The Family

Retiree Mr. Peter Kelstrup: “My great grandfather A. H. Riise (1810-1882) founded The pharmacy on St. Thomas, which his son, Valdemar Riise (1853-1914), my great-grandfather, continued.”

A.H Riise developed his rum in the Danish West Indies.

Thanks to A.H Riises decedent Peter Kelstrup, we know a great deal about how the famous pharmacist developed his renown rum brands.

The history behind the production of rum on the West Indies is quite dramatic.

Initially, when Denmark colonized the West Indian islands of St. John and St. Thomas, they were uninhabited. Gradually Denmark introduced a new variety of crops, established plantations with slave labor- and ran into numerous conflicts and confrontations with rivaling nations.

The first danish Governor of the West Indies rather unconventionally granted pirates the right to sail under the danish flag to increase the fleet. In the capital of St. Thomas you can find “Skytsborg”- Blackbeards Castle, named after the famous pirate.

This unusual practice was put to a stop around 1755 when the danish state overtook the administration  of the Danish West Indies.This included St. Croix that had been taken over by the Crown in 1733 from the Danish West India and Guinea Company.

Riises father dies at sea.

“Albert Heinrich Riise (1810-1882) came from Ærøskøbing where his father, Jens Christian Riise, (1773-1812) was a seafaring captain,“ Peter Kelstrup relates;

“His father died when Albert was only 2 years old, but somehow his mother, Margrethe Elisabeth Krabbe (1779-1869) managed to have him educated. He became a pharmacist and in 1832 he was employed at “Det Kgl. Militær-og Waisenhusapotek”- the royal military and orphanage pharmacy-in Copenhagen”

Albert was keen to obtain his own pharmacy privilege, and when the opportunity arose in 1838 he sailed for the island of Saint Thomas. There he ran into quite a bit of competition. Several general practitioners and a military physician had already established themselves with the right to deal in medicinal products.

With his great ambitions but lack of funding, (his fathers fortune had gone down with the ship-) Riise had a hard time making way.

St. Thomas Apothecary Hall A.H. Riise.

Despite of having persuaded one of the doctors on the island to invest 11.000 dollars in a joint pharmacy, Riise continued to encounter obstacles. His work was thwarted and obstructed by competing doctors and businessmen alike.

When his partner ran into economical difficulties, his share in the business was taken over by the bank, who in turn sold it to a certain Major Kjellerup. This turned out to be lucky. Kjellerup was so wealthy that the innovative and hardworking Riise was able to develope the company and buy the majors share 4 years later, for the considerable sum of 24.206 dollars. At last, the foundation of his many strong brands, the St. Thomas Apothecary Hall A.H Riise,was established.

“Albert quickly found out that there was money to be made by dealing in a number of products outside the pharmacy repertoire.  He began to sell household articles, cosmetics, canned goods, chocolate and many other things,”  says Peter Kelstrup. “Some of these items he produced himself, others he acquired on his many trips to North and South America. Albert had a knack for doing business with both the local islands and the mainland, and he had ongoing engros business ventures with some of the islands as well.”

Family Tree.

A.H Riises brand is established.

Albert Riise had a well developed sense of quality.

He collaborated with local doctors and became a pioneer in the field of distilling rum and bitter, that at the time, was  used mainly for medicinal purposes, first and foremost as a much needed and sought after cure for intestinal,gastric, and other disorders.

He developed and refined strong brands such as Old St. Croix Brand, Riises Guava Rum, A.H Riise Rum, and more.

Riise exported rum to many countries and became so wealthy that he was able to create quite a stir when he in 1860 arrived in Copenhagen and decided to hire two steamships in order to sail his family and two black servants to Ærøskøbing to visit his elderly mother.

In the aftermath of his success as a pharmacist and producer of a well tasting and popular rum, Riise was awarded many honorary positions on the island of St. Thomas.

“He was Chairman of the Colonial Advisory Board, Churchwarden and member of the Citizens Committee. At one point he was Director of the Bank of St. Thomas and a member of the board in numerous business enterprises. In 1860 he was made Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, in 1867 member of the legal counsel, in 1868 member of the Danish Freemason Society. In 1873 he became  Knight of the Swedish Vasa Order and in 1878 he became state counselor- in all probability because he donated 6000 dollars to St. Thomas municipality so they could buy three school buildings.”

Saint Thomas on Frederiksberg.

