1°43' South
142°50' East
The Wuvulu Research Center for Wuvulu Island and the Other Western Islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, Bismarck Sea, South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Manus Province.
Edvard Christian Antonius Nielsen Ørtoft
a.k.a. William Peder Leonard, King Faiu of Wuvulu

A short biography by Charlotte Larsen and Kaj Aksel Jensen¹.
(Edited and reproduced with permission from the authors)

Edvard Christian Antonius Nielsen Ørtoft was born In Byrum, Læsø, Denmark on August 29, 1875.  Læsø is a small island in the northern part of Kattegat, ten miles off the coast of Jutland (57°15' North and 10°59' East) and has almost the same size and shape as Wuvulu Island.  So Edvard was born an islander.  He died aboard his ship on a business voyage to Port Moresby, New Guinea in 1920-21.

His father was Christian Nielsen Ørtoft, who had moved to Læsø in 1871.  He had contemplated immigration to America, but was persuaded by friends to move to Læsø instead.

According to Emil Larsen in his book Kong Faiu Paa Wuvulu, Christian was a very god-fearing, strong and handsome man, and two years after he sat foot on Læsø, he married the most beautiful girl on the island.  She was the daughter of the local shoemaker, who, as was normal in those days, also had a small farm.

On the island he first worked as a farmhand, then bricklayer and postman, and also quickly learned the shoemaking trade of his father-in-law as well.

Edvard, the second born, had 10 siblings, 6 sisters and 4 brothers.

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Author Charlotte Larsen gives these additional details:

My great grand mother, Jakobine was the third.  She in her turn gave birth to 13 children.  As of May, 2003, only four of these 13 children are still alive.  But this is only my branch of the family, so I imagine there must be several more around.

To my knowledge, there has been written and issued two books in Danish, strictly about Edvard:

Kong Faiu Paa Wuvulu (King Faiu on Wuvulu) by Emil Larsen, Vejle: Kristelig Bogforennings Förlag, 1927. 79 pages.  This book is written like a biography of Edvard.  The author was born in Denmark in 1900 and was a very prolific writer and clergyman who wrote numerous books mainly on religious subjects; and Kongen af Wuvulu; En Læsøø-drengs eventyr (The King of Wuvulu) by Børge Mikkelsen, København: Eiler Wangels Forlag A/S; 1954. 124p.  This book is also about Edvard, but more fiction, like a novel.

And one in Swedish: Arafis tropiska år (The Tropical Years of Arafis) by Birger Mørner, Stockholm: P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag; 1914. 251p.  This book is about the Swedish Count Mørner's visit to Wuvulu and nearby Aua in 1913.  It is a very comprehensive book, with pictures, ancient history, description of the islands flora and fauna and Wuvulu poetry told and translated by Edward to Count Mørner.  Arafis was, according to Emil Larsen, the name the islanders gave Count Mørner.  I was told by my grand mother that after he returned to Sweden, the Count visited Edvard's remaining relatives on Læsø, and told them about Edvard’s life on Wuvulu.

Furthermore. a Danish writer, Bent Rosenkilde Nielsen (1904) has written a book Danske Pionerer i Stillehavet (Danish Pioneers in the Pacific) in which there is a chapter about Edward's life.  I believe this book also is more fiction than facts.

A Danish travel journalist and explorer, Arne Falk Rønne visited the islands in the 1960s.  He wrote a travel book Mine venner kannibalerne (My friends the cannibals).  That book should also have passages about Edward and Wuvulu.  I know that this journalist, while doing research, visited some of Edvard’s relatives after he came back home.

According to information from the various books, the name of the island's ruler before Edward was "Poalla Nalipei" or "King Nalipei."  His wife’s name was Geva’uge.

In a letter to his family in Denmark dated 22 august 1910, Edvard said that 125 persons on the island had died of dysentery, one of them his wife Wollabai, but that now everyone on the island was well.  Edwards had three children, Dorthea, born June 1907, Margrete, born October 1908 and Karl, born October 1909.

The following is a brief summary of what Edward Christian Antonius Nielsen Ørtoft a.k.a. William Peder Leonard told Count Birger Mørner about himself during the Count's stay on Wuvulu Island from July to October 1913.

This is what Faiu told me about his remarkable life:

He was born on the island of Læsø in Denmark in 1875.  His father was a postal worker and shoemaker and, like his mother, very religious.

At the age of 15 and against his parents' will, he went to a dance at the local inn.  This resulted in a big argument, particularly with his father, and ended in Edward leaving the island for Copenhagen, where he signed on as sailor on a Swedish schooner.

He later signed on bigger ships, on which he went to all of the Scandinavian and European countrys, and at the end he had set foot on all the remaining continents.

He soon got tired of working at sea and in 1891, while the ship he worked on was calling at the port of New York, he was all set to jump ship go to California to become a gold digger. 

In New York he met a German who had been in California and told him about the terrible conditions the gold miners worked under and persuaded Edward not to go there, but instead follow him to Chile where there was good money to earn by working in the salpeter mines.

Edward and his German friend then went to Chile and stayed there until the spring of 1893.  Then they decided to try their luck as gold diggers in Australia. 

They were not very successful in that, so when they saw an add in the papers that The German New Guinea Company (who later became the German firm Hernsheim & Co. in Matupi) was looking for men to sail out to the islands to buy copra from the islanders, Edward who now had changed his name to William Peder Leonard, applied, together with his friend, for the jobs, and they got them.  On one of his first voyages out to the islands, Edward almost got killed by a tomahawk [hatchet] during a fight with the islanders who didn’t want to have anything to do with the white men who came to the islands.  He was very seriously wounded on the head, and he insisted that most of his brain ran out in that incident, but to me the only notable results of the wound was the two enormous scars on the left side of his face.

He and his friend tried twice to become independent.  First as traders in Tambu-Tambu on the Solomon Islands, where their station eventually was ambushed by head hunters from the British Solomon Islands, and almost all their men got killed.  Next they bought the 17 tons cutter "Seegast" and used it to trade between the islands, but one day while they had stopped on the island of Nouma-Nouma (now known as Bougainville) and were trying to repair the sails, they were attacked by the natives who sunk the ship and killed Edward's German friend.

Being bankrupt he now arrived at Matupi and again applied for a job at Hernsheim & Co. and it was while trading for them that he first came to Wuvulu.

¹ Authors Charlotte Larsen and Kaj Aksel Jensen are descendant of Edvard Christian Antonius Nielsen Ørtoft.

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