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While doing research into my Italian ancestry for my book, Whatever happened To Ishtar? I read somewhere that if you wanted to know what it was like living in 19th Century Italy, you might wish to read Village Commune by Maria Louise Ramé, otherwise known by her pseudonym, Ouida. It turned out to be very good advice. I searched for the book online and found it  in a tiny obscure USA second hand book shop. When I received what is now a prized possession, I discovered it was a First Edition published 1881 by J. B. Lippincott & Co.  Philadelphia/

The Commune 2

Published in 1881

My great grandparents, Aristodemo and Annunziata Frandi experienced similar hardships to those described by Ouida in Village Commune. Many young men from poor families were conscripted into the regular army to fight against the Austrians, as was Aristodemo, who came from a family of farmers. The Frandi family, by then including three young children, emigrated to New Zealand in 1876 and I now fully understand why.  Although Aristodemo talked to family about life in Italy, both of his hated time barracked with the regular army  in the far north of Italy, and his time fighting in the south of Italy with Garibaldi, I had no real understanding of just how difficult life was at that time.

I had always thought of Italy as a wonderful country, full of poetry, art, fabulous food and generous citizens. I have visited the country often and I have never been disappointed. But of course there was, and is, another side to Italy altogether.

Ouida’s eloquently written and absorbing stories of life in northern Italy are heart-rending. Farmers and agriculturists, whose families had lived on the land for generations, had their land taken at the whim of wealthy, corrupt government officials and were left homeless and hungry. The burgeoning Industrial Revolution needed land for factories, and dwellings for workers moving onto the countryside. Land was also needed to build mansions for wealthy officials, and for railways.


The Commune

Note the prices listed for Ouida’s publications. The handwritten name and date came with the book.



The author connects on an emotional level with the reader, as she relates beautifully crafted, albeit harrowing, life stories.  One such story is of a young Florentine farming peasant :

He was a peasant who had been taken by conscription just as a young bullock is picked out for the shambles, and he had never understood why very well. His heart has always been with his fields, his homestead, his vines, his sweetheart. He had hated the barrack life, the dusty aimless marches, the drilling and the bullying, the weight of the knapsack and the roar of the guns; he had been a youth, ere the government had made him a machine…If the enemy had come into his country he would have held his own hamlet against them to the last gasp; but to be drafted off to Milan to wear a fool’s jacket and to eat black bread while the fields were half tilled, and the old people sore driven…no, he was not a patriot, if to be one, he must have been a contented conscript. 

 Ouida gives a vivid portrayal of the numerous Roman Catholic and other festivals:

Italian merry-making is never pretty. The sense of colour and of harmony is gone out of our people, whose forefathers were models of Leonardo and Raffaelle, and whose own limbs too, have still so often the mould of the Faun and the Discobolus. Italian merry-making has nothing of the grace and brightness of the French fairs, nor even of the picturesqueness and colour of the German feasts and frolics; even in Carnival, although there are gayety [sic] and grotesqueness, there is little grace and little good colouring. But the people enjoy themselves; enjoy themselves for the most part very harmlessly and very merrily when they forget their tax-papers, their empty stomachs, and their bankrupt shops.

Ouida writes extensively and in detail about the corruption and cronyism of government officials, and the cruelty they meted out to hapless villagers. If citizens had wealth, and were well connected, they had plenty of food and their sons escaped conscription! But peasants lived frugally off the land, and life for them was harsh and often brutal.

One of  Ouida’s famous quotes “petty laws breed great crimes” highlights her intimate knowledge and understanding of what life was like for the peasant landowner (agrario).

The commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda, whose centre is the village of Santa Rosalia, is, like all Italian communes, supposed to enjoy an independence that is practically a legislative autonomy. So long as it contributes its quota to the Imperial taxes, the Imperial government is supposed to have nothing to do with it, and it is considered to be as free as air to govern itself. So everybody will tell you; and so inviolate is its freedom that even the prefect of its province dare not infringe upon it – or says so when he wants to get out of any trouble.

Anybody who pays five francs’ worth of taxes has a communal vote in this free government and helps to elect a body of thirty persons who in turn elect a council of seven persons, who in turn elect a a single person called a syndic, or as you would call him in English, a mayor. This distilling and condensing process sounds quite admirable in theory. Whoever has the patience to read the pages of this book will see how this system works in practice.

