The second child and first son of Leopold Schiff and his wife Hänchen was born in Trieste on the 1st November 1838. His given name was Samuele, the name of his paternal grandfather in Mannheim, and presumably his Jewish name, as used for religious purposes. His German name was Carl Gottlieb, and he was also known as Carlo Teofilo, the latter being the Italian version of Gottlieb, and similarly meaning in its original Greek "God's love". In practice, for his adult life he was known as Charles.
Charles appears to have started his adult career in Alexandria, with the Egyptian arm of the Wollheim & Co. family shipping business. He also seems to have forged links with London very early on. I knew nothing about Charles for quite a while, and his brothers had a much better known presence in London, but gradually over a couple of months I have amassed a great deal.
In May, 1865, Charles Schiff first appears in the British press, in relation to the bankruptcy of Wollheim & Co. in Alexandria. He would have been only 26 at this time. Edmund Wollheim, presumably a cousin on his mother's side, happened to be in London when the bankruptcy happened. For a few weeks the case featured in the press, but interestingly Wollheim & Co appear to have emerged from the affair with their high reputation for probity intact.
Charles appears to have been the first of the three brothers to make his way to London, but, except for this affair of the forced bankruptcy of the Alexandria branch of the family business, we do not know what kind of work he was engaged in, but within a few years he appears on the other side of the Atlantic, building a successful career in the United States based particularly on the development of the railway system there. According to his grandson, a clergyman in Leicester, he was the author of a booklet in the early 1870s encouraging investment in the American railway network, in particular in Alabama. This was in the period following the American Civil War [1861-65], and Charles was active in the process of economic reconstruction following that difficult period. In 1875 he is mentioned in The Times of London as being Baron Erlanger's representative. Frédéric Émile d'Erlanger was a fellow European, also of Jewish extraction, who was a leading investor in New World railways. He is still remembered as an important benefactor of the American city of Chattanooga [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frédéric_Emile_d'Erlanger].
Railways seem to have filled his time over the next few years, firstly the Alabama Great Southern Railroad Company, which advertised for investors in the Pall Mall Gazette of London in April, 1878. Charles appears to have been based in both Cincinnati and in London, using his presence in London to attract investors, and also to enlarge his portfolio of business interests, being mentioned at that time as a directorthe Crystal Palace Company (1879), the Mortgage Company of England (1882), and the Telephone Company Ltd (1883). This last venture is mentioned on 27th November, 1883, when he presided at a meeting when the company was liquidated, all shareholders receiving shares in the United Telephone Company, and a dividend. This is extremely early in the history of telephony in England: he was very much a visionary pioneer in several fields. [http://www.britishtelephones.com/histuk.htm]
This meeting took place only two months after his wedding, which suggests he spent his honeymoon travelling across the Atlantic with his bride in order to attend to his business interests. His bride was Mary Burch, who was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she was 22 years old, much younger than Charles, who was by then almost 44 years old. Mary was the daughter of Col. John C. Burch, a leading Southern politician, but also the first such person to come to political prominence in the period following the Civil War of 1861-1865, being appointed secretary of the United States senate, a post he held from 1879 to 1881, dying in 1885, two years after his daughter's marriage. Mary Burch met Charles Schiff in Washington at the time of his holding office as secretary of the senate.
His career was echoed in some ways by that of Charles Schiff: enterprising, flexible, ambitious and successful, with an important strand of trustworthiness. He was also editor for many years of 'The Nashville American', and was recognised as 'a leader of Southern thought and prominent in its affairs'. He was married to Lucy Newell and had several children.
His daughter Mary's marriage took place at their home in Nashville, Tennessee, she having studied at Vassar College in Nashville from which she graduated in 1878. I wonder if Tennessee was her mother's family home, as her father seems to have perambulated considerably from Missouri to California before spending his latter years in Tennessee, but being buried in San Francisco.
HOUSE, 3lst General Assembly, l855-57; representing Hamilton County;
SENATE, 32nd General Assembly, l857-59; representing counties of Hamilton, Bledsoe, Bradley, Marion, and Rhea;
Speaker of Senate in 32nd Assembly.
