Have you ever stopped to wonder which relative you would just love to met in person? What relative in your family tree left behind more questions than answers? Well I believe that I have narrowed that person down to just one individual – for me it would have to be Giuseppe Di Salvia b. 6 Nov 1854 in Calvello, Italy.
Firstly, I will explain why I would be interested in meeting my great grandfather Giuseppe Di Salvia. Giuseppe was only 12 years old when he ran away from home in Calvello, Italy in approximately 1866 . He had lost his mother and his father had remarried a woman Giuseppe disliked intensely. Giuseppe made his way from Italy to England by stowing away on a boat, and then to Scotland presumably by walking, which is quite a feat for a boy of such young years. In Scotland he met a farmer’s daughter whilst working on their family’s farm. Her name was Hannah Stevenson Strathdee and the young couple fell in love. The farmer did not consider Giuseppe a suitable match for his daughter so Giuseppe left his work on the farm, travelling to Edinburgh, eventually finding work on the railway as a porter. He sent Hannah money so that she could join him, which she did and Giuseppe and Hannah were married on 21 Jun 1878. Just after their first and only child, Joseph, was born the small family emigrated to Australia aboard the Oban Bay, arriving in Townsville, Queensland on 19 Jul 1883.
I would love to ask Giuseppe exactly how he stowed away on a boat at the tender age of 12 years. Did he know where the boat was headed, or did he just board the first available ship – destination unknown? How did Giuseppe survive the trip from his hometown of Calvello to a shipping port? Was he hungry and cold, did he sleep under the stars? I would also ask if at any time he had been frightened at the thought of looking after himself, or lonely and sorry that he had run away? Did he miss his father and what was so very distasteful about the woman that became his stepmother that would prompt his actions?
Did the Third Italian War of Independence in 1866, under the leadership of King Victor Emanuele II, have anything to do with his decision to leave home, perhaps he was looking to join the fighting? Life for Giuseppe was vastly different in England than it had been in Italy though. During the first year of living in this new country the following remarkable events took place:
- Joseph Lister publisched his first article about the discovery of antiseptic surgery
- Alfred Nobel, Swedish Chemist, demonstrated dynamite at Redhill, Surry for the first time after patenting it in the UK
- Thomas Barnardo opened his first children’s shelter in Stepney
- October saw the end of Penal Transportation to Australia
- John Galsworthy, writer and Nobel Prize laureate was born
I am amazed at the courage of this young man regardless of his adolescent reasoning. He would have had to have been physically fit enough to walk very long distances, and not be afraid to work at whatever was available to enable him to provide food and clothing for himself. I wonder if this meant the Giuseppe had a wonderful sense of adventure and a thirst for excitement?
His love for Hannah has never been in question and is clearly shown in a love letter he penned to her which still exists today, but what did Hannah’s father dislike about Giuseppe? Was it simply a question of inter-race marriage, or did it go deeper and relate to character issues?
My time machine would take me back to the household of Giuseppe Di Salvia and his father Pietro Di Salvia, arriving approximately two weeks before Giuseppe ran away and, seeing as it is my fantasy which would allow me to do anything I want, I wouldn’t return until I saw the faces of Giuseppe and Hannah with their toddler Joseph as they stepped off the boat in Townsville, Queensland – now that would be an adventure!