Rasmus Malling-Hansen: Family Roots and Social Background

This chapter describes Malling-Hansen’s ancestral roots, tracing his forefathers – along the paternal lines – back to 1720. It is also an attempt to speculate about the type of social and educational environment in which he and his two younger brothers grew up. The information sources are various and have been drawn from open genealogical material on the internet, local historical studies, as well as personal documents from private family archives. [1]


[1]: a) Sally Salminen, great-great granddaughter of RMH’s brother, Johan Frederik Emanuel Hansen (1839 – 1918) has done extensive genealogical research, however the database is open only to family members;

b) the same ancestor( my great-grandfather), left behind a detailed family tree, from where I have drawn information;

c) local historian Henning Steen Christensen has painstakingly registered all known tenants and owners of houses and other buildings of the vast Knuthenborg Estate in the period from 1750 to 2000 (although the register is not complete). As far as we know, all of RMH’s ancestors on his paternal side from 1720 have had their permanent residence within the Knuthenborg area;

d) material from other private Danish and Norwegian genealogical researchers has been used, in particular in relation to RMH’s foster father, Rasmus Malling (1787 – ca 1857);

e) Sverre Avnskog’s RMH Biography “Who Was Rasmus Malling-Hansen”, published on the website of the RMH Society.



This is where Rasmus Malling-Hansen and his two brothers grew up with their mother and foster father Ramus Malling: The old school of Hunseby. The living quarters are in the right hand building. Photo: Dieter Eberwein
The three Hansen-brothers, Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835-1890
Thomas Jørgen Hansen, 1837-1919
Johan Frederik Hansen, 1839-1912
The three brothers Hansen together on a photo from ca 1861. Photo: Private.

I. Maternal Roots


Rasmus’ mother was Juliane Marie Kathrine Matzens, born in Hunseby on September 9, 1809, dead in Ringsted on May 13, 1885. She was babtized at home on the day of her birth, and the ceremony was confirmed at Hunseby church on Nov 11, 1809, her father registered as “avlingsforvalter” Lars Matzen, and her mother as Lars Matzen’s wife Margrethe Jensine Margrethe Pedersdatter. The church archive also registers that her godfather is Hans Jensen, a farmer from Maglemer, while her godmother is Rasmus Malling’s wife, Ane Marie.


Lars Matzen’s title, “Avlingsforvalter” is 19th century Danish for a person who was overall responsible for the management of a large farm or agricultural estate. Today we would call him a supervisor or manager. Knuthenborg[2] certainly was, at the time, a giant agricultural enterprise with hundreds of hectares of productive land and forests, and the position as manager must necessarily have been a demanding and prestigious one in the community. Matzen and his wife must have been high on the ladder in the very hierarchical society of Denmark at the beginning of the 19th century.


We have no explanation as to why the Matzen couple did not raise their daughter. Everything indicates that she was, as from early childhood, brought up as a foster daughter by school teacher Rasmus Malling in Hunseby and his wife Ane Marie. At the population census in 1834, Juliane Marie Kathrine Matzen is registered as 25 years of age, single and “foster daughter”. The place of residence is stated as “Maribo(name of the nearest town), Musse (herred) = name of the district) Hunsebye (name of the parish), Hunsebye (name of the small village) the school”.


As far as we know, Rasmus Malling and Ane Marie did not have any children of their own. When Juliane Marie was born, Rasmus was only 22 years old, however his wife was 20 years older. Ane Marie Kragelund was probably born in 1767. They married in Frederiksberg, at that time a suburb of Copenhagen, in October 20, 1808. Rasmus Malling finished his teacher training from Blaagaards Seminar (later known as Jonstrup Teacher Training Institute, where also Rasmus Malling-Hansen studied from 1852-1854) in 1808. It is likely that Rasmus Malling and his wife moved to Hunseby sometimes in 1808 or 1809, Rasmus taking up his first post as a school teacher. Considering Ane Marie’s age at that point in time – 42 years, which in those days was considered a considerably more advanced age than it would be in our time – it would seem probable that the couple could not produce children, or that they chose not to, opting instead to become foster parents to Juliane Marie as from 1809 and later on assuming the same role in relation to Juliane’s three sons. At the census of 1834, Rasmus Malling and Ane Marie are registered as foster parents also of a boy, Rasmus Rasmussen, 11 years old.


