Shipping in West Jutland

The Fisheries and Maritime Museum also covers shipping in west Jutland. The focus is on the history of shipping in the northern reaches of the Wadden Sea, which goes back to the Viking era when Ribe was a trading centre. In particular, shipping in the time of sailing vessels has been an area of focus for the museum’s research and investigations, ranging from the trade in goods to and from Amsterdam in the 1600s and 1700s, to the global Fanø shipping of the 1700s and 1800s. Also the whaling vessels from (for example) Rømø in the 1600s and 1700s make up a significant part of the historical narrative about shipping in the region.

As the largest harbour on the west coast since 1874, Esbjerg harbour’s history of agricultural exports and ferry traffic to England also plays a major role. In particular, the conversion and development of Esbjerg harbour from a fishing port to becoming the base and port of shipment for the offshore sector is one of the museum’s current areas of focus.

As a monument to shipping in the Wadden Sea, the museum has in its collection the fishing smack “Ane Cathrine”, which was built on Fanø in 1887. The ship, which is a main feature of the museum’s open air exhibition, is one of only a few preserved smacks – a flat-bottomed vessel hailing particularly from the region of the Wadden Sea, dating back to the 13th century. “Ane Cathrine” has thus been classified as an object of “unique national significance”.

Fiskekutteren "Ane Cathrine", som er bygget på Fanø i 1887. Kutteren er på display på museets udendørsudstilling, Friland.

Hvalfangst i ishavet.)


Historical dates

At the end of the 1600s Rømø became a centre for maritime activity, where many sailors would seek employment on the large German and Dutch whaling ships headed for the Arctic. The western European countries were a market for whale oil and blubber, and the whalers therefore made good business. The islanders from Rømø quickly gained a reputation as being good whalers, so they were much in demand. The business ventures of the past can still be glimpsed when visiting the homesteads of Rømø’s commanders. ‘Commander’ was the Dutch title for the captain of a whaling ship.


The interest in whaling spread to several places along the Wadden Sea coast. In Hjerting, for example, the Hjerting-Greenland Shipping Company was founded in 1720. The expeditions to the north also gave rise to activity at home, and this included the establishment of a whale oil rendering plant in Hjerting which processed the blubber which was brought home. In 1740 the Ribe merchant Jens Rasmussen Rahr took over the shipping company, which he moved from Hjerting to Nordby on Fanø in 1769. Here, he hired commanders from Rømø and sailors from Fanø and Hjerting. Besides whaling, Hjerting also became known for export of the famous ‘jydepotter’ (hand-made clay pots), which are produced in south-west Jutland.



According to tradition, in 1741 Fanø won its freedom from the royal fiefdom under the manor of Ribe Ladegård. The next hundred years would bring a Golden Age of prosperity to the tiny island community. Whereas the men of Rømø continued to serve under foreign flags, the islanders of Fanø gradually built up their own fleet. From the 1770s onwards, they built more big ships, and shipping brought with it prosperity to Nordby and Sønderho, which is why the period is known as Fanø’s ‘age of silver’. In spite of war and general instability in the kingdom, in the period from approx. 1840s to 1900, Fanø was able to expand and develop shipping to cover the globe. The period until the peak of development in 1897 was therefore known as Fanø’s ‘age of gold’. A little more than 20 years later, the fleet on Fanø was completely gone, and a new maritime centre was growing up in Esbjerg.


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