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British Industrial History

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Gustavus Schwabe

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Gustav Christian Schwabe, (1813–1897), shipowner and financier

1813 Born in Hamburg, one of four sons of Philipp Benjamin Schwabe, a wealthy merchant, and his second wife, Rosalie Levi.

1820s The Schwabe family were one of a number of wealthy Jewish families who moved to Britain

Salis Schwabe established a calico-printing business in Manchester (presumably Salis Schwabe and Co), which quickly opened a Glasgow branch.

By 1838 Gustav Schwabe was in partnership in Liverpool with Edward Little in a firm of commission agents

1839 Little died; Schwabe seems to have acquired his house and his business interests.

Later he became involved with another Jewish concern, the East Indies shipping firm of J. S. de Wolf & Co., investing in their ships and learning the business of ship management in the Far Eastern and Australian trade.

1842 Schwabe married Helen Dugdale. In partnership with his father-in-law, John Dugdale, and Adam Sykes, and Benjamin Rutter, Schwabe established the merchant house of Sykes, Schwabe & Co.

By 1844 the firm was reported to be doing a very respectable business with Manila and Singapore

By 1849 its capital had reached £50,000. It seems to have been involved in the merchanting of printed calicos and in importing raw cotton and silk, partly for the other family business interests.

During the 1840s he became a junior partner in John Bibby & Sons, the Liverpool shipping firm.

His marriage had also brought him in touch with an ambitious young shipbuilder, Edward Harland, a distant cousin of his wife.

Schwabe sought Harland's advice when Bibbys switched to screw steamers in 1850 and encouraged him to move to Belfast in 1854 in the expectation that its proximity to Liverpool would make it a successful shipbuilding centre.

1857 Schwabe's nephew Gustav Wilhelm Wolff joined Harland, becoming his partner in Harland and Wolff in 1861. Most of the working capital for this new venture came from Gustav Schwabe and his sister Fanny, Wolff's mother.

Schwabe also secured contracts from Bibbys and other shipowners, including the young Thomas Henry Ismay, whom he helped to acquire the bankrupt White Star Line in 1867. Ismay formed Oceanic Steam Navigation Co with backing from Schwabe.

Within two years he had persuaded Ismay to adopt the high-risk strategy of entering the north Atlantic passenger market in competition with Cunard; he would provide the funds while Harland and Wolff built the ships. At once the partners commissioned new tonnage of novel design from the Belfast yard.

1873 after the Bibby fleet had been sold to Frederick Leyland, Schwabe withdrew from active participation in that enterprise.

He retained a diversity of interest in textiles and shipping in Liverpool and Manchester but increasingly spent time at his home in London.

1893 He began to withdraw from business, passing some of his enormous fortune to his nieces and nephews in the Britain and Germany.

1897 He died in London

The settlement of Schwabe's estate seems to have precipitated the formation of the International Mercantile Marine Co in 1901 in which the White Star, Hamburg-Amerika, and Norddeutscher Lloyd all participated.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of Gustav Schwabe, ODNB