Stuck in Customs (in 1854)

A painting of Ancona from 1850, contemporary with Haskins’ visit, painted by Francesco Podesti.

Snippets 157. When the American Rev. George Foxcroft Haskins visited Italy in 1854, as part of his tour of Europe, he was in reality visiting a collection of independent states. This was just a few years before the reunification of Italy and creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Travelling from one part of Italy to another therefore necessitated jumping through a few bureaucratic hoops at the time of Haskins’ visit, but one of his biggest challenges was travelling from the city of Ancona, a port on the North East coast, across to Trieste, at the time an important trading port and part of the Austrian Empire, which it remained after the reunification, and until the end of the First World War.

According to Haskins, Ancona had little to offer a visitor, so the locals were keen to keep hold of tourists as long as possible to take advantage of the financial opportunities they offered.  The following quote is taken from Travels in England, France, Italy and Ireland, published in 1856.

We took passage for Trieste in a vettura, which was to take us as far as Ancona. When we arrived at Ancona, we received the agreeable intelligence that the steamer for Trieste was just on the point of sailing, and that, consequently, we were too late. What was to be done? There is nothing of interest in Ancona. Several days may elapse before another steamboat departs. Our fellow-passengers were more alarmed than we. One cursed; but that did us no good, and was sinful. Another ran about the streets; that was useless. Another rushed to the custom house, to hurry through the baggage; that, too, availed but little. The fact was, Ancona is fond of strangers, and Ancona likes to have them rest there for a few days, and Ancona is very happy to receive their money. However, to the disappointment of all the Anconians, my companion relieved us all from our anxiety and embarrassment. We were all huddled together at the door of the steam packet office, wondering what we should do. The steamer had not sailed; she lay in the offing, all ready, to sail the moment the agent should come aboard with his papers. We could have gone aboard, but our baggage was at the custom house; and the officers of the customs seemed determined that it should be delayed as long as possible, with the benevolent intent, doubtless, to force us to accept the hospitality of Ancona for at least a day or two. Now, my friend had discovered that the agent was at that precise time in the packet office, preparing his papers. He called me aside, and requested me not to look for him, as he intended, if possible, to engage the agent in conversation, and detain him till the arrival of our baggage. I remained outside, pacing the sidewalk, for what seemed to me an interminable age, occasionally glancing in at the windows, and seeing my friend in earnest conversation, or dispute, with the agent, (I could not tell which,) who (that is, the agent aforesaid) held his papers in his hand. At length, in about an hour, when the custom house officers supposed that the steamer must have departed, down came rattling a file of barrows, with our baggage piled thereon; seeing which, my friend, whose eyes were constantly turned in the direction of the street, abruptly terminated the conversation, and we all hastened to the pier, where we hurriedly sprang into a boat, and bade the boatman pull for his life. The agent, perceiving that he was far behind time, jumped into another boat, and we ran a most exciting race. Fortunately we reached the steamer at about the same moment. We were so rejoiced to be on board, that we did not stay to hear the result of the violent altercation that immediately took place between the agent and the captain, which latter declared that he was just on the point of firing a gun, and sailing without him.

A painting of Ancona from 1850, contemporary with Haskins’ visit, painted by Francesco Podesti.

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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2 Responses to Stuck in Customs (in 1854)

  1. Excellent piece! Loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

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