Married, c.l844, to Lucy Newell; eight children--Katherine Newell, Mary Ballard, John Christopher,Jr., Charles N., Robert Lee, and Lucius Edward, and two who died in infancy.
Began practice of law at Spring Place, Murray County, Georgia; removed to Chattanooga, Hamilton County, l852, and practiced until l859; removed to Nashville, Davidson County, l859, to become editor of Nashville Union and American, a leading Democrat paper of state; after Civil War, l869, purchased controlling interest in that paper and continued as chief editor until l873.
Appointed Comptroller of Tennessee May 1, 1873, and continued to January l4, l875; elected secretary of U.S. Senate, March 24, l879, and continued until death some two years later.
A strong advocate of Southern rights, he served during Civil War on staffs of Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, and Gen. Jones M. Withers, with rank of colonel.
Member Protestant Episcopal Church.
The family still owns a silver plate presented to Mary on her marriage to Charles inscribed from 'The Chairman, Directors and Secretary of the Alabama Great Souther and Alabama, New Orleans, Texas and Pacific Junction Railways.
Mary and Charles seem to have spent the early years of married life in Cincinnati, where several of their children were born. The eldest, Catherine, was born in London in about 1885; Charles was born in Cincinnati in 1886, Lucille in 1887, Martin in 1888, Mary in 1890, and Jeanette in 1892. A portrait of the five older children survives and is now in the Museum of Art in Nashville in the United States. It was painted in 1892 by Julian Russell Story and was donated by the family to the Museum of Art in Nashville. [Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art Nashville Tennessee Accession Number: 1960.2.68]
|Portrait of the Schiff Children, 1892|
Charles's business affairs continued impressively. In 1887 he is described as president of the Barcelona Tramways Company 1890 he is described as being president of the Queen and Crescent System of railways, in 1891 he is listed with his wife and children as living in London at 22, Lowndes Square, but also in Cincinnati as president of various railway companies: N O & N E R R, A & V Ry, V S & P R R.
It was at this time that Charles's nephew Sydney, eldest son of his younger brother Alfred, came to Cincinnati to work briefly with him.Sydney left an account of this time with his uncle in America in his book 'The Other Side', written under his pseudonym Stephen Hudson to disguise what is a typically autobiographical work masquerading as fiction. Similarly, the account of his mésalliance with his first wife is the novel called 'Elinor Colehouse'. Both books give information about his uncle and his world in America.
The Standard 2/12/1887
The Alabama and Texas Railways
A meeting of the debenture holders of the Alabama, New Orleans, Texas, and Pacific Junction Railways Company was held yesterday at the Cannon-street Hotel. Captain Francis Parry, the receiver and liquidator, presided, and, in the course of a lengthy address explaining the position of the company's affairs, stated that theirs was not a railway company, but a trust, the money of which had been invested in the purchase of different railways and other properties in the United States. Fortunately, their affairs in America were in the hands of Mr Charles Schiff, who was very well known in London, and to whose ability, anergy, and integrity he himself could testify. There were claims from creditors to the extent of 143,738l., but as only a small amount of that was represented by claims not secured by the deposit of bonds, practically no danger need be apprehended on that account. The capital of the company was 3,700,000l., exclusive of the B shares, which were issued fully paid up, in order to assist in raising the capital. Outside the railways, they had 138,774l. invested in other properties; and in the New Orleans and North-Eastern, the Vicksburg Shreveport, and Pacific, the Cincinnati, Southern, and the Vicksburg and Meridian Railwaysin bonds, stocks, &c, they had invested 2,959,013l. The balance of the capital had gone in discounts on bond issues, commissions and expenses, interest on bonds, &c. They had also allowed prior lieu bonds to be issued, having a preference over their holding. He next alluded to the working of the lines mentioned, and said that if the New Orleans and North-Eastern, the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific, and the Vicksburg and Meridian lines earned 5000 dols. a mile, and they could be worked at 70 per cent., the amount payable to the company would be 84,000l., and in addition there was the interestey might possibly receive from their Cincinnati Southern shares as well as a return on their other properties. The interest on the first mortgages amounted to 90,000l. As to the future, the bonded debt of the roads the company were interested in was not excessive, and undoubtedly great progress was now being made in the south ofthe United States, from which he could not but think that they would be benefitted. He had no intention, as some of the bondholders appeared to think, to sell their securities and distribute the assets or to form any scheme...
