Peeter All

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Peeter All
Peeter All in 1880
Peeter All in 1880
Born 1829 (1829)
Died 1898 (1899) (aged 69)
Occupation Estonian fisherman, farmer, ship captain, shipowner, and rescuer of mariners

Peeter All (1829–1898) was an Estonian fisherman, farmer, ship captain, shipowner, rescuer of mariners in distress and a salvage diver who became one of the wealthiest Estonians of his time.

Early years[edit]

Peter's parents, Ado and Marie, were peasants who lived on Saaremaa's Loona Manor. Saaremaa (known as Oesel in German), is Estonia's largest island (2,673 km2) and has numerous small, rocky, low-lying islands off its western coast. The largest of these is called Vilsandi. When Peter was a year old, Baron Hoyningen-Huene sent the family to live on Loonalaid, a small (1 km2.) uninhabited Baltic Sea island, so his father could look after the hay grown there that provided feed for the manor's livestock.[1] The family survived primarily from fishing and farming. Peter grew up to be a large man (210 cm tall) and left home by 20 years of age to become a seaman. During the Crimean War (1853–1856) Peter tried to run the Baltic Sea blockade with a cargo of salt from Sweden and his ship was seized.[2] He was arrested by the British, his ship was burnt and he was jailed for 3 years.

Photo of the All family's farmhouse on Loonalaid in the 1920s or early 1930s.


After being released from jail, Peter returned to Loonalaid and decided to plant potatoes not in the island’s rocky soil but in the near-shore kelp beds. He found that these potatoes ripened much faster than conventionally planted ones because the sun's rays heated the shallow waters. Demand for these early season potatoes was strong and they commanded a premium price at market in Riga, Latvia, more than 100 km by sea. Peter eventually bought Loonalaid from the Baron, and employed about a half-dozen farmhands who, when not working in the fields or with the small number of cows and many sheep, helped with the salvaging operations.

Salvaging shipwrecks[edit]

With his profits from selling potatoes Peter bought a diving helmet from Germany and began to salvage the numerous ships lying on the ocean floor that had been wrecked on the nearby shoals. It was rare for ships in the Baltic to carry precious cargo and All primarily salvaged coal, metals and antique porcelain, the sale of which helped him to move in social circles far above his standing. Peter All found that upper classes in St. Petersburg, Russia were prepared to pay handsomely for porcelain that was over one hundred years old and he did very well for himself, becoming one of the wealthiest Estonians of the time. In 1880 he was the first Estonian to have his photograph taken, a colored ferrotype that is on display at the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn.[3][4][5][6][7][8]


In 1859, in partnership with the Baron, Peter All built the first ship launched on Saaremaa, a single masted, 32 ton, 15.7 m long sloop named “Adler” (Kotkas). By 1867 this vessel was registered only in Peter All's name. In 1869 All built another vessel named “Richard”. In 1875, he built the two-masted schooner “Schnelle Rosalie”, the largest ship (78 tonnes) then built on Saaremaa.[9][10] In 1890, Peter purchased the “Zintenhof”, a 20-meter long steel hulled steamship that he used for salvage and maritime rescue operations in Estonia, Sweden and Finland. Peter received some medals for his rescues of both seaman and ships. In 1861, at the christening of his first child, British captain Robert Davies, officer Greit Batschets and seaman William Poole were in attendance. All had rescued them earlier that day from a British barque, name unrecorded, that had been wrecked nearby.[11][12][13]


In 1860, Peter married Elise Tihik and they had 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys, most of whom grew up, married and continued their maritime life either on Loonalaid or the much larger nearby island of Vilsandi. Two of All's grandsons, from his two eldest daughters, were Peter Mender and Johann Kalmar and both became Master Mariners and moved to the Far East to find work. Mender worked for Standard Oil captaining tankers on China's Yangtze River and Kalmar worked for Möller & Co. captaining cargo ships out of Shanghai. Both returned to Estonia in the 1930s and were co-founders of the Estonian shipping company Merilaid & Co.[14][15]


  1. ^ Manors were landholdings owned by noble families since the Middle Ages. The medieval Loona Manor (called Kadvel in German) has undergone many changes and today houses the information centre for Vilsandi National Park. See (1), (2), (3), and (4)
  2. ^ See article titled The Development of Estonian Maritime Shipping on pages 1-8 of the Baltic Military History Newsletter May 2014
  3. ^ Entry for Peeter All in the Estonian Maritime Glossary Mereleksikon, 1996, page 17, ISBN 5-89900-037-6.
  4. ^ Berendson, Risto, article in the September 8, 2008 Postimees newspaper whose title translates as "In the footsteps of a Saaremaa farmer who became rich selling antiques salvaged from shipwrecks to Russians". See
  5. ^ Truuväärt, Reet, article on the history of Kihelkonna borough that appeared in the Saaremaa 1995/96 yearbook, as shown on the website. See
  6. ^ Kivi, Priit, article about Saaremaa shipowners in the late 19th century and early 20th century in the Meiemaa newspaper on August 9, 2010. See
  7. ^ Entry for Peeter All in the Estonian Encyclopedia. See
  8. ^ The website of the Estonian Maritime Museum notes that it holds a colored ferrotype of Peeter All, the only Estonian photograph of this type known to exist. See
  9. ^ Vahur, Mägi, article about Estonian maritime schools titled "Merekoolid Eesti Tehnikahariduses" in the 2010 03 issue of the engineering magazine Inseneeria, pp. 50-51. See
  10. ^ Notes on the history of this region from the website of Vilsandi National Park, see,all%5C%5C%5C%22
  11. ^ Pao, Bruno, article titled "Väikese saare suured meremehed" or "The big men from the small island" that appeared in the Estonian periodical called "Nature", Eesti Loodus ISSN 0131-5862, 1980 No. 5, pp. 308-313.
  12. ^ Past, Evald, book titled "Jooni Eesti mereasjanduse minevikust". Tallinn, 1935
  13. ^ These ships were built and launched at Papissaare-sadam (harbor). See
  14. ^ Mender, P., "Thirty Years A Mariner in the Far East 1907–1937", The Memoirs of Peter Mender, A Standard Oil Ship Captain on China's Yangtze River. See
  15. ^ Vakker, Urve, powerpoint presentation titled "Loonalaid ja Peeter All" given on August 2, 2008 to the Saaremaa Association of Maritime Culture, called SALAVA, that became a chapter with the same name in the 2009 Estonian maritime yearbook. See and Eesti Laevanduse Aastaraamat 2009, pp. 123-129, shown here refer