Carlo (Charles) Bianconi – Pioneer of Irish Transportation

Carlo (Charles) Bianconi – Pioneer of Irish Transportation

In 1802, to avoid conscription into Napoleon’s army, 16-year-old Carlo Bianconi left his birthplace in northern Italy and travelled to Dublin, where he worked for Andrea Faroni, an engraver and printer. He learnt English, anglicised his name to Charles and in 1806, moved to Tipperary, where he opened his own engraving and print shop in Carrick-on-Suir. To collect his supplies for his shop, Charles travelled by boat to Waterford along the meandering River Suir for 24 miles, twice the distance taken by land. The boat carried around ten passengers at 6 1/2d each and, as the river was tidal, the timing of the trips was determined by the tides. It was the boat trips that gave Charles his idea for his transportation service.

By 1815,  Charles had moved further along the river to Clonmel, where he set up his first horse-drawn coach service that ran between Clonmel and Cahir. Trade was slow at first, but within two years he had extended the routes from Clonmel to Cashel, Thurles, Tipperary, Limerick, Carrick and Waterford, carrying people, goods and mail. At a much lower cost, trips that could take up to eight hours by boat were only taking two hours in ‘Bianconi’s coaches,’ and for as little as one penny farthing a mile.


The business continued to grow until eventually Charles had 100 coaches travelling the length and breadth of Ireland, with 140 stations for changing horses, many of which were ‘Bianconi Inns.’ Hearn’s Hotel in Clonmel, once used as a terminus, still has the clock used to time departures. Charles even opened a factory to make his ‘long cars,’ which were four-wheeled coaches that could carry up to fifteen passengers and luggage.

By 1853, despite competition from rival mail coaches managed by the Post Office, Charles had gradually acquired more and more mail contracts, until his cars were carrying the bulk of Ireland’s mail. He had established a cheap and efficient service that provided many towns with important new trade and communication links.

In 1832, Charles married Eliza Hayes and they lived with their three children at Longfield House, set in extensive grounds overlooking the River Suir. He was elected the Mayor of Clonmel twice and appointed Justice of the Peace and deputy-lieutenant for Tipperary. On his retirement in 1865, Charles distributed his business among his staff. He died at Longfield in 1875, five days before his 89th birthday, and is buried in the family vault of the Mortuary Chapel at Boherlahan.

Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington-Socialite and Author

Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington-Socialite and Author

Born in 1789, at Knockbrit, Clonmel, Tipperary, Ireland,  Marguerite was the daughter of Edmund Power, an unsuccessful merchant and former magistrate, who through his own carelessness had fallen into debt. When Marguerite was just fifteen, despite her desperate pleas, her father forced her to marry an army officer, Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer, in exchange for a significant sum of money. The Captain was an extremely disagreeable man with a violent temper and for three months he repeatedly punched, starved and imprisoned Marguerite in her own home, until she fled to her aunts in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. She spent the following years staying with various friends and family, until she finally settled in London in 1816, where she met Viscount Mountjoy, Charles Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, who adored her. A year later, the drunken Captain fell from a window and died, leaving Marguerite free to marry the Earl.

Marguerite had become known in London society for her beauty, charm and wit and enjoyed her rich, extravagant lifestyle, entertaining the elite in their luxurious mansion at St. James’ Square. It was during this time that she wrote her sketches of London society, Sketches of Scenes in the Metropolis, published anonymously in 1822. In the same year, the couple set off on the Grand Tour of Europe, travelling in ‘a kind of sumptuous caravan,’ accompanied by a throng of servants and Marguerite’s younger sister, Mary Ann Power. They were joined in Paris by the dashing Count d’Orsay, an amateur artist, who would later become Marguerite’s lifelong lover. During the tour, they met several distinguished people including Lord Byron in Genoa, who became a close friend of Marguerite and who inspired her to later write Conversations with Lord Byron. In Naples, they metIrish writer and abolitionist, Richard Robert Madden, who later became her biographer and in Florence, Walter Savage Landor, author of Imaginary Conversations.  

In December 1927, Count D’Orsay married Harriet Gardiner, the Earl’s daughter from his previous marriage and the following year they moved to Paris, but shortly after, the Earl suffered a stroke and died. Marguerite returned to London with D’Orsay and his wife, where despite the scandal, they all lived in the Blessington’s house at St. James’s Square. But by 1831, Harriet could not tolerate the situation any longer and left to live with her aunt and to avoid adding further fuel to the gossip, D’Orsay moved out soon after, but continued his liaison with the Countess. Although the Earl had left Marguerite ample money to live on in his will, it wasn’t enough to sustain their extravagant lifestyle and she soon fell into financial difficulty. She supplemented her income by writing for various periodicals, becoming one of the first writers to have her work serialized in the Sunday Times. Her first novel, Grace Cassidy, published in 1834, was followed by her biographical travel books, The Idler in Italy in 1839 and The Idler in France in 1841, bringing her success and a substantial income. But by 1849, Marguerite had fallen into debt and fled to Paris with D’Orsay to escape creditors, where a month later she suffered a heart attack and died a few hours later. She was laid to rest in a pyramidal tomb designed by D’Orsay, where later in his death, he too was buried at her side.

