Otto Peters (1845-1875)

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Friedrich Carl Otto Peters (1845-1875) was one of the founders of the drapery that became John Martin's.

Otto Peters


Otto Peters was born in about 1845 in Hamburg, the son of Johann Friedrich Anton PETERS. He arrived in South Australia aboard the Ocean (AKA Wolga) in 1849 with his father and siblings. His father, Anton, was the publican of the Victoria Hotel (later known as the Valley) from 1855 to 1866.

On the Ocean, the party is listed as Mr Peters, wife and 3 children and this has caused much confusion over the years, as the family consisted of 5 children at the time of voyage: Amanda, Constantin Ernst, Maria Wilhelmine Ludowicke, Franz Heinrich Walter, and Friedrich Carl Otto.

Otto moved to Adelaide as a teenager to learn the draper’s business at G & R Wills in Rundle Street. By this stage, both Carl Friedrich Rischbieth and Carl Georg Balk had been brought in as partners, and this German focus may have been the reason for Otto seeking employment. By 1866, at the age of about 21, Otto and his colleague John Martin had decided to start their own drapery business and leased the shops at 94 Rundle Street, just a few doors east of their former employer. Peters and Martin had arrived.

In 1870, Otto’s father died, and between his inheritance and the money made from the business, Otto decided to retire from the partnership in 1871. Retirement at the age of 26 did not seem to agree with Otto and he teamed with his brother Walter to travel with the Government Survey Party to the Northern Territory in 1872 and begin a drapery business there. Again he was most successful in his business dealings; however, his time on ships was not as fortunate.

Otto Peters Store, Mitchell Street, Darwin, 3rd June, 1875 [NLA PIC P827/23 LOC Album 914/1&2]

When Otto left Hamburg in 1849, the ship he and his family travelled on, the “Ocean”, was required to fly under a false name and flag to get past the Danish blockade of the Hanseatic cities, and so often the ship is referred to as a Russian vessel “Wolga”. In 1873, Otto was a passenger on the ill-fated “Springbok” that took 4 months to travel from Darwin to Cardwell in North Queensland resulting serious outbreaks of scurvy and dysentery amongst the passengers and crew, and requiring the captain to be suspended as an “imbecile” and certain members of the crew to ensure a safe completion to the journey. In 1875 Otto pushed his ill-luck with marine vessels too far. Aboard the “SS Gothenburg” returning from Darwin to Adelaide, Otto died, along with over 100 others, when the vessel struck the Barrier Reef in the Flinders passage. He was 30 years old.


Otto appears to have been the fourth child of Johann Friedrich Anton Peters and his first wife, possibly Marie Sophie Catherine Schulz. Of the children identified in the wills of Otto and Anton Peters, 5 were born before the family arrived in South Australia:

  • Amanda b. abt 1840 d. 24 Dec 1920 (did not marry)
  • Maria Wilhelmia Ludowicka b. abt 1844 m. 1864 James Heggie d. 18 Jan 1896. James and Maria were the parents Otto Peters Heggie, a successful actor in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s.
  • Constantin Ernst abt 1844 m. Sophia Lousia Stewart 1869 d. 26 Nov 1923 Cottesloe WA
  • Friedrich Carl Otto abt 1845
  • Franz Heinrich Walter about 1846 - m. Ellen Potter 1869 d. 30 October 1928

It is not clear whether the children's mother travelled with them, or if Anton was a widow when he arrived in South Australia. Anton married again, in 1854 in Tanunda, to Johanne Marie Catherina Schonenberger. They had one child:

  • Emilie Marianne Marie b. 7 Jun 1855 m. Robert Homburg 1873 d. 1882. Emilie was the mother of both Hermann Robert Homburg and Robert Otto Homburg who, along with their father, served as members of the South Australian legislature.

Residences in the City

Dates Place Current Address Co-ordinates

Work in the City

Dates Place Current Address Co-ordinates

Published Obituary

From the Adelaide Observer, Saturday 13 March 1875:

The deceased Mr. Otto Peters was well known in the mercantile community of the city. He was formerly an assistant at Messrs. Gr. & B. Wills & Co.'s wholesale establishment, and left there with Mr. James Martin to start in business for him self. The new firm of Peters & Martin, retail drapers, rose rapidly, and did a large and successful trade. In four or five years Mr. Peters retired, it is understood, with a few thousands to his credit. He travelled a short time, but finding a leisure life did not suit him he embarked in business in the Northern Territory, where he was doing well. He was one of the passengers in the Springbok when she made such a perilous voyage a year or two ago. The deceased was unmarried.”


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