Øregaard – an estate from the palmy days of Danish overseas trade

Øregaard Estate was constructed in 1806-8 for the merchant and plantation owner Johannes Søbøtker (1777-1854) and his family. Johannes Søbøtker was a partner in one of Denmark’s largest trading companies and made his money on sugar plantations, shipping and the lucrative triangle trade between Denmark, Africa and the former Danish West Indies.


Sugar and slaves
Søbøtker’s sugar plantations were located in the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands). On their way over, the ships would visit the African coast where men, women and children were brought onboard as slaves and taken to the islands to do forced labour in the plantations. The ships would return to Copenhagen laden with exotic products – especially sugar but also cotton, tobacco, coffee and cocoa.

Like many of his contemporaries in trade and shipping, Søbøtker became a very wealthy member of the predominant middle class of the 1800s which was now acquiring the habits that had previously been the exclusive domain of the aristocracy. For example, Jonannes Søbøtker commissioned portraits of his family by leading artists of the time, as was the custom in the nobility.


Summers in the countryside
The family, who spent their winters in Copenhagen, needed a suitable country estate outside the city. And thus, in 1806, Søbøtker and his wife, Johanne Margrethe (1777-1829), purchased the farm Øregaard in Hellerup north of Copenhagen where they constructed a stately summer home. At the time, farm houses were still scattered far apart, and horses and cows grazed the salt meadows by the Sound.

The extravagant Søbøtker loved entertaining and spared no expenses. In 1821 the coffers were empty, and Øregaard had to be put up for sale. Inclement times had also played their role for Søbøtker’s dwindling fortunes. Events such as the loss of the Danish fleet to Britain in 1807 and the national bankruptcy in 1813 were particularly hard blows for the trading company. However, Øregaard remained a peaceful and cheerful summer home for middle class families throughout the 1800s, only under new owners.

In the second half of the 19th century Øregaard was owned by the Hansen family. In this photo from around 1880 members of the family is enjoying the afternoon at Øregaard after a game of tennis. Photo Øregaard Museum


The palmy days of Danish overseas trade
The period from the mid 1700s until 1807 is now referred to as the palmy days of Danish overseas trade. While the major seafaring and colonial powers were at war, the united monarchy of Denmark-Norway remained neutral and thus attracted much of the international trade and shipping business. Enterprising trading companies flourished and brought affluence to the cities. This prosperous era ended abruptly in 1807 when Copenhagen was heavily bombarded by the British, and Denmark was drawn into the Napoleonic Wars. Defeat, national bankruptcy and Norway’s secession followed. A colourful and turbulent chapter of Danish history had come to a bitter end.