Robert Mallet-Father of Seismology

Robert Mallet-Father of Seismology

In the mid nineteenth century, Dublin became the centre of Seismology – the study of earthquakes – as a result of the pioneering experiments performed by a local man, Robert Mallet, who became known internationally as the ‘Father of Seismology.’ Born in Dublin on the 3rd June 1810, Robert was the son of John Mallet, the owner of a very successful iron foundry business at Ryder’s Row. His interest and proficiency in chemistry was apparent from an early age, and he would spend much of his time formulating intriguing experiments in a small room he used as his laboratory, at the family home.

In 1826, Robert entered Trinity College, Dublin, where, after achieving a degree in science and mathematics, he left in 1830 to work in his father’s factory and quickly acquired sound knowledge of engineering. During this time, he gained further information from visiting and observing other engineering in England. In November 1831, Robert married Cordelia Watson, who came from a prominent Dublin family, successful in the book-selling business and together they had three children. A year later, Robert became a partner in his father’s foundry, greatly contributing to its expansion and success in becoming one of the most significant engineering works in Ireland, trading as J & R Mallet. The factory extensively provided ironworks for railway companies, cast-iron bridges, the Noire viaduct, the Fastnet Rock lighthouse in Co. Cork and supplied the decorative railings around Trinity College, Dublin, which bears the family name plate.


At the young age of 24, Robert was awarded the Walker Premium from the Institution of Civic Engineers in London for his inventive restoration work on St. George’s Church, Dublin. He raised and sustained the collapsing roof, by devising an inter-weaving system of metallic framing into the roof timbers, enabling the supporting walls to be rebuilt, whilst retaining the roof. He undertook contracts with the Shannon Commissioners for the construction of the swivel bridges over the River Shannon at Athlone Co. Westmeath, Co. Limerick, Portumna, Co. Galway, Banagher, Co. Offaly and Shannon Harbour. He also designed and implemented the water supply, the machine for washing casks and sky cooler for the Guinness Brewery at St. James’s Gate Dublin, and the engines and machinery in the coal mines at Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny.

Following his research into the corrosion of iron, Robert patented several methods of engineering, his first was in 1841 for a technique to protect metal from oxidation, particularly in iron ships or buoys. He later devised a method to strengthen metal without increasing its weight, known as buckled-plate flooring, which he patented in 1852. This innovative flooring has been used in many prominent buildings and bridges, including Westminster Bridge in London. In 1854, Robert designed a huge mortar weighing 42 tons, and two mortar cannons, which were intended to be used in the Crimean War. The mortar was uniquely made of separate iron rings that could be transported to the Crimea and then reassembled, but the war ended before it could be used. It was the largest mortar ever made in Britain and is housed at the Royal Armouries Museum in Hampshire, England.


Robert maintained his passion for science and geology throughout his life, having a particular interest and fascination in earthquakes and volcanoes. He contributed numerous significant papers in geology and metallurgy to the Royal Irish Academy, of which he became a member in 1833. His paper, ‘On the Dynamics of Earthquakes’ which he presented to the academy in 1846, is believed to be the first seismological study in the world. He was president of the Geological Society of Dublin from 1846 to 1848, where his intricate research proved invaluable. In 1849, Robert and his son, John, carried out the world’s first controlled seismic experiment on Killiney Beach, Dublin. They detonated gunpowder explosions and, with Robert’s pioneering invention, a seismoscope, they measured the speed of the energy waves moving through the sand and rock and proved that the waves shook the ground, causing disastrous earthquakes.

On the 16th December, 1857, Basilicata in Southern Italy was devastated by the great Neapolitan Earthquake which caused 11,000 deaths. Through the influence of two prominent geologists, Charles Lyle and Charles Darwin, Robert received a grant from the Royal Society of London, to travel to Italy and scientifically investigate the disastrous event. He was the first to use photography in his report and an isoseismal map which showed the intensity of the damage. His report remains invaluable to seismic research today.

Robert’s scientific studies also extended to volcanoes. His most important paper, ‘Volcanic Energy: an Attempt to develop its True Origin and Cosmical Relations’ explained how volcanic heat was the result of disturbances in the crust of the earth, leading to the formation lines of fracture, into which water could seep and if the temperature were sufficient, would often cause volcanic eruptions of steam or lava.

