Stampa Articolo

Shipbuilding and related industries in the Kingdom of Two Sicilies between the late 1700s and 1800s

Sorrentine polacca (Formicola-Romano, 1992)

Sorrentine polacca (Formicola-Romano, 1992)

di Maria Sirago [*]

The age of Charles and Ferdinand (1734 – 1806)

The Neapolitan Kingdom became independent in 1734 when Charles of Bourbon arrived in Naples. Since then, the economic, political and social situation of Southern Italy radically changed. The ministers serving young king Charles soon spread European mercantilism in the Kingdom, after an unsuccessful attempt under the previous Austrian rule. Plans were made to restore the most important ports and revive trade reforms (Aliberti, 1976,1). A State Council was created consisting two Spaniards, José di Montealegre, Marquis of Salas, State Secretary, and José Manuel de Benavides y Aragón, Count of Santisteben, and some Neapolitans (Ajello, 1976: 480ss.). An important member of the government was the Tuscan Bernardo Tanucci, an expert jurist, who came to Naples in the wake of Charles, a proud advocate of the need to fight the feudal system in which the Kingdom vas enveloped and to downsize the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, both due to backwardness of the Kingdom (Cernigliaro, 2012).

The reconstruction of the infrastructures undertaken after the conquest of Sicily (1735) involved a strong financial commitment especially to replace galleys and vessels, that the Austrians had brought to Trieste or destroyed (Sirago, 2016: 71 – 98), and to rebuild the Neapolitan port and the main ones of the Kingdom (Sirago, 2004: 33ss.; Marin, 2017).

First of all, the King and his ministers needed to create a royal fleet, to become a legitimate part of the European political scene. The fleet was also important as a defence against Turkish and Barbary pirate galleys. The construction of the armed ship St. Filippo Real (60 guns) started in 1736 and ended two years later (Sirago, 2004: 33ss.). However, supplies of guns and materials for the Royal Navy were inadequate. So, the interest for the Baltic area, shown by king Charles derived from the need of getting some raw materials only available in northern Europe, particularly wood for masts and iron for guns (Sirago, 2012,1; Pingaro, 2016). So many trade agreements were signed: the first with the Ottoman Porte (April 7th, 1840) and the Regency of Tripoli (June 3rd,1741), to trade in the Mediterranean ports of call whose access had been denied so far, because of the pirate attacks supported by those same countries. Further agreements for the Baltic trade were then made with the Kingdom of Sweden (June 30th, 1842), with the Kingdom of Denmark (April 6th, 1878), with Holland (August 27th, 1753), and, finally, with the Russian Empire (January 17th, 1787) (Castellano, 1956).

At that time, the Merchant Navy, mainly assembled in the shipyards of Piano and Meta di Sorrento, Castellammare and on the island of Procida, was formed by small units which could not cover a long distance. However, since 1750, king Charles promulgated some new laws to promote the development of the Royal merchant Navy. Some vessels, called “polacche” (polaccas) or “pinchi” were built: they were also armed with guns (Passaro, 2019): 35ss.). During the Seven Years War (1756-1763), they succeeded in following the same trade routes as the English ones (usually dominated by British or by other European merchant navies), sometimes even getting to the Americas (Martinique). However, by the end of the war, the English Navy had regained ground and done its business at one of the most important fairs in southern Italy, the “Fiera franca” of Salerno, where a lot of foreign products were sold, especially English merchandise. In the meantime, an intense shipbuilding activity was carried out to provide the Royal fleet with new vessels (Sirago, 2004: 33ss.).

When Charles of Bourbon became king of Spain, he resigned the crown of Naples, leaving his minister Bernardo Tanucci to head the regency council of his son Ferdinand until he attained his majority (Maiorini, 1991).

During the “Regency” of Bernardo Tanucci (1759-1767), a great number of mainmasts from the Baltic sea kept on arriving in the kingdom, carried by Dutch ships; since 1767, they were directly bought by Giacinto Catanti, Tanucci’s brother-in-law, who had been appointed Neapolitan consul, first in Netherlands (The Hague) and then in Denmark (Copenhagen,1766): in those years he had gained great experience in trading this kind of products, especially during his stay in Holland. In the same period a lot of guns had been ordered in Sweden, where iron and steel industries had been flourishing since the second half of the eighteenth century thanks to English, Flemish and German workers (Ryden, 2006); “alberi del Nord” (masts of the North) were also imported from Sweden (Sirago, 2012, 1: 86).

