Today many people forget that the Austrian Empire (from 1867, Austria-Hungary) was once a significant maritime power. For 800 years, it had window on the Mediterranean, possessing the port of Trieste, which occupied a uniquely advantageous position, being at the head of the Adriatic with close proximity the heart of Europe. Austria’s maritime position improved in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, when it gained control of the entire coast so Dalmatia, Istria and the Veneto.
In 1833, Austrian Llyod (Der Österreichische Lloyd) was founded in Trieste and quickly rose to become one of the world’s best run and most successful shipping lines. Its advantage increased upon the completion of the Südbahn, which connected Trieste by rail to Europe’s major industrial centres.
The Imperial Austrian Navy also gained great global prestige when Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff scored a resounding victory over the Italian Navy at the Battle of Lissa (Vis) on July 20, 1866.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, a project which was significantly backed by the Trieste tycoon Pasquale Revoltella, represented a great leap forward for Austrian Lloyd. Trieste and Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia) became the major European ports with the best interface for traffic running through the Suez to the industrial heartland of Europe. A sharp increase in Asiatic trade flowed through these ports and Austrian Lloyd’s Trieste-Bombay route became one of the most important in the world.
With the realization of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea became one of the world’s most important shipping lanes. Yet, its waters were famously treacherous, full of hidden reefs, lethal currents and winds and complicated harbour approaches. International mariners had generally relied upon sailing directions and charts made by the Royal Navy; however, these sources, while high quality, naturally had a bias towards British priorities and had a few blind spots. However, Corvette Captain Wilhelm Kropp of the Imperial Austrian Navy was determined to fill-in some of blanks.
Captain Kropp had the opportunity to extensively explore the Red Sea as the commander of the Austrian navy cannon boast SMS Narenta, resulting in the present pilot.
Kropp’s work was first published in 1872 in the German language as an article entitled ‘Beschriffung des rotten Meers’, within an issue of the Austrian geographical journal, Mitteilungen der k.k. Geographischen Gesellschaft in Wien (vol. 15, (Vienna, 1872), pp. 348-363).
The present work is the first separately published edition of Kropp’s pilot, issued very soon after the article, and published in the Italian language for the benefit of the Dalmatian and Istrian sailors who made up the majority of Austro-Hungarian merchant mariner and naval personnel; it is labelled on the title as the ‘Versione italiana dall‘edizione originale tedesca’. It was published in Fiume for the local government maritime authority (then Hungary’s premier port, today Rijeka, Croatia) by the local print shop of the Stabilimento Tipo-Litografico Fiumano di Emidio Mohovich (Mohović).
The present work, the title of which translates in English to ‘Physical Geography of the Red Sea: With Sailing Directions’, includes sections on the Formation of the Coasts; Winds; Clouds; Atmospheric Precipitation; Pressure of the Air; Temperature of the Air; Salinity and Temperature of the Sea; Currents; Tides; Depth of the Sea; Sailing Directions; Meteorological Tables; and an Alphabetical Index.
The most interesting section is that on Sailing Directions, or ‘Istruzione per la navigazione’ (pp. 14-26), which gives detailed explanations for how to navigate into the Red Sea’s key harbours, as observed by Captain Kropp. These ports include: El Tor (Egypt), al Wajh (Saudi Arabia), Yanbu, Jeddah, Hudeydah, Luhaya, Mukha, Massawa (Eritrea), Suwakin (Sudan), and Al–Qusair (Egypt).
Importantly, the work features four colour lithographed full-page charts, of the ports of El Tor, Al Wajh, Jeddah and Suwakin. The charts of El Tor and Al Wajh are original works from Captain Kropp’s own surveys, while the others are adapted from British surveys.
The charts are as follows:
[EL TOR, EGYPT].
Porto di Tur / Pianta originale rilevata dall’I.R. Connoniera “Narenta” Comandante Cap. Di. Corv. W. Kropp. (placed between pp. 18 and 19).
[AL WADJ, SAUDI ARABIA].
Porto di El Wish (Wedgee) / Pianta originale rilevata dall’I.R. Connoniera “Narenta” Comandante Cap. Di. Corv. W. Kropp. (placed between pp. 18 and 19).
[JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA].
Ingresso nel Porto di Djiddah / Secondo le carte Ingles del 1870. (placed between pp. 20 and 21).
Ingresso nel Porto di Suakin / / Secondo le carte Ingles del 1870. (placed between pp. 24 and 25).
The sailing directions are followed by a comprehensive series of meteorological tables predicated upon recent data (pp. 29-39).
Captain Kropp’s pilot was a top-quality work and was highly regarded by mariners far beyond the Austro-Hungarian sphere. Notably, it was translated into English and published in America as Wilhelm Kropp’s Physical Geography of the Red Sea: With Sailing Directions (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1872).
A Note on Rarity
The present pilot is today very rare. It would have been issued in only a small print run, while the survival rate of examples would have been low due to use at sea. We can trace 5 institutional examples, held by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin; Biblioteca nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III (Naples); ETH-Bibliotek Zurich; Hungarian Academy of Sciences; and the Bibliotheque nationale et universitaire – Strasbourg. Moreover, we cannot trace any sales records for other example going back 25 years.
References: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: Hz 42630; Biblioteca nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III (Naples): IT\ICCU\NAP\0592082; OCLC: 638146389, 1015162953, 490958138, 250735550. Cf. (German language journal edition:) Imre Josef Demhardt, Aus allen Weltteilen Ägypten mit Sudan und Libyen (Berlin, 2016), p. 119.