Jens Jacob Eschels

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Jens Jacob Eschels
Born 12 December 1757
Died 7 June 1842(1842-06-07) (aged 84)
Occupation Nautical captain, tobacco manufacturer, merchant, shipowner, nautical expert
Known for The first German captain's autobiography
Relatives Matthias Petersen (great-great-grandfather)

Jens Jacob Eschels (12 December 1757 – 7 June 1842) was a nautical captain and is the author of the oldest known captain's autobiography in German.


Eschels, a great-great-grandchild of whaling captain Matthias Petersen,[1] was born in Nieblum on the North Frisian island of Föhr, where many seafarers of the early modern era came from.

He was the son of a penniless family, his father often sailed "before the mast" for the Dutch East India Company. In 1796, aged eleven, Eschels joined the crew of an Amsterdam whaler as a deck boy, repeatedly lost his ship in the Arctic, but returned unharmed. Afterwards he sailed on various Amsterdam whalers. During the winter season he learned the "art of navigating".

In 1778 he changed to the less dangerous and on a long-term prospect more prosperous trade shipping. Thereby he sailed all European seas. In 1781 he eventually crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on a journey to the Caribbean. In Grenada he was given the chance to move to a Hamburg-based ship as "sub-navigator". In the next year he was accepted as navigator on the barque Henricus de Vierde. Due to illness and death of his captain in Haiti he took over the post of the vessel's captain on the journey back to Europe and as such he would further command the ship on numerous journeys until 1798.

Later he stayed on land as the German seafaring experienced difficulties due to the Napoleonic Wars. By his journeys he had gathered certain assets and now worked as a manufacturer of tobacco products, as merchant, shipowner and expert in nautical questions in the then Danish town of Altona (which is now a part of Hamburg/Germany).

His comprehensive and enthralling autobiography was written based on diaries and ships' logs prior to 1832, originally it was only intended for family purposes. It was published in 1835. The 355-page book not only provides a wealth of information about contemporary seafaring, but also offers a view on everyday life and thinking of the time. Eschels died in Altona in 1842.[2]


  • Eschels, Jens Jacob (1835). Lebensbeschriebung eines alten Seemannes: Von ihm selbst und zunächst für seine Familie geschrieben [Biography of an old Seafarer: Written by Himself primarily for his Family] (in German). 
  • — (1966). Leippe, Ulla, ed. Das abenteuerliche Leben des Jens Jacob Eschels aus Nieblum auf Föhr als Walfänger, Matrose, Kapitän und zuletzt als Reeder und Tabaksfabrikant in Altona von ihm selbst erzählt (in German). Hamburg: Brigantine. 
  • — (1983). Lebensbeschreibung eines alten Seemannes (in German). Husum: Husum Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft. ISBN 3-88042-201-X.  Reprint of the 1835 edition.
  • — (2006). Sauer, Albrecht, ed. Lebensbeschreibung eines alten Seemannes (in German). Hamburg: Convent Verlag. ISBN 978-3-86633-003-0. 


  1. ^ Eschels, J. J. (1983), Lebensbeschreibung..., p. 3.
  2. ^ Bruijn, Jaap (2006). "Jens Jacob Eschels, Lebensbeschreibung eines alten Seemannes: Von ihm selbst und zunächst für seine Familie geschrieben" (PDF). The Northern Mariner. XVI (3): 76–77. 

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