Sebastian Hermann Schwabe – businessman and calico printer

Sebastian Hermann Schwabe was a businessman from a German Jewish family who had long been established in Glasgow and Lancashire.

He was one of the original subscribers of the Glasgow Swimming Bath Company and on was the first Committee of Management of Arlington Swimming Club.

The Schwabe family business

The Schwabe family were well established in Glasgow by the time the Baths opened in 1871.

The first representative of the family in Glasgow might have been Salis Schwabe. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required) he was born Salomon ben Elias Schwabe in a village in northern Germany.

“At the age of seventeen he went to Glasgow as a representative of his uncle’s merchant house, M. H. Schwabe and Gobert, and he later set up in business there on his own account as a manufacturer and exporter of printed cottons. No contemporary evidence has been found to support the accounts that state that he left Glasgow in 1832 as a result of a strike and a riot in which his factory was set on fire. But he did move on to Manchester, where, with the help of other German émigré industrialists, he quickly re-established himself as a merchant and calico printer.”

He made a huge success of the cotton business in Manchester, where he also converted to Unitarianism, and he became a very wealthy man. Meanwhile the Glasgow company also flourished, apparently under the guidance of other members of the family.

“In McFeat’s directory for 1819 appears the firm name of M. H. Schwabe and Gobert, merchants, 76 Brunswick Street. The Schwabes were a family of prosperous merchants who ultimately assimilated… Among the members of this family were H. L. Schwabe residing at 54 West Nile Street and L. Schwabe of 8 Blythswood Square, as also in all probability were A. F. Schwab and Adolphus Schwab, whose names were spelled without the final ‘e.”

The Origins of Scottish Jewry by A. Levy, inTransactions (Jewish Historical Society of England) Vol. 19 (1955-59), pp. 129-162 (subscription required)

The Friends of the Glasgow Necropolis identified M. H Schwabe as “Marcus Hertz Schwabe, a pillar of the Jewish community in Hamburg where he died in 1862 at nearly 100 years old.”

It’s not very clear when Sebastian’s father Hermann Levy Schwabe was born – 1792 and 1801 are both in the records – but his birthplace seems to have been Holstein in Germany. The 1861 census says he was a naturalised British citizen.

The M.H. Schwabe and Gobert firm is listed in the 1829-30 Post Office Directory at 95 Candleriggs. In the 1839-40 Directory there are several entries under Schwabe, now showing H. L. Schwabe at M. H. Schwabe and Gobert.

In 1837 Hermann Schwabe and a Ludolph Schwabe are among the people attending a banquet to honour the visit of Sir Robert Peel to the city to celebrate his election at rector of Glasgow University.

By the 1849 PO Directory entry the company has become Schwabe and Co. with H. L. Schwabe, and now also L. Schwabe, associated with it.

Schwabe and Co. is listed in the 1854-55 Post Office Directory, again listing H L Schwabe and Ludolph Schwabe. On the 1851 census Ludolph Schwabe is a cotton merchant, who is a British subject, born in Germany. (Though the 1861 census gives his birthplace as Belgium). His wife Helen was also born in Germany.

Sebastian, and the other Schwabe children

Herman Levy Schwabe was married to Augusta Bandman. Their son Sebastian Herman Schwabe, was born in 1846.

In the 1861 census three other children are listed at their address at 191 Bath Street:

  • Ottilia Schwabe, 25
  • Matilda Schwabe, 20
  • Frederick Schwabe, 11

There were also four servants.

In the 1868 Post Office Directory Sebastian has joined his father at the family firm.

In the 1870 Directory the company offices are given as 146 West George Street. His father was still part of the company, though now his home address was in Helensburgh, while Sebastian Herman Schwabe was now living at Cadzow Cottage in Hamilton.

This was because he was now married. Sebastian married Anne Lilburn Stewart on 22 Feb 1870. She had been born in Govan on 11 Feb 1848 to parents John Stewart, a distiller,  and Margaret Gray Todd. Their son Vincent was born in 1871.

By 1871 Hermann, Augusta and their daughter Matilda are living at 84 West Argyle St, with two servants , one of whom is a male invalid attendant. He died in 1874 and was buried in the Glasgow Necropolis on 26 June 1874 .

Auguste B Schwabe, was 83 when she died and was buried, also in the Necropolis, on 18 June 1883.

The Friends of the Glasgow Necropolis found that when Mrs Schwabe the following was published in the Glasgow Herald:

THE Late Mrs H. L. SCHWABE — The grave closed yesterday in our Necropolis over the mortal remains of a lady who some years ago occupied a prominent position in this city on account of her benevolence and of the interest she took in all that was good and noble. Mrs H. L. Schwabe about fifty years ago, was one of the first German ladies who left her native country with her husband to settle in Glasgow. By her high character, refined manners, and agreeable presence, she soon won the esteem of all who became acquainted with her, and her home circle was soon increased by men and women of intellect and position. Her house became the centre to which her countrymen were attracted, and an introduction to which was a voucher for their respectability and intelligence, but it was also open for any one who required advice or a helping band for any good purpose. She gave where she could, but not only with her hands, her heart was in her work, and no fatigue was too much for her in carrying out her good intentions. She was an active promoter of several educational and benevolent institutions. She took an active interest in the Queen’s College for the Education of Young Ladies, and, assisted by the late Mr Robt. Dalglish, Mr Walter Crum, and other leading citizens, she established a public nursery, likely the first of its kind in Glasgow, where little children could be left under proper care while their mothers were employed in warehouses and works. After the death of her much-beloved husband, who had seconded her in her noble efforts, she removed to Edinburgh, where her daughters follow the good example set by their parents. The eldest is the wife of Lord MacLaren and the younger one one of the secretaries of the Society for the Higher Education of Women. Mrs Schwabe will long be remembered by all who knew her as one who not only aspired to higher aims, but also inspired others with the same feeling. The funeral service was conducted by the Rev. Dr Crosskey, of Birmingham.