Now, in Vezzaja and Ghiralda the thirty persons do nothing but elect the seven persons, the seven do nothing but elect the one person, and the one person does nothing but elect his secretary; and the secretary, with two assistants dignified respectively by the titles of chancellor and conciliator, does everything in the way of worry to the public that the ingenuity of the official mind can conceive. The secretary’s duties ought to be the duties of a secretary everywhere, but by a clever individual can be brought to mean almost anything you please in the shape of local tyranny and extortion; the chancellor (cancelliere) has the task of executing every sort of unpleasantness against the public in general, and sends out his fidus Achates, the usher, all kinds of summons and warrants at his will and discretion; as for the conciliator (giudice conciliatore) his office as his name indicates, is supposed to consist in conciliation of all local feuds, disputes and debts, but as he is generally chiefly remarkable for an absolute ignorance of law and human nature, and for a general tendency to accumulate fees anywhere and anyhow, he is not usually of the use intended, [my emphasis] and rather is famous for doing what a homely phrase calls setting everybody together by the ears…Power is sweet and when you are a little clerk you love its sweetness quite as much as if you were an emperor, and maybe you love it  a good deal more.   

She elaborates further: Tyranny is a very safe amusement in this liberated country. Italian law is based on that blessing to mankind, the Code Napoleon, and the Code Napoleon is perhaps the most ingenious mechanism for human torture that the human mind has ever constructed. In the cities, its use for torment is not quite so easy, because where there are crowds there is always the fear of a riot and besides there are horrid things called newspapers , and citizens wicked enough and daring enough to write in them. But away in the country, the embellished and filtered Code Napoleon can work like a steam plough; there is nobody to appeal and nobody to appeal to. The people are timid and perplexed; they are as defenceless as the sheep in the hand of the shearer; they are frightened at the sight of the printed papers and the carabinier’s [sic} sword. There is nobody to tell them they have rights , and besides, rights are very expensive luxuries anywhere and cost as much to take care of as a carriage horse.

In Village Commune Ouida dissects the family lives of unfortunate peasants in 19th Century Italy. I believe that many of these soul destroying Italian tragedies are on a par with the famous Greek plays left to us by Aeschylus or Sophocles. There is much irony within the pages of Village Commune

There are far too many long sentences, semi-colons and commas in this book, but they take nothing away from the wit, sarcasm and  beautiful prose flowing from Ouida’s pen. I highly recommend this wonderful little book… if you can find a copy.

* *********************************************************************

Ouida's headstone.jpg



Ouida Tomb

OUIDA’S TOMB in Bagni di Lucca


‘Nature she knew by heart: on birds and flowers
She could discourse for hours and hours and hours.
Sententious, sentimental, repetitious, she
Would never choose one word if there were three. Pith was her weakness;
clichés were her strength. And here she lies now, as she wrote, at length.’
– Christopher Stace, from ‘At first seeing Ouida’s tomb in Bagni di Lucca’ as published in The New Yorker 



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This page, including text and images are copyright to Anne Frandi-Coory 2 August 2015 All Rights Reserved 


Italia Frandi’s Daughter, Elvira Corich Pengelly, Reminisces  About Her Life Within The Extended Frandi Family. 

Pam Frandi Parkhill, Francesco Frandi’s grand-daughter,  was a great friend to Elvira Corich Pengelly, who was Italia Frandi’s daughter. Pam thought it essential to record these memories on tape as a valuable resource of Frandi Family history.  The story telling took place in the lounge of Elvira’s home at 54 Weld Street, Wellington, not long before she died in 1996.  Anne Frandi-Coory transcribed the interview from the tape recording in September 2005.


Copy of IMG_0513

Pam Frandi Parkhill, Tony Pengelly, Elvira’s son, with Anne Frandi-Coory 2005

[Elvira is sometimes referred to as ‘Vera’, and her uncle Francesco as ‘Frank’ in the recording.  Francesco Frandi is Alfredo’s oldest brother. Francesco’s wife, Assunta, ran off with a neighbour and left him with four young children, including William who was Pam Frandi Parkhill’s father.]

Elvira Begins by Talking About Her First Cousin Amelia Frandi.

Francesco’s  only surviving daughter, Amelia, called Millie by her family,  was twelve years older than Elvira.  Elvira’s  mother Italia   included Amelia in many outings with her own daughter.   But Amelia was an embarrassment to Italia in many ways.  Elvira was always well groomed and dressed beautifully, as shown in the many photos of her, while Amelia always appeared unkempt.  Amelia loved food and although there was always plenty to eat, she frequently “stole food and hid it under her bed, and” Elvira went on,  “Amelia wasn’t to be trusted when you took her visiting.”    This was because after their visits “things would be missing from the house.”

In 1913, when Amelia  was 23 years old, she gave birth to a son out of wedlock, Kenneth Maxwell Frandi.  His father’s name was not recorded on any documents.  Kenneth died when he was three years old as the result of recurrent erysipelas (Fever and deep red inflammation of the skin)  toxaemia over  three months.  On 27 July 1917,  Amelia gave birth to another son, Maxwell Lawrence,  who, it is believed,  was later  adopted by  Cecil Taylor, the man Amelia would  eventually marry in 1922.  Elvira describes Cecil as “a first class boozer” although Amelia didn’t drink alcohol as far as she knew.   Maxwell was re-named Albert Taylor, and  their daughter Jean was born in 1925.  Before she was married, Amelia worked for the Richard Seddon household as a house maid.

