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Edited and
Designed by:

Johnny E. Balsved


The Battle of Sealand's Point (1808):

"At Eventide on open Sea the Vessels
they did Meet"

After a battle lasting several hours, Denmark's only fully equipped ship of the line, PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK, was destroyed off Sealand's Point on the evening of March 22, 1808 in a battle against superior British forces.

The King's orders to Captain C. W. Jessen were clear: Protect the transfer of troops over The Great Belt by keeping the British ships out of the area.

Despite the winter breakdowns and an untrained, incomplete crew, Captain Jessen received orders to drive the British ships out of the Great Belt immediately.

The PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK was lost, but not before inflicting heavy damage on its British foes.

By Johnny E. Balsved/translated by Robert Rayce

Conditions on-board the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK in March 1808 were hopeless: the ship had been on expeditions the major part of the fall and winter. Since March 11, the ship had been anchored off Kronborg castle as ice in the Copenhagen area prevented it from sailing further.

An epidemic of typhus, the so-called "ship's fever", raged among the crew and two hundred out of a six-hundred man crew were so ill that they had to be taken ashore in Elsinore.

Replacements were sent from Copenhagen, but most of these were not sailors and were untrained.


(Drawing from the archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

Dismay in Copenhagen

News that a British frigate had dropped anchor off Sprogoe in the Great Belt came as an unpleasant surprise to the government in Copenhagen.

The presence of the British frigate made it impossible to continue the transfer of troops from Funen to Sealand. The government decided to force the frigate away from the area before it received reinforcements.

The navy had only one ship that could do the job, PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK, which was now Denmark's only fully equipped ship of the line. The Navy's other ship, LOVISA AUGUSTA, was in dry dock at navy headquarters for repairs.
Both ships were in Norway in 1807 and had avoided confiscation by the British.

Therefore, on March 18, the king issued an order to captain, C. W. Jessen, commander of the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK, to leave in secrecy at once for the Great Belt. His task was to clear the waters of enemy ships. However, because of lack of crewmembers and supplies the ship was unable to depart before March 21.

Originally Captain Jessen had planned to sail South around Sealand as he knew the British had a large squadron in the Kattegat. Their main task was to stop the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK.

However, a shift in wind direction made it impossible for the ship to continue its planned course through the sound forcing the captain to turn his ship and sail again to the north.

Around noon, he passed Gilbjerghoved and with a fresh breeze at his back, the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK sailed west toward the Great Belt unaware there were British ships in the area.

Denmark's last fully equipped ship of the line had now entered the last leg of its final voyage.

For conspicuous bravery

PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK's commander was by no means an inexperienced officer.

43 years old, Captain Carl Wilhelm Jessen was a battle-seasoned veteran with many battles against the British to his credit.

In 1801 he received the Kings "Sword of honor" inscribed with the words "For conspicuous bravery, March 3, 1801".

He received the sword for his efforts as commander of the brig LOUGEN in a battle with a superior British force in the West Indies on March 1, 1801. The battle came to be known as "The battle of the West Kay".

Jessen had been commander of PRINS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK since November 1807. The ship had 66 cannon and a crew of 576.

The Captain had seen the ship for the first time in 1806 when he took part in its cadet cruise as assessor.

Captain C. W. Jessen

Captain C. W. Jessen,
Commander of

However, when Jessen on the March 21, 1807 sailed west towards the Great Belt, he was unaware that a large British fleet knew of his whereabouts and was on its way to meet him.

Possibly, had the King and the Government known of the British fleet's presence, they would have changed their orders.

No secrets

The PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK had scarcely disappeared over the horizon when the British fleet, under the command of Commodore George Parker, dropped anchor between Hoganaes and Hornbaek. Swedish fishermen told the British the Danish warship had just recently sailed west.

The British squadron consisted of the STATELY (flagship, 68 cannon), the NASSAU (previously the Danish ship of the line HOLSTEEN, captured in 1801, 68 cannon) and the VANGUARD (84 cannon). Also, three frigates, of

which the frigate QUEBECK (40 cannon) was the largest.

PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK did not escape unnoticed.

The British had a long-standing wish to eliminate the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK, as it was a threat to the British convoys carrying troop reinforcements to Sweden.

Eliminating the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK before the main British force passed through the Danish Norwegian territorial waters was sole purpose of Commodore Parkers squadron.

The British squadron, which was ice-bound off Gothenburg, Sweden, had seen the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK on March 10.

It passed Vinga on a southerly course on its way to Copenhagen after completing a mission in Norway.

Ship of the line HMS NASSAU

Ship of the line HMS NASSAU
(Formerly the Danish ship HOLSTEEN).

(Drawing from the archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

Immediately Parker ordered his ships freed from the ice and by the morning of March 21, he was again in open water.

Three of his frigates sailed west towards the Great Belt while the three British ships of the line sailed south to find PRINDS CHRISTIAN.

Receiving news of the PRINDS CHRISTIAN from the Swedes, Parker ordered the VANGUARD to remain in position to block a possible Danish retreat to Kronborg. He then sailed west in pursuit with the STATELY and NASSAU.

Enemy in sight

Fishermen from Hornbaek, who had seen the British ships tried to sail after and warn Captain Jessen of the imminent danger. Unfortunately, they were unable to catch up to the Danish warship and deliver their warning. Later, the King awarded them for their efforts.

At 1:30 pm, two triple masted ships were sighted heading for the Great Belt. When PRINDS CHRISTIAN at 3:00 pm rounded Sealand's Reef and sailed towards Sejeroe, it was able to identify the vessels as frigates.

At dusk, the PRINDS CHRISTIAN dropped anchor between Sejeroe and Revsnaes (Roesnaes), while the two frigates dropped anchor at Revsnaes, roughly 5 nautical miles south-east of PRINDS CHRISTIAN.

The spent the night anchored only a short distance from one another.

At 8:00 am on March 22, the two British frigates weighed anchor and sailed north.

Barely half an hour later, the PRINDS CHRISTIAN also weighed anchor and sailed to the north. Jessen's plan was to draw the two frigates away from the Great Belt and attack them in open water.

Tightening the noose

At noon yet another frigate, flying the British flag was seen approaching from the North. It joined forces with the two British frigates. Even with its presence, the odds were still in the Danish warship's favor.

Jessen stuck therefore to his original plan of luring the British frigates into open water.

Meanwhile, the largest of the frigates, the QUEBECK had closed to within one nautical mile of the PRINDS CHRISTIAN.

Jessen turned his ship immediately to attack, but the QUEBECK turned also and fled with the wind dead aft.

To get maximum effect from the wind, Jessen brought the ship about once again and sailed north towards Hastens Ground.

His hope was to draw the British frigates with him.

At approximately two p.m. two heavy ships were noted approaching between Anholt and Lyse Ground.

They were quickly identified as British ships of the line.

Klik på kortet for at se det i stor størrelse...

Map of area.
(Click on map for enlargement)

The PRINDS CHRISTIAN was now north of or right off Hastens Ground. Jessen turned his ship at once and sailed towards the eastern end of Sejeroe.

Council of War

Jessen's immediate plan was to find a safe place to drop anchor in Nekseloe bay or to seek east and south around Sejeroe to reach the Great Belt.

Unfortunately the "pilot" on-board was unable to guide the large ship through the narrow channel south of Sejeroe and a change of plans was necessary.

Jessen, forced to recognize that he was facing a superior enemy force called a council between the ship's senior officers. It was necessary to discuss the situation and consider the various possibilities.

It quickly became obvious, that sailing for the Great Belt would only draw the enemy force with them and thus jeopardize the troop transports, which they were to protect.

The only alternative left was to get back to the Sound and seek protection under Kronborg's cannon.

