Gustav Wilhelm Wolff

Hamburg-born co-founder of Belfast’s famous shipbuilders

Born in Hamburg in 1834, Gustav Wilhelm Wolff left for England in 1849 to study at Liverpool College. His uncle, the shipping financier GC Schwabe, oversaw his five year apprenticeship with a Manchester engineering firm and introduced him to Edward Harland, then managing Robert Hickson’s Belfast shipyard. 

In 1857, Wolff was engaged by Harland as a personal assistant. Initially, he was encouraged to spend time at sea extending his knowledge of marine engineering, but when in 1858 Harland bought out Hickson, Wolff was recalled to Belfast. In April 1861, Wolff and Harland formally entered into an eight year partnership. Later, Wolff was to describe the division of labour between the partners self-deprecatingly: ‘Sir Edward Harland builds the ships for our firm; Mr Pirrie makes the speeches; and, as for me, I smoke the cigars…’ 

In 1873, Wolff became a partner in the newly established Belfast Ropeworks. This role, and that of Conservative MP for east Belfast, increasingly occupied his time. He ceased to be an active partner in Harland and Wolff in 1884, and in 1903 sold his shareholding to Lord Pirrie. He died in London in 1913.

Consult the Linen Hall Library catalogue