About Witt | Altona
Heinrich Witt was born on May 11th, 1799 into a tradesman family in Altona. Altona was an independent city at the time, belonging to the kingdom of Denmark. Witt started his own tradesman career in 1816 as an apprentice at the famous trading firm of Conrad Hinrich Donner in Altona. In 1823 he moved to London and started working for Antony Gibbs and Sons. Shortly before Witt joined the company, Gibbs and Sons had – like a lot of other European trading firms at that time – started business with the newly independent South American states. 1824 Witt switched over to the South American branch of Gibbs in Peru. There, he first worked as a clerk in Arequipa, in the south of the country. After a couple trips in the Andes on behalf of other tradesmen, Witt came back to Gibbs in 1830 and assumed control of the branch. In 1833 he was promoted to the top position at the main branch in the capital city Lima. In 1842 Witt parted ways with Gibbs and established himself successfully as a freelance tradesman in trading goods from Europe. He worked intermittently in the guano business, which was a vital industry for Peru. Witt’s work focus soon turned to the financial sphere, especially private credit and loan business as well as bill transactions. In the 1860s and 1870s he expanded into banking, insurances, train companies and logistics. As a result of his successful philanthropy, Witt was appointed a delegate in 1841 and rose to the position of consulate general of the kingdom of Denmark in Peru in 1845. Prior to this, in 1831, Witt married Maria Sierra Velarde (twice widowed) in Arequipa. She brought three children into the marriage. Despite not having children of their own, Witt spent his life in a circle of a growing family. His wife’s connection to influential families, his commercial success and his political contacts as a consulate general, all had a hand in making Witt a permanent and accepted member of the small upper class in Lima. After Maria Sierras died in May 1876, Witt almost completely retired from business and lived with one of his stepdaughter’s family as a pensioner. He eventually died on November 3rd, 1892. Between his emigration to Peru in 1824 and his death in 1892, Witt took several shorter trips throughout Peru, Bolivia and Chile, as well as five trips to Europe (some spanning over many years). Most of his life, however, was spent in Peru’s capital city, where he wrote his diary, which to this day remains privately owned.