As the wind was shifting to the north and darkness was approaching, Jessen decided to sail towards the enemy. He would, at the same time, take advantage of his greater knowledge of the waters and pass by as close to Sealand's Reef as possible. In this manner, he hoped to get by the enemy force skirmishing if necessary.

Once again, Captain Jessen turned the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK and sailed to the north close to the wind on a course toward Sealand's Reef.

The two British ships of the line and three frigates following in Jessen's wake were windward of him, had a better wind and the gap rapidly closed between them.

Rounding Sealand's Reef - for the last time

When PRINDS CHRISTIAN rounded Sealand's Reef at roughly 5:30 pm, the British warships were a mere two miles behind.

To add to the Danish misfortune, the wind suddenly hauled to the east and decreased. This was a decided disadvantage, as the PRINDS CHRISTIAN was at its best in a strong wind.

The PRINDS CHRISTIAN quickly changed its course to a more northerly direction to take advantage of the wind change. Unfortunately, this also brought the ship closer to the pursuing British ships.

Shortly after that, Commander Jessen changed back to a southeasterly course and direction towards the coast.

One hour after sundown, at roughly 7:30 pm, the STATELY was within firing range of PRINDS CHRISTIAN. The NASSAU was off to the west. The Danish ship opened fire with its stern cannon hitting the STATELY in the bow.

A quarter of an hour later the British answered with their first broadside from STATELY to PRINDS CHRISTIAN's starboard side. Shortly after that NASSAU fired a broadside to the Danish ship's port side.

First lieutenant Peter Willemoes was struck in the head by the first English broadside

First lieutenant Peter Willemoes was struck in the head by the first British broadside. This romanticized picture shows the first lieutenant dieing in the arms of next in command Captain C. A. Rothe.
(Painting from the archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

The Danish ship of now opened fire from both sides, shifting course constantly to bring its full broadsides to bear on both the STATELY and the NASSAU.

During the next hour, the British ships attacked with exaggerated caution, taking at no time full advantage of their superiority. The PRINDS CHRISTIAN returned fire every time.

Brief Silence

At approximately 9:00 pm the British ships dropped astern for temporary repairs of the not insignificant damages they had suffered from the Danish cannon fire. There was a lull in the fighting.

The damage aboard the PRINDS CHRISTIAN was also considerable and casualties were high in killed and wounded. First Lieutenant Peter Willemoes received a fatal head wound in one of the first volleys.

Ensign J. W. Dahlerup and Army Lieutenant Soland had lost their lives along with many crewmembers and the number of severely wounded was high. Material damages were also notable.

The rigging was shot to pieces and many cannon were beyond repair. The rudderstock was broken in two places and the wheel was useless leaving the ship with only emergency steering.

It was obvious to Captain Jessen that this battle was unwinnable. The enemy force was vastly superior. His main task became, therefore, preventing the PRINDS CHRISTIAN from falling into the enemy's hands.

To the bitter end

In half an hour, the British made the necessary repairs. They approached the PRINDS CHRISTIAN on both sides and the battle continued with unrelenting fury.

To the bitter end

Ship of the line PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK (middle of picture) in the final battle. To the right, the STATELY, to the left, the NASSAU with the frigate QUEBECK to the stern.
On the right, the bow of the one of the other frigates is visible.

(Painting from the archives of the Royal Danish Naval Museum)

At approximately 9:45 pm, Jessen sighted land about 1« nautical mile away. He made the decision to run the ship aground to prevent it from falling hands into enemy hands.

He also hoped that he, in the heat of the battle, could lure one of the enemy ships aground with him.

PRINDS CHRISTIAN fought heroically during the following half-hour, all the while drawing slowly closer to land. The ship's ability to maneuver was desperately handicapped because of its emergency steering.

The NASSAU was now close to the Danish ship on its port side while the STATELY was to starboard. The frigate QUEBECK was directly astern. It was clear the British were planning to board the PRINDS CHRISTIAN before she ran aground.

The British hailed Jessen and commanded him to strike his colors. Jessen refused and the British answered with a broadside from both British ships of the line. The broadsides cost many dead and wounded aboard the PRINDS CHRISTIAN.

