mention the Church of Our Saviour at the island of Amager on the other side of the harbour area. The building has no architectural significance in itself, but it is dominated by a high tower, to the top of which you can only find your way by the externally fitted ramp, which winds its way in a helical line around the tower. It takes a sturdy heart to complete this ascent. My brother has, in his “A journey to the centre of the Earth”, allowed us to witness a “lesson in acrophobia” which professor Lidenbrock teaches his nephew Axel on this staggering ramp.
The day my son and I made our ascension the weather was remarkably clear. We could see all around us, the entire strait from the north to the south, but a strong breeze from the east made all observation difficult. It was hardly enough to hook on to the railing with both hands to stay standing and resist the forceful wind pressure. Therefore, it was not possible to make use of our binoculars. In this way, it was not possible for us to recognize the flag of a fast going ship with two yellow chimneys arriving at the roadstead of Copenhagen, and which saluted the Danish flag at the Citadel with 21 gun salutes.
When you face north, you discover the little town of Elsinore at the far end of the strait. A vast forest with gigantic trees and numerous mansions in it stretches between Copenhagen and Elsinore. It is in this forest, a veritable suburb of Copenhagen, and to which the beautiful “Langelinie” promenade goes lengthways, that the wealthier Danish families have build their summer residences. It is accessible by steamships, which services the entire coastline and which docks at piers of iron or wood stretching picturesque out onto the waters. It is a charming spot for a picnic, which we intend to have tomorrow. We will go to Elsinore and pay a visit to Kronborg Castle.
This Castle defends the northern entry to the strait, and it is in this old fortress that Shakespeare has let the great scenes of his gloomy tragedy “Hamlet” take place.
But no matter how interesting we found this remarkable panorama, it was necessary to think about our departure; the locality was no longer endurable: the wind gusts increased in violence and at certain moments the tower seemed to sway forth and back at the immense powers.
My son, being less hardened than me, started to suffer from these shakings which was particularly unpleasant because you were exposed to them a hundred meters up in the air. His face began turning green, as if he was seasick, his eyes looked dim… it was time for us to leave.
Therefore we started descending. No matter how used to mountainpaths I was, this ramp which continues its helix into emptiness made a nasty impression on me. Though not being as “green” as my son, I was already pale, and not long time would have to pass until I would look like him.
We had descended approx. half a score of meters, when an unexpected obstacle showed up. 
A lady, about 50 years of age with a huge pink-coloured hat and wearing an apple-green dress which in its shape mostly reminded of an umbrella cover, blocked our path which was narrow enough even for just one person.
This lady, who must have been German, was accompanied by her eleven children! Yes you read it correctly, her eleven children, and who says she hasn’t got even more than that.
The procession which she led ended five or six meters further down, with a very fat gentleman, without doubt her husband, sweaty, puffing and completely wet.
What could you do? It was a tricky case. To go back up again was impossible without exposing me to the storm again. The healthiest would probably be to continue, but then it would be necessary to force the procession back because bypassing it was not possible on this kind of path. It was very embarrassing. The mother looked fiercely at me, and seemed to prepare for battle. Her husband at the back, who could not understand the problem uttered muffled grunts and occurred to be in a malicious mood. The best thing was to negotiate with the new comers and try to make them turn back. “We cannot go back madam, we cannot!” I say in a firm voice. “But dear sir!” she answered me in Germanized French, which I succeeded in understanding “we have the right to…” “Without doubt… But as you know there are certain occasions where compulsion are prior to rights, and we are “compelled” to go down!”. At the same time I showed her my son, whose person seemed more and more frail. This was of sufficient significance for the entire procession to turn around in great disarray without hesitation. It was a matter of saving oneself if you could. In no more that 20 seconds the ramp was cleared, the enemy had vanished, and we descended the 20 meters which was between us and the inner stairway of the Church of Our Saviour nice and easily.”

This was the account of Paul Verne. The trip to Elsinore was carried out. Before the journey back home they witness the arrival of an English naval party with the duke of Edinburgh on board on official visit. It was a precursor of the navy that had been seen from the tower the day before.

The last days of the visit in Copenhagen are spent visiting the French ambassador, and on a return visit from the ambassador on “St. Michel III”. At close range, they watch King Christian the 9th disembark after visiting the duke at the English navy party. Time is also taken for a trip to Frederiksberg Garden.

