Charles Bianconi 1786-1875
This Italian immigrant revolutionized Ireland’s transport during the early nineteenth century.
Carlo Bianconi (later angelized to Charles) was born in the Lombardy Highlands, near Como, Italy on 24th September 1786. He had three brothers & two sisters.
Bianconi’s father paid for him, aged just sixteen years, in 1800 to be sent on an eighteen-month apprenticeship to art dealer, engraver, printer Andrea Faroni in England. Faroni decided to relocate to Ireland and Bianconi eventually arrived in Dublin during 1802.
Charles was employed during 1802 as an engraver on Essex Street in Dublin. The following year Bianconi sold Faroni’s engravings throughout the countryside as far as Waterford weekly, with four pence to cover his expenses into rural Ireland. Leaving Dublin early on a Monday morning with his pictures; he travelled on foot throughout Munster & Leinster selling his wares. The following year he set up on his own route, as by then he had mastered the English language. Also he was proficient in the trade.
In Clonmel he opened a shop at No. 1 Gladstone Street as a first class ‘Carver & Guilder’ during 1809.
Bianconi had travelled on foot around Ireland while he carried his heavy materials, (he often walked twenty or thirty miles each day): this ensured that he realized there was a great need for a cheap or reliable integrated transport system. On 6th July 1815 the first Bianconi two-wheel horse drawn cart that carried three or four passengers went into commission. Travel on these ‘Bians’ as they were to become known cost one-penny farthing a mile. Such was the demand that over the following years his enterprise expanded to amassing nine hundred horses and sixty-seven coaches with Clonmel, Co. Tipperary as its hub. During 1833 he introduced the ‘long car’ that enabled him to carry up to twenty passengers with cargo. He delivered mail for both the British & Irish Post Offices. His business eventually had one hundred vehicles that travelled over three thousand miles daily. These called to one hundred & twenty towns & forty stations for the change of horses.
In 1836 the Bianconi Coach company, in recognition of the development of Caherciveen and also the construction of the new stone bridge at Beaufort, opened two new routes: Killarney-Caherciveen and Tralee-Caherciveen – both passing through Killorglin. Passengers intending to visit Killorglin stayed at the “Bianconi”. There were also a series of inns, the Bianconi Inns, throughout Ireland – some of which still exist e.g. in Piltown, Co. Kilkenny and Killorglin. These services continued into the 1850s and later, by which time there were a number of railway services in the country. The Bianconi coaches continued to be well-patronised, by offering connections from various termini, one of the first and few examples of an integrated transport system in Ireland.
Bianconi died, aged 88, on September 22, 1875 at his residence “Longfield House”, Boherlahan, Co. Tipperary.
During the Irish Civil War, Free State Army Captain Donal Lehane chose Morris’s Hotel (now the Bianconi Inn) as his Command headquarters. About one-third of Lehane’s force (20 troops) were billeted at Morris’s, on the corner of Annadale Road and Lower Bridge Street covering the New Line and the Laune Bridge approach to the town, and protecting the rear approaches to the garrison’s outpost in the Carnegie/ Secondary school.
A Bianconi coach (‘Bian’). From 1815 until the 1850s Charles Bianconi revolutionised public transport with his regular scheduled car service. (National Gallery of Ireland)