4.4 The “D. Tripcovich & C.” Company at the Waterfront

Home Women of the Waterfront The “D. Tripcovich & C.” Company at the Waterfront

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.

Erica Mezzoli


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.

Fig. 4.4.a.1 – Diodato Tripcovich was born in Dobrota (now in Montenegro) in 1862. After his nautical studies, in the 1880s, he moved to Trieste and was employed by Austrian Lloyd. He died in Trieste in 1925.
(Archivio famiglia Marcovich)
Fig. 4.4.a.2 – Ownership structure of the steamship “Sarajevo”, from the moment of construction and inscription in the register of the Austro-Hungarian offshore navigation (1899) to the purchase of the entire property by the “D. Tripcovich & Co.” (1917). Initially, in 1901, Diodato joined the owners’ consortium as its representative.
(ASTs, Governo Marittimo in Trieste – Seebehörde, 1385)
Fig. 4.4.a.3 – Commercial shipping was a major part of the company’s business. One of the most important routes was the so-called AMOM line which served the western Mediterranean (Rijeka/Fiume-Casablanca).
(ASTs, Società “D. Tripcovich & Co.”, 129)
Fig. 4.4.a.4 – Another key business sector was towage and maritime rescue services. At the time of Diodato’s death in 1925, his son-in-law and ace of Austro-Hungarian aviation Baron Goffredo de Banfield took over the reins of this branch of the company. He is credited with having completely reorganized and modernized the sector.
(ASTs, Società “D. Tripcovich & Co.”, 129)


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.

Fig. 4.4.b.1 – Countess Ermenegilda “Gilda” Tripcovich, née Pozza di Zagorje, was born in Dubrovnik (Ragusa) in 1870. From her marriage with Diodato, three children were born: Mario, Maria (“Mary”) and Oliviero. She died in Trieste in 1943.
(Archivio famiglia Marcovich)
Fig. 4.4.b.2 – Coat of arms of the Ragusean family Pozza di Zagorje. Due to the cultural and political climate resulting from the “Illyrian Movement” in the 19th century, some family members stopped using the Italian form of the surname, preferring that of “Pucić”.
(Wikimedia Commons)
Fig. 4.4.b.3 – The evolution of the city of Ragusa in the Early Modern Period. On the left is the ancient settlement, and on the right is the old city prior to the 1667 earthquake.
(DAD, Unknown author, via Wikimedia Commons)


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.

Fig. 4.4.c.1 – In 1817, the Academy took up its headquarters in Palazzo Biserini in Piazza Lipsia (now Piazza Hortis).
(Ph. Erica Mezzoli, 2022)
Fig. 4.4.c.2 – The scions of families such as Cosulich, Martinolich, Premuda and, of course, Tripcovich received their nautical training at the Academy.
(Extract from the exam program for captain of offshore navigation vessels, ASTs, Accademia, 35)


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.

Fig. 4.4.d.1 – Mary Tripcovich de Banfield was a model of beauty and style for the women of Trieste. Patron of the arts, she is portrayed here in a pageboy costume by Wanda Wulz during a masked ball in 1927.
(Alinari, W. Wulz, WWA-F-001973-0000)
Fig. 4.4.d.2 – Mary and Jeffrey in England when they were engaged.
(Archivio famiglia Marcovich)
Fig. 4.4.d.3 – Ace of the Imperial aviation, during WWI de Banfield became known as the “Adler von Triest” (trans. Trieste’s Eagle – the Italian aviators, on the other hand, knew him as the “Red Dragon”). Women loved him to such an extent that it is said that Trieste’s street vendors (venderigole) had organized a whip-round to give their hero a silver wreath.
(HGM, K. Sterrer, Porträt Gottfried von Banfield, 1918 – via Wikimedia Commons)


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.

Fig. 4.4.e.1 – The chart shows the number of women shipowners, of the offshore navigation ships of which they had shares and ships’ home ports on the Austrian coasts of the Empire from 1879 to 1923. In Mali Losinj-Lussinpiccolo, there were 19 ships whose property partially belonged to 30 women. In Dubrovnik-Ragusa, there were 11 ships whose property was in part in the hands of 37 women. Finally, in Trieste-Trst, there were 32 ships whose property was in part in the hands of 80 women.
(ASTs, Governo Marittimo in Trieste – Seebehörde, 1385–1387)
Fig. 4.4.e.2 – Mary Tripcovich de Banfield as a pageboy with Maria de Mimbelli – of the branch of the Mimbelli family who settled in Trieste and traded in wheat – portrayed by Wanda Wulz at a masked ball in 1927.
(Alinari, W. Wulz, WWA-F-001970-0000)
Fig. 4.4.e.3 – The chart shows the number of women shipowners, the ocean-going navigation ships of which they had shares and ships’ home ports on the Hungaro-Croatian coasts of the Empire from the 1890s to the first decade of the 20th century. In Rijeka-Fiume, we have 77 ships whose part of the property was in the hands of 165 women. In Bakar-Buccari, there were 27 ships whose property – or its parts – was the prerogative of 34 female shipowners.
(DARI, Pomorska oblast za Ugarsko-hrvatsko primorje u Rijeci 1870.–1918., 241-241A)


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.

Video 4.4.f.1 – For many years, Raffaello was responsible for both the artistic direction of the “Giuseppe Verdi” Opera House in Trieste and that of the “Festival dei due Mondi” of Spoleto. He was also president of the family company from the 1970s until the collapse of the Tripcovich corporate in the 1990s. His most famous work is the composition for the ballet “Le combat” (London, 1949).
Fig. 4.4.f.2 – Trieste’s surrealist painter Leonor Fini would have introduced Raffaello to many stars of the international art world.
(L. Fini, Self-portrait with a Scorpion, 1938)
Fig. 4.4.f.3 – In 1949, Fini introduced him to Roland Petit who, in the same year, choreographed de Banfield’s composition “Le combat” in London.
(Les ballets des Paris (1958), BRTD-NYPL – Digital Collections, ID 5054408)
Fig. 4.4.f.4 – The first meeting with Herbert von Karajan took place in Trieste immediately after the end of WWII. This marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
(Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R92264)


The 3rd Generation: Pinky

Fig. 4.4.g – The second child of the Tripcovich-de Banfield couple, Maria Luisa “Pinky”, on her wedding day accompanied to church by her father.
(Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R92264)


The Legacy

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.

Fig. 4.4.h.1 – When the Trieste Opera House was closed for restoration in 1992, Raffaello de Banfield decided not to leave his city without music. Within six months and using the resources of the family business, Raffaello achieved an extraordinary feat: rehabilitating a disused bus station into a concert hall also suitable for opera and ballet. The Tripcovich Hall supplied the Verdi Theatre until 1997. Unfortunately, the Hall is permanently closed today, and its demolition has been decided.
(Ph. Erica Mezzoli, 2022)
Fig. 4.4.h.2 – In 1988, in memory of the father, Goffredo, Raphael and Maria Luisa founded the “Goffredo de Banfield” Association in Trieste, which offers assistance and support to frail elderly people and their families. From its foundation to today (2022), approximately 13,000 frail elderly people – and their families – have benefitted from free qualified assistance. Even if this is all that remains of the Tripcovich-de Banfield saga, it is nonetheless significant.
(The Trieste building where the “Goffredo de Banfield” Association is based – Ph. Erica Mezzoli, 2022)