Francesco, the Pierotti and Russo Families

Francesco’s  wife Assunta Pierotti left him with 9 year old Amelia, and three young sons, the youngest,  4 year old William, after they had been married for 11 years.  They had two other daughters who died in infancy.   Read: Francesco Garibaldi Frandi and Assunta Mary Pierotti.   Assunta  moved in with Charles Barnett in Whiteman’s Valley, Hutt Valley in Wellington, and they  subsequently  moved to Tasmania after the birth of their 11 children there.  Two more children were born to them in Tasmania.  They never married as Francesco and Assunta were both Roman Catholics and could not divorce. Assunta and Charles Barnett’s children did not know their parents  were unmarried, nor did they know that Assunta had left behind four children  and a husband until after Assunta had died.

Francesco’s parents, his sister Italia and his sister-in-law, Italia Pierotti Russo (auntie Kate) helped raise his four children after Assunta’s departure.   Italia Pierotti married Bartolomeo (Bartolo) Russo, who emigrated from Stromboli Italy, and the Russo family bought property at  Rona Bay in Wellington.   As Elvira explains, “it is situated between Days Bay and Muratai,  which was quite classy even then, and Rona Bay was  often called Russo Bay because of the influence the Russo family had in the area”.  Elvira remembers her mother quite often taking her over to the Russo’s, usually on a Sunday.  They were very friendly people and had many visitors.  She recalls that Rona Bay was just a “big beach” in those days, and quite undeveloped, but there was a ferry travelling around the bays.   Elvira’s son Tony Pengelly, elaborates, and tells us that he clearly remembers the trips to Rona Bay with his  mother and grandmother Italia  on the ferry called  Cobar.

Italia Pierotti Russo (auntie Kate) and her parents

Italia Russo’s parents Cesare and Luisa Pierotti embarked from Livorno to New Zealand when she was two years old.  She and Bartolo  lived in “a huge white house with a verandah all the way around it, which all the children used to play on and run around and at times the noise was deafening” recalls Elvira.  All the while “auntie Kate would be working like a slave cooking lovely meals, and she also looked after the garden, which was beautiful, with vegetables and flowers”, remembers Elvira with admiration.  When visitors were about to leave “auntie Kate would load them up with grapes and tomatoes, she had a big heart.”  “It was such a happy place,  and I loved going there”, reminisced Elvira, “because there was music; mandolin, banjo and wind instruments, and I liked playing with auntie Kate’s son Miro who was just a bit younger than me.”

Italia and Bartolo had four other children; Rita who was closer in age  to Elvira’s sister Helena, Caterina, Bartolo and Cesare.  Eventually “the sons moved to a stud farm in Cambridge”.  Some of the family also lived in Tinakori Road for a time, an area where other ethnic groups lived.

The Makara Farm in Karori

Frandi farm at Makara Wgtn

Makara Farm Front row L t R: Aristodemo, Amelia and Helena sitting on front step, Annunziata, Menotte standing beside her, Antonio and Yolande standing in front doorway, Italia seated in front of them.


Another favourite place Elvira loved to visit was the farm at Makara on the outskirts of Wellington,  which the Frandi family owned.  It was such a treat for her and there was a girl her age about a mile away who she often played with.  She and her mother and other relatives would often walk down to the beach which was “a horrible beach really, full of rocks and stones” but it was nice to be so close to the sea.  Often when her mother was too busy to go, Francesco and his  son William, would take her out to the farm.  “My mother used to feel so guilty because she did not always have time to take me out there.   We would go out to the farm on Friday night and return to the city at 7am Monday morning  after the men had done the milk run on the horse and cart.”  There is laughter in Elvira’s voice as she relates the story of the farm horse.  “The men would drive the horse and cart to the city to pick us up, and the horse would know where to go, because the men would be so tired after a long day on the farm, that they would nod off, but the horse just kept going until it came to the Makara farm gate, and then stop”.  More giggles.  “The horse always whinnied when it got to the gate, so the men would wake up and jump down to open the farm gates.”


Milk truck

Milk Cart

Then Elvira remembers, with another  chuckle, something else about the horse.   “Granny Frandi (Annunziata) would have all the windows open – and when she baked she would put the scones or the rice buns on the sill to cool.  But of course that horse could smell the baking, and steal the food, while granny was busy elsewhere.  Then suddenly we could all  hear granny shouting ‘that bloody horse!’ at the top of her voice”.