[2]: The Knuthenborg Estate presently covers 2338 hectares and is one of Denmark’s most famous and most popular tourist destinations (safari park).



The photo collection of RMH’s daughter, Emma Mathiesen, had a picture of RMH’s mother in two different versions.
Juliane Hansen was said to have been an unusually wise and loving mother.
Descendants after RMH’s daughter, Emma Mathiesen, have in their possession this rare letter, written by RMH’s mother Juliane Hansen to her son’s daughter, Engelke, RMH’s second-eldest daughter, Engelke.
The letter is dated June 12, 1873.

II. Paternal Ancestry


While the maternal family roots are unknown, beyond the mothers’ parents, we are able to trace, with a high degree of certainty[3], Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s paternal ancestry four generations back, reaching back to 1720.


1.  Parents

His father was Johan Frederik Hansen, born October 28, 1810 at Paarup, 5 kms north-west of Maribo. He was an assistant school teacher at Hunseby School and married Juliane Marie Kathrine Matzen on July 8, 1834, when he was 23 years old and she was 24. They had three sons in quick succession:


- Hans Rasmus Malling Johan Hansen, born Sept 5, 1835
- Thomas Jens Jørgen Hansen, born July 31, 1837
- Johan Frederik Oluf Emanuel Hansen, born June 3, 1839.


In 1839 he was appointed teacher at Havlykke (also spelled Havløkke or Hauløkke) School about 8 kms west of Hunseby. Tragically, however, he died from typhoid fever on July 19, 1839 in Hunseby, only 29 years old, leaving a widow and three boys aged 3, 2 and a newborn.

Rasmus Malling, at that time 52 years old and a widower, offered Juliane Marie and her sons to continue to stay at his home in Hunseby, and she continued to be his housekeeper. Rasmus Malling’s wife, Ane Marie had died in April 18, 1835, 68 years old.


Hence, at the census of 1840, the following persons are registered as residents at Hunseby School:

- Rasmus Malling, 53, widower, teacher and cantor
- Juliane Marie Hansen, 31, widow, housekeeper
- Rasmus Hansen, 5, her son
- Jørgen Hansen, 3, her son
- Johan Hansen, 1, her son
- Johan Nicolai Iversen, 24, single, assistant teacher
- Marie Kaspersdatter, 18, single, maid
- Dorte Hansdatter, 16, single, maid.


Foster parent Rasmus Malling died May 7, 1857, 70 years old.


[3]: Based upon genealogical research by his brother Johan Frederik Oluf Emanuel Hansen, as well as by Sally Salminen.




RMH’s maternal grandfather, Lars Matzen, was manager at Knuthenborg Estate. This is a photo of a painting showing the old manor. It is displayed in the home of the present count. Photo: Dieter Eberwein.

2. Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s Father’s father and father’s Mother


His paternal grandfather was Hans Hansen, born August 30, 1782 in Østofte, dead July 27, 1832 in Hunseby. He married Kirsten Hansdatter Smed, born May 6, 1773, and they had two children: Johan Frederik Hansen, born Oct 28, 1810 and Bodil Cathrine Sophie Hansdatter, born July 19, 1813. Hans Hansen made a living as a local musician. He was registered as an “insidder”, meaning that he did not own his own house but was a tenant in another family’s home. While the son died young, merely 29 years old, the daughter lived until June 30, 1875.


Bodil Cathrine Sophie Hansdatter (1813 – 1875) had two children in her marriage with Christian Pedersen Munk (1818 - ?):


1) Hans Peder Johan Christiansen Munk (24 March 1843 – 15 Sept 1911)
2) Jørgen Frederik Christiansen Munk (3rd Feb 1856 – 10th of May 1915).


RMH had few biological relatives. Probably none were known to him (or to us) on his mother’s side. And on his father’s side, since his paternal grandfather had only two children, his only close relatives, apart from his mother and his two younger brothers, must have been his aunt Bodil Cathrine and his two male cousins (as noted above).


