1 Introduction

Scholars of globalisation describe pre-industrial cites as being relatively closed compared to their modern global counterparts, thereby underestimating their dynamics and openness (Coutard et al. 2014). As debates about modernity began in the 1970s, migration historians have challenged the static character of early-modern societies (Lucassen and Lucassen 2009). They argue that traces of earlier forms of globalisation are path-dependant and can be dated from pre-industrial trade and maritime networks, including international migration movements (Schmoll and Semi 2013; Meissner 2015). In particular, northwestern European cities were less static than had been assumed, as they operated in a proto-globalised, advanced commercialised and urbanised international urban network. People were always on the move, whether as rural-urban, seasonal or even long-distance migrants. Large numbers of these migrants were sailors or were employed as mercenaries who fought for money. Longitudinal datasets (1500–1900), as constructed by Lucassen and Lucassen (2009), prove the mobility of pre-modern societies. Cities played a major role in global migration processes, particularly during the sixteenth century and after 1850, when industrialisation marked a major turning point in the urbanisation of Europe.

Rural-urban, national, and international urban-urban movements contributed greatly to pre-modern dynamics. The level of pre-modern mobility, however, was not uniform. The Dutch Republic, for instance, in particular the well-developed and rich province of Holland, witnessed high migration rates during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but other less advanced economic regions were not as mobile. In the Dutch case, these high migration rates hastened the Republic’s economic and cultural wealth. As the Netherlands, in general, was a highly mobile society, the divergences between pre- and modern economic and demographic transformations were less extreme than in other parts of Europe (Lucassen and Lucassen 2009). The Dutch case is, therefore, relevant in discussing the continuity of mobility between early-modern and modern society by looking for historical trends.

This chapter sketches the migration pattern of Rotterdam between 1600 and 1980. The Dutch Republic’s second city since the second half of the seventeenth century, Rotterdam has always been a place of migration, even before it became one of the leading continental port cities at the end of the nineteenth century. This is not the first time that Rotterdam’s migration history has been placed in a long-term perspective, with Vier eeuwen migratie- bestemming Rotterdam (Four Centuries of Migration – Destination Rotterdam, 1998) being the first major publication to do so. This chapter’s main focus is to understand contemporary discourses on diversity and address today’s issues not as being unique, but by placing them in a longitudinal historical perspective. We will do this by looking for major differences between Rotterdam’s early-modern and modern periods (after 1850) until the 1980s. Our focus for the pre-modern era is on foreign migration in order to test the nature of the diversity of early-modern migration. Our concept of superdiversity can be described as a process of diversity on a local scale, stressing the important dimensions of ethnicity, gender, education, social status, generation or religion to explain processes of mobility or exclusion in a long-term perspective. Historian Josefien de Bock (2015), for instance, makes a plea for us to recognise the possibilities of using superdiversity as an analytical concept, “allowing us to systematically explore multiple layers of difference within the immigrant populations that we study, in order to better understand the trajectories of immigrants and their impact on the societies that received them” (de Bock 2015, p. 584).

The second part of this chapter deals with Rotterdam as a working city, which developed after the 1850s. Through their extensive maritime trade networks, port cities are looked upon as gateways that generate opportunities for the establishment of widespread international communities (Hoyle 2014). We, however, hope to show that, despite Rotterdam’s major port development following the 1850s, the city before 1940 was less diverse from an international migration perspective than its pre-modern predecessor. The arrival of non-Western migrants in the 1960s and 1970s challenged Rotterdam’s nineteenth century migration narrative. Policy-makers have suggested that this post-war migration process is fundamentally different from older migration patterns. Indeed, new forms of labour migration did not fit into the existing popular narrative on the working-class city that was shaped before 1940. This argument will be elaborated on in the third part of this chapter.

2 Part I: Migration in Early-Modern Rotterdam

2.1 The Great Seventeenth Century Inflow of Foreign Migrants

The origins of migration to Rotterdam date back to its urban beginnings. Around 1400, a century after the first city charter, Rotterdam, with its port for transit and transhipping, had grown from a village of several hundred into a small settlement. Only a few of the estimated 2500 inhabitants were foreigners, with somewhat more coming from the nearby, older and bigger urban centres of Western Holland. Of course, the overwhelming majority of the new Rotterdammers had migrated from the surrounding Dutch countryside to the young city through the universal interplay of rural and urban push and pull factors (Van der Schoor 1992). Due to high urban mortality rates, most medieval and early-modern cities depended on a steady inflow of new inhabitants to ensure a reasonably stable population size, as well as population growth.

The influence of migration in the early modern period should not be underestimated as far as its importance for urban demographic and economic development is concerned (De Munck and Winter 2016). In this way, the modest trade and merchant navy city of Rotterdam grew to number 7000 inhabitants around the middle of the sixteenth century. The situation changed drastically towards the end of the century. Favourably located on the Meuse River between the leading city of Amsterdam in the Northern Netherlands and Antwerp, which was the global economic centre of the period in the Southern Netherlands, Rotterdam became increasingly oriented towards fishing, shipping and trade. The city administration, which consisted of merchants, ship owners and businessmen, reflected this orientation. Political and religious tolerance characterised their actions in the demanding times of the Dutch Revolt against the King of Spain as ruler of the Netherlands, as well as during the Reformation from 1570 onwards. The global economy, now increasingly dominated by Amsterdam, stimulated Rotterdam’s trade, merchant navy and related industries. The fall of Antwerp in 1585 had a similar effect, to which Rotterdam responded with the large-scale expansion of the port and town around 1600. Immigrants from the Southern Netherlands, both wealthy merchants and textile workers, played an important role in this transition by providing an influx of knowledge and capital (Van der Schoor 1999).

A case in point is the famous and wealthy Flemish immigrant merchant Johan van der Veeken, who lived in Rotterdam from 1583 onwards. He co-established the first commodity exchange in Rotterdam, financed trade voyages around the world, and was joint founder of the Rotterdam chamber of the Dutch East India Company. His enormous capital, extensive trade relationships and immense trade knowledge made Van der Veeken one of the most influential citizens in Rotterdam in the late sixteenth century (De Roy van Zuydewijn 2002). In the same period, textile workers also left the Southern Netherlands to settle there. The labouring Rotterdam textile industry certainly required skilled Flemish refugees. The city administration successfully encouraged their settlement by means of subsidies, tax exemptions and low rents, thereby succeeding in revitalising this sector of the urban economy (Van der Schoor 1999).

A comparable and equally stimulating influx was related to art and culture, and was brought about by painters, writers and educators who fled from the Southern Netherlands. They formed an extended intellectual network in Rotterdam that had a profound influence on the urban spiritual climate. An example is Jan van de Velde, the famous schoolmaster and calligraphic artist from Antwerp who settled in Rotterdam in 1592, around whom a circle of family members, friends and business relations developed. The most famous printer of books in Rotterdam, the Fleming Jan van Waesberghe, was van der Velde’s brother-in-law, but he also acquainted himself with wealthy merchants, as well as with the Flemish artists who formed a veritable colony in the old city (Van der Schoor 1999).

The pre-modern migration to Rotterdam really took off in the three decades before 1600. The influence of all immigration, both from abroad and other parts of the Republic, on population size and growth cannot always be easily established due to a lack of reliable data, but must have been considerable. In the second half of the sixteenth century, Rotterdam’s population increased from an estimated 7000–13,000. Then, between 1576 and 1614, more than 20,000 men and women marrying in Rotterdam were born outside the city; 20% of these immigrants were foreign, while the roots of the 80% majority lay in the Northern Netherlands. Population growth continued in the seventeenth century, with the number of inhabitants reaching 30,000 in 1650 and 51,000 in 1695, making Rotterdam the second largest city in the Dutch Republic. More than half of marriage-age men from 1650 to 1654 were born outside Rotterdam, with their origins equally divided between the Republic and other countries. The available marriage registers in the period 1650–1654, as well as the birth and death registers from 1670 to 1699, suggest that this population growth in the seventeenth century must, for the greater part, have been caused by immigration (Bonke 1996; Van der Schoor 1999).

Rotterdam was not an exceptional case as far as immigration from abroad is concerned. It has been estimated that between 1600 and 1800, total migration to the cities of the Holland area (roughly the contemporary provinces of North and South Holland) amounted to 1.2 million persons, with more than 600,000 coming from outside the Netherlands. Total foreign immigration in these cities (the combined figures for Rotterdam, The Hague and Delft are between the brackets) was 33% (24.2) in 1600, 29% (19) in 1650, 16% (9) percent in 1700, 20% (12.6) in 1750 and 16% (12.3) in 1800 (Lucassen 2002, pp. 21–22 and 28) (Table 2.1).