Elvira describes the farmhouse layout.  “At the back of the house, there was a huge vegetable garden,  and [from there] you would walk into a kind of shed where water was boiled in a big copper  and the water [pipes] was attached to the back of the open fire and coal range”.  This shed was where everyone left their coats and shoes before entering the farmhouse  kitchen.   The farm workers slept in the hay loft, “but they didn’t put boys and girls together, that wouldn’t have been right”.

Socialising at the Farm.

After milking was over and the evening meal finished, the adults would play cards.  “The house opposite belonged to the Post Mistress and there was an Anglican and a Catholic church further down the road, so everyone was catered for”, Elvira tells us.   Neighbours would  “congregate outside the Post Mistress’ house when they collected their mail or bought something from the attached small shop”.     Evidently, it was  a good meeting place to stand and chat.  Everyone liked to go to the local dance, but William was so shy “he would just stand there and watch everyone else dance”.  “At the dance hall there was a ladies’ dressing room where mothers could look after babies and put them into the little beds at the hall,  and there was beer and tea available”.    “But”, Elvira suddenly recalled, “the men had to put on their milking gear and go to work straight after the dance!”

Amelia’s Three Brothers.

Describing her cousin Menotte as “happy go lucky, although a shingle short”, Elvira adds,  “but he was very fond of my sister Helena”, intimating  this redeemed his shortcomings.    Menotte’s brothers  “Ricciotti  and William  were very reserved and shy  but everyone got along with each other very well on the farm”.  Ricciotti was a “terrible gambler”, and there was a casino not far from where the family lived in Wingfield Street, “but he was very hard to get to know”.  The extended Frandi family and their friends “loved going to the farm because it was such a happy place”, says Elvira dreamily, “and there used to be singalongs most nights, although everyone usually went to bed very early because the men had to get up about 5am to milk the cows and do the milk run”.  Life at the farm was based on  “a lot of friendships where there was an old record player, you know with the  huge sound trumpet, and the women did embroidery, mending and made cushions.  Granny Frandi was great at mending clothes, she was very, very neat.  There was always a lot of laughter”,  cackles Elvira as she relates those warm, happy times, “and  although Francesco was very quiet he liked company, and there were a lot of sing songs”.   Elvira illustrates, “Uncle Enrico played the clarinet,  Uncle Antonio the trombone and the trumpet, while uncle Ateo played the piano.  Uncle Alfred liked to sing and play the fool!     There is a photo somewhere of uncle Antonio taken at the front door of the farmhouse”   continues Elvira, “where there were two bedrooms there  at the front, two more further down the hall and then a double bedroom which was grandpa and granny’s.  Then you walked into a big room which was the dining  and sitting room combined, and the kitchen was off that”, she finishes.

Elvira, Italia and the Convent.

Italia & Vera

Italia and and her daughter Elvira


Elvira once again turns the conversation back to her beloved mother, Italia.  “We were forbidden, as children, to play outside in the street [Wingfield Street, Wellington] but my mother was quite happy for us to play on the huge lawn in the front of the house. She was very kind and my friends were often invited over for treats.  One  day my playmates  were overheard by my mother to say that ‘Vera will get the strap’, and my mother questioned the girl as to why.  My playmate then explained to my mother that on Monday mornings at school the Mother Superior would ask at assembly for those who did not attend Sunday School to raise their hands.  And those who raised their hands got six  straps on the hand which really hurt.  After a couple of times I did not raise my hand any longer, to avoid the strap”.  Elvira says her mother was furious and felt that the convent school was turning her daughter into a liar.  “So”, Elvira carries on, “my mother goes to the convent and says to the Mother Superior, ‘I am Elvira’s mum, is it true that if the girls do not go to Sunday School, they get the strap?’  ‘Yes’,  replied the nun, ‘that is our ruling’.  My mother next explains to the austere nun  ‘I can rarely go out, and the weekend is the only chance my daughter gets to go out to the Makara farm’.  Then my  mother lectures, ‘I think that you should check with each family about what their situation is – you are just encouraging my daughter to lie so she wont get the strap!’ So my mother removed me to a State School”, Elvira tells me with unconcealed pride.   “But my mother did send me back to the convent years later to learn music”,  she adds quickly.

Elvira Growing Up.

Elvira talks of her teenage years which she describes as “good”.  “Cabaret had just started and I had nice things to wear, because mother was more affluent then, she even had a cigarette holder!  These were the days of the Charleston;  good times for me, and life started for me when I was 17 or 18 years old”.  Then she speaks lovingly of Italia again, “The  good things about me were all because of my mother’s upbringing, she was strict but very kind”.   And obviously very talented and a good business woman.   Italia was an accomplished dressmaker and clothes designer, and Elvira says her mother worked long hours, as she was a widow with no other means of support.  “My mother was a great dressmaker and had many clients, who would call on her with descriptions of clothes they had seen at DIC and Kirkcaldies”,  Elvira continues, the pride and love for her mother evident in her voice.  “So she would walk to those stores and look at the respective garments and go home and copy them”.   Italia had a tailor’s table upon which she cut out all the patterns and fabrics,  and Elvira often heard her mother tell her clients, “on the funny phone we had”, ‘please do call in and if you like what I have done I’ll make it for you in the fabric of your choice’.   She was a great dressmaker.”