Obviously, if he went further back through the generations of his paternal ancestry, he would have found quite a number of relatives, as we shall see in the following.



3. Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s Paternal Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother


Hans Pedersen, born April 19, 1751 in Rersnæs, dead Aug 17, 1812 on “Jessetgård”, Pårup, Østofte. His wife, Bodil Cathrine Nielsdatter, born June 26, 1752 in Pårup, Østofte, dead August 6, 1809 after having born 14 children.  Hans and Bodil, in addition to their reproductive profligacy, also built a farmhouse, “Jessetgården” in Pårup, Østofte. To this day there is still a house on this address (Lærkevej 11), and the owners have retained the name Jessetgården.



“Jessetgården” as it appears today. Photo: Sally Salminen.

4. RMH’s Paternal Great-Great-Grandfather


The oldest relative we can trace is RMH’s great-great grandfather and his wife: Peder Hansen, born in Østofte in 1727, dead in June 1812. He married Gjertrud Pedersdatter from the same village. They married at Østofte Church Feb 12, 1749, and she lived until 1799.They had six children, of which three lived beyond the first year, Hans Pedersen being the eldest. They were farmers at Reersnæs.


In summary, going back to the 1720s, all of his ancestors and relatives lived and spent their entire lives within the same county in the island of Lolland in sourthern Denmark, and all of them within the perimeter of Knuthenborg Estate.  There is, of course, nothing unusual in that: Social and geographical mobility was not an option for the vast majority of poor peasants. People were born, married, worked, raised a family and died, typically in the same parish. It is also unremarkable that practically all of his paternal ancestors were farmers or in some way dependent upon farming activities for their survival. That was typical of more than 90% of the population in the mid 19th century.


On the other hand we notice that RMH’s father’s father, Hans Hansen, was untypical in the sense that he made a living as a local musician. And considering that his son, RMH’s father, was able to train to become a school teacher, he must have been successful.


In other words, there was a musical talent in the genetic set up – a talent Rasmus Malling-Hansen and his brother Johan Frederik shared and developed. Also, by studying and becoming a school teacher, their father broke off from the agricultural tradition rooted in their ancestral history.



Malling-Hansen was confirmed at Hunseby Church in 1850.
The beautiful altarpiece. The Malling-Hansen Society visited the church in 2008. Both photos: Jørgen Malling Christensen.

III. RMH’s Foster Father’s Ancestry


Even if RMH was not related by blood to Rasmus Malling, it does have some relevance to us to investigate his ancestry and social background. Firstly, the name “Malling” (initially as a first name, only from 1882-83 used as a family name with a hyphen linking it to “Hansen”) was given to RMH in recognition of his foster father’s important role in his life – and indeed in his mothers’ and the two younger brothers’ lives. Secondly, there should be no doubt that Rasmus Malling was a highly influential factor in the lives of all three brothers, not only providing them and their mother with social and financial security but also shaping their personalities and inspiring their ambitions.


Fortunately, some of Malling’s Norwegian and Danish descendents have researched the family tree, and a summary is presented in the following.


Rasmus Rasmussen Malling (RM) was born in Porsgrunn, Telemark province in the southern part of the Norwegian territory in March 1787. Norway was at that time part of Denmark-Norway, one country under the Danish King, an absolute ruler, and Copenhagen was capital city also of Norway. Norway’s dependency of Denmark and Danish rule lasted from the year 1450 and continued until 1814 when Denmark-Norway, being an ally of France and Napoleon, lost the war and was forced to relinquish Norway to Sweden in 1814. This change led to a union between Norway and Sweden with a considerable degree of Norwegian autonomy. Kristiania was established in 1814 as the Norwegian capital city, and all political and administrative issues were from that time on planned and decided upon by Norwegians themselves, except for matters of foreign policy. However, full national independence was not achieved until the dissolution of the union in 1905.


On that background, it appears quite natural and logical that RM travelled to Copenhagen to train as a school teacher. Copenhagen was ‘his’ capital city and he was still in his own country. He married Ane Marie Kragelund[4] (ca 1767-1835) in 1808 and that same year passed his teacher education exam (degree) from Blaagaard.


