We are in the middle of the 19th century – an era already fundamentally characterised by European colonialism and capitalism. The adventurous persons of the younger European generations are challenged and attracted by the still mysterious countries in the overseas – i.e.. in Africa and Asia. This was also the case with regard to Hermann Leopold Schück born in 1835 in Brieg/Silesia. The father, a prison governor, would have preferred to see Leopold finishing his study of law. But Leopold could scarcely imagine a life as stickler of the laws behind folders and sections.
He decides on going to the sea and acquires German and English shipping licenses. Already the first ship passage goes to the Far East. In Australia he works on a sheep farm and he mines gold. Soon he has the necessary money to buy his first ship. He becomes a contract-captain at the ethnic German Carl Schomburgh who established a trading organization in South East Asia with Singapore as centre. Commodities are Chinese silk, pearls, cobra, spices, coffee, cocoa, slaves and also opium. Especially for the English merchants opium is an important article of commerce in trading businesses with China.
Schück heads on to the Sulu Sea. The relatively prosperous islands there have been ruled for about 600 years by numerous Muslim Sultans and - in the second level of hierarchy - by datus(1). But their reign ship is now weakened and at risk. Spain, the Netherlands, England - and in a later period also the German Reich – compete for colonies and protectorate zones. Spain tries again and again to expand its Philippine colony to the south and to dominate also the Sulu Sea. Spain has the better military equipment. In 1848 armed Spanish steamships are blocking the port of Jolo. They take the town and destroy it partly. Sultan Pulalun has to accept an imposed peace treaty who formally makes the area a Spanish protectorate. The treaty leaves him only the rank of a Sultan and fields of the inner administration. Henceforth the lucrative trade with ships of other flag are forbidden, all foreign trade has to be completed in the Spanish controlled ports of Manila, Iloilo or Zamboanga. Up to the year 1876, however, the Spaniards do not establish a permanent fortress on Jolo. Again and again the native rulers therefore test the limits of the unpleasant contract, they question the treaty fundamentally and they are looking for friendship agreements with other European powers to loose from the bonds of Spanish supremacy.
In 1864 Captain Schück navigates his classical route Singapore – North Borneo with its three-masted sailing boat "Wilhelmine". But then his ship gets caught in a storm, is sent off of the course and strands on the beach in front of Jolo with broken masts and torn sails. Schück is looking for help with the Sultan of Jolo Jamal ul Alam. He sends the greetings of the German empire government and presents the Sultan as present the newly developed Mauser gun. Its the beginning of a “romantic appearing”(2) friendship of both. They agree to improve the mutual trade. The Sultan is interested in still more Mauser guns, slaves (especially for pearl fishing) and opium. Sultan Jamal Al-Alam does not only help him with the repair of the ship, he also issues him a letter of safe-conduct against pirate attacks. Pirate attacks were then at the agenda and Schück will appreciates this royal charter in the following time.
Now our captain has become thirty years and he is looking for a woman. He finds this woman in Sophie Wilhelmine Hornstein whom he has met as a governess in England. Since he is very preoccupied by his businesses in South East Asia, Sophie travels alone to Singapore where the two get married in 1865. From the marriage altogether four sons and four daughters result within the years 1866 - 1877. Two children were born on board of ship. Temporarily wife Sophie lives with her daughters also in Germany.
In the meantime another Prussian captain contacted the Sultan. He takes along a letter to the Prussian king Wilhelm I. This letter arises surprise in Berlin. In the letter the Sultan reports to his royal "dear brother" of consecutive Spanish attacks on his empire and he requests Prussian support in his independence fight. The letter is not answered, however. Bismarck considers the Prussian empire still "not yet ripe enough" for venturesome overseas protection areas or colonies. Only 22 years later in 1884 the German empire establishes colonies of its own in Namibia and Togo. The Bismarck archipelago in the South Seas becomes a German protective zone in1885.