Shops in the City

16 Murphy St Fernglen

‘FERNGLEN’ 16 Murphy Street, Wellington, where Francesco and his sister Italia lived and ran a boarding house


Elvira then discusses the shops in the vicinity of 20  Wingfield Street where the family lived before moving to 16 Murphy Street, which was  a boarding house as well.  The other streets are “Molesworth, Hill and Aitken Streets”,  The shops include a “shoe repair, Prestons Butchers, horse and cart yard, and a big house with a very long verandah”.  On the corner of Wingfield Street there was a Chinese shop with accommodation.  “Our house had three steps up to the entrance, all the houses seemed to have three steps up to the doors”, noted Elvira as an aside.  “In those days the Chinese had pigtails and they wore black caps, and kids would always try to pull their pigtails or else pull their caps off.  They used to get angry and chase the kids with a knife, awful choppers they were”.  This evokes memories of her dear sister Helena who was 14 years older than she.    Even though most of the memories were happy ones for Elvira, there is obvious poignancy  in her voice when she speaks  of Helena, who died at the age of 30.  The large age difference meant that Helena would have been like a second mother to Elvira, who was sixteen when her sister died and it would have had quite an effect on her young life.  Elvira elicits  that the Chinese  “thought the world of Helena”.


Elvira & Helena Italia's girls

Elvira and Helena in beautiful costumes made by their mother, Italia


The Neighbourhood

Elvira’s tone picks up again.  “There was a small cake shop, then a wood and coal yard.  Oh, and a fish shop and the grocer’s store.  Opposite was the Prime Minister’s residence [Pipitea St] and the Post Office, and then along further there was the drapers and grocer’s shop combined, they had half of the shop each.   And then there was the driveway and the baker’s shop, with a lane [Collina Tce]  beside it”.  The family was surrounded by all the suppliers they needed.  Elvira then remembered that there was another Street next to the lane called “Hawkestone Street where there was a pub called the Shamrock which also had accommodation and I liked to go into the greengrocer’s shop. There were also lots of shops around Molesworth Street  and a side street led to Tinakori Road which was very primitive, but it was all very friendly.  My mother used to let me buy sixpence worth of broken biscuits as a treat, but she would say ‘now don’t eat the chocolate ones, Elvira’ ”

Doreen’s Life Within Her Family

Frandi girls

Anne Frandi-Coory’s mother, Doreen with her younger sisters Joyce and Betty (photo: Karen Albert)

Italia always felt sorry for her niece Doreen as “she had a pretty hard childhood”, Italia had one day told Elvira.   “She was the eldest girl and was responsible for helping around the house and caring for the three younger  girls, Joyce, Betty and then Anne”  and it was evident that Doreen was very attached to Italia.  Anne, her youngest sister,   also has stories to tell about the hardships of Doreen’s life, and the  heartbreaking  events  she was a witness to.    Although there were 16 years difference in their ages, Doreen and Anne were very close.  Doreen’s son Kevin was also a part of the many  sad times in her life and speaks eloquently of them.  It is attested to by several members of the family, that Doreen’s mother Maria, or Millie as she was known within the family, was a morose woman in looks and in nature, and there are very few photos of her looking happy.  Doreen reminded Tony very much of her mother Maria, in her features  and demeanor; fragile and anxious.

Anne with Freddy and Reggie

Doreen’s youngest sister, Anne Frandi Albert (photo: Karen Albert)


Elvira’s First Wedding

Elvira spends some time talking about her first marriage to William (Bill) Meban, whose photos show a very handsome man, with dark swarthy looks.   “We were engaged after only knowing each other for three months”, she explains, with mirth in her voice.  “My mother and both families had set a date, but Bill didn’t want to wait for that date, he wanted to get married straight away”.    Pam states, “your mother didn’t get a chance to make the wedding dress”.   “Well, yes and no”  replies Elvira, and then she tells us that she and Bill decide that  they will get married on a week night and plan for their secret event meticulously.  “Bill was an engineer on the Ripple,  a New Zealand Coastal ship, and we knew it had to be that particular week or we would have to wait for his next trip home”.  Elvira then explains the hectic timetable they had devised for themselves.  “I had a singing lesson that afternoon at the convent, which would explain why I was dressed to go out, and it was my chore to prepare the dinner that night, so I bought something quick to cook.  Bill  would be at our place for dinner, so we  could head down to the Registry Office as soon as dinner was finished.”   Elvira then says with girlish giggle, “I made a dessert for tea,  it was huge – to last two or three days I told everyone”, but in reality it was to be for their wedding breakfast.  “We left separately, and then met up at the Registry Office, and we had  two witnesses, Edith Brown and the ship’s Chief Engineer.  As we prepared for the ceremony, Bill suddenly exclaimed, ‘Vera, look at your frock!’ and I looked down to see blood had dripped onto it from the quick steak meal” she laughs.   “I had borrowed that dress from Uncle Alfred’s wife Maria”, Elvira tells us.  It is unclear  whether Auntie Maria was in on the secret wedding plans.