RM’s father was also named Rasmus Malling, born Feb 4, 1738 in Østside, Porsgrunn, Telemark, dead October 3, 1807. On March 12, 1769 he married Barbara Borse in Solum. Barbara was born in 1748 and died in 1797. Her parents were Halvardus Severin Borse and Bolette Friderikke Davidsdatter Monrad.


Rasmus Malling Sr. and Barbara had a total of 14 children registered between 1769 and 1787, but at least six of them died shortly after birth. Rasmus Rasmussen Malling was the last one to be born, and he was one of only five siblings to achieve adult age.


Rasmus Malling Sr. was well educated and the family must have enjoyed a high social standing. He worked all his adult life for the customs office in various towns, achieving high-level positions in the hierarchy[5] during the last 20-30 years of his professional life until his retirement in June 12, 1797. Evidence of his social standing and high income is that in 1774 he bought a house in Porsgrunn and by 1784 had expanded and improved it into a large, modern and beautiful residence. The building is still standing and is well preserved. It is considered one of the best preserved buildings of its kind in Telemark[6], and in 2008 also the garden was renovated and brought back to its original design. As from 1801 the building was used as a parson’s or bishop’s residence. Today it is a cultural and historical landmark of Porsgrunn.


This means that RMH’s foster father Rasmus was brought up in a well-off environment and must have spent his childhood and youth in a beautiful and privileged setting, upper-middle class at the very least.


Rasmus’ mother’s parents were Halvardus Severin Borse (1709 – 1772) and Bolette Friderikke Davidsdatter Monrad (1725- 1803)


His father’s parents were Peter Lorentzen (1695-1754) and Kirsten Malling (1707-1743).


The genealogical research of  www.Nermo.org  allows us to go even further back:

Kirsten Malling’s parents were Rasmus Sørensen Malling (1663-1726) and Hedvig Henrichsdotter Josten (1672-1726).


Hedvig’s parents’ were Henrich von Josten (1625- March 19, 1683) and Kirsten Syvertsdatter (1640- 1702),  recorded to have had 8 children. Heinrich came via from the Netherlands via Denmark to Eidanger in Norway. He was “fogd” (sherriff) at Bamble, Telemark,  from 1662 until 1670, and in 1662 he bought Bjørntvedt manor in Eidanger. His widow, Kirsten Syvertsdatter, continued to live at the manor until her death in January 1702.  In addition to Bjørnvedt, he also owned Gisholdt in Soum, Nesset in Bamble and Haverdal Sagene in Herre. In other words, the family was very wealthy. Their children were:


1) Magdalene, born 1665, married Daniel A. Blom (1656-1694)
2) Karen, born ca 1668, married Jacob Matsen Ussing, parson of Urskog, in 1694
3) Niels (1670-1729)
4) Hedvig (1672 – 1726), married in 1698 to ship owner and timber company owner  Rasmus Sørensen Malling (1663-1726), parents to Kirsten Malling (1707-1743) (see above)
5) Christopher (ca 1680)
6) Christine, ca 1678 – 1720, married to merchant and caretaker Jørgen Holst, Skien.
7) Anne Marie, ca 1680 – ca 1706, married in 1702 to Hans Jespersen. A son, Richard Hansen Jespersen, died as governor of the then Danish colony of Tranquebar.
8) Eva (1682-1762), married in 1719 to Petter Christiansen Ferøe (1671 – 1728).


In other words, we are able to record Rasmus Rasmussen Malling’s ancestors as far back as 1625, which is remarkable and somewhat rare in Scandinavia, outside the realm of royal and noble families.  It is, in itself, an indication of their high social standing, that they left records for posterity.


