If you say the name of Carolina Belinich in Rijeka, there is almost no passer-by who will not smile widely. ”Karolina Riječka? Is there anyone who is not familiar with our Karolina?!” So, if you are lucky, you will hear a story about a lady from Rijeka whose character and actions have been engraved onto their memories until today, even if she lived in the 19th century.
The tale of Karolina begins in 1813 when ships of the British navy appeared in front of Rijeka. It was the 3rd of July and five navy ships anchored in a distance of two nautical miles from the town. At first the Rijeka observed the newcomers, thinking they needed some water. A stunning broadside salvo made them take cover. Firing was returned from one of the town’s castles, and the enemy was hit. It didn’t help. Once the land cannons were silenced, some 22 small ships with smaller cannons and almost 600 British soldiers put to shore. During the landing, the fleet continued to fill the area of the Old town centre and Trsat with cannon-balls. The British soldiers aboard the ships believed that Napoleon’s troops with whom Britain was in conflict at the time were located there. The frightened citizens ran as far away as possible from the town, as did the military forces situated in the town, however (what was worse) even the representatives of the town’s authorities decided to withdraw. The British began mercilessly burning the sailing boats docked at the pier on Fiumara and fire from it jeopardized the nearby houses.
From within the chaos, a young woman appeared from house N° 431 on Fiumara and began walking towards the British troops. She was very calm and her intention was to reach the commander of the conqueroring forces who was situated close to the artillery battery not far from the town centre. She wanted to speak with him. What did she expect would be the reasons that would make him talk to her?
Wicked tongues would in the years to follow, would say that the key reasons for her success were her age (she was only 22), the black dress she was wearing, and most of all in her neckline. But these people forgot that this brave woman, Mrs Carolina Bellnich, was not just anyone. She was born to a respected family of Rijeka merchants Kranjec, taking the Bellnich surname in 1808 when she married the wholesale merchant, Andrija Bellnich. Her father, Franjo, was a captain who had three houses, two mills, forests, a vineyard, and a sailing ship; he was also a founder of a wood and tobacco trading company etc. Thanks to his wealth and reputation, he was appointed to honour Rijeka's patrician councillors. The most important fact of this story is that in 1707, he was appointed as British vice-consul for that part of the Adriatic coast, which had its headquarters in Rijeka. He would perform this task until 1806 when Carolina's step-brother took over.
At the moment she stepped in front of the high ranking British officer, Carolina was the daughter and wife of two people who, as consular representatives, represented the same interests as the officer himself that is the interests of the British crown. How their communication progressed, wasn’t registered. But, there is no doubt that Carolina explained that further destruction of the town was useless as the enemy army had already left it. The citizens of Rijeka were also unenthusiastic about French domination, and considered the British soldiers to be their liberators. Were her words so persuasive? The best answer to that question is end of military action. Town was spared from even greater destruction. As were the citizens' houses, merchandise warehouses and the moored ships. Everybody in the town was relieved. On the third day, the British fleet sailed away, looking for the French troops.
During the attack on Rijeka, Carolina’s husband also distinguished himself for his courage, as commander of the national Guards. Thanks to his merits, he was appointed to town patrician. The citizens of Rijeka haven’t forgotten to requite themselves with the good Carolina, knowing how much she risked with her courageous act as she was mother to four girls. The town authority praised her in 1829, and in 1901 donates her portrait to the municipal museum whilst in 1905 a town street was named after her.
That is what it was like yesterday. And today? A wharf in the very centre of the city port carries her name. If we step out from the Karolina Riječka wharf to the Old city centre and stop in front of the St Vitus church, on the left side of the entrance, is an unusual item that draws attention, with a cannon-ball protruding out of the facade. Under the facade is a metal plate with the year 1813 engraved on it together with a legacy: “The British gave us these cannon-balls whilst chasing the French from here”. The cannon-ball in the wall is one of those which flew above the Rijeka citizens' heads, and of which disastrous impact Carolina saved them.