Time To Own Up

So Elvira and Bill were married in secret, but their consciences soon got the better of them;   “My mother didn’t deserve this treatment”, they had reasoned, “and we were worried someone might notice the ring.  On his next trip home, we were sitting at the dinner table, all chatty and bright, when uncle Frank observed, smiling,  ‘We’re a very jolly family tonight’ and looking over at family friend Skipper Bates, he asked, ‘have you been drinking Bates?’”  Things started to get out of hand, their guilt consuming them, and after six weeks of subterfuge,  Bill insisted to Elvira, “you have to tell your mother!”  Elvira’s cackle filters through the noisy tape as she says “The marriage hadn’t even been consummated, even then.”   Italia took the news well, although surprised and worried, “You wont be well received in Napier”, she cautioned.  “Of course, mother was right, and Bill’s mother was furious!”  and a more serious Elvira continues, “She called me a slut and asked Bill when the baby was due, to which he replied  ‘there is no baby’”.  Elvira and Bill agree to a second wedding ceremony in 1923 at Old St Paul’s Church down the road from  Wingfield Street,  ”because Mrs Meban performed so much.”  Elvira’s  father had died when she was four years old, so  Francesco gave her away.   But Elvira goes on to say  that things were “never really reconciled with the Meban family”. She enlightens us further,   “Bill’s father was a shoemaker and his brother was a sheep farmer in Napier”

Elvira Bill Meban

Bill and Elvira Meban Wedding


What might have been

Elvira confides that she and Bill had often discussed having children and what faith they might bring the children up in.   And what church would they marry in?   “Well we got married in an Anglican Church, my mother was a Roman Catholic and Bill was a Presbyterian”.  However, Italia was relatively unconcerned, counselling her daughter that  “God means you to be happy, so you decide, it’s up to you”.

Elvira’s Loss

Tragedy was about to strike the young couple.   You could sense the sadness as the details of the tragedy slowly emerge;  “I remember there was a severe storm that night [1924].  Oh there were often bad storms, but this was worse than the others.   I got up in the morning after a sleepless night, and on the way to the bathroom, I could hear my mother talking to a lady,  ‘You had a busy night last night, with the phone ringing constantly’”.    Elvira recalls that the lady had  replied  “Get a good breakfast into Vera, the ship was wrecked with all lives lost in that  terrible storm.”   The news was absolutely devastating for Elvira.  “Bill was in the engine room – not a hope of getting out, and Bill had always told me that the ship was a death trap.   And the strange thing was, the Chief Engineer  died in the night, the same hour as Bill died in the shipwreck, but he was in hospital with peritonitis,”  she finishes quietly, obviously the memory is still painful for her after so many years have passed, and she changes the subject.

By all accounts, Elvira never really got over the heartbreaking loss of her first love, Bill.   But Elvira was no stranger to tragedy, and neither was her mother. They lost a father and husband, Pietro Corich in 1906, a much loved  sister and daughter, Helena, in the 1918 ‘flu epidemic, and the child Helena was carrying. Italia also had to deal with the death of one of her favourite brothers, Ateo, in WW1 at Gallipoli.

Elvira married her second husband Melville Pengelly in 1931.  She died 7 May 1996 and is survived by her only son Anthony John Pengelly.


Thank you to Pam Frandi Parkhill and Tony Pengelly for their contribution to this piece of Frandi Family history.

***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photograph can be copied or downloaded from this page without the written permission of Anne Frandi-Coory.***


Francesco Frandi and Assunta Pierotti were married in December 1888 when Assunta was pregnant with their first child, Bella Italia Rosina Satina  who was born 13 July 1889.  Bella died on 20 February 1890 from exhaustion after a severe bout of diarrhea and vomiting. Assunta was about four months pregnant at the time with their second daughter, Amelia Fatima Elena.

The couple then had two sons, Menotte Garibaldi and Ricciotti Orlando.  A third daughter Olivia Stella died shortly after her birth on 11 February 1894. Their last child, William Donald, was only about  four years old when Assunta left and moved in with Charles Barnett.