Following the death of his wife in 1854, Robert moved to London, where, later in 1861, he met and married the daughter of his landlady, Mrs. Dial. Alongside his scientific research, Robert continued his career as a civil engineer, regularly contributing papers to the Institution of Civil Engineers in London and Dublin, from which he was awarded the Telford Medal. In 1877, he received the prestigious Wallaston Medal of the Geological Society of London. Unexpectedly struck by ill health, Robert spent the last year of his life bed-ridden, suffering from diffuse cystitis. He died in November 1881 and was buried in Norwood Cemetery, South London.



Brendan Bracken – Publisher and Politician

Brendan Bracken – Publisher and Politician

Predominantly known as Winston Churchill’s right hand man, Brendan who was born in Templemore, Co. Tipperary, was a troublesome child who at 15 years old ran away from Mungret College boarding school in Limerick. His exasperated widowed mother sent him to live with a relative in Australia, but when he returned briefly to Ireland in 1919, he found that she had remarried and moved to Co. Meath, so with a small legacy he left for Liverpool, England.

Feigning as an orphaned, 15 year old Australian (he was 19), Brendan managed to gain a place at Sedbergh boarding school in Cumbria, where after one term he won a history prize and finished his schooling with what he felt was needed to rise in England, a classic British public school background. After several small teaching jobs, Brendan moved to London, where he secured a position as editor with the publishers Eyre and Spottiswoode. Covering political and social events, it gave Brendan the opportunity to meet prominent people, including J.L. Garvin, editor of The Guardian, who introduced him to Winston Churchill in 1923.



Brendan’s publishing career flourished throughout the 1920s and in 1926 he founded The Banker, a monthly magazine, and in 1928 acquired the Financial News and a half-share in The Economist. The Investor’s Chronicle and the Practitioner soon followed.

Described by Churchill as ‘a brilliant young Australian of quite exceptional powers and vitality,’ Brendan became his election campaigner and one of his closest associates, who supported him during his ‘wilderness years.’ He was one of the few people who could revive Churchill during his recurrent bouts of depression, or the ‘Black Dog.’ Their close friendship caused rumours that Brendan was Churchill’s illegitimate son, a claim that neither party denied.

In 1929, Brendan was elected Conservative MP for North Paddington and at the beginning of the Second World War became Parliamentary Private Secretary to Churchill. In 1941-45 he served as Minister of Information. During the post-war years he resigned his seat in the Commons and concentrated more on his business interests, where he merged the Financial News into the Financial Times and founded History Today magazine. In 1952, he was created Viscount Bracken of Christchurch in Hampshire, but never took his seat in the House of Lords. Unmarried and childless, Brendan died from oesophageal cancer at the age of 57 on 8th August 1958.  


Anthony Trollope (1815-82) – Novelist

Anthony Trollope (1815-82) – Novelist

The famous Victorian novelist was born in London and at the age of 19 joined the Post Office. In 1841, he left England to work as a surveyor’s clerk for the postal service in Ireland, where he was based in Banagher, on the banks of the River Shannon. While he was in Kingstown, near Dublin, he met Rose Heseltine, the daughter of a bank manager in Rotherham, and they married on 11th June 1844. In August of that year he was appointed Assistant Surveyor in the Southern District of Ireland and they moved to Clonmel, Tipperary, where his two sons, Henry and Frederic, were born. A year after his marriage, Anthony completed the first of his novels, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, published in 1847, which was followed by The Kellys and the O’Kellys in 1848 and La Vendée in 1850.


Although known worldwide for his novels, Anthony was also instrumental in improvements in the postal services and helped to activate the movement of mail from coaches and Bianconi’s cars, or Bians as they were popularly known, to the railways that were emerging across Ireland. As the increase in mail continued so did public demand for improved posting facilities, and in 1852 Anthony introduced the freestanding post box or pillar box as unmanned postal centres, with the first being erected on the Channel Islands, before they began to appear across the United Kingdom the following year. 

Anthony moved back to London in 1859, where he later died in Marylebone in 1882. He remembered his time in Ireland as being, ‘very jolly…The Irish people did not murder me, nor did they even break my head. I soon found them to be good-humoured, clever – the working classes very much more intelligent than those of England – economical and hospitable.’       

Lord Norbury – ‘The Hanging Judge’

Lord Norbury – ‘The Hanging Judge’

John Toler, 1st earl of Norbury, a native of Nenagh, Tipperary, was said to have been one of the most corrupt judges in Ireland. When in 1800 he was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and raised to the peerage as Baron Norbury, Lord Clare was said to have remarked, ‘For God’s sake, make him a bishop, or even an archbishop, but not a chief justice!’