All consideration concerning continuing the journey to other parts of Scandinavia had been given up and the 26th of June, “St. Michel III” left Copenhagen and sailed back home following the same route as they had used on their way to Copenhagen: through the Ejderchannel to the North Sea. 

Verne never came to Copenhagen again. In 1886 Verne sold “St. Michel III” for 23,000 francs. Later that year Verne was wounded in his leg by his nephew Gaston (Paul’s son, who was with him at the Church of Our Saviour) by a gun shot. Gaston was mentally ill, and Verne never recovered fully. 


Paul Verne: “De Rotterdam a Copenhague” supplement to the novel “La Jangada” 1881.

Frank Trende: (Ed.) “Jules Verne in Schleswig-Holstein” Husum 2005. (A beautifully illustrated and commented version of Paul’s account. Unfortunately severely reduced concerning the trip to Copenhagen.)

Letters from Jules Verne to Jules Hetzel in June 1881

“Illustreret Tidende”, 26th of June 1881

“Dags-Avisen” 21st of June1881, journalist N.J. Berendsens summary of his visit to Jules Verne onboard “St. Michel III”. Republished in an article in “Politiken” on the 14th of January 1959

A German translation of Paul Verne’s 1881-travelling journal: “Jules Vernes baltische Reise” from 1987 published by Carl Brattstroem at the publishing house “Cobra”

Jules Verne’s Yacht.

The article and the picture of “St. Michell III” are from “Illustreret Tidende” the 26th of June 1881, p. 492 (see subsequent pages). The picture is drawn by Fr. Winther. As it is seen, the printer (or Fr. Winther?) has had the picture inverted. With a little luck, you can see that the picture bears the number “18”, which should in fact be “81”.

Jules Verne’s Yacht.

Opposite of the pier of “Kvæsthusgade” lays a fine, elegant little steam boat with two masts, light yellow chimney and ornamental hard-facing on the railing and stern made of copper, which glows in the sun. Above this the tri-colour waves. If you come a-rowing to the gangway, a middle-aged gentleman with greying hair and beard, blue eyes and the features of a Nordic sailor will stand by it. He is dressed as a captain, and was it not for the red ribbon in his button hole he could easily be mistaken for one. He is a Britton, and he goes by the name of Jules Verne, the creator of adventures in their newest shape, which has provided both child and adult with so much happiness, and its creator with so much money, for every chip of this little boat of adventures is written line by line on the far-reaching journeys we have endured with him from the borders of the universe to the centre of our globe. Once you have ascended the gangway, you are greeted in the most kind and heart-felt way, shown around in this little world and are taught about its structure. 
The yacht is build in Nantes, and is made by teak-wood and iron. Its ships burden is almost 38 register tonnage, the same as 60 yacht ton and has a powerful engine. Besides Verne, his brother and brother’s son and a friend, Mr Godefroy, who will soon leave the yacht to make a journey to Nordkap, the vessel also accommodates the captain, Mr Ollivier, an English pilot (a priceless individual), four sailors, three machinists, the chef and the deck-hand. It is equipped with practical French taste and comfort. The teak wood has by the means of wax polishing and scouring achieved two colours, brownish and white, dependent on its usage as either decoration or utility. Astern there are two minor saloons, each equipped with two berths, sundry amenities, lavoirs, writing desks and Mr Verne’s own cabin. Each nook and cranny is used to house a little cubicle, every two feet square is spent on containing a drawer. In the front is the dining saloon, located close to the galley. The space is sparse, but well fit out. The entire day, the crew wearing their white corduroy outfits, blue caps with red tufts and ribbons with the name of “St. Michel III” in gold printing, is engaged in painting, polishing and buffing, for a yacht is coquette on a lengthy powder room visit. The travelling companions have used the few days their visit has lasted, with great eagerness and interest, to study our art collections of which in particular the ethnographical museum, being related with the characteristics of Verne’s literary works, must have pleased him (Verne).

The director of the museum has with customarily amiability been guiding him, and he has met so much interest and kindness that his stay here in the Nordic countries, which he treasures so highly, probably will stay in his memory. Possibly also in his work.

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