Captain Schück keeps on his commercial activities in this time. In 1868 his ship is captured by Chinese pirates near the harbor of Hong Kong. His daughter Army tells later:
"The married couple sailed together for two years when the ship was seized by Chinese pirates. The wind was too calm for an escape. The Chinese rowing junks encircled the ship and Schück hided his wife in the top basket hoping that she is in security there. The pirates came to board and asked the handing out of all money and all objects of value of Schück and brought him tied up under board. Captain Schück succeeded in escaping, however. He followed the pirate leader who was on the way to the mast top trying to catch the wife. The pirate was successful in tearing a ring from the ear of Schück´s wife; but then he was pushed by Schück into the sea. Meanwhile the complete crew was also tied up. Schück took his revolver and threatened the leader, who came to board again: "The first shot is for you. The second for me ". But the pregnant wife of Schück pleaded :"Wait, wait, there is still time for shooting". And she shall be still right. A British warship approaches and the pirates flee. Schück´s ship reached the port of Hong Kong badly damaged" (3).
The damaged ship means a heavy financial blow to Schück and his copartners. But with the help of friends Schück can purchase a new ship and he continues his prospering trade in the South Chinese Sea. Wife Sophie stays in the meantime with most of their children either in Germany or Singapore.
In 1872 Schück visits again the island of Jolo. He brings along the greetings of the German emperor and – much to the delight of Sultan Jamal ul Alam – Mauser guns. The friendship between captain and the Sultan consolidates more. Schück is now operating as amateur diplomat and a kind of German trade consul. Again the Sultan looks for the protection of the German empire and offers a coal station for the imperial fleet. In this matter Schück has two audiences with the German emperor and Chancellor Bismarck. The empire government however is still afraid of intra-European complications. The Sultan are only given some presents (a golden watch, a dagger and a vase), but his political wishes remain unfulfilled.
The Spanish navy bombards Jolo in 1873 and Spanish declarations emphasize again that any foreign trade with the islands – especially such of weapons – is strictly forbidden. In the same year German and British trading ships are seized in the Sulu Sea. After strong German and British protests they are set free with compensations. For Captain Schück the trade with the islands is risky but also profitable. He wants to expand the trade with the islands and with the financial help of his Austrian friend Carl Schomburgh he builds up a trade station with docks and stores in Sandakan Bay, which is part of the area of the Sultan and is now situated in Malaysia.
However, Spain does not slacken off. In 1876 they move with 33 ships and 9000 men and "hundreds of priests and nuns" (x) to besiege Jolo at first. Sultan Jamal ul Alam declares the "Jihad" (sacred war). A famine spreads in the occupied city of Jolo. Captain Schück is the knight in shining amour. He succeeds in smuggling in rice in the town, which he gets from Borneo. The Sultan and population of Jolo will be always grateful to him for this courageous action. The Spanish troops settle in Jolo and parts of the town get into fire. Schück escapes to the south and smuggles on secret, mangrove-covered channels weapons to the front line. The Spaniards are for him on the trace. They capture his ship "Minna" and bring it to Manila. Since no weapons on ship can be found, it is given free soon afterwards.
1877/78 two Sulu protocols are signed by Spain, England and the German empire. They mean a power loss for the Sultan, because now – on a international basis - all sovereignty right over the Sulu region are granted to Spain and Sulu becomes a Spanish patronage area. The parties to the contract leave the Sultan only the title, own flag, religious freedom and some authorizations with respect to the inner administration. The Spanish trade embargo is canceled and the area gets the status of a free trade zone.
In the meantime Schück established a new commercial station with name Parana on the island of Jolo. Here he feels so secure and self-confident, that he registers the local boats under the German empire flag.
Schück is now joined together with the Sultan by a blood brotherhood, which should last according to the tradition of the country more than more than 44 generations. As sign of gratitude for his supports Sultan Jamal ul-Alam transfers to him a large area of land in Lukat Lupas near the city of Jolo. The size is 5000 hectares - for comparison: Cory Aquino`s well known Hacienda Luicita in the province Tarlac has merely a size of approx. 4000 hectares today. Now he is a big landowner and he concentrates his work on plantations. After the cancellation of the commercial blockade the smuggling of goods is no longer so lucrative for him. Moreover, the Sultan does not like to be dependent on food imports. Schück sells his ship, consults German farming experts and gets with his "Teutonic personality" (Serafin D. Quiason) in his second native country an agricultural expert with respect to systematic irrigation, floor enrichment, seed, harvest, storekeeping and packing. He plants tapioca, coffee, cocoa, Abaka and natural coconut palms. He starts his plantation work with 100 "slaves" – later he has 300 "slaves". Very few is known about the ownership and legal status of these "slaves". Even his descendant and biographer Schück-Montemayor, who investigated the life of Schück very carefully, could not get further information. But it is known that the Sultans in the region employed slaves especially for pearl diving and in the farming sector. We should also mention that Schück later established a ward for his working slaves and their family members. The medical treatment was free of costs.