In summary, Rasmus Rasmussen Malling, RMH’s foster father, was, in all likelihood, out of a proud lineage of a family with a Dutch ancestry of well-off people, emigrating to Southern Norway, as well as a father with a very high standing in society. Not only that: Rasmus happened to be born as the last of the siblings, at a time when the parents were certainly very well off. On top of that: the four siblings born before Rasmus – 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783 – AND quite possibly also the two siblings born 1777 and 1778! – had all died at a tender age. In other words, Rasmus was probably treasured, appreciated and loved as being the youngest and one of the few of the siblings to survive. Furthermore, he was born in period where his father’s social standing and income was at its peak.


There is an interesting detail, picked from the recorded proceedings of “Det Kongelige Danske Landhusholdningsselskab"[7]: Following an application dated 24 November 1786, “Taxateur Rasmus Malling, Porsgrunn” was awarded a gold medal, second class, for his achievements: having dug more than 1 km of ditches along fields in the period from 1783 to 1786, thereby having improved 7 hectares of agricultural land, in addition to having erected 400 meters of stone walls and cleared away 4 to 500 shipments of stones and rocks from 7 hectares”.  In other words, he had made a modern and ground-breaking effort to improve the local agriculture and was being recognized for it.


Four years earlier, his friend, Lord Løvenskiold of Fossum Ironworks was awarded his third gold medal by the same society in consequence of his many important  initiatives for the improvement of forestry, agriculture, fishery, transport, education and maintenance of churches. [8]


In comparison with the very poor standards of Norway (Denmark) at the time, Rasmus was certainly born with a silver spoon in his mouth! Not only that: It is believed that the family was close to the noble family of the Løvenskiold in Denmark and Norway. This is verified by church records[9]:

1) When Barbara Borse (the mother of foster father Rasmus Malling) was babtized in Solum church on Dec 6, 1748, one of the godfathers was Councillor Herman Leopoldus Løvenskiold (1701-1759);


2) When Rasmus Malling’s and Barbara Borse’s daughter Magdalena Charlotta Hedvig was babtized  on March 9, 1780, one of the godfathers was Councillor Bartholomeus von Løvenskiold (1729-1788), son of Herman Leopoldus.


3) Likewise, when David Michael Malling was babtized on the 10th of January 1775, one of the godfathers was “kammerjunker” Søren von Løvenskiold (1743-1818).


The church records provide good evidence that there was a longstanding and close relationship between the families, and this supports the evidence from RMH's son-in-law, Fritz August Bech, married to Zarah, mentioning in an article about RMH in the publication "Opfindernes Liv" (Life of the Inventors) of 1924 that: "Rasmus Malling, then becoming the foster father also of Malling-Hansen, was a ceremonious and well-mannered elderly gentleman, well versed in good manners, being brought up at Løvenborg in the company of the young barons". Hence, he became used to socializing with persons of a high social standing, a skill he could share with Malling-Hansen later on. He was described as a very gentle, well-behaved, wise and well-balanced man, probably also well-rounded in terms of knowledge, training and talents.


Rasmus Malling’s family roots and social background would later turn out to be of utmost importance for his adopted family: first Juliane Marie Matzen, and later on her three young sons.


[4]: I have not been able to find Ane Marie Kragelund’s ancestors. There are quite a number of families in Denmark by that name. She may, of course, also be of Norwegian origin.

[5]: Details of his CV (in Norwegian) can be found in www.old.genealogi.no , ”Tollere gjennom 300 år” (1563-1886).

[6]: See: Telemark Fylkeskommune, arkeologisk undersøkelse, Porsgrunn Kommune, Prestegårdshagen, Porsgrunn Bymuseum.

[7]: The Royal Danish Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, established in 1769

[8]: See: www.slekt.org/d-landhus1769.html

[9]: See www.solumslekt.org



The page from the church records showing Rasmus Malling’s birth March 25, 1787.
Porsgrunn in the 19th century. A town of commerce and shipping.
The house where Rasmus Malling was born later became the residence of the vicar, and today is the site of the town museum in Porsgrunn. It has been painted in the colours we believe were used in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The pictures are from the Norwegian Cultural Heritage Tracks at Porsgrunn. Photo: Eli L. Haugland.

IV. Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s Personality


How could RMH develop into an outstanding person achieving ground-breaking innovations and reforms in many different areas?