In the late 1890s Charles appears again in the British press as part of a new scheme, a company called Manchester Liners Ltd, with the purpose of providing shipping from Manchester via the Ship Canal to Canada. It operated successfully for many decades. The chairman was Sir Christopher Furness, whose shipping firm Furness Withy was later to employ Charles's younger son Martin.
By now I suspect that Charles was beginning to feel his age, and his health was beginning to suffer. In the 1901 census he is described as a retired banker. He died on 17th August, 1905, aged 66, leaving his wife and young family - his youngest daughter was probably not even ten years old.
His declining years are alluded to in a fragment written by his nephew Sydney and published after Sydney's death:
It is strange that when things go very badly with me, my steps turn towards Lowndes Square. Aunt Kate, her personality, her life and her children have nothing in common with me. And yet this very contradiction draws me in that direction. The stability, the respectability of such lives, the qualities antithetic to my own which make them what they are, the complacent finality of their attitude to everything under the sun, their sureness that things are naturally and obviously so and can’t be otherwise for decent people, have a soothing effect upon me for a short time.The attraction must be a compound of sentiment and association. I persist in cherishing the notion of Uncle Theo’s highmindedness and endow Aunt Kate with a dim reflexion of it. I must have some atavistic bias towards respectability, an unconscious nostalgia for contact with remote ancestral virtues. Uncle Theo was, I suppose, the highest minded of the three brothers, according to the accepted code of the right-minded citizen. My father so stood out from the others, was so superior to them in intellectual grasp, in knowledge of the world and in personal charm that I have difficulty in applying the same standard to him as to Uncle Theo who was the most honourable as Uncle Fred is the least, as he was kindlier, more benevolent than Uncle Fred is now, whatever he may have been at the beginning. And yet Uncle Fred in his meanest moments, when I come near hating him, has a glowing intensity, an uncompromising self-sufficiency that force my admiration. Uncle Fred is in fact non-moral whereas Uncle Theo was essentially moral; his ideal was respectability. And by a strange irony it was he who at various moments of crisis in my life stood in the breach. I see his stout respectable figure in a pugilistic attitude defending the devil (me) from Fate, whose retributions his worthy conscience nevertheless fully approves. I think of him as I walk across the Park. How heartily he would have disapproved of everything I have done, am doing and am likely to do. Each stage in my walk marks a stage backwards into the past. At the bridge over the Serpentine I’ve got back to my marriage and Uncle Theo’s cable to Dr. Flössheim. I time it nicely. My hand and my memory reach together the bronze knocker I brought back from Italy, nominally as a present to him, actually the memorial of a night nearly thirty years ago when a small frightened boy rang the bell I am ringing now and got the answer that turned him back, a forlorn figure, into the foggy street. Alone then. Alone now.Poor old Uncle Theo—died an imbecile muttering ‘We shall all end in the gutter—in the gutter’—softening of the brain. ‘One of your aunt’s days at home!’ he used to exclaim with a grimace on such occasions as this.Room full of rubbish, salad of bad pictures and worthless ornaments. Aunt Kate sitting in a corner of sofa behind loaded tea-table, island of teacups surrounded by chairs, a couple of girl cousins—general effect of brotherliness in the Lord plus American brand of amiability—curious hybrid accent, London and Nashville. Inchoate acquaintances, solidly respectable, dull joyfulness about nothing…… Other people came into the drawing-room, the sort of people Aunt Kate seems to know endless numbers of. I’ve never met them anywhere else. Tea is served. My girl cousins begin bantering me in a peculiar uncle-Theo-like way which is supposed to be funny…
I have one item which gives a very special insight into the domestic life of Charles Schiff and his wife: the inventory made in infinitesimal detail following his death of every item in his home at 22, Lowndes Square. There is still a copy in the possession of the family; my copy came to me from a bookseller acquaintance in Devon who purchased it from the widow of a doctor in Norfolk. There are over one hundred foolscap pages, and deserves its own longer section which I shall write. 22, Lowndes Square was an imposing residence, the birthplace of the father of the Queen Mother. Charles died in 1905 leaving a considerable fortune.