Table 2.1 Origins at the time of first marriage in Rotterdam, sample 1650–1804 (in percentages)

This first major inflow of immigrants also marked the beginnings of superdiversity, because migrants from other foreign regions than the Southern Netherlands soon made their way to Rotterdam. Indeed, even before 1600, a small but steady inflow from Germany and England had reached the city, to be followed in the seventeenth century by migrants from France, Scandinavia, Poland, Switzerland and Italy. In this way, the number of foreign countries or regions of origin more than doubled.

Another aspect of migration as an indication of early superdiversity is the size of a migrant-‘community’ in relation to the rest of the Rotterdam population. Some claim that the share of migrants from the Southern Netherlands in the Rotterdam population at the start of the seventeenth century varied from 20% in 1600 to 30% in 1621 (Briels 1985, pp. 147; 177). Later research revised these figures, but some 15% are still said to have come from the Southern Netherlands (Renting 1988, pp. 163–164; 167). Migrants from other countries have to be added to this foreign community. Based on marriage registers, the total foreign community in Rotterdam in the seventeenth century comprised between roughly 15% and 25% of the urban population (Bonke 1996, pp. 27; 77).

The composition of this foreign body was never constant, especially because immigration was temporarily slowed down by (trade) wars or other periods of unrest, such as those in 1652–1654, 1665–1667 and 1672–1673. On the other hand, immigration could also be temporarily accelerated, for instance by foreign refugees on the run. The abovementioned Flemish influx after the fall of Antwerp in 1585 is an early example, whereas the French Protestants who fled to the Dutch Republic after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 are an example from a century later (Van der Linden 2015). These often wealthy Huguenots caused the French community in Rotterdam to flourish from 1685 onwards, until a decline set in 10 years later. Even so, in 1705, Rotterdam had an estimated 1500–2500 citizens with French roots – some 3–5% of the total population (Mentink and Van der Woude 1965, pp. 67; 102). The French played an active part in cultural society life, as testified, for example, by the privately established French women’s societies (Zijlmans 1999). In scientific life, the French philosopher Pierre Bayle soon rose to prominence. He arrived in Rotterdam in 1681 and was appointed Professor in Philosophy and History at the so-called Illustre School. This later world famous scholar and writer had a profound influence on the cultural and intellectual life of Rotterdam (Bots 1982). The same can be said of an English immigrant, the Quaker merchant Benjamin Furly, who at the time of Bayle’s arrival in Rotterdam had already gathered around him an international society of thinkers and scholars (Hutton 2007). Clearly, the political and religious tolerance of Rotterdam attracted all kinds of foreign immigrants and provided a favourable climate not only for the urban economy, but also for cultural and intellectual life in the Western world (Voorhees 2001).

A comparable group to the French in size, although somewhat smaller, was that of the Scots towards the end of the seventeenth century. This community grew from around 600 in 1650 to a thousand by 1700, or, as a share of Rotterdam’s population, from over 1% to 2%. The Scots were an element of British immigration, which was larger than its Flemish, German or French counterparts in the mid-seventeenth century (Catterall 2002, pp. 25–26). The Scots community differed little from the French in size, but was different in terms of the (economic) reasons for settling in the city. The existing trade-based ties between Rotterdam and England, and British migration to Rotterdam, received an important boost when the influential Court of the Fellowship of Merchant Adventurers, which controlled the export of British woollens, was moved to Rotterdam in 1635. Thanks to the resulting increase in trade between England and Rotterdam and the persistent presence of British merchants from the seventeenth century onwards, Rotterdam even became known as “Little London” in the eighteenth century (Doortmond and Vroom 1985). Consequently, trade between Scotland and Rotterdam also expanded, as did Scottish immigration to the city. This led to a “vibrant and growing” Scottish population that contributed to Rotterdam’s position as a major port city (Catterall 2002, p. 26). Scottish merchants in Rotterdam traded in bulk goods from Scotland, such as salted salmon, hides, sheep fells, wool, plaid and the important coal; in exchange, they exported all sorts of luxury and manufactured goods. It has been stressed that closely connected to this participation in the Dutch economy were the social networks that existed between Scottish Rotterdam and other Scottish communities; these networks and the Scottish Church of Rotterdam made it possible to maintain and promote a Scottish culture and migrant identity (Catterall 2002, pp. 28–29).

Until now, the more economically successful migrants – Flemings, French Huguenots, the British and Scots – have received special attention. Most seem to have had a migration tradition, which was often based on old trading ties. There were also less wealthy migrants, such as the Germans, from the late seventeenth century onwards. Most of these were simple labourers or small traders. They continued to migrate to Rotterdam, however, until the end of the nineteenth century (Catterall 2002). Despite the end of the supremacy of the Republic in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth century, the population size and make-up altered little due to the changing international balance of economic power, although the number of Germans migrating to Rotterdam increased sharply.

2.2 Foreign Migrants in the Eighteenth Century

A fall in migration to Rotterdam caused the population to drop from 51,000 in 1695 to 47,500 in 1750. After the early eighteenth century wars and economic recession were overcome, the population increased again to 58,000 in 1800. The number of marriage-age men born outside the Republic rose from 15% to 18% from 1700 to 1800 and the number of women from 3% to 6% (Bonke 1996, p. 77). To establish the extent of immigration and its origins, two additional sources exist that provide an insight: the Poorterboeken, in which the more affluent migrants are listed who were able to buy the expensive (at 12 guilders) civil rights required for business and guild membership; and the Admissieboeken that listed all officially admitted migrants, especially the less well-to-do (Stadsarchief Rotterdam, Oud Stadsarchief (OSA), inv.nr 930–934, 1015–1017). The Poorterboeken and Admissieboeken both show the attempts of the Rotterdam City Administration to exert some control over the initial settlement of different groups of migrants.

Dealing with the richer immigrants first: from 1699 to 1811, over 14,000 new citizens or ‘poorters’, 92% of whom were male, were registered in Rotterdam. In the first half of the century, the number of poorters migrating to the city amounted to around a thousand per decade, although that number rose to around 1500 per decade after 1760. Sixty percent of the new Rotterdammers had roots in the countryside of the Dutch Republic. The most important provider of foreign migrants was Germany, which supplied 20% of the total number of poorters. The Germans migrated to Rotterdam from central and eastern regions such as Brandenburg, Hannover, Hessen and Prussia, and from the more western Rhine regions of Cologne, Kleef, Münsterland and Tecklenburg. The share of German immigrants rose from 5% around 1710 to 20% around 1800. Next in line were the poorters from England and Scotland; their share amounted to 9% but, unlike the Germans, this figure declined from 30% around 1700 to 2% around 1800. France and Belgium together supplied 7% of the new poorters, with a falling French share and a relatively stable Belgian one. Other, mostly European, countries such as Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Austria, Poland, Bohemia, Sweden and Switzerland each supplied a few dozen poorters at most. The conclusion is that the strong growth in the number of German poorters accounts, for the most part, for the general rise in the number of poorters after 1750. This phenomenon can be explained by the structural changes in the international balance of power, forcing the Republic to increase trade with nearby countries, and especially with the continental German hinterland, which had a positive influence on German migration to Rotterdam (Van der Schoor 1998).

Yet not all German migrants were rich enough to become a poorter. A large number of poor land-workers from the German countryside flocked to Rotterdam, initially as seasonal workers, but later to also find non-skilled work in the city’s trades and industries. Along with other Germans and Dutch migrants from Brabant, who were usually mostly Catholic, they became part of a manual labour workforce. A great number of Rotterdam Catholics belonged to this ‘proletariat’ and were often among the poorest inhabitants. In 1784, the four Catholic poor-relief organisations together provided for almost a quarter of Rotterdam’s poor. Indeed, from 1743 to 1795, one such organisation registered 1408 individuals or families, more than half of which had migrated to Rotterdam from Brabant and Germany (Van Voorst van Beest 1955, pp. 82–83).

These German and Brabant immigrants were required to seek permission to be ‘admitted’, as was also the case for every other immigrant who wanted to settle in Rotterdam. A newcomer would finally be admitted after 9 months of provisional admission without receiving poor relief. In the eighteenth century, more than 28,000 immigrants were admitted in this way. Their total number rose from a few hundred in the first few decades to almost 5000 in 1760–1769. There was some decline in the decades that followed, but well over 3000 per decade were admitted up to the end of the century (Bonke 1996, p. 101). While the number of admitted immigrants is known, their country of origin has, until now, received very little attention. Accordingly, a sample of 9 years – 1710, 1720, 1730, 1740, 1750, 1760, 1770, 1780, and 1790 – has been considered in this chapter, with the origins of each immigrant established for these years. The results, focusing on foreign immigrants, can be summarised as follows: 1692 adults were admitted in the aforementioned 9 years. In 1710, 1720 and 1730, these admissions numbered much less than 100, but from 1740 onwards exceeded 200 as a result of the improving economic conditions following the early eighteenth century wars and the recession. The proportion of foreign immigrants varied between 20% and 60% and the number of foreign countries of origin between 2 and 11. In total, 18 different nationalities could be distinguished, on average 7 per year.

