A Walk along the Quays Looking for a Family and Collective Maritime History of the Eastern Adriatic between the 19th and 20th Century
A story such as that of the Tripcovich company, its family and of the social, cultural and economic environment in which it grew deserves to be told by narrators such as Mann, Kazantzakis, Singer or Balzac; all of them well versed in bankruptcy and failure. It would also have been a perfect case study for an economic historian like David Landes. However, one thing does not exclude the other. The model for the study of the decline of family businesses, known as the “Buddenbrook syndrome” developed by Landes, applies perfectly to the story of the Tripcovich company.
Also, in our case, the parable develops in three phases that correspond to the three generations of family business management: the phase of the company foundation by the “pioneers” generation; the moment of consolidation and expansion thanks to the second generation, that of the “industry captains”; finally, the third and last phase, that of decline, under the management of the third generation. In the case of the Tripcovich company, it was not just a matter of decline or ebb but of the greatest bankruptcy that Trieste – in all its history of merchants, shipowners, bankers and insurers – has ever known. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Tripcovich company was a holding made up of subholdings and about 120 subsidiaries, which employed approximately 6,000 people between the Mediterranean and northern Europe. A real behemoth. The extent of the corporate crash of 1994 was also colossal: a debt of more than 500 billion Lire (estimated historical value of € 400,047,000) consisting of direct debts and sureties granted to subsidiaries. Everything that followed is history. Of the whole Tripcovich affair, what seems to have been saved from failure is what has always remained in the background: the human – especially female – professional and relational capital of a family and a shipping company. Ultimately, what survived the terrible shipwreck is what remained in the port.
The 1st Generation: the Empire of Diodato
In 1895, Diodato Tripcovich founded in Trieste the “D. Tripcovich-Società di Armamento ed Agenzia marittima” – which in 1912 would become a corporate company – mainly dealing with the administration of shipowners’ (caratisti) consortia. However, the company immediately began to turn its attention to commercial shipping, and towage and maritime rescue services.
The 1st Generation: Ermenegilda the Ragusean Woman
In 1891, Diodato Tripkovich married Ermenegilda from the ancient Ragusean family Pozza di Zagorje in Dubrovnik (Ragusa). With the money of his wife’s dowry, Diodato began to buy shares in the ships, which enabled him to join the shipowners’ consortia.
Trieste’s Seafaring as a Boy
The Imperial Royal Academy of Commerce and Nautics can be considered the nursery of Trieste’s seafaring and maritime capitalism. The Academy was divided into two main sections, Commerce and Nautics, and other “minor” courses.
The 2nd Generation: Mary & Jeffrey
That formed by Maria “Mary” Tripcovich and by Baron Gottfried von Banfield (also known as Goffredo “Jeffrey” de Banfield) was the most beautiful, admired and worldly couple in post-WWI Trieste. They got engaged in Trieste in 1918 and married in England in 1920. Maria Luisa “Pinky” and Raffaello “Falello” de Banfield born from their marriage.
Women and Maritime Capitalism in the Eastern Adriatic
The coasts of the eastern Adriatic are an incredible spectacle, not only from a landscape or historical-cultural point of view. Here, the sea mirrors extraordinary and crowded property constellations, where women also played a leading role. Sometimes, in this context, the economic power of women was so relevant that it was comparable to that of a star in a planetary system.
The 3rd Generation: Falello and the Artistic Cosmopolitanism
Thanks to the mother, Mary, art was in the blood of the de Banfield heirs. This circumstance was particularly true for Raffaello “Falello”. During his life, well-known composer and shipowner Raffaello was able to weave a stunning network of ties in the world of art and the international jet-set that positioned Trieste as its fulcrum.
The 3rd Generation: Pinky
The legacy of the Tripcovich-de Banfield saga is not the poor remains of the family and business history that the undertow brings to shore. Despite the wrong choices determined – probably – by the inexperience in finance, the third generation Tripcovich-de Banfield was self-aware and contemporary of its time. Not all has been lost.
The website is realised in the framework of the MSCA-IF Project 2019 “We Can Do It! Women’s labour market participation in the maritime sector in the Upper Adriatic after the World Wars in an intersectional perspective” (acronym: WeCanIt; grant agreement no. 894257).