The main character, Wulff Frederik Wulff, is inspired by Paul Erdmann Isert (1756-1789), Wulff Joseph Wulff (1809-1842), and Johan Wilhelm Svedstrup (1819-1893).
PAUL ERDMANN ISERT
Paul Erdmann Isert (1756-1789) was a surgeon from Brandenburg, who initiated the plantation operations on the Gold Coast, and came to play a central role in the settlement of the transatlantic slave trade. Isert traveled to Danish Guinea in 1783 when he was appointed as Royal Danish head surgeon, and quickly became a popular man among the natives. He learned their language and lived by the local customs. His great passion was botany, and he threw himself with irrepressible enthusiasm upon the study of the rich flora on the West African coast.
In 1786, Isert traveled home with a Danish slave ship via the Caribbean, and here he saw the inhumane conditions which the slaves endured during the crossing, and the life that awaited them in the plantations of the West Indies. On board the ship a slave rebellion took place, in which Isert almost lost his life while he was among the chained slaves on the foredeck. After the turbulent sea voyage, he wrote a letter home where he condemned the slave trade, and formulated his first thoughts of replacing the triangular trade with plantation operations in Africa so the slaves could work under better conditions. Back home in Copenhagen, he met with the Finance Minister, Count Schimmelmann, to present his ideas of creating plantations on the Gold Coast and thereby, abolish the transatlantic slave trade. Isert was given some land in the mountains of Akwapim by the local chief, who also provided two hundred of his men to help build the Royal Danish plantation, "Frederiksnobel".
J. W. SVEDSTRUP
The Danish lieutenant, Johan Wilhelm Svedstrup (1819-1893), arrived on the Gold Coast in October 1844 and assisted the governor, Edward Carstensen, in disputes with the natives. In his hometown “Helsingør”, Svedstrup was known as a cheerful, inventive and adventurous young man, and on the West African coast, he achieved deference among the naitives. Svedstrup's talent for warfare was undisputed. During his stay on the coast, he participated in a bloody battle with the Augna-people and participated in the apprehension of the chief Sebah Akim and Adum, who in a dispute had sacrificed two children, and therefore had to serve their sentences at the Citadel in Copenhagen.
When the governorate in 1848 received the message that war had occurred in Denmark, Svedstrup immediately asked permission to go home and serve his country. To his disappointment, his participation in the war was short-termed, and he pleaded to return to the Danish trading station on the Gold Coast, but without any luck. In 1850, the Danish possessions on the coast was sold to England.
WULFF JOSEPH WULFF
Wulff Joseph Wulff was a Danish civil servant who came from an Orthodox Jewish family in Randers, and in 1836 traveled to the Gold Coast to serve at the governorate at the castle Christiansborg. At the Danish castle, Wulff came to manage the warehouse and was allocated a small staff of slaves who served him and kept his household.
When Wulff first came to Africa, he struggled to addapt to the equatorial climate and the exotic food as well as the people who populated the neighboring village, “Negeriet”.
The contempt that Wulff initially possessed for the natives, was the same contempt he was confronted with by the Danish establishment. Wulff often felt harassed by his superior, Counsellor Dall, and the other officers, and because of that, he moved out of the Citadel a year after his arrival. Each time a new death occurred, an opportunity for a promotion arose, but Wulff was continuously passed. Throughout his stay on the West African coast, Wulff diligently wrote to his family back home in Randers, who never answered his letters. He described with great compassion and wonder the breathtakingly beautiful nature that met him, the traditions of the natives, and the illegal slave trade which still took place in Danish Guinea.
During his entire stay, Wulff suffered from several tropical diseases. He died of the so-called "climate fever" in 1842, only 33 years old, and received a native Ghanian burial.
DENMARK IN DANISH GUINEA, 1661-1850
From the mid-17th century, Denmark began to establish trading posts on the West African coast, Gold Coast, today called Ghana. In the following decades, the triangular trade grew rapidly.
Weapons, gunpowder and brandy were transported to the Gold Coast. The ships were anchored at the Danish trading posts, and the goods were traded for slaves. Loaded with the new cargo, the ships could now continue across the Atlantic to the sugar cane plantations in the Danish West Indies, where the slaves were auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Denmark was at its highest on the Gold Coast during the 1780s. Under the leadership of Governor J.A. Kiøge, thousands of slaves was bought and branded, and the Danish possessions was expanded eastward with new fortifications at the River Volta. But in 1792, the Finance Minister, Schimmelmann, initiated a Regulation of the Negro Transaction in which it was determined that the transatlantic slave trade should cease from 1803. The ideas of the Enlightenment had gained ground in Europe, and with new ideals of human freedom and rights, people began to discuss the ethical aspects of the slave trade.
THE SETBACK OF THE TRADING POST AND THE ILLEGAL SLAVE TRADE
During the time, in which the film takes place, the Danish trading post in Danish Guinea suffered a setback, and the future of the commerce companies were uncertain. Several governors had tried to build plantation operations in the country, but it never became profitable. Eventually, it became clear that Denmark's presence on the Gold Coast with the termination of the slave trade had lost its relevance and livelihood. In 1840, Christian the 8th of England offered to buy the Danish possessions for 285,000 pounds sterling. But the offer was rejected, and ten years later, forced by circumstances, Denmark had to sell its trading posts for 10,000 pounds.
In 1833, slavery was abolished in the British territory, and a convention between England and France allowed the countries' warships to examine all ships flying their flags to see if they were sailing with slaves. The Danish King, Frederik the 6th, joined the Anglo-French convention in 1834, but would not let his warships join the search. The crew of the forts at Volta was reduced, but there was no attempt to fight the illegal slave exports from the Danish possessions.
The transatlantic slave trade continued to exist illegally. Officially, Denmark had determined their opposition to the slave trade, but the great distance made it difficult to supervise the Danish trading posts, and an almost unrestricted export of slaves went on in the decades after Schimmelmann's regulation.