Since the beginning of young king Ferdinand’s reign, his ministers tried to promote the economic growth, both by expanding the trade with the Baltic sea and the Americas, and by adopting a close foreign policy (Aliberti, 1976,1).

Swedish guns, 1790 (Formicola Romano, 1990)

Swedish guns, 1790 (Formicola Romano, 1990)

The growth of the merchant navy was promoted too: in 1770, the Nautical School in Piano and Meta di Sorrento (with its ancient merchant shipyard and a long tradition of sea trade) and the Neapolitan Nautical School of San Giuseppe a Chiaia for pilots and sailors were founded (Sirago, 2019, 2). Since the early 1770s, Giovanni Bompiede (Pezone, 2006: 875-886), the engineer who had already restored the harbours of the Capital, Castellammare, Brindisi, Bari – the most important ports of the kingdom (Sirago, 2004: 33ss.) – also decided to build some coastal fortifications with a 174 gun battery. He ordered to import 40 guns from Sweden in 1772, 60 in 1773 and the remnants between 1773 and 1774, so that everything was complete by 1775.  In the same year, some “Masts of the North” and anchors were sent to the kingdom to be used for the new 60 gun-vessels on the stocks (Sirago, 2012, 1: 86) for the construction of about ten vessels, according to the Tanucci’s plans (Sirago, 2019, 1).

At the same time was established a framework of the trade routes between the Kingdom of Naples and the new emporia in the Baltic Sea and in the Black Sea (Sirago, 2012,1; Passaro, 2019: 35ss.

Jacob Philipp Hackert, the launching ceremony of the new vessel “Partenope”, 1786, Royal Palace, Caserta

Jacob Philipp Hackert, The launching ceremony of the new vessel “Partenope”, 1786, Royal Palace, Caserta

But the Queen Maria Carolina, according to the marriage agreements, after the birth of her first son, the same year had joined to State Council (Mafrici, 2010: 49-80). Thus, having fired Minister Tanucci, she sent for the Scottish admiral Jonh Acton, in service with his brother, the Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo to reorganize all the maritime sectors. Then the Queen in 1778 appointed Acton Director of Secretary of the Neapolitan Royal Navy: and the admiral in 1783 decided to build a new royal shipyard in Castellammare di Stabia, which was suitable for the building of big vessels with 74 guns, following French plans, with the collaboration of a French engineer called Imbert (Nuzzo, 1980: 437 ss.). 

The construction of the shipyard, directed by the engineer Bompiede, was quickly completed: the first vessel, La Partenope, was launched in 1786, followed by numerous other ships, with Swedish and Russian masts and guns (Sirago, 2012,1). 

John Acton also decided to reorganize the Marina Academy and the nautical schools of Naples and those of the Sorrento peninsula (Meta and Carotto) to train suitable crews for the new maritime unites it wanted to build (Sirago, 2020, 1). At the end of 1798, the king, while running away to Sicily, ordered to set fire to the fleet, which sank in the Gulf of Naples (Formicola Romano, 1999). In the first days of 1799 the Parthenopean Republic was proclaimed. The king came back to Naples six months later with the help of admiral Horatio Nelson, who had previously escorted him to Palermo. In this time king Ferdinand tried to restore trade, specially with Black Sea, but at the arrival of the French he again running away to Sicily (Sirago (2020,2: 180).

The French Decade (1806 – 1815)

After Napoleon’s rise to power, the Italian peninsula was invaded by the French in 1806. The Bourbons fled to the island of Sicily, in Palermo, under British protection. Trade increased very much in Messina during the so called “British decade” (1806-1816) (Bottari, 2009). However, in 1806, Giuseppe Bonaparte was proclaimed king of the two Sicilies by his brother Napoleon, who forced him to take measures to restore the most important ports in the kingdom, starting from Brindisi and Taranto (Sirago, 2004: 44ss.). At the same time were reactivated the Naval Academy and the school for “pilotini” (captains) and placed in the same building, the former Monastero dei Santi Severino e Sossio; and the naval schools in Meta e Piano, by Sorrento, underwent the same renovation (Sirago, 2020,1).