Glasgow Herald, Tuesday, June 19, 1883; Issue 146

Interestingly, Julie Schwabe, the wife of Salis Schwabe (the original founder of the business) was also interested in childcare; she was well known for her support to set up the Froebel Education Institute, to further the ideas of educationalist Friedrich Fröbel who had created the concept of the kindergarten.

Robert Dalglish, who is mentioned n the Herald article, was also one of the founders of the Arlington Baths.

By 1879 Sebastian seems to be running his own business; a company called S. Schwabe is listed in the Post Office Directory with offices at 68 Bath Street. Like so many of the other founders of the Baths it was a calico printing company. Calico is a printed cotton fabric (which originated from India) which usually had bright colours and floral patterns; the printing process used wooden blocks and ink. The calico printing industry was significant in Glasgow in the mid and late 19th century with rival firms employing thousands of workers.

1890 life members; 012 Schwabe, H. S
1890 life members in Arlington membership list. Glasgow City Archives TD965/64

He continued to be associated with the Baths, and is in the 1890 Life members list.

We don’t know when Sebastian died. His wife Anne Lilburn Stewart died on 17 June 1932 at 44 Buckingham Palace Mansions in London, leaving an estate of more than £11,000. She would have been about 84 years old.

Sebastian’s sister Matilda died, unmarried, in Florence in Italy in 1939, but we don’t know what happened to Ottilia.

There’s a suggestion that the youngest of Sebastian’s siblings – Frederick – ended up in America. There’s a story in Hidden History of Monmouth County by Rick Geffken and Muriel J. Smith about a man called Fred Stewart Hay or Frederick H Schwabe who was born in 1850 in Stirlingshire, Scotland, but enlisted in the US Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was awarded the Medal of Honour in September 1874 after a battle with Native Americans in the long-running conflict called the American Indian Wars or the Great Plains Wars. He died in January 1914 and is buried in Bay View Cemetery in New Jersey

Vincent Schwabe, engineer and rancher

Sebastian and Anne’s son, Vincent Hamilton Schwabe, was born on 27 Jan 1871. In the census for that year the family was at Cadzow Cottage at 5 Union Street in Hamilton with a nurse called Mary Johnstone and Grace Macdonald, housekeeper.

Vincent H S. Schwabe is in the 1891 census, an apprentice engineer, aged 20, living at 4 Glenavon Terrace. By 1901 he is a locomotive engineer, and on the night of the census he was a visitor to Buchanan Manse in Stirlingshire, where the household consisted of William H Macleod, Minster, aged 38, and his sister Sophie H Macleod.

We haven’t found the record but we think that Vincent and Sophie married in 1901. and then travelled extensively, emigrating to Canada and also settling in Hawaii.

In 1906 Vincent travelled to South America. He is described as a manager. In 1912 Vincent H Schwabe, Sophie H Schwabe, and their seven-year-old son William travel to New York. The National Library of Scotland has a record of Vincent Hamilton Schwabe being a locomotive engineer in British Columbia.

It seems that they may also changed their name, possibly as a result of the First World War when many people with German names adopted more British-sounding names.

A man called Vincent H Stewart-Macleod is recorded as joining the Royal Engineers in the First World War, and it’s noted that he has come from Canada to join he forces. Stewart was Vincent’s mother’s maiden name and MacLeod was his wife’s maiden name so it’s possible that this was Vincent Schwabe. He would have been about 42 or 43 when the War started.

In March 1924, a family named Stewart-MacLeod, consisting of Vincent H, 53, and Sophie H, 51, and their 19-year-old son William T, travelled from Honolulu to Vancouver. Vincent and Sophie had been born in Scotland but William was born in Canada, and the family lived in Canada before living in the USA, so we think this is the same family. Vincent is described as a rancher.

Later, in 1935, a couple called V Hamilton (64) born in Hamilton, and Sophie H Stewart-Macleod (62), born in Glasgow, travelled from Vancouver to San Francisco. If this is name change is correct, then we know that Sophie died in May 1953 in Canada but we don’t know when Vincent died.

Researchers: Lucy Janes, Kay Bryant

4 thoughts on “Sebastian Hermann Schwabe – businessman and calico printer

  1. Salis Schwabe was a son of Elias Herz Schwabe (merchant in Ovelgönne and since 1811 in Oldenburg), a younger brother of Markus Herz Schwabe; Hermann and Ludolph (originally Ludwig?) – probably born in Glückstadt (Holstein), living in Hamburg before moving to Glasgow – were sons of Levi Herz Schwabe, an older brother.
    Sebstian was born on 20 July 1845 [!] at Glasgow and died on 4 August 1897 in a hospital at Johannesburg (South Africa).


  2. Sorry, I’ve made a mistake in my former comment: Ludolph was not a brother of Hermann but his cousin, a son of Markus Herz Schwabe in Hamburg.
    And I forgot to mention that Sebastian’s sister Ottilia married in 1868 John McLaren, the later Lord Advocate für Scotland; she died on 18 April 1914 (I don’t know where …) and was buried in Edinburgh (like her husband).


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