Bianconi, Charles (DNB00)

BIANCONI, CHARLES (1786–1875) promoter of the Irish car system in Ireland, was born 24 Sept. 1780, at the village of Tregolo in Lombardy, not far from Como. His father, a peasant-proprietor, owned a small silk-mill. Carlo was brought up by a prosperous uncle. At fifteen or sixteen he was bound for eighteen months to a countryman, whom he accompanied to Dublin, where he was sent out to vend cheap prints. From Dublin he was transferred to Waterford, and resolved to start on his own account as an itinerant vendor of prints with a capital of about 100l. which his father had given him on leaving Italy. In His long pedestrian journeys he was led to envy those of his own calling who could afford to drive. In 1806 he opened as carver and gilder a shop in Carrick-on-Suir. After a removal to Waterford he settled at Clonmel, where he added to his former business dealings in bullion, which was in great demand by the government for the payment of its continental subsidies. Every extension of business deepened his sense of the need of better communication. In July 1815 he started a one-horse two-wheeled car to carry passengers, goods, and the mail-bags, from and to Clonmel and Cahir, a distance of eight miles with no public conveyance. The experiment succeeded financially. The carriage-tax led many persons to give up their jaunting-cars, numbers of which were thus thrown upon the market. Horses became cheap after the peace of 1815. Bianconi was, thirty years after he started his first car, conveying passengers and goods over 1,033 miles, and working daily 3,200 miles of road. Although he started his cars as a boon to the humbler classes, they were much used by others, and to this commingling of classes Bianconi attached great importance. He stated in 1866 that after the more remote parts of Ireland had been opened up by his cars, calico, which had previously cost 8d. or 9d. a yard, was sold for 3d. and 4d. As an employer Bianconi was strict, but kindly and just. Merit always insured promotion, and pensions were liberally given. He was able to boast late in his career that the slightest injury had never been done to his property, and that not once had any of his cars been stopped, even when conveying mails through disturbed districts.

In 1820 Bianconi had given up his shop in Clonmel, and in 1831 he received letters of naturalisation from the Irish privy council A zealous Roman catholic and an ardent liberal, he was a friend and adherent of O'Connell. He took an active part in the civic affairs of Clonmel, and was twice elected mayor, in 1844 and 1846. The establishment of railways in Ireland had then begun, and Bianconi refused invitations to oppose any of them, and took shares in some of tliem. Their growth forced him between 1846 and 1866 to discontinue running cars on 4,534 miles of road, but during the same period he extended his system over other 3,694 miles. In 1846 Bianconi purchased the estate of Longfield, in Tipperary, near Cashel, in which he resided till his death, and most of the fortune which he had amassed was invested in the purchase of Irish land. During the ensuing famine-years he gave employment on his estate to all who applied for it, and was otherwise usefully beneficent. The passenger traffic in 1864 had realised 27,731l., and the mail contracts paid 12,000l. Appointed in 1863 a deputy lieutenant, he began in 1866 to withdraw from the great business which he had created, disposing of it on liberal terms to his agents and others employed in working it. The remainder of his life he passed in improving his estates and in promoting patriotic schemes. In the course oi a visit to Rome, where his only son, who married a granddaughter of O'Connell, was appointed chamberlain to the pope, he erected at his sole cost the monument over O'Connell's heart preserved in the church of the Irish college. Bianconi died in September 1875, on the verge of his ninetieth year. Of his three children the only survivor was the daughter who married Morgan John O'Connell, a nephew of the Liberator, and became her father's biographer.

[Charles Bianconi, a Biography, by his daughter, Mrs. Morgan John O'Connell, 1878.]

F. E.