Plant for building three docks to make three vessels simultaneously (BNN, Carte geografiche, B.a 21B (71, July 30th, 1812).

Plant for building three docks to make three vessels simultaneously (BNN, Carte geografiche, B.a 21B (71, July 30th, 1812).

Two years later, Giuseppe Bonaparte was named as king of Spain and Gioacchino Murat in his place, as king of Naples. Napoleon, who had already reactivated the main Italian arsenals (in Trieste, Venice, Genoa, La Spezia, Ancona) to build vessels with 80 guns, in conformity with the French plans, like those in the arsenal of Toulon, wanted Murat to rearrange the shipyard in Castellammare. Therefore, the king decided to start expanding the arsenal of Castellammare and ordered to build three docks to make three vessels simultaneously (following a plan that was carried out later, in the 1820s, under the Bourbon rule. In 1810 was launched the vessel Capri, with 74 guns, to celebrate the reconquest of the island, occupied by the British Fleet in 1806, and in 1812 the vessel Gioacchino, with 80 guns (Sirago, 2012, 2).  

The controversy with the United States arose in 1809 when Murat, with Napoleon’s approval, decreed that American ships that ventured out into the bay of Naples could be seized and confiscated: it is estimated that between 1809 and 1812 about fifty vessels were captured and sold with their cargoes or added to the Royal fleet.  One of these ships, the schooner Ocean, a model of which was built for the Maritime Academy, was added to the Neapolitan fleet (Sirago, 2019, 3).

However, the recession caused by the English Continental Blockade (signed on November 21st, 1806) hindered trade with the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the Americas. So, it was not possible to get the material from the Baltic or the Black Sea. In November 1813 Murat repealed the Continental Blockade and revitalized trade (Ciccolella, 2019). The embargo was effective intermittently for about half the time and intended in April 11th1814, after Napoleon’s first abdication. Business relations with Russia started again only after the end of that closedown, even though former consul, duke of Serracapriola, was allowed to stay in San Pietroburgo on his own (Sirago, 2012,3). And the same was for business relations with the United States (Sirago,2019, 3). 

The second Bourbon period (1815-1860)

After the Restoration, when king Ferdinand came back to Naples, he conformed to the adopted trading policy and promoted further improvements. He decided to rearrange the main ports (Sirago, 2008 e 2012,2) and reorganized the nautical schools following Matteo Galdi’s plan, dating back to 1809 (Sirago, 2020,1).

King Ferdinand also decided to rearrange the sea power of the kingdom in order to protect the merchant navy and to reorganize the fleet: a General Ordinance of the Royal Navy was published in 1818. A few years later, in 1822, vessels with 80 guns were built again in the shipyard of Castellammare to replace the old ones, in the same way as they had already done during the French period, following the old French plan. The vessel Vesuvio was launched in 1824 (Sirago, 2012,1: 95ss.).

On occasion of the launch of the new vessel, the extension works in the shipyard of Castellammare, dating back to 1812, were resumed: a lot of work was done above ground as well as under the sea by a team of “scuba divers” who had already built a permanent dock for the launch of the vessel Vesuvio; and in 1824 the vessel Archimede, with 80 guns, was launched too (ASN, Consiglio Ordinario di Stato, Protocolli, vol. 852, September 11, July 12, 1822 and September 23, 1823; vol. 853, May 5 and December 14, 1824). At same time the wood was bought in Sweden and Russia, particularly in the port of Riga. Indeed trade exchanges with the Baltic ports, primarily the Swedish and the Russian ones, were set out again since the Restoration in order to find the raw materials (Sirago, 2012,1: 95ss.).