As Tables 2.2 and 2.3 show, the share of the 551 admitted foreign immigrants amounted to almost 33% of the total of 1692 admittees. Of that total, 21% were of German origin, while 12% had their roots in 1 of the 17 other countries. The large German share becomes even more prominent when compared to the group of 551 foreign immigrants in these sample periods: 355, or 64%, of them were German. The 42 Englishmen were second, with over 7%.

Table 2.2 Share of foreign immigrants finally admitted per year, sample 1710–1790
Table 2.3 Number of finally admitted foreign immigrants, per year and country/region of origin, sample 1710–1790

As far as superdiversity is concerned, it should be noted that there was a quite substantial increase in the number of foreign countries/regions of origin in the eighteenth century. Was this increase in superdiversity accompanied by an increase in the size of the migrant-‘community’ in relation to the rest of Rotterdam’s population? Using marriage registers, for the seventeenth century, we estimated that the total foreign community in Rotterdam comprised between 15% and 25% of the urban population. Based on eighteenth century marriage registers, meanwhile, that percentage seems to have dropped to between 15% and 18%. A very conservative estimate of the migrant-community share between 1700 and 1800, based on the number of foreign immigrants who became poorters or were admitted in the sample presented here, is barely higher than 19%. This corresponds with the trend of generally lower percentages of foreign immigrants in Dutch cities in the eighteenth century compared to the position in the seventeenth century (Lucassen 2002, p. 22).

The findings presented here on poorters and final admittees show that roughly two thirds of these eighteenth century immigrants came from the countryside of the Dutch Republic, while one third were foreigners. As far as the latter group is concerned, the most significant aspect of eighteenth century migration to Rotterdam is the very clear overrepresentation of German immigrants among both poorters and final admittees.

3 Part II: Rotterdam Working City: 1850–1940

3.1 Boomtown Rotterdam

Most European port cities showed substantial population increases during the nineteenth century. A substantial part of their demographic development was the result of in-migration (Lee 1998; Lawton and Lee 2002). In the Rotterdam case, however, the first part of the nineteenth century was a period of slow transformation, with the city’s maritime economy having to recover from the French period. The city had lost much of its innovative power, which was highlighted during and just after the Napoleonic era (1799–1815). In the first half of the nineteenth century, the city fathers were slow to value the economic possibilities of industrialisation and neglected the opportunities that the liberalisation of trade and commerce had to offer. By then, the city was run by a closed system of patricians, who were unwilling to accommodate outsiders in their business networks. In this sense, the merchant ideology of Rotterdam’s elite was not particularly open to newcomers, and its traditional economy did not provide enough opportunities for members of an international group of innovative businessmen. This attitude contrasted with the relative openness of the Rotterdam merchants and the participation of migrants in the public space in earlier periods. Port-city studies show disruptions of the merchant oligarchy between those favouring new developments (e.g. free trade, liberalisation, new means of shipping finance) and opponents from the same oligarchy who resisted any change that could jeopardise their personal or supposed family business interests and their position in the urban hierarchy (Lee 1998). However, once this network opened up around 1860, Rotterdam was ready to enter the industrial era (Callahan 1981).

Rotterdam had about 64,000 citizens in 1822, increasing to 90,000 in 1850. Before Rotterdam’s transit-port took off around 1870, its population size was about 120,000. By the start of the twentieth century, however, the city had more than 330,000 inhabitants. Just before World War I, the total number of inhabitants increased to 460,000, while almost 620,000 were registered in 1939. Migration played an important part in Rotterdam’s demographic development. Graph 1 shows the development of in-migration, out-migration and net-migration (the balance between in- and out-migration) for the period 1851–1940. There are no reliable statistics before 1850 and population dynamics due to migration-effects can only be estimated (Van Dijk 1976). Rough estimates, however, show a very volatile migration process during the first part of the century. This can be explained by the difficulties Rotterdam encountered in recovering its maritime economy. In particular, the industrial sector had suffered hugely from the Continental Blockade by the French in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Rotterdam merchants were at first reluctant to embrace the advantages of the liberalisation of the Rhine economy and trade in general (Van de Laar 2000) (Fig. 2.1).

Fig. 2.1
figure 1

Migration ratios of Rotterdam, 1851–1940. (Source: Van de Laar 2000)

The very poor living standards in the city and the political and economic crises of the 1840s had a major impact on Rotterdam’s demographic development. At that time, its migration pattern was still based on a pre-industrial labour market structure. The city provided agrarian labourers with an income from temporary labour, in addition to other sources of livelihood in agriculture, forestry or rural industries. This pre-modern system lost its flexibility because of the increasing proletarisation of labour and the marginalisation of rural sources of income in the nineteenth century. Seasonal migration patterns turned into permanent rural-urban migration (Winter 2015).

In the period 1850–1900, net in-migration was responsible for more than 40% of the city’s population increase. Unsurprisingly, most urban historians use the series of port turnovers and shipping activities as evidence for the relentless number of migrants (Van Dijk 1976). This relationship is, however, ambiguous. Indeed, between 1870 and 1880, just before the major port expansions began, the demographic impact of migration was at its height and 61% of the population growth was the result of migration. The migration effect slowed to 42% a decade later, but rose again to more than 50% in the period 1890–1899.

Migrant surpluses fell after 1900, with a period of rapid port traffic and, as a consequence, rising employment opportunities. By then, natural increases became a more important population growth factor, resulting from a sharp decline in infant mortality rates and a general improvement of health circumstances in the city, but also because the immigration of young men and women encouraged nuptiality (Van de Laar 2000). During World War I, Rotterdam’s in-migration was affected by the inflow of Belgian refugees. However, apart from the in-migration of numerous German female servants, the city experienced a substantial negative net-migration rate in the inter-war period, as many successful Rotterdammers moved to the suburbs. With hindsight, the interwar period displayed the consequences of Rotterdam’s development as a transit port and working city, characterised by a migration process in which more successful migrants left and settled in richer neighbourhoods. This pattern became even more distinct in the 1960s and 1970s, when this selective migration process (migrants had a different social, economic and ethnic background than the émigrés) re-shaped Rotterdam’s cultural identity.

The social historians Bouman and Bouman (1952) popularised Rotterdam’s nineteenth century migration history in their book Rotterdam Werkstad (Rotterdam Working City). This featured the stories of the children and grandchildren of migrants whose parents and grandparents had moved to Rotterdam from Brabant, the South Holland Islands and Zeeland – the most important areas of recruitment – during the era of the great Agrarian Depression in the third part of the nineteenth century. These documented and assembled stories became essential pieces of a greater narrative of Rotterdam as a city of migration. Rotterdam-South, the new harbour and industrial part of the city across the River Maas, played a fundamental role in this new narrative, turning the city into a city of arrival for migrants with an agricultural background. These migrants left their homes in the provinces, trying to escape the depression of the 1880s and 1890s. The increasing importation of cheap foodstuffs from the Americas ruined many European farmers, who were forced to abandon agriculture and move to the cities in a search for work. Many Dutch agrarian workers escaped the agrarian provinces, in particular Brabant, Zeeland and the South-Holland Islands, and moved to Rotterdam. The city’s historiography stresses that the agricultural crisis, rural exodus and opportunity structure were inexorably linked. Rotterdam needed labourers to build docks and houses for all these new arrivals, but at the same time migrants provided the port city with a vast army of casual dockers.

In order to sketch Rotterdam’s migration pattern, it therefore makes sense to look at developments before, during and after the agrarian depression.

Table 2.4 presents an overview of the places of origin and birth for two sample periods: 1865–1879 and 1880–1909.Footnote 1 Only a small percentage of Rotterdam’s migrants were foreign (see below). Compared to the pre-modern period, Rotterdam was therefore less diverse when the relatively low share of foreign migration is taken into account. The findings show the importance of rural vparts of the province of South Holland (Goeree-Overflakkee, Hoekse Waard and Voorne-Putten) as regions of departure. After 1880, the relative share of South Holland migrants decreased, but it remained by far the most important province for migration to Rotterdam. North-Holland, Gelderland, North-Brabant and Zeeland also played a substantial role in Rotterdam’s spatial migration pattern. Relatively fewer migrants, however, came from the northern provinces of Groningen, Drenthe and Overijssel.

Table 2.4 Provinces and countries of origin and birth of migrants to Rotterdam, 1865 and 1909 (in percentages)

The central province of Utrecht was not a major supplier of labour. North-Brabant and Zeeland were important, but these agrarian provinces played a less significant role in terms of emigration than the rural towns in South-Holland.

