by Marcella Pellegrino Sutcliffe
The Italian patriot and exile, Giuseppe Garibaldi, enjoyed legendary fame in mid-Victorian Britain. As early as 1848, he was cited in national and local papers as the intrepid defender of the ‘Roman Republic’. Garibaldi’s popularity as freedom hero would grow in the following years, with many British families naming their children after the Italian liberator. By 1864, when Garibaldi paid a famous visit to London, the Italian General had become a veritable celebrity, with plenty of memorabilia being produced in his honor.
While carrying out some research into the so-called British ‘Garibaldimania’, I was expecting to find plenty of objects dating around 1861, when Italy was liberated. I found, for example, that moving ‘Garibaldi panoramas’ were popular around English and Scottish provinces between 1860 and 1864, providing entertainment for middle-class and working-class families. I knew that Garibaldi’s image was popular amongst Staffordshire figurine makers, so I was not surprised to find that Garibaldi figurines could still be found displayed on the mantelpieces of British houses today (Fig.3 below).
While attempting to trace Garibaldian objects recently sold at auctions, I was however struck by a Sunderland lustre wash basin. (Fig.1 above). This object is possibly more interesting for what it hides than for what it openly reveals: on the outside the wash basin is decorated with the Masonic arms, but on the inside, according to the item description for this auction lot, besides the image of the ‘Ancient Order of Foresters’ shown, lies an image of Garibaldi. The connection with the freemasonry order is not surprising: Garibaldi had joined the order in 1844, while a revolutionary exile in Montevideo, benefiting from the support that the lodges lent to political refugees of European countries. What is more interesting, however, is the place of origin of this object, in the North-East of England – and the attributed date, 1854.
A similar Sunderland lustre circular bowl, also sold at auction, has also survived (Fig.2). According to the lot description, the bowl shows on the inside, on the left, ‘The Arms of the Ancient Honourable Fraternity of Free Accepted Masons’ and, on the right, a scene of a bridge over the river Wear. On the outside, this time, is a half-length portrait of Garibaldi. The connection between Garibaldi, the North-East of England and the local masons, illustrated in the two bowls described, no doubt has its roots in the strong links that the Tyneside Cowen family enjoyed with the freemasonry order. Joseph Cowen, in particular, the radical activist and newspaper magnate whose republican sympathies and support for foreign exiles were well-known, was instrumental in attracting Garibaldi to the North-East in 1854, where he was greeted as a ‘Tyneside hero’. So both the place and the date of the first bowl, and possibly the second, not dated, have real significance.
Indeed, these artefacts are evidence that the north-eastern enthusiasm for Garibaldi as a republican and radical hero came a full ten years before the British display of ‘Garibaldimania’ for the liberal hero. Numerous Staffordshire pottery figures were made of Garibaldi in the 1860s, the best known one being a 19 inch high standing figure. On occasions Garibaldi was paired up by Staffordshire potters with Colonel John Peard, known as ‘Garibaldi’s Englishman’, who had fought to liberate Italy in successive campaigns, in 1859 and 1860 (Fig. 3).
There are a number of other Staffordshire figures associating the two men, including a composition where they are standing cross-legged either side of a watch-holder, with a pair of flags, a cannon, cannon balls and a drum below them. There are also separate figurines of the two men on horseback, both on titled bases with their names included in raised gilt capitals. The numerous Garibaldian Staffordshire figurines are a reflection of the fame that Garibaldi had earned in Britain as a liberal, yet monarchic, hero: they are not therefore celebrating a masonic exile, associated, in the mid-1850s, with radicalism and republicanism. In this light the Sunderland lustre bowls produced in the North-East of England are unusual and stand apart from the more common production of Garibaldian artefacts. Indeed, these objects are a reminder of a political association between Garibaldi and the republican message, which the later Staffordshire figurines helped efface.
Marcella P. Sutcliffe is an AHRC postdoctoral research associate in the History Faculty at the University of Cambridge. Her forthcoming monograph Victorian Radicals and Italian Democrats: A Long Connection (History Series, Royal Historical Society), received the IHR Scouloudi Historical Award in 2012. Her article ‘Marketing Garibaldi Panoramas in Britain (1860-64)’ will be published in the Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 2013, vol.18, issue 2.