A great earthquake shook southern Italy on 5 February 1783. It devastated parts of Calabria and Sicily. Tresham appears to have been the only British artist to travel to Sicily after this dramatic event. As a history painter studying in Italy he would have been very familiar with the story of the destruction of Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, and he visited the ruins of the ancient city. The 1783 earthquake was a reminder of this event. It must have been in Tresham's mind when he sat sketching among the ruins of Messina in Sicily. The Palazzata was an elegant building facing the city's harbour. A sixteenth century fountain showing Neptune, which still survives, can be seen in the distance.