Many urban and social historians have stressed the strong rural element in Rotterdam’s migration pattern, which has recently been confirmed by Paul Puschmann’s (2015) comparative study on the port cities of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Stockholm (1850–1930). In his research, Puschmann used sample data from the Historical Sample of the Netherlands (HSN), which is a random sample of the Dutch population born in the period 1812–1922 (Mandemakers 2006). Puschmann’s study shows that 61.4% of in-migrants had a rural background, which is very similar to the findings by Bruggeman and Van de Laar (1998). Puschmann (2015, p. 119) calculated that a large number of the inland migrants travelled only a short distance – less than 50 km. A substantial number were born in rural provinces, although approximately 40% of them were from towns with more than 20,000 residents. These migrants followed a step-wise migration pattern – from their hometown, they moved to a larger place in the province of their birth. Then, they travelled to larger provincial towns before finally arriving in Rotterdam. In general, people were on the move, looking for new labour opportunities, but rural-urban migrants followed a particular pattern. Rotterdam is not unique in this sense: migrants moving to Marseille and Antwerp, for example, followed a similar pattern (Winter 2015).

figure a

Map: Nieuwe landkaart van het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (New map of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and its Provinces, including Luxembourg), 1 April 1869. Until 1890, there was a personal union between Luxembourg’s throne and the Dutch throne. Collection Atlas Van Stolk, Rotterdam

Most migrants belonged to a very unsettled group: Bruggeman and Van de Laar (1998) showed that 70% of them left the city within an average time-span of 2 years. Return migration was always an option for these short-distance migrants, however. A small percentage of the out-migrants travelled abroad, but a substantially larger part of them moved to other cities in the Netherlands. The four major cities of the Randstad conurbation (Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht) were alternative places of settlement. Migrants took advantage of the railroad infrastructure and information network supported by local agents and a commercial network of local newspapers. Once migrants had accepted that migration was the best option to improve their economic position, they developed a migratory mindset, which encouraged them to move on when the city of first arrival did not provide them with adequate job opportunities. The sense of mobility, however, reduced the possibility of feeling at home and, so, integration in society. Those who remained in Rotterdam were perhaps more successful than those who left the city, but there is no clear empirical evidence of this. More research is, therefore, needed to evaluate the careers of migrants who left Rotterdam compared to those who stayed behind.

3.2 Rotterdam Working City

Table 2.5 compares the occupancy structure of Rotterdammers (based on weighted averages of the four censuses of 1859, 1889, 1899, and 1909) with the sample data. The listed job categories are based on the occupation registered on entry to the city. The real place of work could be different, of course, and the first registered job was probably preferred work, consistent with existing work experience and competences. The preferred jobs are relevant indications for the category of skilled craftsmen, who clung to a familiar field of employment. Unsurprisingly, the number of those employed in fisheries and agriculture was very low in the census data, and even lower among migrants.

Table 2.5 Rotterdam’s occupational structure based on average statistics (1859, 1889, 1899, and 1909) and the results of the sample on migration – 1865–1879 and 1880–1909 (in percentages)

The urban industrial sector groups together all kinds of professional category that are not directly port or maritime related. Simply put, included are all the types of job you expect in any major city catering for people’s urban needs, including producing luxury goods and the processing of precious metals, the manufacture of musical instruments, or specialist export industries. Gas, electricity, and construction are also classified as urban industries. Social services (mental health and caring professions, household and liberal professions) form part of non-port-related professions. The port-related industries are typically shipbuilding or maritime-related supply industries. The port service clusters all companies dealing directly with port and transport functions, but also activities in the field of trade, retail, commerce, banking and insurance.

The census data reveal that 30% of migrants were employed in urban industries. Almost the same share from the first sample period found a job in this sector, but this figure fell to 24% after 1879. The construction and clothing sectors were the main branches of urban industrial activities in the census data, followed by the food sector. The clothing sector generated fewer jobs from the mid-1850s onwards, as this traditional, labour-intensive sector was unable to compete with the manufacture of garments in workshops and factories. The construction industry was a typical ‘migrant industry’ (Passel 2005), and had a high concentration of migrants. Contractors, carpenters, polder workers and painters flocked to the city. According to the sample, the relative number of migrants working in the construction sector declined after 1880. Unskilled migrants (in the second sample, around 10% of the in-migrants) were employed by private constructors, who invested in boom-town jerry-built neighbourhoods. An expanding city also needed many food suppliers, but as in other branches, artisan-driven food factories lost their importance. Industrial-based food manufacturers, which could produce goods more cheaply, supplied a larger share of the daily rations of the working population. On the other hand, the new industrial-based food manufacturers generated new jobs, including for migrants.

The shipbuilding and metal industries were leading sectors with higher barriers to entry, with only skilled workers recruited. This may explain the small variance in the occupancy rates between the census data and our migration sample. Larger differences occurred in the trade, traffic and administrative sectors. Relatively fewer migrants found employment in port-related services, but we have to take account of the fact that seafaring people may have been under-registered in the sample data. Generally, these workers are not classified as migrants, but, as they belong to a highly mobile working population, that is precisely what they are (Sæther 2015, p. 31). The banking and insurance sectors generated more jobs at the turn of the century, but without a specialist network (which was the case for German migrants, see below) the entry barrier was high, due to the higher education requirements associated with office work.

Puschmann (2015, Chapter 6) analysed the career opportunities of inland migrants coming to Rotterdam. In general, his results show that 14.7% of them were unskilled and performed the kind of simple manual tasks that anyone is able to carry out with some training (see Van de Putte and Miles 2005). Bruggeman and Van de Laar (1998) concluded that casual labourers in general found employment in construction, port activities and transport. Puschmann’s data confirm this, showing an overrepresentation of migrants in the low-skilled jobs category. Migrants between the ages of 15 and 20 had more chance of getting a job with a slightly lower social status than their peers born in Rotterdam. On average, they even had to face a period of downwards social mobility, but after their 30th birthday, these migrants were able to improve their social position. Puschmann’s statistical analysis shows that migrants in their 40s were able to outperform natives of the same age group. However, career possibilities depended, of course, on skills and the opportunities that the city provided to develop them. Starting a business is an example of such career development. Rural unskilled migrants, generally, remained in a lowly social position.

According to Table 2.5, the share of migrants classified as unskilled manual labourers more than doubled after 1879. The significant increase (10 versus 4% in the first sample period) corroborates the thesis of Bouman and Bouman and highlights the impact of the agricultural crisis on migration. These migrants were used to harsh labour conditions, and their agrarian background, in combination with the fact that no specific skills were required, pushed them to accept less skilled, physically demanding port work. Rapidly expanding ports like Rotterdam, Marseille and Antwerp offered enough opportunities for these unskilled rural labourers (Winter 2015).

Most unskilled and landless labourers with strong agrarian roots were born in typical agrarian provinces (Brabant, Zeeland and the South-Holland Islands). Then, before they relocated to Rotterdam, they moved to places like Kralingen, Delfshaven and, in particular, Hillegersberg. These migrants belonged to a category of seasonal agricultural workers who travelled to Rotterdam on a regular basis. They did all kinds of unskilled work, e.g., construction, coach-work, gardening, dock-work, longshore work and warehouse work. Living near Rotterdam meant they could respond quickly when the port required extra labour. Knowing the local circumstances was important, as the organisation of labour on the waterfront had its own rules and personal relations mattered a great deal. Urban historians often neglect these factors and simply accept the notion that because working on the docks did not require extra skills, the entry barrier was rather low (Winter 2015). However, the social organisation of the waterfront and cargo-handling businesses, as well as personal relations with stevedore bosses, played a decisive role in the chances of obtaining a job. Well into the twentieth century, most cargo handling was organised as a so-called ‘shape-up’ system, which was the regular way of contracting day labour in most ports. The dock-workers seeking a job gathered on the waterfront. Apart from peak periods, however, supply generally outstripped demand. In 1913, a maximum of 9200 workers were needed at peak times, but no more than 3200 on quieter days. Before the introduction of technologically advanced equipment like grain elevators, which required the standardisation of handling and big capital investment, stevedore bosses controlled the waterfront and regulated job opportunities. Migrants with the right network or good relationships with stevedore bosses, or even better with pub owners (the pub being the ultimate place for the payment of wages), had a greater chance of being recruited. Others would have had more difficulty in finding a job, except at times of labour unrest, when migrants were recruited as strikebreakers. Good connections with these stevedores and their personal social and business networks were fundamental in a fragmented market for cargo handling. Mechanisation reduced the number of available jobs, but in general the dockers employed by the major shipping firms or specialist stevedore companies became less dependent on casual labour (Van de Laar 2000).

Female migrants had many opportunities in the urban service sector – 52% in our sample, particularly after 1880 when the demand for private services increased. Unsurprisingly, majorities of them were young (under 22), unmarried and most were typical short-distance migrants. Domestic service was not the only sector with a high concentration of migrants – civil servants, teachers and members of the professional class (lawyers, artists) often had a migration background.