He was notorious for his callousness , incompetence, and absent-mindedness. Known also for his buffoonery, his court was often compared to a circus and he would think nothing of cracking jokes when sentencing a person to death. His most famous trial was that of  Irish nationalist leader Robert Emmet in 1803, who during his famous speech was repeatedly interrupted and berated by Norbury before he sentenced him to death.

Despite several attempts to have him removed from the bench, it was not until 1827, when Norbury fell asleep during a murder trial, that he was finally forced to resign, at the age of 82.

He died at his home in Dublin in 1831 and was buried at St. Mary’s Churchyard in Mary Street. When he heard on his deathbed that his neighbour Lord Erne was also dying, he allegedly told his servant to, ‘Run around to Lord Erne and tell him with my compliments that it will be a dead heat between us.’

O’Sullivan’s Rubber Heels

O’Sullivan’s Rubber Heels

During the 1940s, “America’s No 1 Heel,” the slogan adopted by The O’Sullivan Rubber Company, was seen in many magazines across the United States promoting the pioneering work of Humphrey O’Sullivan from Skibbereen, Co. Cork. He born on 7th October 1853, and was the third and youngest son of Timothy and Catherine (Barry) O’Sullivan. After completing a good education at a state school, and a brief teaching post in a local school, he served a five-year apprenticeship in the printing trade, with J.W Potter & Sons. His excellent training and skills as a typesetter and his progression to assistant foreman, earned him the position of general manager of the Irish Daily Telegraph in Cork, where he was responsible for the printing of the afternoon edition of the paper. During his time with Potter & Sons, he also received tuition in speech and literature from the Rev. D. McCartie, developing his innate ability as an orator. His natural gift as a speaker placed him as a winner in two oratorical contests held in Munster Hall, Cork, and the Rotunda, Dublin. Frederick William Coburn, the author of the History of Lowell and its People, later wrote that ‘Mr. O’Sullivan spoke with earnestness, he displayed a deep knowledge of his subject and presented his points with such clearness and eloquence, that he was adjudged the winner on both occasions.’

After serving his apprenticeship and working for a brief time at Guy Brothers, job printers in Cork, Humphrey joined the Printer’s Union. In 1874, he left Ireland and travelled on the Inman Line steamship to New York, arriving with very little except the knowledge of his trade, his Printer’s Union card and his pluck and determination to succeed in America. He first secured a position in Yonkers printing office in New York, but soon moved on to join his brother James in Lowell, Massachusetts, where in 1877, he became a partner with his brother in his shoemaking and retail business, which together they developed into a very successful and profitable business.

Whilst Humphrey had been working in the printers, he had found a way to ease the aches and pains of the long hours of standing on the hard floor of the printing shop, by standing on a rubber mat. However, much to his annoyance his colleagues had also liked the idea and kept taking the mat to use for themselves. This had prompted Humphrey to cut out two pieces of the rubber mat the same size and shape of his heels and nail them to his shoes, which he found very comfortable and stopped anyone taking them.

The brother’s business grew and with an investment of $25,000, The O’Sullivan Rubber Company was established and on 24th January 1899, The O’Sullivan Rubber Heel was patented. The heels were of good lasting quality with hidden washers to hold the nails and were much more comfortable than the former leather heels. Humphrey’s invention was a huge success and soon the heels were being shipped across America, Great Britain and Europe.

O'Sullivan's Rubber Heel

The heels were advertised in various magazines and newspapers across the United States, in which Humphrey convinced the readers that his heels, ‘conserved nervous energy, make the step light and easier and lessened fatigue.’ The business continued to prosper during the Second World War, due to the demand of uniform manufacturing, but the post war years saw a decline in sales and so towards the late 1940s, the company moved towards the production of vinyl and opened their first vinyl sheeting plant, under the new name of The O’Sullivan Corporation. The company continued to grow and during the 1960s, after refining the method of laminating plastic to metal, and after purchasing Gulfstream, a plastic injection molding company, they refined the overstock method and started manufacturing luggage covers. Various plants were opened across America and Canada, and by the 1990s, the company’s clear vinyl was being used in medical products, such as intravenous medical pouches, air mattresses and inflatable splints used in hospitals.

However, due to decreasing sales and demands, the O’Sullivan Rubber Division was sold in 1986, to concentrate more on the production of plastics, forming the Regalite Plastics Corporation. In 1996, the company celebrated one hundred years in service and was suppling the industrial product markets with numerous products including swimming pool liners, roofing materials, tractor seats, geomembrane pond liners and gym equipment. Today Humphrey’s legacy lives on and operates under the name O’Sullivan Films in Winchester, Virginia and still maintains its high standard, supplying good quality film and artificial leather solutions to furniture, building and automotive industries.