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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lyng, Jens Sorensen (1868–1941)

by John Stanley Martin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Jens Sorensen Lyng (1868-1941), public servant, soldier and author, was born on 16 April 1868 at Hasle, near Aarhus, Denmark, son of Søren Jensen Lyng, farmer, and his wife Maren, née Hansen. On finishing school, Jens joined the Royal Danish Standing Army and was commissioned second lieutenant. With dim prospects of promotion, he migrated to Melbourne in 1891, but retained his Danish commission until he was naturalized in Australia in 1900.

After working as labourer, land-clearer and shearer, Lyng was secretary to Baron von Mueller. Enthusiastically involved in Melbourne's Scandinavian communities, Lyng became secretary of the Danish Society in 1896, assisted the pastors of the United Scandinavian Lutheran Church in social and welfare work and edited the congregation's biannual magazine. Aware that the three communities were too small to form viable individual organizations, Lyng espoused the pan-Scandinavian movement. To promote this aim, in 1896 he founded a monthly newspaper, Norden, which he produced single-handed; he remained editor until 1906.

On 28 October 1897 in his Richmond home Lyng had married with Scandinavian Lutheran rites Victorian-born Mary Eleanor Gertrude Burrowes. They had four children. In 1906 he bought a farm at Kinglake, continuing to work in Melbourne during the week and visiting his family at weekends. These experiences formed the background to his novel, Teddy Wilkin's Trials (Melbourne, 1910).

In 1909 Lyng joined the naval works branch of the Department of Defence as a draughtsman. Later he worked on the 1911 census. He was commissioned lieutenant in the Senior Cadets, Commonwealth Military Cadet Corps, in 1912. At the outbreak of World War I, because of his knowledge of German—as well as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian—he was appointed to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force on 11 September 1914. He joined the commander of the force, Colonel William Holmes, as interpreter and participated in the first phase of the occupation of German New Guinea. On 26 September he took charge of the Government Printing Office, Rabaul. Lyng was printer, publisher and editor of the official, fortnightly Government Gazette, and a monthly paper, the Rabaul Record. He also censored letters written to the stranded German planters. Promoted captain in April 1916, in May 1918 he was appointed district officer at Madang in Kaiser Wilhelmsland. His New Guinea experiences led to two books: Our New Possession (Melbourne, 1919) and Island Films (Sydney, 1925). Lyng's A.N.M.E.F. appointment was terminated in Melbourne on 11 September 1918; he returned to the Commonwealth Public Service as a censor of foreign mail and in 1920 transferred to the Bureau of Census and Statistics, where he was appointed chief draughtsman.

In 1922 Lyng helped to form the Scandinavian Progress Association, which in 1925 was recognized as a branch of the New Settlers' League of Australia. A keen promoter of Danish immigration, in 1923 he approached the Victorian government for the grant of a suitable tract of land for farms. He went to Denmark to promote his scheme, but it collapsed because of the poor Danish response. During this time he was the (William) Harbison-(George) Higinbotham scholar at the University of Melbourne and worked on his Non-Britishers in Australia (1927). Always deeply involved in the affairs of the Danish Club in Melbourne, Lyng was briefly its president in 1928.

When the Bureau of Census and Statistics transferred to Canberra the family moved to the national capital. Promoted to librarian and draughtsman in the bureau in May 1929, Lyng retired in August 1932 and returned in 1937 to Victoria. Throughout his life he had collected material on—and written in both Danish and English about—Scandinavians in the antipodes, and his major work, The Scandinavians in Australia, New Zealand and the Western Pacific, was published in Melbourne in 1939. Predeceased by his wife in 1940, Lyng died on 25 October 1941 at Birchip and was cremated. Two sons and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • S. S. Mackenzie, The Australians at Rabaul (Syd, 1927)
  • O. Koivukangas and J. S. Martin, The Scandinavians in Australia (Melb, 1986)
  • J. S. Martin, The Danish Club Dannebrog in Melbourne 1889-1989 (Melb, 1989)
  • Norden, 26 May 1906, 10 Dec 1910, 25 Aug 1917, 26 Nov 1921, 11 Nov 1922, 14 Apr 1923, 1 Sept 1923, 28 July 1928, 8 July 1939
  • A712, item 1900/M10269 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Stanley Martin, 'Lyng, Jens Sorensen (1868–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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