In 1816, King Ferdinand enacted a new law, called “Diritto di costruzione”, which supported the construction of new merchant ships, like schooners (like the American ships) and brigs, particularly those “a coffa”, so called because of their platforms which had to support the upper masts, whose construction was on a particular shore leave. In a short time, the merchant navy increased shipbuilding (Clemente, 2011), particularly brigs and brigs “a palo” in the shipyards of Naples, Piano, Meta di Sorrento, Castellammare, the island of Procida, and the Principato Citra in Conca: in the 1840s, the number of brigs was about 340 in 10.000 units, for a total amount of 250.000 tons (Sirago, 2004: 159ss., tabs). In that period many maritime insurance companies were founded (Davis, 1975, and Avallone Salvemini, 2020: 494ss.) as a consequence of the growing navigation in the Black Sea, in the Baltic Sea and in the United States (Pirolo Sirago, 2017. and Sirago, 2019,3). 

Launching of a brig in the shipyard of Alimuri (Meta) (Maresca Passaro, 2011: 27)

Launching of a brig in the shipyard of Alimuri (Meta) (Maresca Passaro, 2011: 27)

The “adventure” of steamship

In the same period the “adventure” of steam engines began: in 1818 the French trader Pierre Andriel had a patent-right to build the first steamship (with an English engine) at the Marina di Vigliena, near Naples, launched in June 24: it was called Ferdinando 1st and had an English engine, which had been personally bought by Andriel in England (ASN, fs. 70/bis, cartella B-8, first steamship S. Ferdinando, drawing). The pilot for the first voyage was Giuseppe Libetta, a young Neapolitan officer of the Royal fleet who had just finished his studies at the Naval Academy. However, it was not a successful achievement, so the ship was dismantled (Sirago, 2015: 495 – 498; Ciccolella, 2020).

In 1823 a new plan for ports and navigation was made, so George Wilding, prince of Butera, a German officer from Dresda, had a ten- year patent-right to fund a steamship society to connect Naples to Palermo for postal service and passengers. In England he bought the steamboat (also called packet boat, from pacchetto in Italian), called Real Ferdinand, commanded by Andrea di Martino, who had already piloted the first Ferdinando I: he started his voyages on June 20th, 1824. In the same period the minister Luigi de’ Medici granted the company special terms for postal service, for the first time in Italy. The patent – right was then bought by Maurizio Dupont, who wanted to promote the route to Marseille: the first voyage was commanded by the pilot Gaetano Astarita on August 1st 1826 (Sirago, 2015: 498ss.). 

Launching of a brig in the shipyard of Alimuri (Meta) (Maresca Passaro, 2011: 27)

Launching of a brig in the shipyard of Alimuri (Meta) (Maresca Passaro, 2011: 27)

In 1826 the new king Francis 1st decided to promote commercial activities; therefore he settled the question about the privileges enjoyed by English, French and Spanish Navies. After the Restoration he promulgated a navigation law which put on the same level Neapolitan Navy to the others. He also increased steam navigation (Sirago, 2004: 48ss.). When Dupont went bankrupt, the patent – right was bought by Giorgio Sicard, his creditor. He founded a company, the “Società Giorgio Sicard, Benucci e Pizzardi” in 1829, and sought the professional advice of his young son Leopoldo, an expert on shipbuilding, who had studied in England. He went to Glasgow to supervise the building of the steamship Francesco I, planned for the European routes from Naples; on the contrary, the Real Ferdinando kept the routes from Naples to Palermo. Although Sicard’s society was in difficulties, its business kept on flourishing (Giura, 1976: 711). In fact, it carried through a publicity stunt to better promote its activity: the first Mediterranean Cruise was launched in 1832. Among the participants there were many famous people, apart from Giorgio Sicard himself.  The tour included the ports of Messina, Catania, Malta, Ionian Islands, Patrasso, Nauplion, Atene, Smirne, Costantinopoli and the Bosporus, the mouth of the Black Sea, the Asian coasts Smirne and Zante, then returning to Malta, Palermo, Messine and Naples. One of the participants, Marchebeus, was so excited about the cruise, the first “tour” in the East, that he made a detailed report of it (Marchebeus, 1839).