The analysis of the occupational structure of the migrants supports the general labour migration thesis that people were on the move, because they were looking for ways to improve their economic position and living standards. The increase of unskilled labourers after 1880 could have been due to falling job opportunities in the countryside. The rural background of these migrants has prevented many historians from paying attention to their diversity in this era. This is partly the result of the convincing narrative that had been woven around the working-class city. Migrants, in general, belonged to a mobile population, which as Lee (1998) has shown, is not uncommon for port economies dominated by volatility in maritime trades and port turnover. In general, the migration pattern of unskilled migrants did not differ significantly from other migrants. Moreover, they were not overrepresented in the group of floating migrants, i.e. those that left the city within 6 months of their arrival. The port of Rotterdam encouraged the trek to the city, but the fact that it was a dynamic place in transition was, in itself, a strong motivation for moving there.

3.3 The Bouman and Bouman Hypothesis on Integration

Bouman and Bouman (1952) were the first to document the social, cultural and economic backgrounds of migrants. They were primarily interested in how these families tried to integrate into the receiving society, describing how agricultural roots hindered the process of assimilation. They pointed to the incompatibility of rural habits with city life and stressed how the urban habits of these migrants bore the stamp of their agricultural background. For instance, these migrants cultivated their own vegetables in food gardens and were characterised by less sophisticated rural social norms and values. Bouman and Bouman referred to the religious orthodoxy, particularly strong family ties, and commitment to their homeland of these migrants. They believed that these deep-rooted, rural-based cultural values hampered the integration process. Their reconstruction of migration history became the building block for a narrative of Rotterdam-South as a place of arrival where the moral standards and values of an agrarian-based migration community became embedded in a local culture. According to Bouman and Bouman, it would take two generations before this culture would develop into an urban culture. During this process of urban acculturation, this ‘cultural residue’ shaped urban life and created the conditions for co-existing cultures: an urban dominant culture of a majority next to the rural-urban culture of migrant minorities.Footnote 2 The cultural differences were also spatially related. Rotterdam-South, the city of arrival on the south bank of the River Maas, was contrasted to the city on the north bank. The newcomers in Rotterdam-South formed a labour-force that shaped Rotterdam’s New Town across the river. The River Maas was, in essence, more than just a physical barrier to cross. Even Rotterdam’s modernised urban narrative has not removed the mental and cultural barrier between Rotterdam-South as a port and migration city and the urban district on the other side of the river. Bouman and Bouman’s book, published in the early 1950s, filled a lacuna in Rotterdam’s modern social history. Their impressionistic and humanistic view of Rotterdam’s working class structure helped to readers to understand the city’s nature of hard-working people and the post-war success of its rapid reconstruction. The Dutch Communist national newspaper De Waarheid (Truth) wrote: “In almost every family there are ties, which are linked in some way with the rural setting and only in the last two or three generations, there are Rotterdammers who actually feel like a native Rotterdammer” (De Waarheid, 20-12-1952). Bouman and Bouman were the first to acknowledge the limitations of their research methods by addressing the problems of a non-systematic selection of sources. They hoped their efforts would stimulate further research on the human relationships in a rapidly developing city (Het Vrije Volk, socialist newspaper, 17-1-1953). Unfortunately, historians then were not particularly interested in the social history of the city. Bouman and Bouman’s book did not lay the foundations for an academic debate on Rotterdam’s meaning as a migration city, but was instead a reference guide for Social Democrats trying to explain Rotterdam’s Socialist nature, supporting Social Democratic welfare policies in the 1970s (Het Vrije Volk, 13-06-1974).

3.4 Social Inclusion or Exclusion?

By focusing on the cultural residual effects of a rural background, Bouman and Bouman were convinced that most migrants had difficulties in adapting to the receiving society. For instance, one migrant wrote in a letter about his unhappinessFootnote 3: “The big city was hostile to me. Often it happened that the others did not understand me, although I did not speak a dialect, but standard Dutch, with some accent from the eastern provinces of the Netherlands.” Many of the documented letters witness a slow process of integration and assimilation, and according to many respondents only the second generation became Rotterdammers, although this was not an easy processFootnote 4: “A lot of suffering, sadness and worries, a lot of struggle, often a bitter struggle. Notwithstanding the many ups and downs we became Rotterdammers.” The lack of detailed event studies and other reliable data was, of course, a major problem when it comes to testing Bouman and Bouman’s assimilation hypothesis. Nevertheless, this was done by Paul Puschmann in a recent study (2015). He compares Rotterdam with Antwerp and Stockholm and uses the opportunities migrants had to find a marriage partner as an indication of social in- or exclusion. Marriage and children offered a safety net in times of trouble, as city governments were not very willing to support the poor. Indeed, poor relief was based on charity and primarily organised by the church or poor-relief organisations well into the nineteenth century. Staying single, therefore, apart from social, cultural and religious considerations, was not very attractive or a conscious choice for most people. In general, migrants who stayed single faced the risk of being marginalised in urban society, as they had fewer opportunities to put down roots and continued to be outsiders. Puschmann used a sample of internal migrants who were not born in Rotterdam and were single at the time they arrived there (Puschmann 2015, Chap. 4). The internal migrants were very young, with about 94% of them moving to the city before the age of 30. Unsurprisingly, the young migrants who stayed were likely to marry, because they had more opportunities to settle. Finding a partner in Rotterdam was not, however, easy. Of the in-migrants who remained, only 45.1% married. Taking into account the number of migrants leaving the city and marrying a partner elsewhere, more than 35.2% of the internal migrants who came to Rotterdam stayed single for the rest of their life. This contrasts heavily with the marriage statistics in the census: in 1909, only about 11% of Rotterdammers in the age group 45–49 were single. As migrants could not find a marriage partner easily, they had a higher risk of exclusion than native-born Rotterdammers. In other words, internal migrants in general had great difficulties putting down roots in society, which cannot be explained in terms of large numbers of temporal migrants or seasonal workers.

There was a difference between the social status of those who got married and those who stayed single. Puschmann’s analysis shows that more than 55% of the migrants from a middle class or elite background stayed single, which was unexpected, as most migration theorists predict that migrants with a higher social status and access to economic capital are more likely to be successful on the ‘wedding market’ than unskilled or semi-skilled workers. The opposite is, however, true in the Rotterdam case: even though the marriage opportunities of migrants above the age of 30 were generally low, the middle classes and the elite ran a higher risk of staying single than their counterparts did from the lower classes.

Unskilled and semi-skilled migrants from a rural background had better odds of settling than migrants that were more qualified. Puschmann assumes that port cities’ native elites were very reluctant to share the relatively poor supply of higher qualified jobs with newcomers. Maureen Callahan’s (1981) seminal work on Rotterdam’s elites showed that, before 1870, the city was run by a family government that was unwilling to open their network up to newcomers. This system gradually started to change when new merchants came to the fore. These newcomers reset the merchant’s ideology and did not abide by the rules of older merchants who tried to protect the business and maritime interests of a small elite (Lee 1998). The rules of the port game had changed in the last third of the nineteenth century, when the transit economy called for a different way of organising labour and capital. The native merchants, who were originally in a strong position, were unable to control the port business any longer, and this paved the way for a new branch of entrepreneurs, often with a migration background (Puschmann 2015, p. 245).

Only 16% of the in-migrants in Rotterdam married a native Rotterdammer, indicating their lack of appeal as marriage partners. The majority of the migrants that married had a partner with a similar migration background. As most migrants settled in the newly built neighbourhoods adjacent to the old city centre, these were the areas where they had the greatest chance of finding a partner (see below).

Puschmann’s quantitative approach offers new ways of testing existing hypotheses on the marginalisation of migrants and the adaptation problems they encountered. In general, he confirms the qualitative case studies of Bouman and Bouman. In-migrants faced severe difficulties coming to terms with their new society, in particular rural-urban migrants who escaped the countryside at the end of the nineteenth century. Rural migrants witnessed the disadvantages of a port society in transformation and were discriminated against. Marginalisation and exclusion took place on a large scale. This meant that only a small percentage of the migrants became Rotterdammers, namely those who were young enough to settle (under the age of 17) and were able to find a marriage partner. The marriage patterns of migrants should therefore be linked to the fact that so many left the city. In this sense, they behaved like modern migrants and moved on whenever they were unwelcome and were offered inadequate means of subsistence (Puschmann 2015, pp. 179, 237).

