Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews

main index                 © Jeff Matthews       entry Oct  2014

Period Postcards from Naples

Postcard from Naples 6 - First things first. If you see this and say, “Ah, water, volcano. Naples!” you're wrong.  The cones of the volcano, Somma and Vesuvius, are reversed. (Somma is the smaller one; seen from Naples it appears on the left.) You're way over on the eastern side of the Gulf of Naples looking at the harbor of the town of Castellamare (also spelled Castellammare) at the beginning of the Sorrentine peninsula. Fortunately for both of us, the card is labelled not only “Castellamare” but even “view from Quisisana.” (Entry on the famous shipyard of Castellammare is here. Entry on Quisisana is here.)

The trick to dating this card, obviously, is trying to figure out the ships in the photo. Readers should note that the change from sail to steam engines in both merchant and naval vessels was gradual and lasted for much of the 1800s. In ship design, there were a number of steps from sail to steam: the first side-wheel paddle-steamers went over to propeller or screw propulsion, and wooden hulls went to iron hulls. Other innovations were in engine design and boiler technology. There were a number of hybrids along the way—that is, iron-hulled steam ships with auxiliary sails. (As late as the 1880s, two Cunard liners were fitted with auxiliary sails!)  I was surprised to learn that the first ships to make the transatlantic crossing under steam power were much earlier than I thought—around 1830. The first ship to combine both the innovations of an iron hull and a screw propeller was the SS Great Britain in 1847. The SS Great Eastern was built in 1854–57 to link Great Britain with India, via the Cape of Good Hope, without any coaling stops. It was one of the first ships to be built with a double hull with watertight compartments and was the first liner to have four funnels. It was the biggest liner throughout the rest of the 19th century. Military vessels made parallel progress. From the 1850s, the sailing ships of the line were replaced by steam-powered battleships, while the sailing frigates were replaced by steam-powered cruisers. The first sea-battle of “iron-clads” was in the U.S. Civil War between the Union ship, the Monitor, and the Confederate Merrimack (or Virginia) in March, 1862. Neither had auxiliary sails.
In Naples (then the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies), the first steamship was the Ferdinando I, a side paddle-wheel wooden-hulled vessel, launched in 1818.  Most of the old prints I have seen of the Castellammare harbor, however, from as late as 1860, are full of sailing ships with maybe a few steamships with auxiliary sails. This later postcard photo (above) is really bleak. We see a formation of what appear to be about a dozen military vessels (presumably of the Royal Italian navy) outside the harbor and 7 or 8 other vessels inside the harbor. The ones inside the harbor all look like sailing vessels. The military ships outside, unless they have some auxiliary masts for sails not clear in this photo, are steam-driven, iron-hulled warships. So far, that is consistent with a date of the late 1800s for the photo, since, indeed, sailing ships were used as merchant vessels through the early 20th century, and the naval steam vessels are all post "side-wheelers" (in use until the 1850's); these are propeller driven. The hull design appears to be late 1800s in that the bows of the vessels are “plumb” —that is, up and down rather than raked (on a slant). They are not big enough to be of the later “dreadnought” class of the early 1900s—with an "all-big-gun" armament scheme. These earlier vessels are now called “pre-dreadnought.”

A date of about 1885 seems about right to me—or at least to my friend, Captain Bill!

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