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Matthias Petersen (born 24 December 1632 in Oldsum, died 16 September 1706, also known as Matz Peters) was a sea captain and whaler from Oldsum on the North Frisian island of Föhr.



Matthias Petersen's tombstone in Süderende

Known as "Glücklicher Matthias", "Matthias der Glückliche" or "Mathis der Glückliche", all of which translate to "Lucky Mathew", he became famous by catching the incredible number of 373 whales within five decades and for gathering great riches thereby. And that was, as his tomb in the graveyard of St. Lawrence's church in Süderende testifies, the reason why he "with everybody's approbation accepted the surname of Lucky".

The exploit of 373 caught whales was only possible since Petersen still participated in the so called "bay fishery". At the time, the whalers would encounter great numbers of whales in the bays of Spitsbergen, so the catch for a successful return could quickly be made. Petersen also acquired his legendary catches due to his long experience as a navigator. Aged only 20, he had been made commander of a whaling vessel and for fifty years in total he would keep that occupation. As a result he also made a financial fortune.

In 1677, Petersen and his brother donated two great brass chandeliers to the St. Laurentii parish which are still in use today in the church of St. Lawrence.

At the beginning of the Spanish War of Succession in 1701 Petersen's eldest son Matz, who was a commander as well, was abducted to St. Malo by a French privateer and since then remained missing. On his last voyage in 1702 Petersen himself was caught when his ship was seized by a French privateer. He and his crew were only released after paying a ransom of 8,000 Reichsthalers. In the same year, his sons Ock and John would fall in battle with a French pirate.


Matthias Petersen had his children homeschooled by a private teacher. So his sons were able to study at a university. Clement became a preacher in Schwesing and presumably it was him who wrote the Latin text for the inscription on his father's tomb.

Another son, Peter Matthiesen, studied at the Latin School of Husum and the University of Jena. He became bailiff of Eastern Föhr, Wyk auf Föhr and even Sylt at the same time.

His son, also a Peter Matthiesen, later became bailiff of Eastern Föhr and bailiff in the district of Western Föhr and Amrum. By Count Struensee, a university companion, Mathiessen, Jr. was made mayor of Copenhagen in 1771. After Struensee's execution for treason he remained influential and became director of the trade and fisheries school in the then-time Danish town of Altona. From there, he helped to convey posts in the Greenland trade to many seafarers from Föhr.

It is a lesser known fact that Matthias Petersen bequeathed 100 gold florins to the church which were not paid out by his heirs. After many years of quarreling, the parish eventually decided to move Petersen's tomb, which had been installed inside the church amid great pomp 14 years prior, out into the graveyard where it still can be seen today.


  • Steffen, Uwe: Matthias der Glückliche und seine Zeit, Bredstedt 2004. ISBN 3-88007-316-3.

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