3.5 Spatial Pattern of Migration in Rotterdam

A much-debated question still is whether the social exclusion of migrants is spatially related and whether Rotterdam’s rural migration communities were bound to Rotterdam-South. According to Bouman and Bouman, migrants from Brabant, Zeeland and the South-Holland Islands tended to settle in Rotterdam-South and had a strong preference for living together in segregated areas. Gerard van der Harst (2006) used statistical data from the Historical Sample of the Netherlands, as well as the sample data of Bruggeman and Van de Laar. Van der Harst was particularly interested in the migration pattern of Brabanders (from the province of North-Brabant) and those from the province of Zeeland, as both migrant communities played a significant role in Bouman and Bouman’s work. Bruggeman and Van de Laar concluded that, in general, migrants from Zeeland, North Brabant and the South-Holland Islands had no clear preferences for particular neighbourhoods in Rotterdam. Migrants had several options: the inner city, which was part of the medieval town and was separated by the High Street (the old sea-dyke); and the seventeenth century merchant and harbour area ‘Water town’. This became the most renowned part of Rotterdam and a residential area for successful merchants, including for those from abroad, traders and shipping owners. New neighbourhoods were developed in the eastern, western, northern and southern parts of Rotterdam from the mid-1850s onwards. Table 2.6 presents an overview of the settlement pattern of migrants based on the sample studies of Van der Harst and Bruggeman and Van de Laar.

Table 2.6 Areas of settlement of migrants from Zeeland and Brabant compared to all migrants, inner city and new city (>1850) 1865–1879 (in percentages)

In general, the settlement patterns of the Brabanders and the overall population did not differ greatly, but the comparison shows that 65% of the migrants from Zeeland opted to live in one of the new areas, particularly in the eastern part of the city. Rotterdam-South had not yet become a place of arrival, as port development in that area started later. The relatively higher number of migrants from Zeeland suggests that these families belonged to the pioneers who worked as construction and railroad workers, as well as the ground workers who had turned the agricultural land into dockland. Single male migrants from Brabant were, for the most part, typical city craftsmen (bakers, tanners, shoemakers, blacksmiths etc.) looking for employment in a growing urban economy. They usually settled wherever they could find cheap accommodation. The inner city of Rotterdam was packed and migrant families who could afford to avoid the slums rented a house in one of the new neighbourhoods. The eastern part of Rotterdam showed new building activity provided by small construction firms who hoped to benefit from the great demand for housing. In general, as Van der Harst shows, migrants from Brabant and Zeeland were very mobile and did not stay in the poor neighbourhoods of the inner city for long. Even less successful migrants tried to resettle elsewhere. Van der Harst’s evidence confirms Bruggeman and Van de Laar’s conclusion that these migrants belonged to floating migrant populations who resided in a particular area and then resettled elsewhere or simply left the city. Van der Harst also shows that Rotterdam-South became a favourite location in the period 1910–1920, and an agrarian background mattered once the migrants had settled. Most of them, however, were female servants who married a Rotterdammer and opted to live in the more spacious areas of Rotterdam-South. However, this part of Rotterdam, apart from certain neighbourhoods on Katendrecht (see below), was not a typical dockers’ location and the occupational structure in these areas reveals a more balanced social cultural pattern. Migration was, generally, related to all the new neighbourhoods that were constructed during the nineteenth century and became new parts of Rotterdam where migrants settled and could find a marriage partner.

3.6 Minorities Versus Majorities

3.6.1 Rotterdam: A German City?

Rotterdam’s pre-industrial history convincingly reveals a multi-ethnic and religious society. Small foreign minorities could have a significant influence on Rotterdam’s cultural, political and economic development. British and Scottish families with strong family ties showed a sense of national identity, but this did not preclude the development of a strong local identity either, once they started to make a career in Rotterdam and gained full citizenship. There is no evidence of ethnic and racial tensions between Rotterdammers and foreign minorities in the nineteenth century. According to census data from 1849, 3.5% of the population was born in a foreign country. Around 1900, only 2% of Rotterdam’s population was born abroad, which is substantially lower than in pre-industrial times and much lower compared to Antwerp, where this figure was 10% (Puschmann 2015, p. 84). The sample data in Table 2.4 above shows that in the first period (1865–1879), 6.6% of the migrants were born abroad as against 8.6% from 1880 to 1909. The Germans were the largest group, followed by Belgians and English, with whom Rotterdammers interacted quite easily. Other smaller groups, like the Italians and Italian-speaking Swiss from Ticino, belonged to a group of chain migrants who recruited their own servants and had almost no contact with Rotterdammers. For the most part, they were employed as chimney-sweepers, which was an unhealthy, dirty and dangerous job that made it hard for them to socialise with native Rotterdammers (Chotkowski 2006).

Rotterdam became an even more important place of arrival for Germans during the second part of the nineteenth century. By then, the transit port of the German Empire offered enough career opportunities for German migrants with commercial and maritime connections (Schmitz 1998; Lesger et al. 2002). Male Germans found employment as dockers and sailors and the women as domestic servants, although some experienced downwards mobility and moved to “sailor-town” to become prostitutes. These “blond-haired Loreley’s” caused much turmoil within Rotterdam’s bourgeois circles (Van Dijk 1976; Manneke 1998). German retailers and shopkeepers also looked for opportunities, as evidenced by the settlement of the latter from the Westphalian Münsterland (Delger 2006). Some of them relied on an already existing extensive social network, like the Bohemians had done in the eighteenth century. According to the census data (1879–1909), about 1.1–1.7% of the Rotterdam population was German. At the start of World War I, 4000 Germans lived in Rotterdam; in 1930, this was still the largest group, at about 6000 people, meaning that around 48% of the foreigners in Rotterdam had a German background (Delger 2006; Puschmann 2015, pp. 84–92).

Delger (2006) studied two cohorts (1879–1879 and 1920–1929) and concluded that German male migrants were overrepresented in the business sector, although the relative share diminished from 34.5% in cohort 1 to 26% in cohort 2 (see Table 2.7). There was a remarkable increase in the share of Germans employed in the industrial sectors in the second cohort (from 27% to 61%). On the other hand, the percentage of Germans working in the transport sector (shipping, railways, etc.) reduced significantly. In contrast, the census data of the Rotterdammers showed an increase from 22.8% to 28.9% for German men. The service sector, meanwhile, created more employment opportunities for German women, particularly in the 1920s (see below).

Table 2.7 Occupational structure German immigrants in Rotterdam compared to the total population of Rotterdam by gender and arrival-cohort group, 1870–1930

A majority of German migrants stayed in Rotterdam for a short period. Nevertheless, those aged between 15 and 29 who decided to settle in the city and made a career there enjoyed a social position that was, on average, higher than that of Rotterdam-born residents. These successful German migrants represented the “Rhine-migration system”, which was the logistical chain between the dynamic transit port and the industrial hinterland. Rotterdam had enough labour opportunities for German migrants and the economic prospects of the transit economy attracted those from a more diverse background. Their decision to move from the German hinterland to Rotterdam did not really depend on personal relations in the city of arrival or on existing family networks (Lucassen 2005a, b). Some very successful members of Rotterdam’s international trading firms, e.g. A.G. Kröller, CEO of Wm. H. Müller & Co. (originally a German firm), became major players in the city’s transit economy, while others became typical representatives of the new class of harbour barons. Apart from the transit economy, however, German firms had not generally attained a substantial position in Rotterdam’s financial and commercial life (Weber 1974; Dekker 2015).

Only a minority of the German migrants moving to Rotterdam married a partner from the same country of origin. Religious background was a more important selection criterion than ethnicity. In particular, Catholic Germans opted for partners from the same religion. German men marrying a Rotterdammer tended to choose a partner whose father shared the same professional background. This German marriage pattern changed after World War I, when push factors were more important than pull factors. Germans fled to the Netherlands to escape from the disastrous economic situation in the 1920s, highlighted by the “Great Inflation” and political instability. Many German women sought economic shelter in the Netherlands, particularly in the Randstad conurbation, and Rotterdam became home to female refugees from Germany. Unsurprisingly, the gender ratio between German male and female migrants changed significantly, reducing the likelihood of marrying someone from your own country. Yet this was not the main reason why German women tended to marry a Rotterdammer: many of them worked as domestic servants living in their employers’ household, relatively isolated from their countrymen. It was therefore much easier to find a Rotterdammer as a marriage partner. Compared to German females who migrated to Rotterdam in the last third of the nineteenth century, religious background became less important than socio-economic status. Most women married lower middle class men, with a minority finding their partner at the docks or in the typical Rotterdam transport sector (Delger 2006).

The German marriage pattern shows great differentiation. Ethnicity and places of origin are just two aspects, with other factors like religion, professional background and the heterogeneity of the receiving society mattering as well (Lucassen 2005). In general, the Germans found their way rather easily in Rotterdam, supported there by several institutions and organisations: the German Evangelical Church; a German school; sport and choral societies; and associations supporting the German poor. There is, however, a difference between the Germans who arrived in the 1870s and those who came in the inter-war period, in particular in the 1930s when the Nazis came to power. The migrants coming to Rotterdam in the 1870s had significantly better chances of upwards social mobility than their compatriots half a century later. The Rotterdam economy provided better opportunities in the earlier period than during the crisis. In the 1870s, Rotterdam’s relatively favourable economic conditions attracted entrepreneurial and skilled migrants who hoped to benefit from the expanding trading and commercial activities that the transit economy had to offer. Germany’s booming industrial economy created enough opportunities for less or unskilled labourers, so there was not really a push factor to leave. This changed in the inter-war period, when German workers had nothing to lose. However, Rotterdam’s port economy at that time suffered due to the collapse of the Rhine economy and had high unemployment. Consequently, the port city offered fewer opportunities for upwards social mobility for natives and foreigners alike (Delger 2006).