Then Sicard stipulated an agreement to rent the boat Maria Luigia for the same routes from Naples to Palermo.  In 1834 the patent – right expired, but king Ferdinand II did not want to renew it to the “Società Sicard” (Sicard Society). The king’s intention was to initiate royal postal service by steamboat. However, Sicard was able to turn his society into a joint-stock company, whose only benefit was to employ sailors from the royal navy, bearing himself the cost of it. He was under the obligation of training them in the new kind of navigation and placing them at the king’s disposal. In the same year Leopoldo Sicard went to Glasgow to buy the third steamboat, Maria Cristina. When Giorgio Sicard died, in 1835, the company turned into the limited partnership of the “Administration of the steamship navigation in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies”. But in 1839 Leopoldo also died and the partnership turned into a corporation named “Leopoldo Sicard & Co.”, owner of the steamboats Ferdinando I and Maria Cristina (Sirago, 2015: 498ss.). 

  Fig.7 A picture of Castellammare Royal shipyard (1860), private collection, (Formicola Romano, 1994: 121).

A picture of Castellammare Royal shipyard (1860), private collection, (Formicola Romano, 1994: 121).

Birth of the engineering industry: William Robertson and Luigi Corsi

At the beginning of the 19th century the Italian metallurgical industry was underdeveloped if compared to the foreign one. In Southern Italy there were small companies scattered over the territory, furnaces and forges were disorganised workplaces with unskilled labor, old-fashioned equipment and machinery using obsolete technologies such as direct fire smelting plants. King Ferdinand II, who succeeded his father in 1830, was the one who started a radical process of reorganization of the finances of the Kingdom. Under his rule, the Kingdom experienced a series of small-scale bureaucracy reforms and technological innovations

The first problem to be solved was to reduce the purchase of English steam engines for ships that could only be assembled and handled by English machinists. Therefore, in 1830, the King gave William Robertson, a Scottish captain of the Neapolitan Royal fleet, the task of creating a small local arms factory. Luigi Corsi, a young talented engineer from the Nunziatella Military Academy, was asked to cooperate with him. He had already worked in the Royal foundry at Castel Nuovo. In those years Robertson and Corsi worked hard, producing some steam engines with a force of 6HP, installed on “cavafondi” (dredges) used to clean up the ports, especially the Apulian ones, blocked by the sand. In 1837, after Robinson’s death, king Ferdinand II decided to move the laboratory to the Royal Palace, were in1836 a “Steamboat Royal Delegation” was founded with three steamships for postal service and passengers, entrusting Luigi Corsi with the management of it. This was the first time that the kingdom of the two Sicilies experimented the production of its own steamships, so excluding any purchase from England (Corsi, 1887: 10).

The Delegation purchased in England two wooden ships with paddle wheels for the Royal Navy, the Nettuno and the Ferdinand II: in addition, the English steam schooner Santa Wenefreda was also bought and restored in the shipyard of Castellammare. But after 3 years the Delegation was dissolved for lean profits. In 1840 the king supported the purchase of three steamers in England, the Nettuno, the Lilibeo and the Peloro, wich were used to carry mail, passengers and some goods; then were added other five steamers Rondine, Antilope, and Argonauta from England, Miseno and Palinuro from France: this event marked the beginning of the state postal service assigned to the General Post Office (Sirago, 2015: 504). Starting from 1835, some steamships (6HP), with English engines, called “cavafondi” (used to clean the harbours), like the Vulcano, were built by Robertson and Corsi for the Royal Fleet (Sirago, 2015: 505).

 The General Carlo Filangieri, Naples, Museo Filangieri

The General Carlo Filangieri, Naples, Museo Filangieri

In that period the shipyard of Castellammare was renovated with the most advanced machinery. In 1837 a machine had been already assembled to lift the vessels. At the beginning of 1838, king Ferdinand II formed a technical committee headed by the “expert supervisor” Giovan Battista Staiti, the director of the Naval Engineers, and Mugnai, a hydraulic engineer. whose task was to plan the expansion of the shipyard of Castellammare to adapt it to the new types of vessels and steamboats: the estimated expenditure was about 70.000 ducats. The area belonging to the merchant shipyard was included in the plan, so that it had to be rebuilt in another place (Sirago, 2015: 505).  The works started in 1839, after the king’s visit, with the restoration of the roofs which protected the timber used to build the vessels. The shipyard was completed in 1845: it had required a lot of work and an expense of 300.000 ducats (Sirago, 2012).

