Ferdinando I: the first steamship in Italy

by Arianna Giannetti

The first Italian steamship was built in Naples: The Ferdinando I.

"I scorned the limited land - that common road all marked by the footprints of heels and servile clogs - and turned to admire the magnanimity of the sea that leaves no memories."

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

What does it has to do with it Melville with Naples? What unites the cetacean most famous and celebrated in American literature with the gulf of the beautiful mermaid?

Simply the absolute love for sea? Or something more?

The common denominator of all this is the wonder. And as much as this speech may seem rhetorical and full of many beautiful bow-tie arguments, what remains in my eyes is the pure wonder, the wonder towards my city and my people that every time leaves me with open eyes, every time teaches me something more about myself.

I wonder how it is possible that this earth has everything, that it is a separate universe in which codes and rules belong only to this place. How is it possible that he has music, art and poetry, and that he has pain and rot that rots on all sides. How is it possible to start falling in love with a book like Moby Dick and discover that viscerally, deeply, your South has something in common with this history, with this masterpiece?

I would have liked to tell you about the Pequod of Naples or a Ismaele of via De Mille and a Captain Ahab scugnizzor (and I hope to do it one day!) but, for this time, I will tell you only a small but very important news: The first Italian steamship was designed right here, in Naples, and was called the Ferdinando I.

La Ferdinando I: la prima nave a vapore in Italia

Ferdinand I, modification study. Archive of Naples

Ferdinando I

Climbed in 1816 indeed, Ferdinand I of Bourbon he found himself almost immediately facing a burdensome and thorny problem for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies: The communication routes. The roads of the Kingdom were bumpy and ruined, while the connections by sea were more often than not slow and unreliable. Thus King Ferdinand soon became curious about a new and revolutionary maritime transport system with ships equipped with trumpets of fire capable of supporting much longer journeys in shorter times, thus making it easier to transport products and merchandise of all kinds to every part of the world, bringing together men who lived in the most disparate parts of the planet. The idea was innovative and modern, and would have opened the doors of the Kingdom to an international market, which for centuries had been in the hands of the great powers of the seas.

La Ferdinando I: la prima nave a vapore in Italia

Vintage photo Steamship Ferdinando I

So it was that in 1817, the Privileged company for the introduction of steam navigation in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, based at number 32 of the vico Concezione in Toledo, assigned to the Filosa shipyard building a Steamer 38.80 m long and 6.15 m wide in which the new apparatus was installed propulsion. The plant was designed with two boilers each six meters long and a 45 horsepower machine connected to two side wheels, both equipped with eight blades of 1.20 m in length. The mast was instead a Brig with a long and thin funnel. In addition, 16 passenger dressing rooms were built at the stern, while a common room with about fifty seats was designed at the bow. Finally, on the bridge, he guaranteed enough space to embark even two or three carriages. It was an extraordinary and majestic work, and for the first time Southern Italy understood its possibilities, its abilities, rising from the condition of mediocrity into which it seems to pour itself with a blind loyalty.

There Ferdinand I touched the waters of Gulf for the first time in June 24, 1818 and was entrusted to the command of the Captain Don Giuseppe Libetta, first standard bearer. After a few test laps the ship, which the Neapolitan people nicknamed o'serpentone, left the Molo Beverello at a time of Genoa and Livorno. From the logbook we read: "We left Naples at five o'clock, despite the contrary wind. At 7 we were across the Procida lighthouse and the wind having passed there the ship experienced violent shocks and only one wheel had to be used. At 6 in the evening we were in the vicinity of Capo Circello (Circeo), but the stormy weather forced us to set sail and turn the bow towards the island of Ponza. In the night, the wind having established itself, we headed to Fiumicino where we arrived at noon. There we saw some boats coming towards us almost to help because the sailors of them, deceived by the smoke exhaled by the steam engine, and by being without sails, doubted some fire "

After months of sailing, finally the 13 October there Ferdinand I reached the Ligurian port arousing great interest, the ship was in fact visited by prominent personalities of the aristocracy of the time: such as theFrench ambassador to Turin and Admiral Giorgio Andrea Des Geneys, of the Sardinian Navy. From Genoa then, the famous Steam Ship sailed towards Marseille, and also in the French metropolis he enjoyed enormous success: there a local artist, such A. Roux, celebrated the historic event by painting a watercolor, now kept at the City Chamber of Commerce Museum. This work still represents one of the rare and precious images of the ship that have come down to us today.

Ferdinando I

Watercolor A. Roux by Ferdinand I

Subsequently, however, due to continuous breakdowns and breakdowns, the owners decided to tragically interrupt the trade lines, despite the costly repairs carried out even with spare parts coming even from Great Britain. In fact, returned to Naples theMay 8, was placed in disarmament and finally bitterly demolished.

This concludes the extraordinary story of a revolutionary ship, emblem of the most advanced technology, of a portentous steamer capable of giving hope to a people who have always lived in hope.

Another name that must surely be remembered, however, is that of another steamship that marked the history of Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the world of maritime trade: La Sicily, designed and built a Palermo, from the brothers' dream Luigi and Salvatore de Pace, who established the Navigation Company Sicilian Transatlantic in order to organize a direct steam service between Palermo and New York.

La Ferdinando I: la prima nave a vapore in Italia

Sicily steamship

The journey of the Sicily hard 26 days; reached Gibraltar, the Captain descended towards the South with an oblique course, approaching the Tropic of Cancer, which followed parallel up to the 70th meridian; he then swerved north to cross the Gulf Stream, finally anchoring in the Hudson Bay on July 28th, and thus becoming the first Italian steamship to have caressed the North America. Despite the tropical heat of that morning, the Sicily it was visited by many Italian emigrants who went up with pride and emotion on a piece of their distant homeland.

But also the fate of this legendary boat was very tragic: At the command of the captain Giuseppe Di Bartolo, the Sicily departed on September 27, 1854 for his last trip. In fact, the October 20 approximately 60 miles offshore from Cork, in Southern Ireland.

-Arianna Giannetti

Bibliography and sitography:

[1] “La Rivista Marittima”, September 2005.

[2] Il Piroscafo Sicilia - Il Brigantino, the southern portal.

[3] Claudio Ressmann, Maritime Magazine 2007.

[4] The first steamship in the Mediterranean, Ressmann. Maritime magazine May-June 2004.

[5] Vesuviolive, I did not know: the first steamer in the Mediterranean: Ferdinando I.

[6] Vesuviolive, Non lo sapevo, the first Italian steamship: Sicily.

Become a supporter!

We have decided to remove advertisements from the website to ensure maximum enjoyment of our stories. However, we need financial support to keep our editorial activities alive: join the supporters of our platform, for you many advantages and preview videos!

Leave a comment

error: NOTICE: You can't copy the content!