3.6.2 Policies Towards Foreigners

Rotterdam had no urban migration policy. City officials considered primarily whether labour classes in general, and dock workers in particular, could disturb the social balance in the city. As foreign migrants comprised a small percentage of the in-migrants, no policy was needed to address their influx. Rotterdam was used to hosting a great number of foreigners, although these were transit passengers who used the city as a port of call on their way to the New World. The emigrants, however, were perceived as unsavoury, especially the large numbers of Eastern European Jews. The city government aimed to reduce the contact between migrants and Rotterdammers and wanted them to be separated from the rest of the population, thereby reducing the risk of epidemic diseases. The Holland-America Line, which was the largest transatlantic company and shipped more than a million passengers from the time it started business in 1873, established a private migrant hotel isolated from the rest of the city, which was situated opposite to the line’s wharf. The company’s hotel worked as a “quarantine zone”, as infected immigrants could remain there during the period prescribed by the Quarantine Regulations (Zevenbergen 1990; Van de Laar 2016).

In 1913, more than 80,000 people embarked in Rotterdam. The vast majority came from Russia and Austria-Hungary in a timely escape just before the outbreak of World War I. After 1918, emigration from Russia almost stopped; Poland and Czechoslovakia were then the main countries of emigration. Rotterdam had a great need for a larger quarantine complex, as the Holland-America Line’s provisions were unable to accommodate large numbers of migrants suffering from smallpox, typhoid or cholera. A new place was therefore built to house these immigrants, which was located a great distance from the inner-city in a remote dock area. Once the vast complex was complete, the heydays of transatlantic passenger traffic were over because of stricter US immigration laws in the 1920s.

The first real challenges for the city government started with the outbreak of World War I, when Rotterdam provided shelter to 23,000 Belgians who had escaped the Great War in October 1914. The people of the city welcomed them, and 4500 private households provided temporary shelter. The majority (18,000) left within a month, to the great relief of Chief Constable A. H. Sirks, who was afraid that a large concentration of Belgian refugees would inevitably lead to a confrontation with the many Germans in the city. Due to return migration, the number of Belgians fell sharply, but rose again in early 1915 to about 9000 by the end of World War I (Leenders and Orth-Sanders 1992; De Roodt 1998).

As the war dragged on, trade and shipping came to a virtual standstill. Food was scarce and many Rotterdammers lost their jobs. Tensions arose between Belgians and locals. Rotterdam’s newspapers fuelled the hostile atmosphere by printing letters to the editor from angry townspeople who felt they were disadvantaged as the Belgians had “stolen” their jobs, which is an argument that is much heard in today’s political circles. On the other hand, some critics wrote glowing reports about how the Belgians enriched urban cultural life and how Belgian appearances in popular cafés and dancing halls embellished the city’s nightlife. Real open hostility between Rotterdammers and the Belgians did not occur, with most reconciling themselves to their presence.

Other nationalities also came to the city; some were deserters and others were prisoners of war interned in the neutral Netherlands after the start of the war who stayed in Rotterdam until the peace treaty was signed in 1918. German officers enjoyed certain privileges; the first arrivals received a festive welcome, benefitting from the strong German-Rotterdam network that was established in the last third of the nineteenth century. At the end of the war, Rotterdam housed about 3500 Russians. Initially, this group consisted mainly of Russians who had fled German captivity. After 1917, compatriots who tried to escape the effect of the Russian Revolution joined them. The relationship between Rotterdammers and Russians was less friendly. In general, the former were more sceptical towards the latter compared to attitudes towards refugees from other nationalities, with a common complaint being that aggressive and drunken Russians were flirting with Rotterdam girls. Sirks put safety measures in place and housed the Russians in temporary camps where they stayed until they returned home after 1918.

3.6.3 The Chinese Community

There were very few foreigners in Rotterdam before World War II, but even small numbers could have a major impact on the port city. This was especially the case with Chinese migrants. Rotterdam had a “China Town” in the Katendrecht district, an artificial port peninsula on the south bank of the River Maas situated between Rijnhaven and Maashaven. Right from the start, Katendrecht was designed as a residential area for casual labourers and transient people in general, including overseas migrants awaiting passage elsewhere. The first Chinese migrants settled there in 1911, when they were employed as strike-breakers during the international seamen’s strike. The largest Dutch line-shipping firms wanted to continue their employment and in 1927 more than 3000 Chinese serviced the Dutch fleet, in particular as oilers and stokers.

Katendrecht became the largest Chinese colony in the Netherlands. A majority had to live in appalling conditions, but the city government did not feel obliged to act on their behalf. Even Rotterdam’s Socialists were convinced that the Chinese were stealing the jobs of Dutch sailors and were also unwilling to back their cause. During the Global Depression of 1929, many Chinese seafarers fell into unemployment. Some moved on to other places like Hamburg or went overseas, but a majority stayed in Rotterdam. In the 1930s, an estimated 2500 Chinese lived in Katendrecht. The isolated position of this segregated area encouraged the mixing of Chinese with local residents, which was evidenced by a considerable number of intermarriages. Girls from Katendrecht considered marriage to a Chinese entrepreneur to be a chance of upwards mobility, particularly when it involved those Chinese who had opened a Chinese restaurant, shop or boarding house. However, apart from successful Chinese businessmen, the socio-economic position of the majority of the Chinese seafaring community did not improve. Unemployed Chinese were considered a burden on Rotterdam society and were, consequently, treated with disrespect, particularly those who roamed the streets of inner-city Rotterdam in the 1930s selling typical Chinese peanut cakes and shouting: “Peanut peanut, tasty, tasty 5 ct.” The appearance of these poor Chinese vendors was grist to the mill of Rotterdam’s Chief Constable, Louis Einthoven, who was Sirks’ successor. Einthoven pursued a resettlement program for the Chinese in Katendrecht, and from 1936 onwards, old and poor Chinese were transported to Hong Kong. In 1939, Einthoven happily concluded that Rotterdam no longer had “a Chinese problem” (Vervloesem 2009, 2012).

4 Part III: Post-War Diversity

4.1 Selective Migration

In May 1940, a German terror bombardment swept away the inner city of Rotterdam. A raging sea of fire lasted for days and turned the historical centre into tatters. Rotterdam decided not to restore the city, but to build a new modernist version of it after the war. The modernist program became embedded in an urban welfare program, promoting Rotterdam as a city meeting the greatest challenges in its history. Post-war Rotterdam was shaped by an irrevocable working class mentality where diligence, doggedness and daringness were to be leading features. Together, the workers of Rotterdam would build a modern city centre and industrial port and their city would become the Socialist centre of the entire Randstad conurbation (Van de Laar 2013). However, in order to build this new city and expand its industries, Rotterdam needed migrants who were willing to do the heavy, dirty, irregular and relatively poorly paid work. As a result of labour shortages, the indigenous population flowed to well-paid jobs, while dockworkers, longshoremen, shipbuilders and industrial labourers had to be recruited from elsewhere. Rotterdam companies first sought workers in the region and other parts of the Netherlands, but the search for labour outside the country started in the mid-1950s, especially in the Mediterranean area.

Data from 1961 give an impression of the number of foreign guest-workers living in Rotterdam. According to official figures, there were very few foreign workers: there were no more than 1300 in that year. Then, between 1961 and 1975, this number increased to just over 23,000, equating to less than 3% of the population. Table 2.8 shows the share of the main migrant groups over a 14-year period.

Table 2.8 Share of foreign labourers in Rotterdam (1961, 1965, 1970, and 1975) in percentages

Italians were among the first large groups of post-war foreign workers, but from the early 1960s relatively fewer Italians migrated to Rotterdam and their position was taken over by migrants from Spain. Sixty-five percent of foreigners had come from Spain between 1961 and 1965, but this share dropped to just below 20% in 1975, when many decided to re-migrate. Turks were the largest group of guest-workers in 1975, while the share of Moroccan labour migrants increased from the 1970s onwards. Rotterdam also became a place of recruitment and settlement for sailors from Cape Verde, a former colony of Portugal. These maritime-based relations formed the basis of a large Cape Verdean community in Rotterdam, with these migrants later moving to other places in north-west Europe. Migrants from Turkey, the former Yugoslavia and, to a lesser degree, Morocco were recruited on the basis of bi-national agreements between the Dutch national government and officials in the Mediterranean countries that lasted until the early 1970s, when the oil crisis and economic depression reduced the need for cheap foreign labourers. Guest-workers were not expected to settle permanently and integration was not a policy goal. Indeed, several official documents published by the Rotterdam city government described why, in its view, integration could be counter-productive. Once integrated, it was claimed, migrants would probably be unwilling to continue working as cheap labourers mopping floors or doing all the dirty jobs that the Dutch refused to do. Integration would, therefore, lead to an increase of new guest-workers and should be slowed down. Foreigners should also not live in the same neighbourhoods as Rotterdammers, with guest-workers housed in hostels segregated from the “normal” population, so that “the neighbourhood population is not confronted with the presence of a large contingent of foreign workers and the undesirable consequences of this, such as an influx of prostitutes (...)” (quoted in Van de Laar 2000, p. 530).

