“…a German residing in Glasgow becomes ‘Scotchified’…”

Glasgow was a boom town in the 19th century. People flocked to the city from across the world to live, work, and seek fame and fortune.

Among them was Adolphus Hanns Geyer, a young engineer from Austria-Hungary.

When he arrived by the 1880s, the city was home to several hundred people of German ethnicity. Growing by the 1900s to an estimated 2,000-3000 people, they worked as businessmen, musicians, teachers, waiters, hoteliers, bakers and brewers.

Many achieved prominent positions in city life and institutions.

Paul Rottenburg in Glasgow Contemporaries at the Dawn of the XXth Century, Photo-Biographical Publishing Co. Ltd, Glasgow, 1901

Carl Hugo Roëmmele came from Heidelberg in the 1860s as a clerk, then set up a successful iron and coal export business. His wife’s family were from Switzerland.

Paul Rottenburg from Danzig (Gdansk) arrived in the 1860s. A chemicals merchant, he headed up Leisler, Bock & Co., and was twice President of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.

Sebastian Schwabe managed his own calico printing firm in Glasgow in the 1870s. His family, originally from northern Germany, were prominent in the cotton industry in Britain from the 1820s.

Julius Seligmann came from Hamburg in in 1842. A violinist and conductor, he founded the St Cecilia Musical Society and in the 1880s set up a conservatoire in the city and became the first President of the Glasgow Society of Musicians.

Many of them joined the Arlington Bath. Sebastian Schwabe was one of the founders and Carl Hugo Roëmmele joined in the early days and became a life member.

Adolphus Hanns Geyer was also a member.

Austrian orgins

Adolphus Hanns Geyer was born in Austria in 1857. The Austrian Empire he was born into was founded in 1804 and, as well as Austria, it included many other lands that were ruled by the Hapsburg royal family. Part of the Empire was also a part of the German Confederation, where it was the most significant member alongside Prussia.

In 1867 a formal union was established between the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary and the territory became Austria-Hungary, also often called the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many people in the Empire spoke either German or Hungarian, but many other languages were also in use including Italian, Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Rumanian and others, as explained in this British Library blog.

Image credit: A 1868 ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy with detailed statistics of the national and linguistic diversity. Ethnographische Karte der österreichischen Monarchie. Entworfen u. gezeichnet v. A. Steinhauser. Wien, 1868, British Library Maps 27727.(16.)

An article in the Glasgow Evening Post of 1891 described how the community of German speakers in Gasgow had grown from 300 in 1881 to many more as they had “discovered the possibilties of coining money which existed in St Mungo”. According to the newspaper this community included Jews fleeing from Russian Government oppression, watchmakers and jewellers from the Black Forest, and middle class Protestant families.

In this article Professor Stefan Manz discusses the experiences of German entrepreneurs across the world including Glasgow. Among the people mentioned are chemical merchant and president of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Paul Rottenberg, Fritz A. Schreiber at Tennent’s Brewery, and timber merchant and honorary consul Johannes N. Kiep.

Geyer had undertaken an Arts course and then trained as an engineer on a four-year course at an Engineering College in Vienna. But in Glasgow his life was changed by the many German seamen and emigrants who passed through Glasgow on their journeys across the Atlantic Ocean. In helping them he was inspired to train for the Church.

painting of a docikside at twilight with ships moored on one side and people walking down a road and pavement on the other. Light is spilling out of shop and office indows on to the street surface which is shiny with rain.
John Atkinson Grimshaw, Shipping on the Clyde, 1881, © Coleccion Carmen Thyssen Inv. no. (CTB.1989.28)

Title quote: “The German in Glasgow”, Glasgow Evening Post, 26 February 1891