Bianconi Pre-Rail Travel in Nineteenth Century Ireland
By Noel Campbell
The prints entitled Car-Travelling in the South of Ireland in the years 1856. – Bianconi’s Establishment each measure 51.5cm long by 39cm wide in their frames. Framing was by C. Webb, Crampton Quay, Dublin. The prints were engraved by John Harris after pictures by Michael Angelo Hayes and were published by Ackermann & Co., London in December 1856. The six prints each show a stage of a typical horse drawn car journey in the mid-nineteenth century. Plates I-VI are titled Getting Ready, Hearn’s Hotel, Clonmel; Arriving at the end of a stage; On the road at full pace; Taking up a passenger; Dropping a passenger; The Arrival at Waterford, Commin’s Hotel.
Why were Bianconi’s cars so popular?
In pre-rail Ireland, long distance travel on the part of most people was simply not undertaken due the many obstacles it raised. When Charles Bianconi began offering ‘Cheap and Expeditious Travelling’ from c.1815, extended distances were now possible. Despite the cars being uncovered and open to the harsh Irish elements, the service proved hugely successful as they were scheduled, fast and many stages on each route had a Bianconi owned inn in which food and lodgings were supplied before the traveller progressed. The popularity and necessity of Bianconi’s cars meant their travel was never affected by public unrest or rebellion. Bianconi in later years proudly reminisced that “the slightest injury has never been done by the people to my property, or that entrusted to my care.”
Detail from Plate III
Who was Charles Bianconi?
Carlo Bianconi was born in northern Italy in 1786. On leaving school at the age of 16 he moved first to England in search of work and then carried on across the Irish Sea to Ireland in 1802. By 1815, Carlo now anglicised to Charles was living in Clonmel. He established a small two car service initially but he exploited the return of men and horses from the Napoleonic Wars to expand his business with extra routes to several counties. One would imagine the introduction of the railway to Ireland on a large scale in the 1840s would have spelled the end for Bianconi’s cars but the Italian manipulated the challenge to his advantage and ensured his coaches serviced the new railway stations that were dotting his routes around Ireland. Bianconi was a popular employer and resident in Clonmel and held the position of mayor of the town on two occasions. He died in 1875 at his home in Longfield, Co. Tipperary.
The prints are part of the National Museum’s Folklife collection, which is stored in Turlough Park and are not currently on public display.
You can find more information in the following:
O'Connell, Morgan John & Hayes, Angelo, Charles Bianconi : a biography, 1786-1875, London: Chapman and Hall, 1878
O'Connell, Morgan John & Watson, S. J., Bianconi : king of the Irish roads, Dublin: Allen Figgis, 1962