Around 10:30 pm Captain C. W. Jessen, surrendered the ship to prevent further bloodshed. The PRINDS CHRISTIAN struck her colors. Shortly before the surrender the ship struck a sandbar, but passed over.

A British prisoner once again

Shortly after striking the colors, a British officer from the STATELY boarded the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK and ordered the crew to drop anchor. When the ship swung into the wind, its stern struck a sandbar approximately 330 meters east of the present Havnebyen on Sealand's Spit.

The British ships turned away from the coast immediately and dropped anchor close by.

Captain Jessen, who himself was wounded in the battle, was promptly taken to the British flagship STATELY, and for the second time in his carrier entered British captivity.

He had previously been a British prisoner when the Danish West Indies were surrendered to the British in 1801.

The rest of the Danish crew was transferred to the British ships during the next day, March 23.

The transfer took place at a slow pace as many of the British boats had been destroyed during the battle.

The British were unable to free the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK from the sandbar.

Instead, they sat fire to the ship in the evening, after finishing the transfer of the wounded crewmembers.

Later, a monument was erected at Odden Harbor, about 330 yards from the position.
(Photo: Johnny E. Balsved)

On March 23, 1808 at roughly 10 pm, the PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK exploded and sank.


The Danish losses, excluding the warship, were: 69 dead and 132 wounded 84 of these critically. The British losses were 55 men and an unknown number wounded.

Seen with Danish eyes it was important to note the British force had been delayed in their planned action. The frigates, which had not engaged in the battle, were three days late in taking up their positions in the Great Belt.

The STATELY and the NASSAU were so heavily damaged that they were forced to return to Gothenburg for repairs. Two weeks passed before they again were ready for duty.


During the following days, bodies washed up on the beaches of Sealand's Spit. Among those were the bodies of lieutenants Willemoes and Dahlerup.

They were all buried in a common grave in Odden cemetery where later a monument was erected. The monument bears Grundtvig's commemorative words.

Let the beginning of N. F. S. Grundtvigs verse, as it stands on the monument conclude this tale:

De Snekker Moedtes i Kvaeld paa Hav,
Og Luften begyndte at gloede;
De leged' alt over den aabne Grav,
Og Boelgerne gjordes saa roede.

translated into English:

At eventide on open sea, the vessels they did meet,
And the failing sun sank in a crimson flood,
As a game was played over the waiting deep,
And the waves rolled red with blood.

Common grave for the fallen in the Battle off Sealand's Point

Common grave for the fallen in the Battle of Sealand's Point,
March 22, 1808.

(Photo: Johnny E. Balsved)

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Danmarks Søkrigshistorie, by Kay Jungersen, udarbejdet til brug ved undervisningen på Søværnets skoler, udgivet ved Søofficersskolens foranstaltning, Centraltrykkeriet, Copenhagen, 1945.


Den Dansk-norske Sømagts Historie 1700-1814, by H. G. Garde, forlaget J. H. Schubothes Boghandling, Copenhagen, 1852


Håndbog i Nordens Søkrigshistorie, by Lieutenant Cai baron Schaffalitzky de Muckadell, Copenhagen 1911


Officerer i den Dansk-Norske Søetat 1660-1814 og den Danske Søetat 1814-1932, Vol. I & II, by Th. A. Topsøe-Jensen og Emil Marquard, H. Hagerups Forlag, Copenhagen, 1935


Orlogsskibet PRINDS CHRISTIAN FREDERIK, Skibet og dets togter 1807-1808 og dets dramatiske endeligt, by dr. med. Helge Andersen, Nyboder Boghandel, Copenhagen, 1993 (ISBN 87-98089-36-6)


SØKRIGEN i de dansk-norske Farvande 1807-14, by C. F. Wandel, Copenhagen 1915


Vor Sømagts Historie, by O. Eidem and O. Lütken, Det Nordiske forlag, Copenhagen, 1905.

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