When he died at his home in Caprera, aged 75, Garibaldi had worked as a sea captain, fought for freedom causes in Brazil and Uruguay and seen the realisation of his greatest ambition, the unification of Italy. Garibaldi visited England in 1864, to thank the British people who had given him support during his campaign of 1860. Charles Seely (1803 - 1887), a Liberal MP who supported the unification of Italy, invited the great liberator Garibaldi to stay at Brooke House when it was thought (quite rightly) that he would be mobbed by adoring crowds in London. Garibaldi landed at Southampton on Sunday 3 April 1864, and in reply to the mayor said: Without the help of the English nation it would have been impossible to complete the deeds we did in southern Italy.

Charles Seely incurred Queen Victoria’s severe displeasure, some say because the crowds for Garibaldi were much larger than those for herself. As Mary Seely writes to him after his visit: The Inspector (of police) told Charles that the progresses of her Majesty had never been nearly so enthusiastic.

Garibaldi spent time at Brooke House, the home of Charles Seely, before travelling to London where he was greeted by an estimated half a million people. The crowds were so immense it took him six hours to travel three miles through the streets.

Garibaldi later returned to Brook for a few days before he returned to Italy. Garibaldi arrived at Cowes on Monday, 4 April 1864 and a crowd estimated at 2,000 welcomed him to streets decorated with flags and banners. The shipbuilders J.S. White gave their workers the afternoon off and the band of the Isle of Wight Rifles played See the Conquering Hero Comes. The Isle of Wight Observer reported: Cowes claims the honour of being the first spot in the Isle of Wight trod by the greatest man who ever set foot on our soil. The crowds escorted Garibaldi all of the 15 miles to Brooke House. While there, Garibaldi planted an oak tree in the garden which the Seely family called the ‘Tree of Liberty’ and which survived until the hurricane of 1987. Locals tell another story about the Garibaldi oak dying and another being planted by head gardener, Mr Tribbick, in its place. While at Brook, Garibaldi visited Farringford, the home of the poet Alfred Tennyson. Emily Tennyson records hearing: the sounds of welcome as Garibaldi passed thro’ the village to Farringford. People on foot and on horseback and in carriages had waited at our gate for two hours for him.

Tennyson took Garibaldi to his study and advised him not to discuss politics in England. They recited poetry to each other, Garibaldi repeating Italian verses of which Tennyson apparently understood not a word.

While at Farringford Garibaldi was accosted by a woman on her knees. It was Julia Margaret Cameron who held her black, chemical-stained hands up to him, asking him to sit for a photograph. He is said to have thought she was a well-dressed beggar and she to have said: this is not dirt but art!

On Thursday 7 April when Garibaldi’s carriages passed through Newport, the streets were decorated with flags and streamers and a banner with ‘Viva Garibaldi’ spanned the High Street. To the cheers of thousands he was greeted by the mayor, Mr. W.B. Mew at the Guildhall and took his place on a purpose-built platform to express his gratitude for the warm welcome. On 11 April Garibaldi left Brooke House and travelled to London where he was greeted by crowds estimated at half a million people. He stayed at Charles Seely’s London residence, 26 Princes Gate. The whole country shut down for three days. On the 20th he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London and also met with the Liberal Prime Minister Lord Palmerston and the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. The impact Garibaldi had on the populace continued to worry Queen Victoria. She instructed Palmerston to write to Charles Seely urging Garibaldi to leave the country.

In Adventure (1930), Jack Seely writes:

...when Garibaldi arrived in London he was given the Freedom of the City, and that on his journey to the City and back he was acclaimed by crowds more vast than any that has assembled in living memory. The Austrians were much offended, and Queen Victoria became very perturbed at the excitement of the populace in acclaiming this revolutionary general. She urged that Garibaldi should be induced to return to Italy, and correspondence ensued between the Prime Minister of the day and my grandfather.

After London, Garibaldi returned to Brook for a few days and then left for home aboard the Duke of Sutherland’s private yacht. Letters from both Mary and Charles Seely to Garibaldi and his replies in Italian show the strength of their mutual affection. Garibaldi was a charismatic and attractive figure and, as his portraits show, was seen as a romantic, revolutionary leader. While people at this time were given to expressing themselves (especially in letters) in an expansive way, the letters indicate a strong affection. A lock of Garibaldi’s hair survives as a keepsake on a piece of card and the inscription reads: I cut this lock of hair from off General Garibaldi’s head in the Library at Brooke House, Isle of Wight, on the sixth of April 1864. Mary Seely. After Garibaldi has left Brook, Mary writes: When, alas! you had left me yesterday, and my heart was heavy with grief, I went to your little bed full of emotion and sorrow that your dear and revered head would not rest there again. Writing from his home on the island of Caprera near Sardinia in June 1864, Garibaldi refers to her as my precious friend, adding: I am given to melancholy, but become cheerful when I think of you. He says: When I think of your face,which I carry engraved on my heart, I forget my gloom and am happy. Charles Seely writes to him in July 1864 and as well as giving him political news says: You will never know the intense interest you excited in this country and I may add the personal love - I wonder when I shall see you again - Everyday my wife and I talk about you and we long to have you back again all to ourselves in our quiet little village of Brooke.

In one letter of October 1864 Garibaldi discusses the political situation in Italy and then the progress of the turnip seeds he was given to plant in Caprera. He writes in English: The Brookes’ turnips are growing magnificent! And I visit them every morning, translating myself deliciously in the beautiful and dear birthplace of it. When Louis and Julia Denaro bought the Coach House of Brooke House in the Estate auction of 1958, they discovered a vast oil painting of Garibaldi propped up, damp and dusty in a greenhouse. The massive frame was repaired by master carpenter, Walter Newbery, in Carpenters’ Lane, Brook. In 2009 the painting was professionally restored by the Isle of Wight Heritage Service and is now on permanent display at the Newport Guildhall where Garibaldi once waved to the crowds.