When General Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived in Southampton aboard the Peninsular and Orient steamship Ripon on April 3, 1864, he can have had little idea of the tumultuous welcome that awaited him.

Any present-day celebrity would have been gratified at being greeted in such a fashion. Contemporary drawings and accounts show enthusiastic crowds surrounding his open carriage upon arrival in town. Even more accompanied him back to the Royal Pier to see him embark for the Isle of Wight on the following day.

Flags were hoisted in all directions and people made themselves hoarse with cheering. Mr Davies, headmaster of Northam Boys School struck a slightly sour note when he recorded in the School Log: “Garibaldi parades the town – School nearly empty”.

So why did the arrival of Garibaldi have such an electrifying effect?

During the Middle Ages, Italy was a collection of warring city states and during successive centuries Spain, France and Austria played a political game of pass the parcel with those states, until finally, in the 19th century, the Italian people had had enough.

Garibaldi was a leader of the Risorgimento, the movement for a united Italy on the Italian peninsula. He was considered a great general and, although unification had not been completed by 1864, he was regarded as one of the “fathers of the fatherland”.

Favourable international media coverage and the admiration of writers like Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas meant he was almost as popular abroad as he was in Italy.

Garibaldi’s host in Southampton was Mayor George Brinton and he spent the night at Brinton’s home at 27 East Park Terrace.

The building later became known as Garibaldi House and, on the centenary of his birth, a plaque in Italian and English was erected on its front. The house was demolished after the Second World War, but the plaque was removed and placed in the garden of Tudor House where it can still be seen.

A formal civic welcome was afforded to the Italian hero the next day.

The band of the Hampshire 1st Engineers accompanied the general and the mayor to the Audit House in the High Street, forerunner to the Civic Centre.

Here the Corporation Address was given at 12pm. Afterwards carriages took Garibaldi, Mayor Brinton and the corporation back to the town quay where he was saluted by the Platform Battery.

Garibaldi’s reason for travelling to the Isle of Wight was that he had been invited to stay at Brook House by Charles Seeley, a Liberal MP who supported the cause of Unification.

Here again his visit was heralded by large crowds, many of whom escorted him all the 15 miles from Cowes to Brook.

Garibaldi seemed to have forged a strong friendship with the Seeley family for they corresponded for several years after the visit. While staying at the house he planted an oak tree which is supposed to have survived right up until the great storm of 1987.

During his time on the island he had a meeting with the poet, Tennyson.

Of course, a visit to England would hardly be complete without travelling to London and there he was greeted by a crowd estimated at half a million.

He was awarded the Freedom of the City and met the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston but not Queen Victoria who apparently was not amused by his popularity.

The name Garibaldi made its mark in Southampton although not a lasting one. Two terraces were named after him – one was on the south side of Avenue Road; the other was in Dock Street.

There was also a pub named after him. The Garibaldi Arms was on the corner of Dock Street and sadly took a direct hit during an air raid in November 1940. The only survivors were the licencees’ 4 young children who took refuge under the bar.

And, of course, there’s the biscuit.

By Ally Hayes – tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk