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Meet Carl Pettersson – The Swedish sailor who became king of an island in Papua New Guinea after he was shipwrecked in 1904

Ian Smith

Carl Emil Pettersson was a Swedish sailor who became king of Tabar Island in Papua New Guinea after he was shipwrecked in 1904.

He is regarded as the inspiration for Ephraim Longstocking, Pippi’s father in Astrid Lindgren’s children’s series, Pippi Longstocking. Pettersson was one of the six children of Carl Wilhelm and Johanna Pettersson. His father left the family, and Carl went to sea around 1892, at about the age of 17.

Later, around 1898, he ended up in the Bismarck Archipelago of German New Guinea, where he worked for the German trading house Neuguinea-Compagnie that had its headquarters in Kokopo. He was shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean.

Carl Pettersson in Tropenkleidung Source

Carl Pettersson in Tropenkleidung Source

During a recruiting trip in the Pacific, Pettersson’s vessel, the Herzog Johan Albrecht (Duke Johan Albrecht) sank on Christmas Day of 1904, outside the Tabar Island in New Ireland Province. He was washed ashore near a village and landed in a hibiscus hedge, where he was immediately surrounded by islanders.

Cannibalism was not uncommon in those times and although Pettersson was uncommonly strong, he would not have been a match for them, but the islanders carried him to their king, Lamy, and the king’s daughter fell in love with him. In 1907 he married Princess Singdo.

He got a start in the copra trade and managed to create his own coconut plantation that he called Teripax. He became king after the death of his father in law. His nickname among the locals was “Strong Charley”, and he was indeed famed for his physical strength. Swedish newspapers printed a series of stories about Pettersson and his adventures.

Carl Pettersson um 1890 Source

Carl Pettersson um 1890 Source

Business went well and he increased his estate with two plantations, first Maragon on Simberi Island and later Londolovit on Lihir Group islands. Pettersson was respectful of local customs and showed concern for his employees, which was unusual at the time. He was therefore very popular with the locals. His marriage with Singdo produced a family of nine children, one of which, however, died in infancy. His wife died in 1921 of puerperal fever.

In 1922, Pettersson traveled to Sweden, partly to look for a new wife who could look after his children. There, he also visited his old friend Birger Mörner whom he had met in the South Pacific.

He then met Anglo-Swedish Jessie Louisa Simpson; together they returned to Tabar Island, where they married in 1923. In Petterson’s absence the plantation had declined, and he was now close to bankruptcy. Additionally, he and his wife both suffered from malaria. He painstakingly rebuilt his plantation, but bad investments and the failing market conditions made it difficult to recover.

Carl Pettersson with family Source

Carl Pettersson with family Source

Pettersson did, however, find a gold deposit on Simberi Island which he kept secret for years. Even today, the Tabar Group of islands has one of the world’s largest gold deposits.

His fortunes changed, however, and Pettersson decided to leave the island. His wife Jessie traveled ahead to Australia for medical treatment and then returned to Sweden. She died in Stockholm from malaria and cancer on May 19, 1935. Petterson’s health also deteriorated.

Pettersson left Tabar in 1935 but never returned to Sweden. He died of a heart attack in Sydney on May 12, 1937.

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