It would seem that from birth the odds were stacked against him? Born into a relatively poor financial environment, fatherless when he was less than four years old; his mother abandoned as a baby or small child, probably with no contact to her parents’ families and no financial support from that side.


The poverty of his circumstances is evidenced by the fact that in spite of being an unusually gifted pupil at school, he was put into apprenticeship in Maribo for two years (1850-52) to become a house painter. That was certainly not what he wanted in life. But there was probably only one salary income in the household: that of his foster father, and it cannot have been substantial, since he was a mere school teacher at a small primary school in the village of Hunseby. We have no evidence about any inheritance from his wealthy parents, but it would be reasonable if he inherited something when his father passed away in 1807. Rasmus Malling’s wife had died in April 1835, Rasmus being born on Sept 5 the same year. His mother Juliane Marie must have worked hard as a housekeeper, having to manage a large household, but she is not likely to have had any pecuniary income.  And there were two younger brothers. 


RMH was confirmed at Hunseby Church in April 1850, and Rasmus was greatly inspired and influenced by the confirmation preparation by vicar Gude. He wanted to study theology and become a priest, but it was not possible.  It was in that situation that Count Knuth of Knuthenborg Estate, after having discussed the matter with vicar Gude, offered to pay for Rasmus’ education.


We are in the realm of speculation; but it would not seem improbable if the motivation to help Rasmus – and later on also his two brothers in equal measure – was not only a reward for Rasmus outstanding qualities, obvious intelligence and learning ability. There could also be behind a feeling of responsibility for his mother’s plight in life: after all, Juliane had been abandoned by her father, the Knuthenborg manager Matzen back in 1809, and that must have left a shadow of guilt with the Knuth family. The Knuthenborg noble family was rich, powerful and influential, and they had a keen sense of social responsibility for the parish and its population. The Knuth family sponsored not only Rasmus’ studies at the Jonstrup college but probably also his theological studies, and they went on to support his brother Thomas, born 1837, in his teacher training studies, as well as brother Johan Frederik, born 1839, in his teacher training studies and his training as an organ player for church. We have several reliable sources of information as to RMH’s personality: his own letters; accounts by family members and friends; plenty of obituaries. The descriptions emphasize the following traits:


•         Very well endowed physically and intellectually


•         The bearing and movements of a military officer


•         Great appetite for learning


•         Talented in many fields, especially in mathematics and drawing

•         Musically gifted, good organ player


•         Hardworking, tenacious, with attention to detail


•         Endowed with great visions and imagination


•         Innovative, modern, always going for change and improvements, a pioneer and reformer in several areas


•         Loving and beloved father, son, brother, husband, friend and colleague


•         Dauntless, optimistic and cheerful


•         Deeply devoted to the welfare of his pupils


•         An ability to deal with people from different social layers and diverse groups


•         Solid self-confidence


•         Deeply religious and strict in terms of Christian morale and ethics


On the negative side we have testimonies of a sometimes violent temper (verbally), harsh reactions against stupidity and backwardness, a certain restlessness in his attitude. He was probably also driving himself too hard and neglecting to take care of his own health, at times drinking too much and always smoking excessively.


RMH’s story and career is a classical example of a person who rises from poor and unfavourable circumstances and makes a successful breakthrough into the world of science, education, research, management and leadership. He made what we could call a “class journey” moving up the steps on the echelon of what was a very old-fashioned and inflexible class hierarchy (Denmark until the mid 19th century).


I would suggest that one of the reasons he did succeed so well was that he was mentally and intellectually well prepared from home by his foster father. Rasmus Malling would have shared his long and vast experience with him, telling him about proper manners and behaviour among the nobility and the educated classes of society. He would have instilled him with self-confidence, letting him know that with great talents, hard work and perseverance he would be able to achieve success, even if the social and economic odds were unfavourable.


Hence, RMH went on to excel at everything he ventured into: designing and inventing writing balls in spite of having no training as a mechanic or engineer; making ground-breaking research into medical science and giving an admired lecture at the medical congress in Copenhagen in 1884, completely undaunted by the hundreds of elite scientists present, absolutely sure of himself and his results. A complete amateur, convincing the elite of his day. Later on his medical research into the effects of solar rays in relation to biological growth was to remain influential for generations.