Assunta’s sister Italia (Kate) Colorinda Pierotti married Bartolomeo Russo whose parents were Domenico and Josephine Castellano Russo. Kate also suffered tragedy; she gave birth to a set of twins who died in infancy.  Kate and Italia Frandi, Francesco’s sister, helped to rear Francesco’s four surviving children. Nevertheless, the four children, and Amelia especially, had a difficult early life, which I document fully in my book Whatever Happened To Ishtar?

Cesare and Luisa Armita Pierotti were Assunta and Kate’s parents.  Cesare’s gravestone bears the inscription, “He fought for the independence of Italy in 1860”. Both are buried in Karori cemetery.

Charles and Assunta eventually left Wellington for Tasmania after the birth of 11 children.  Another two children were born in Tasmania, where
Assunta was the business manager of the successful partnership – Charles could not read as he only attended school for a day. Assunta read the newspapers to him. They owned a boat building company; Charles built a yacht, and they had shares in a timber mill and a hotel. He also built eight houses.

Francesco never agreed to divorce Assunta, so she and Charles Barnett were never married. One day while Assunta’s grand daughter was brushing her hair she suggested to Assunta that she should make a will. Assunta replied that “it would be a bit difficult”. When she died there was no will and the family discovered in disbelief that their mother wasn’t married to their father and then they discovered photos of her four children to Francesco that she had abandoned in New Zealand. The family just didn’t want to believe that their dear mother could abandon her children! Kate and Assunta corresponded regularly and Kate kept her sister fully informed about the children’s lives.  Amelia, one of those four children, contested probate and she and her three brothers received a settlement which was confidential. Marcus, Assunta’s son, helped his father, Charles Barnett, to fight the claims from New Zealand.

Assunta buried money as she did not trust banks-neither did her mother Luisa or sister Italia (Kate). When Luisa died money was found stored in bamboo curtains, a large suitcase and pillows. She often tied money around her legs.

Assunta Pierotti

Assunta Mary Pierotti Frandi

Francesco Frandi

Francesco Garibaldi Frandi

Frandi farm close up

The Frandi farm at Makara, Karori, in Wellington where the extended Frandi family enjoyed some happy days. L to R Aristodemo Frandi, Francesco’s daughter Amelia and Italia’s daughter Helena seated on step, Annunziata, with Menotte standing beside her. Antonio and Yolande are standing in doorway, Italia seated in front of them.


Menotte & William Frandi

Two of Francesco and Assunta’s sons Ricciotti and William Frandi


When Assunta left Francesco for Charles, the couple remained in Wellington for some years until they moved to Tasmania. One of the reasons Francesco’s son William moved to Waimate after he was married, was because (according to William’s son Bryan), of the continued embarrassment  William felt about his mother’s abandonment of her first four children and her affair with another man. In those days, Wellington was a small town, and Charles and Assunta originally lived together not far from where Francesco and his children lived. William remained a very shy man who hardly spoke. Bryan told me that when he was a child, he rarely heard his father speak, and as a consequence he didn’t utter a word either.

Assunta Pierotti Frandi 2nd family (Barnett)

Charles Barnett and Assunta with their thirteen children in Scottsdale, Tasmania 1913  (Photo: A Lockwood)



Assunta and Charles Barnett eventually left Wellington New Zealand for Tasmania on 10 December 1910, after the birth of 11 of their children. Another two children were born in Tasmania. The Barnett family had owned land in ‘White Man’s Valley’ near Wellington but had sold most of the farm when they decided to move  to North Eastern Tasmania.

The Barnett family eventually became closely associated with the development of Bridport for the following seventy years after their arrival in Tasmania. Initially the family lived in Scottsdale for two years after which time they purchased one thousand acres in the Cuckoo Valley area. They cleared the land and bought livestock for their new farm.

When the Forester Mill was being established, Charles helped install some of the machinery and lay the railway track to the mill. The tramway extended  from Mt Horror to Bridport from where the timber was shipped. After five years working in the Mt Horror timber industry, Charles built a boarding house, now the town’s hotel. In 1929 he built more rooms onto the boarding house and later built eight houses. Charles built the first store in Bridport.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the couple’s oldest son George enlisted and took part in the landings at Gallipoli.  In a twist of irony, Francesco Frandi’s three sons Menotte, Ricciotti and William, also enlisted.

In 1912, Charles purchased one of the blocks offered for sale in the then new part of Bridport, near the Timber and Tramway Company’s jetty.  On this he built a substantial family home. Charles was also credited with starting the town’s fishing industry in 1915 and he also played a large role in the establishment of Bridport’s holiday ‘Canvas Town’.  Today, the Barnett family remains closely linked with the fishing industry and descendants own and run a well known restaurant there.


