The Italian patriot and revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi was already a living legend and symbol of radical politics when he arrived on board of the ship Commonwealth in South Shields on 21 March 1854. Born in 1807, Garibaldi had participated in a revolutionary uprising in Piedmont in 1834 and consequently had to flee into exile in South America. There, he participated in revolutionary wars in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, commanding whole fleets and armies. When in 1848 revolutions broke out all over Europe, he returned to Italy and was appointed commander-in-chief of the insurrectionary army of the new Roman republic. Chased by intervening French and Austrian troops, Garibaldi had to flee yet again from his home country in 1849. He eventually found refuge in the United States where he stayed in New York until early 1854.
In February 1854, Garibaldi boarded the Commonwealth to return to Italy yet also planned to visit the major European countries to advocate the unification of Italy. This led him to make a stop on Tyneside where he was enthusiastically welcomed by the local population and hosted by the local radical politician and newspaper proprietor Joseph Cowen Jr in his manor in Tynemouth. Whilst staying on Tyneside, Garibaldi met with local industrialists and politicians yet refused to speak at a public meeting. Nonetheless, Cowen Jr organised a public subscription of one penny per head via the Evening Chronicle to purchase a gift for the Italian revolutionary. On 11 April, during a private farewell reception on board of the Commonwealth which was anchored at South Shields, Garibaldi was presented with golden sword and a periscope bought with the donations of the people of Tyneside. The inscription on the sword read: 'Presented to General Garibaldi by the People of Tyneside, Friends of European Freedom, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, April 1854'. A day later, on 12 April 1854, Garibaldi set sail to Genoa. Historian Marcella Pellegrino Sutcliffe has stressed the significance of the visit to Newcastle, describing it as 'the seedbed for a special relationship that Tyneside radials established with the Italian patriot' (Sutcliffe 2010, p. 130).
F. Young and W. B. B. Stevens, Garibaldi: His Life and Times (London, 1866), pp. 155-156; A. Scirocco, Garibaldi: Citizen of the World (Princeton, NJ, 2007); L. Riall, Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero (New Haven, CT, 2008); M. Sutcliffe, 'Negotiating the "Garibaldi Moment" in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1854–1861)', Modern Italy, vol. 15, no. 2 (2010), pp. 129–144