Another important trait in Malling-Hansen's personality was his highly developed capacity in terms of social networking. With a modern expression we could call it social intelligence. He was very skilled at acquiring and maintaining useful contacts, and he was excellent in the area of public relations and promotion. He cultivated useful friendships with journalists and acquired friends in the world of science. After his famous lecture at the medical congress in 1884 we have evidence that he himself actually wrote the summary of his lecture which was printed in the newspaper "Nationaltidende" allegedly presented in the paper as editorial, journalistic material! Oftentime RMH would facilitate the journalists task by "feeding" them with ready-made texts, from where they could choose and pick. He must have been far ahead of his time in terms of PR!


RMH also excelled as a reformer in his field, education for the deaf and deaf-mutes, not only in relation to teaching methods, but also as a planner on a national scale and as an organizer of Nordic meetings and discussions.


RMH was the driving force behind the development of education for the deaf-mutes in Denmark, particularly in terms of the organizational set up and the formulation of comprehensive goals. In cooperation with Johan Keller he managed to introduce a reform in 1867, whereby the pupils were grouped according to their learning abilities and degree of hearing loss, such that they would all benefit from the kind of education and methods that were best adapted to their situation. He was behind the establishment of the institute in Fredericia in 1881 and was the driving force in the public commission of 1888, whose proposals were accepted and turned into reality after his death: The government took over the private institutes, a new institute was established in Nyborg, and all the schools for the deaf and deaf-mutes were integrated into one general organization and plan. Fredericia was selected as a pre-school at which all deaf-mutes must stay for a year in order for the teachers to assess their individual abilities and needs, before they would gain entrance to the school or institution, whose methods could cater for their specific needs and abilities in the best possible way. RMH's modern and far-sighted vision became a reality! This was wellknown in Scandinavia as "the Danish division (selection)" and became highly influential in the other Nordic countries.


With his diversified talents and interests he also excelled in learning the newly invented international language, Volapyk, and mastered it as few others.


Also his involvement in free-masonic activities resulted in his rise to one of the highest levels of the lodge, achievement the very prestigious task as speaker, and this is a clear testimony to his abilities as a speaker and writer.


In our speculations about RMH’s personality traits and the factors shaping them, we must also mention his mother’s influence. Family testimonies and letters show that Juliane Marie  was a wise and loving mother. She herself had been abandoned from birth, having probably never enjoyed the happiness of feeling love and care from her biological parents, and also not having had the benefit of growing up with brothers and sisters. Hence, she will undoubtedly have made sure that her own children would have a much better lot in life, in spite of the early tragedy of losing their father. She will have showered them with love, support and kindness, and this will have provided all three brothers with a mentally and emotionally healthy start in life. Many letters to the mother, and all comments about her by the three brothers, confirm this.


Yet another important factor in Rasmus’ Malling-Hansen’s personality was his strong belief in God. He will undoubtedly have felt that he was under the protection and care of his God. God willing, he would succeed in his ambitions, and his repeated successes in every endeavour (up until the failure of commercializing the writing ball) must surely have strengthened his religious belief. God had a purpose for him. He had a mission to fulfil, and he was destined for greatness.


A few of RMH's sermons have been preserved. They bear witness of his vision of a caring, loving and forgiving God, rather than a strict, threatening, punishing God. His image was that of a God who cared particularly for the weakest, the sick and the outcast in society.
Therefore his message to the congregation was about loving thy neighbour and caring for the weak, and undoubtedly this attitude was reflected and found an echo in his private life as well as in his entire mission in life.


Bangkok and Oslo, 01.02.12

Jørgen Malling Christensen

and Sverre Avnskog




View towards Saint Jacob’s Church, where the burial service for RMH was held on the 3rd of October 1890.
Interior of Saint Jacob’s Church. Photo: Dieter Eberwein.
The three Hansen brothers in somewhat older versions. Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835-1890
Thomas Jørgen Hansen, 1837- 1919
Johan Frederik Hansen, 1839 – 1912.