Pietrarsa Factory and the engineering industry

In 1840 king Ferdinand II decided to build a factory to produce steam engines for steamships and for locomotives of the new railway, which had been built in 1836 by engineer Armand Joseph Bayard and inaugurated in 1839 (Giuntini, 2006: 486-487; Puca, 2011; Pagnini, 2017 and 2019) The Factory has become the Railway Museum.

The King chose general Carlo Filangieri, son of jurist and philosopher Gaetano Filangieri, who had studied engineering at the École Politecnique in Paris (De Lorenzo, 1997) and experimented the most recent innovations about the construction of weapons (guns, etc.) – in Torre Annunziata Royal Arms Factory – and steam machines (BSSPN, ms. XXIV A 14 Autobiografia di Carlo Filangieri, 1865:.225). After the Restoration he had shared with the Frenchman Pierre Andriel his interest in steam navigation, and when he set up the company “P. Andriel & C.” Filangieri became a shareholder (Sirago, 2014: 436ss.).  

Pietrarsa Factory under construction 1841, National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa

Pietrarsa Factory under construction 1841, National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa

So, the King ordered Filangieri to look for a suitable place to build a new factory to make domestic steam engines.  He chose Pietrarsa, a deserted place in Portici, near Naples, where was built the “Royal Factory” (Poliorama Pittoresco, 1842, a.VI, n.38: 304ss.). In 1841 most of the Royal Factory had been built and 200 workers were producing the most varied steam engines (21 engines for steamships in 20 years). In the meantime, Filangieri decided to found a school for steamship pilots for 20 pupils (Alvino, 1852: 29-64; Corsi, 1887: 10 ss.). The school must have been very important because the general emphasized its role (Autobiografia,

«si possono sempre comprare macchine in Inghilterra o altrove … ma bisogna non vedere affidati tutti i nostri piroscafi da guerra agli Inglesi i quali potevano da un momento all’altro dimettersi dal servizio del re»
(We can always buy steam engines in England or elsewhere … but we should not entrust all of our warships to the English because they can resign from the King’s service at any moment).

The small factory was gradually enlarged thanks to the work of the members of the “Corpo del genio” (Engineering Corpus), with the supervision of Filangieri and the direction of Luigi Corsi. In 1845 new buildings were added to the factory and Emanuele Palumbo was appointed director (Alvino, 1852: 40ss.; Ostuni, 2009:147-149).

In 1853 there were about 800 workers, for whom some houses and a church were built. In 20 years, many machines were built for the Royal Navy, including 12 steam engines of 15 HP for the Neapolitan arsenal and the first dry dock in Italy, built in 1852 for ship repair (whose remains are still visible) and inaugurated on August 15th (Formicola Romano, 1994: 141 – 157). Pietrarsa factory also produced a dry hull and 2 complete transmissions for the arsenal of Castellammare, 21 boilers for steamships, 4 machines of 300 HP for the steamers (Gramegna, 1895). The Factory was visited by many foreign rulers. On December 10th, 1845, Tsar Nicholas of Russia ordered engineer E. Chappar, returning from England where had been on a training ship, to go to Pietrarsa to study the system and adopt it in a new Factory to be built in Cronstad (Corsi, 1887: 11).

Plan of Pietrtarsa Factory, 1861 (Ostuni, 2009: 158).

Plan of Pietrtarsa Factory, 1861 (Ostuni, 2009: 158)

In military policy, Pietrarsa represented the way to free the kingdom from foreign exports. Until the 1830s, machines were purchased from England, France and Belgium, while in the kingdom only innovative improvements were applied to military and naval mechanics. State industry was subject to the state technical production policy, which was started without a project, without forecasting the purchase costs of raw materials, and with minimal advances of money. Dependence on government production choices had made it impossible for the factory to function properly, it lacked diversified production and was not yet organized into production sectors. Economic problems following the Unification made its management uneconomical, something that a private industry could not have sustained for a long time, especially in conditions of oversized production with high fixed costs. 

In that period a new dock (“avanscalo” or “scalo di alaggio”) was built in the Castellammare’s shipyard with the machines of Pietrarsa (Corsi, 1887: 12 ss.; Gramegna, 1895).  and it was used to lanch the vessel called Capri. At the end of 1843 there had been the successful launch of the 300 HP steam frigate called Hercules. From that moment on, it was possible to start building other steamships and vessels (Sirago, 2012,1: 97- 98). In the same years captain Matteo Correale, a harbor master, made a plan for the new Factory, which was opened in 1853 and equipped with English made machinery.

In 1844, it was necessary to improve the Castellammare’s shipyard and build a retaining wall because of the damage caused by a storm. In addition, the foundations under the sea were strengthened and a great number of warehouses were built in the district on the left of the old harbor. Finally, a jett of rocks was thought to be essential to protect the new naval port. In the meanwhile, a new 300 horse – power steamship was being built: it was like a “corvette” or brick, with 26 guns, more expensive than the other, but surely more functional. At the end of 1844 the steam frigate Archimede was successfully launched. By the end of 1848 three steam frigates, Ettore, Carlo III and Sannita, were built with British engines. In 1851, the steam frigate Ettore Fieramosca, with a steam engine built in Pietrarsa, was assembled in Castellammare. At last the Kingdom started to build in situ its own ships entirely – both the outer and the engines (Sirago, 2012,1: 99).

Guppy & C. advertising post

Guppy & C. advertising post

Other engineering industries. Factory Zino Henry Macry

While metalworking activities were developing in England, France, Belgium, in the Kingdom of Naples there were only a few state industries, such as the Royal Arms Factory of Torre Annunziata. There were also many small private companies, like Zino & Henry, which developed after 1830 thanks to the state duty protection (De Rosa, 1969: 3). Located in Capodimonte, it was born in 1833-34 as a factory for textile machinery repair. It was managed by French mechanic François Henry, who supervised the maintenance of the machines purchased in France. Then the factory was called “Zino & Henry” because Lorenzo Zino went into business with Francesco Henry. The factory soon expanded, so that it was moved to Ponte della Maddalena (by the Granili area) in 1836: here, small steamers of about 6 up to 10 HP were built. Its production won the gold medal at the industrial exhibition held in Naples in 1837 (Fazzini, 1836). Later on, the factory became the ship chandler of the Bourbon navy (De Crescenzo 2002), providing a boiler for the steamer Maria Cristina in 1842. In 1850, thanks to the contribution of Gregorio Macry’s large capital, a Calabrian business man who bought out Zino, the firm expanded and changed its name into Macry, Henry & Co. The orders for the production of metal structures for warships increased. The factory had about 500 workers and occupied an area of about 12.000 square meters. It had a 20hp steam engine and could build four steamer boilers and locomotive machines (De Rosa, 1969: 4 e 64; Sirago, 2015). 

Factory Zino Henry, Lauria (1839)

Factory Zino Henry, Lauria (1839)

Factory Guppy & Pattison

By the way, the most important factory was the “Guppy & Co”, founded in 1852 by the naval engineer Thomas Richard Guppy. He was an English manufacturer from Bristol who had moved to Naples in 1849 with the family (De Rosa, 1968: 29ss.). Here he had formed in 1849 a partnership with John Pattison (ASN, MAIC, 277/26 February 16th and April 7th 1851; July 22th 1852), an English qualified engineer who had come to Naples in 1842 to supervise the repair shop of the Bayard railway (De Rosa, 1968: 49ss.; De Ianni, 2014). The Factory “Guppy & C.”, built near Pietrarsa, soon expanded because its production was considered the best in the kingdom. Since 1855 it also became the ship chandler of “minuterie” (“nuts and bolts” – the raw materials for ships which had to be built or refitted) for the Royal navy. A shipyard dealing with single pieces of the ships was set up by the factory located at the Maddalena. In 1859 Guppy was granted a patent-right for the “Ammigliorazioni delle caldaie a vapore” (the Improvement of the steam boilers), which was concerned with their steam generating capacity (ASN, MAIC,286/21 May 2th 1859). However, the partnership dissolved in 1862, after the reunification of Italy, and Pattison founded another factory with his sons Cristofaro and Thomas Taylor (Mancanello,1999 – 2000)..

Pattison and Guppy turned out to be true speculators. They arrived in Naples attracted by the economic advantages and the privileges granted by the King: but they imported machinery and specialized technicians from England taking advantage of low-cost local labor. However, they were not concerned with the industrial development of the Kingdom and made no investments in the sector. But thanks to them the Neapolitan engineering industry developed (De Rosa, 1968: 54ss; Di Majo S., 2008: 29ss.). 