Pharmacist Valdemar Riise photographed in the year 1900

After having secured the succession of his pharmacy on St. Thomas by handing the administration over to his son in law Jens Alfred Alexius Jørgensen, he and his wife left the island for Copenhagen, due in part to a series of natural disasters that had ravaged the island: hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and epidemics.

“On arriving in Copenhagen Riise bought a large double villa on Frederiksberg 12 that he named “Villa Saint Thomas” Peter Kelstrup tells us.

“Albert planted a garden with rare and exotic plants in beautiful stone settings, he dug ponds and built a large greenhouse. He died in the villa in 1882, 72 years old, and is buried in Solbjerg Parkkirkegård where his grave still exists.”

The name lives on in Sankt Thomas Plads and Sankt Thomas Allé, both on Frederiksberg. The Tourist Information Center has made sure there is a memorial plaque in front of his birthplace in Brogade, Ærøskøbing. Albert Riise further secured his business by sending his sin Valdemar (1853-1914) to Denmark at the age of 9 so he could attend danish school.

Valdemar was later trained both as a pharmacist and in agricultural institutions in Leipzig, Dresden and Paris.

In 1878 Valdemar was fully qualified and prepared to start work in the Caribiens most well assorted pharmacy. Along with his brother Karl ( 1851-1934 ), also a pharmacist, they took over the business.

In 1890 Karl sold his share of the business to Valdemar and returned to Denmark to live off his fortune. For a quarter of a century Valdemar ran the business by himself. Like his father, he was greatly respected in the local community, member of the Colonial Advisory Board, Churchwarden and Chairman of the Board of Advisers of the Danish West Indian National Bank.

He became Norwegian Consul and in 1907 Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog. In 1912 he was awarded the Norwegian Order of Saint Olaf, first degree, for outstanding national and humanitarian achievements.

Christmas trees in the Caribbean…..are not a very good idea.  

During the Christmas of 1895 the pharmacy on St. Thomas burned to the ground. A candle had ignited a dry Christmas tree and the fire had caught on to the wooden ceiling, impregnated with resin. Valdemar however quickly reestablished his business.

But as commercial interests in the Danish West Indies gradually waned and his health deteriorated, Valdemar finally decided  to sell the pharmacy, along with the rights to the popular Riise Bay Rum to the pharmacist Oluf Volmer Poulsen in 1913.

In 1917 the Danish West Indies  were sold to the United States for 25 million dollars and the pharmacy privilege was converted  to Svane Apoteket in Vejle where it still exists as “Vejle St. Thomas Apotek”

“The name A.H. Riise is still known on St. Thomas. There is, for instance, an A.H Riise Mall on Main Street 37, and they still produce rum and bitter bearing the name A.H. Riise.” Peter Kelstrup, great grandson of the famous pharmacist, concludes.

The commercial aspect of A H Riise’s business is clearly demonstrated here with the inside of one of his wholesale storage facilities. Aside from the rum, which takes centre stage, closer inspection of the shelves will reveal the more pharmaceutical side of the business.

In 1895 the original Saint Thomas pharmacy burned down in a devastating fire. This is one of the first photographs taken of the newly rebuilt premises. To the left at the front you will see Valdemar Riise, Albert’s son. He and his brother, Karl, took over the running of the pharmacy upon the death of their father in 1882

Copy of original lithograph showing the interior of A H Riise’s first ‘druggist and apothecary’ premises, the pharmacy at Dronningensgade 6, Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas. As ide from the array of medicines and tinctures available, it is interesting to see from a social perspective that there was no racial or class discrimination on the island at that time.

Behind the warehouse

Behind the AH Riise warehouse in Charlotte Amalie. The iron tracks in the centre were part of the trolley cart system used for transporting goods both to and from the harbour.

Nordic Exhibition of Industry

AH Riise won a prestigious Gold Medal for an “Outstanding Product” at the Nordic Exhibition of Industry, Agriculture and Art, which was held in Copenhagen in 1888, and which was attended by over 1.3 million people. In celebration of AH Riise’s remarkable success, we have produced one of our most memorable and exclusive blends, the 1888 Gold Medal Edition Rum.

Original pharmaceutical exam certificate for AH Riise, dated 21st October 1832

Copy of one of the original advertising posters promoting A H Riise’s pharmacy, or ‘Druggist and Apothecary’ as it is called here. These posters would not have been purely for promotion on the island of Saint Thomas, but would have been posted on islands throughout the Caribbean.

Early lithograph dating back to the mid-19th century depicting the original A H Riise pharmacy on Queen Street, Charlotte Amelie, Saint Thomas.

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