PreWW1 ItalyUK Service


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Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Can anyone think of any steamers that plied between Britain and Italy circa 1900-1914? Companies such as General Steam Navigation and the Prince Line supposedly offered UK-Mediterranean services, but individual ship histories at sources such as The Ships List don't seem to mention service to Italian ports.

Union Castle ships often stopped off at Mediterranean ports on their way to Africa, but I'm not sure that they did so on return voyages. In any event, I don't think this was the method by which Britons holidaying in Italy would have traveled back and forth.

It's odd that it seems so difficult to find ships that sailed on this route, since discovering which ships traveled between British and Dutch,French,German,Belgian, and Scandinavian ports is pretty easy.

Any knowledge or leads that anyone could share would be much appreciated.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I know this isn't quite what you're asking, Brian, but my own impression has always been that English holiday-makers (like Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett, Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder or the ladies in 'The Enchanted April') crossed the Channel by ferry and then travelled through France and on into Italy by train. Thomas Cook presumably included the rail fares as part of the package deal whilst, for the wealthy, branches of the Orient Express called at Paris and Rome before proceeding to Venice.

I can't think of a single account, in period memoirs or novels, in which tourists sailed from British to Italian ports, which would have called for a long and uncomfortable journey through the Bay of Biscay, around Spain and back into the Mediterranean.
 

Brian Ahern

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Thanks, Martin. I was beginning to come to the same conclusion, especially after re-consulting a map.

I had actually thought to investigate how Charlotte and Lucy traveled, but didn't have a copy of A Room With a View handy
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Dec 29, 2006
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Witney
There must have been at least some cargo steamers between the UK and Italy, but in general there was little incentive to travel the "long way round" by sea when cheap and efficient railway facilities were available. Did any any of the Far Eastern steamers that travelled via Suez call en route at European ports?
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Hi Brian

I don't believe that Lucy and Charlotte's journey is directly referenced in 'A Room with a View' - but that of Charles and Sebastian is very evocatively described in 'Brideshead'. I'm not saying that British tourists NEVER sailed to Italy during this period - for all I know, they might - but I think rail was the preferred method, both quicker and more comfortable.

And, given that the title of this thread is 'Ferries', I'd add that, for many, the short Channel crossing was ordeal enough!
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Further to my last post, I can confirm that the Orient Pacific Line, sailing with mails between Britain and Australia, offered a fortnightly service calling en route at Gibraltar, Marseilles, Naples and Port Said etc.
 

Brian Ahern

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Sorry to ignore your question, Stanley. I haven't checked the board in a couple of days. I think that, as you say, quite a few lines included stops at Italian ports on their way east. The Ships List has a list of runs offered by each line, which has been very helpful.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Hello Brian,

The Orient Pacific Line seems to have been the main company serving Naples around 1906. Press reports give the names of several ships, including the Orient, Ophir, Oroya, Ortona, Ormuz, Omrah and Orotava. At a guess, I would think that these would not have been regarded in the same light as the Titanic or the Mauretania, and that the “top people” of the day would not have wished to travel to and from Italy in such vessels. The prestigious way to travel was by overland by rail on an International Express - making use, however, of the small but fast mail steamers that were employed by the railway companies to maintain their Anglo-European services from ports such as Dover.
 
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