The steam frigate Ettore Fieramosca, (

The steam frigate Ettore Fieramosca, (


This paper aims to explain the evolution of the Neapolitan naval engineering industry in the first half of the 19th Century (Bourbon age). At that time Naples was a great capital known to foreign travellers for its culture, climate and beautiful landscapes. After the Restoration (1815) a process of transformation began, especially in the naval field with the advent of steam navigation, started in 1818. This process involved both the development of the Neapolitan fleet and of the shipyards of Naples and Castellammare, which played an important role in the overall social and political reorganization of Southern Italy. In 1840 the factory of Pietrarsa was built. And in 1851, the steam frigate Ettore Fieramosca, with a steam engine from Pietrarsa, was finally assembled in Castellammare ( : at last, the kingdom started to build its own ships entirely in situ.

In the same period there was a growth of the Neapolitan merchant navy in the shipyards of Naples, Castellammare, Meta, Piano and the island of Procida, which played an important role in the social and political reorganization of Southern Italy between 1815 and 1861. The merchant navy established a framework of the trade routes between the Kingdom of Naples and the new emporia in the Black Sea and in the Baltic Sea.

After the Unification, failing state protection, most of the productive activities were in difficulty, as Luigi De Rosa pointed out (De Rosa, 1968: 54ss.). Valerio Castronovo attributed the lack of development to the absence of a local entrepreneurial class (Castronovo, 1980). John Davis focused his attention on the formation of a restricted oligarchy of Neapolitan and foreign traders working in Naples, who were not interested in the industrial development but were well integrated with the administrative and judicial system. They were much more concerned with traditional manufacturing than in capital investments for industries with specialized production and labour (Davis, 1975 and 1979).

Even Pietrarsa factory, the most important engineering industry, suffered from lack of the kingdom purchase orders. Between 1859 and 1860 it was sold to private citizens, and then, from 1865, to an industry company. Only the firm “C. e T.T. Pattison” maintained its prestige (Martorelli, 1871; Gramegna, 1895).

The Steam Shipping Company, with no government subsidies, went bankrupt, whereas Florio and Rubattino remained active thanks to the state financial aid (De Matteo, 2002. Steam navigation in those years had a remarkable development. But the engines were bulky, so the steamships could only be used for mail and passengers. Only at the end of the nineteenth century, with the improvement of technology, merchant ships passed from sailing to steam.

Dialoghi Mediterranei, n. 55, maggio 2022
[*] Abstract
Il lavoro è incentrato sull’evoluzione delle costruzioni navali napoletane dalla seconda metà del Settecento all’Unità. Il processo di riorganizzazione della flotta e della marina mercantile, iniziato dopo l’arrivo di Carlo di Borbone, si è ulteriormente incrementato all’epoca di Ferdinando. Dopo la Restaurazione (1815) si è avuto un ulteriore processo di trasformazione nel settore navale, specie dopo l’avvento della navigazione a vapore, iniziata nel 1818. Per le nuove costruzioni sono stati adeguati i cantieri di Napoli e Castellammare e nel 1840 è stato creato il Regio Opificio di Pietrarsa per produrre i motori a vapore da usare per le navi e la nascente ferrovia.
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Maria Sirago, dal 1988 è stata insegnante di italiano e latino presso il Liceo Classico Sannazaro di Napoli, ora in pensione. Partecipa al NAV Lab (Laboratorio di Storia Navale di Genova). Ha pubblicato numerosi saggi di storia marittima sul sistema portuale meridionale, sulla flotta meridionale, sulle imbarcazioni mercantili, sulle scuole nautiche, sullo sviluppo del turismo ed alcune monografie: La scoperta del mare. La nascita e lo sviluppo della balneazione a Napoli e nel suo golfo tra ‘800 e ‘900, Edizioni Intra Moenia, Napoli 2013; Gente di mare. Storia della pesca sulle coste campane, Edizioni Intra Moenia, Napoli 2014, La flotta napoletana nel contesto mediterraneo (1503-1707), Licosia ed. Napoli 2018.



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