A lot of domestic and foreign guests are visiting the plantation with its two-storey house and Schück is highly praised for his plantation. Nonetheless the peaceful picture is on closer examination a little bit cloudy. Schück teaches his women how to operate with pistols. The house has a ladder, which could pulled up. And in the house guns were disposed near hatches to shoot against "bandits" and "renegades" (rebels).
We already mentioned that wife Sophie lives for a longer time also in Europe or in Singapore. And our Captain Schück is surely not a sexual ascetic. The Sultan procures for him in absence of his wife Sophie a new partner. It is the only 15-year Sharifa Yap, a pretty Chinese sturdy Moslem from the local nobility circle. Schück converts to the Islam and marries according the Islamic rite. Sharifa gives birth to a son named Julius and she helps also in managing the plantation. In 1880 return the first wife Sophie returns to Jolo, however. We know nothing about the mutual discussion. The two reconcile themselves again. Sophie stays now on the side of her husband and regards Julius as a son of her. For Sharifa which leaves the house a second marriage is arranged with a rich Chinese.
In 1881 Sultan Jamalul Alam passes away. In his last years he realized the political weakness of his Sultanate. There was no remedy against the supremacy of European technology and enormous capital strength. There was much quarrelling about his successor. Finally the only 15-year old Badarud Din II. gets elected. He is heavily addicted to opium and reigns only three years.
Only two years later, in 1833, Sophie was also suddenly taken by death. She becomes the victim of a widespread cholera epidemic on Jolo. We should mention in this context, that in the same year the cholera-bacterium was discovered by the German mediciner and bacteriologist Koch.
Schück is now looking for a German governess for his children. He finds her in Elisa Boelter. A little bit later the two get married now again according to Christian rite. But the luck is not anymore on the side of Schück. A pest strikes his coconut plantations in 1877. They die. Schück misses the sea and he wants to take up again his work as merchant captain. He becomes particularly active in the trade with pearls. Staying at Singapore he takes a cholera contaminated meal in 1887. Ten hours after the meal he dies like his first wife Sophie at the same epidemic. He got 55 years old and was buried in Singapore.
The many descendants of captain Schück live now - also under the name "Schuck" - scattered in the Philippines, the USA and in Germany. The multilingual sons Eduard and Charles take later functions as official interpreters during the negotiations with the new American colonial masters. Charles is in 1917 victim of an assassination, he gets decapitated with a Kris (Indonesian sword). Son Julius – child of the liaison with Sharifa Yap – becomes a politician and he is in the twenties member of the Philippine House of Representatives.
A lot of information in this article is taken from the book of his newest biographer and relative, Michael Schück Montemayor. We recommend the lecture of his book(3), because it is in particular thanks to him that the life and personality of Schück is not lost in the mists of history.
How can we asses Schück in a distance of more than one hundred years? Was he only an adventurous captain and merchant who made money by risky businesses? Yes – that's for the most part true. However, he has also integrated in his person two different cultures exemplarily and he was a mediator between different cultural and political worlds. He was linked with the political colonialism in the late 19th century - fighting the Spanish one and promoting a possible German one. But it seems that his political engagement was not only inspired by selfish or nationalistic motives but especially in favor of an attacked native ruler and his region.
© Wolfgang Bethge, 2006
(1) Sultanate of Sulu: in: http://www.reference.com/browsw/wiki/Sultante_of_Sulu.htm
(2) Kurt Titze, Bali Timor Philippines, Munich, Zurich, 1968, p. 139
(3) Quotation from Michael Schück Montemayor, Captain Herman Leopold Schück, The saga of a German Sea Captain in the 19th century in the Sulu Sulawesi Seas, The University of The Philippines press 2005, Quezon city centre, p.18
(4) More information about his descendants in: Hermogenes E. Bacareza, A History of Filipino German relation, Quezon City Centre, 1980, p. 63 ff.