Inter-ethnic tensions in the neighbourhood Afrikaanderwijk (1972) precluded a differentiation in migration and integration policies. This area of Rotterdam belonged to a series of working class neighbourhoods built at the turn of twentieth century in Rotterdam-South as a typical place of arrival for the new urban classes working in the port city. Dissatisfied residents, themselves second or third generation migrants who were unable to benefit from the welfare state and rising wages, had left the city. Those who stayed were unable to leave their neighbourhoods and complained about the disintegration of social-cultural homogeneity as a result of the settlement of guest-workers. There were still very few of them in the early 1970s, but they were concentrated in a number of streets in houses owned by a Turkish slum landlord who turned them into Turkish guest-houses. His nickname was “King of the Turks”. In the summer of 1972, Rotterdam hotheads entered one of the hostels and threw all the furniture onto the street, loudly encouraged by bystanders. Over the days that followed, the disturbance spread to other parts of the neighbourhood. What began as a neighbourhood quarrel against the slum landlord ended in a series of street fights. Indeed, for a few days, the neighbourhood turned into a battlefield. The riot police arrived and Mayor Wim Thomassen interrupted his August holiday to appease the rioters.

The Afrikaanderwijk was front-page news for a couple of days. Radio and television reporters focused on the discriminatory actions of the native Rotterdammers, but the riots cannot simply be seen as a precursor to the rise of the extreme right movements in the 1980s. One of the Dutch Social Democratic community workers who tried to establish a multicultural working group in the neighbourhood declared later that he was puzzled because the rioters themselves had a migration background: their fathers and mothers, as documented by Bouman and Bouman, had migrated to the port city and were employed as dock-workers (Dekker and Senstius 2001). The rioters expressed their impotence and dissatisfaction with a city council that had ignored their complaints about social housing conditions and the often very poor state of their homes. Undoubtedly, this impotence and dissatisfaction also contributed to the fact that residents in the old neighbourhoods had a less tolerant attitude towards foreigners. In hindsight, this period was a flash in the pan and not the result of racist activities, but the incidents had a major impact on migration policies in Rotterdam, nonetheless: the city adopted a policy of the forced dispersion of migrants in neighbourhoods containing more than 5% of foreigners. However, these measures conflicted with the Dutch Constitution, as confirmed by the Dutch State Council.

The influx of large groups of foreign guest-workers after 1945 is often compared to the migration process that took place at the end of the nineteenth century. The major difference between the late nineteenth century and post-war migration is that there was a migration shortage for domestic migrants in the 1960s and a migration surplus until the intake stabilized in the early 1980s. People leaving Rotterdam had a different ethnic and social-cultural background than the new immigrants. While the Rotterdammers left the city en masse – population figures fell from 731,000 in 1965 to 613,000 10 years later – their homes in the nineteenth century neighbourhoods, once migration areas themselves, became residential areas for guest-workers.

At the end of the 1970s, the city government acknowledged that many guest labourers were not going to return to their country of origin. Rotterdam thus needed a serious integration policy in order to improve the social and economic status of the migrants (Dekker and Senstius 2001, p. 67). Integration policies meant focusing on employment, housing conditions and education. The former guest-workers were now considered to be members of a minority group. Assimilation was not a goal in itself, but the integration of minority communities into Rotterdam society was an aim.

5 Conclusion

Sailors, soldiers and tradesmen from all parts of Europe have found their way to Rotterdam from the sixteenth century onwards. In addition to military and maritime trade-based migration patterns, the Dutch Republic’s relative degree of religious and political tolerance encouraged further settlement through existing trade and commercial networks. Even small minority groups were able to have a decisive influence on the receiving city. The international merchant and refugee network, which was composed of French and British scholars, turned Rotterdam into an early centre of Enlightenment in the seventeenth century. These international communities contributed to Rotterdam’s expansion during the Dutch Golden Age. It is therefore no surprise that, when the city’s economy declined after 1750, it was no longer a preferred destination for leading merchants. The sample data show that Rotterdam attracted relatively poorer migrants, particularly from Germany. However, this migration pattern changed during the last third of the nineteenth century, when entrepreneurial Germans used their Rhine connections to push Rotterdam’s modernisation. Pre-modern Rotterdam was highly mobile and diverse and many foreign migrants contributed to the city’s welfare.

The grand narrative of Rotterdam as a “City of Migration” has eclipsed its pre-modern migration history. In the last third of the nineteenth century, thousands of landless labourers moved to Rotterdam, joining a growing workforce of construction workers and dock-workers, which was, generally, a group of casual labourers shaping the industrial port landscape. This narrative of the arrival and integration of migrants is inexorably linked to that of the working city. Boomtown Rotterdam gained the reputation of being a restless, assiduous city, always on the run and continually showing a “down to work” mentality. The offspring of these migrants ultimately found their place in the receiving society, but new quantitative research shows that assimilation was not an easy process.

Rotterdam’s long-term historical perspective shows differences between pre-modern and modern society. As a matter of fact, Rotterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was more diverse than in the nineteenth century. The share of foreign migrants was low, which is in great contrast to contemporary Rotterdam. As most long-term migration patterns were based on earlier pre-modern path-dependencies and maritime networks, the presence of foreign migrants at that time was not interpreted as a threat to society. The control of migrants was part of a general urban policy to reduce the numbers of poor people unable to support themselves and who could not rely on charity. Financial considerations were, for the city government, more important than ethnicity. The integration of many inland migrants became a big challenge for Rotterdam after 1850. Their rural background created another kind of diversity that was also spatially related. Rotterdam-South was, in this sense, a “place of otherness”, defined as an ambiguous place associated with negative characteristics: sites of crime, drunkenness, crisis, deviant people, casual dockers and migrants from the rural provinces. It is therefore no coincidence that the Chinese community settled on the waterfront in Katendrecht, which was an isolated port peninsula that fitted well within Rotterdam’s port narrative. Apart from the temporary presence of transnational migrants, who used Rotterdam as a port of embarkation, the city’s pre-World War II experiences with foreign diversity were based on refugees who had escaped the Great War and, apart from the Chinese communities, very small groups like the Italian-speaking Swiss.

Rotterdam’s nineteenth century’s port city was not superdiverse and its modernist narrative was not based on experiences of earlier forms of successful migration. The legacy of Bouman and Bouman, however, fitted well within a new discourse on the city’s modernity. The offspring of Rotterdam’s nineteenth century rural-urban migrants had rebuilt the city after the fatal German bombardment in May 1940 and celebrated the expansion of its port. In fact, the success of the reconstruction and post-war expansion period can be reinterpreted as the completion of a migration narrative that started with their ancestors, who had created the new port city. The new generation laid the foundations for Rotterdam’s post-war modernisation, and their work mentality was celebrated at great length. These Rotterdammers were cited as an example for all Dutch labourers. Urban planners put this identity of energetic Rotterdam to good use, missing no opportunity to promote the ideal modernist welfare city in the 1950s and 1960s (Van de Laar 2013). This nineteenth century migration narrative could have been integrated in Rotterdam’s narrative of a welfare city. However, the major cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s, when Rotterdam’s social-cultural landscape altered drastically, did not fit within this representation of the city’s migration history. The chapters in this book (in particular by Van Houdt & Schinkel) help to explain why it has not been possible to link earlier migration narratives to Rotterdam’s superdiversity. Notwithstanding Rotterdam’s past as a city of migration, its pre-modern diversity and its urban culture, the political turn initiated by Pim Fortuyn and his Party Liveable Rotterdam in 2002 made this impossible. As a result of Rotterdam’s superdiversity today, its migration past has become part of a contested history. With Rotterdam’s migration narrative as a leading principle, the city government would have had to accept that the marginalisation of people is part of the story of an arrival city. According to the social concepts of superdiversity, however, integration becomes more complex when there is no clear majority. As a consequence, an integration policy of superdiversity is not compatible with a vision in which Rotterdam – pushed by strong marketing efforts – wants to rebalance its population, making it more attractive to middle-classes. Since then, Rotterdam’s new urban government-led gentrification programs have been motivated by a politics of “urban revanchism” (Uitermark and Duyvendak 2008), in which there is no room for “happy diversity.”