See Family Tree at bottom of this page……

Charles Barnett & Assunta

Charles Barnett and Assunta Pierotti Frandi at their home in Bridport



1-Assunta Mary Pierotti FRANDI b. 15 May 1872, Leghorn Italy, d. 20 Apr 1949, Tasmania
+Francesco Garibaldi FRANDI b. 10 Jan 1866, Lugano, d. 20 Jul 1929, Wellington Hospital
2-Bella Italia Rosina Satina FRANDI b. 13 Jul 1889, Tasman Street Wellington, d. 20 Feb 1890, Tasman Street
2-Amelia Fatima Elena FRANDI b. 31 Jul 1890, Wellington, d. 2 Nov 1967
2-Menotte Garibaldi FRANDI b. 6 Sep 1891, Wellington, d. 5 Apr 1947, Silverstream Hospital Wellington
2-Ricciotti Orlando FRANDI b. 2 Nov 1892, Wellington, d. 18 Jan 1952, 49 Devon St Wellington
2-Olivia Stella FRANDI b. 11 Feb 1894, Wellington, d. 1894
2-William Donald FRANDI b. 28 Apr 1895, Wellington, d. 29 Jul 1971, Post Office At Waimate
+Charles Thomas BARNETT b. 13 Dec 1872, Brighton, Victoria, d. 13 Aug 1963, Tasmania
2-George BARNETT b. 7 Mar 1896, Wellington, d. 23 Apr 1972
2-Rose FRANDI b. 18 Jun 1897, Wellington, d. 18 Jan 1994
2-Marcus BARNETT b. 10 Oct 1898, Wellington, d. 20 Dec 1953
2-Eli BARNETT b. 7 Jan 1900, Wellington, d. 1953
2-Charles BARNETT b. 28 Aug 1901, Wellington, d. 1956
2-Violet (Jo) BARNETT b. 3 Mar 1903, Wellington
2-Remus (Bully) BARNETT b. 20 Mar 1904, Wellington, d. 18 Dec 1971
2-Totara BARNETT b. 20 Mar 1904, Wellington
2-Avena BARNETT b. 29 Apr 1906, Wellington
2-William BARNETT b. 27 Nov 1907, Wellington, d. 29 May 1984
2-Albert (Ab) BARNETT b. 6 Jun 1909, Wellington, d. 6 Feb 1980
2-Miro (Midge) BARNETT b. 27 May 1911, Tasmania, d. 14 Mar 1971
2-Gertrude BARNETT b. 31 Jan 1913, Tasmania


1-Cesare PIEROTTI b. 1842, Leghorn Italy, d. 15 Oct 1918, Wellington
+Luisa Armita PIEROTTI b. 1853, Italy, d. 12 Dec 1929, Wellington
2-Italia (Kate) Colorinda Pierotti RUSSO
2-Assunta Mary Pierotti FRANDI b. 15 May 1872, Leghorn Italy, d. 20 Apr 1949, Tasmania


Remembering Them in Our Street Names – FRANDI STREET


At 5.45pm on Friday 8th May 2015, the 100th anniversary of Ateo Frandi’s death at Gallipoli, a small ceremony to unveil a sign commemorating Captain Frandi was held at Frandi Street, Thorndon in Wellington, New Zealand.

Frandi Street in Thorndon is a quiet little residential cul de sac, once known as Grant Road North, and then briefly as High Street. On 14 June 1917 Wellington City Council confirmed a change of name to Frandi Street.


Ateo Giusto Leale Frandi 1873 – 1915


Frandi Street is named after Captain Ateo Giusto Leale Frandi, of the Wellington Infantry Battalion, who was killed at the second battle of Krithia. There are several versions of his death at the ’Daisy Patch’, either by machine gun fire or a sniper. Occasional references say he was killed on May 6th but the clear consensus is the 8th of May 1915.

With stalemate in the ANZAC area, ANZAC commander General Birdwood had sent Australian and New Zealand troops to support British, French and Indian troops attempting to capture the village of Krithia which lay between the ANZAC landing beaches and the British and French landings near Cape Helles at the southern end of the Gallipoli peninsula. Repeated attacks across open ground under heavy machine gun and rifle fire achieved temporary gains of barely a few hundred metres of ground and cost some 6300 Allied killed or wounded including 835 New Zealanders over just 4 days. Most of the dead including Captain Frandi were never identified, and were buried near where they died. After the war bodies were re-interred at nearby Twelve Tree Copse cemetery. One hundred and seventy-nine New Zealanders including Captain Frandi are commemorated there on the New Zealand memorial.

Ateo Frandi was born in Pisa, Italy on May 4th 1873, the second son of Annunziata and Aristodemo,  emigrating from Italy with his parents and two siblings to New Zealand in 1876. At the time of enlisting he was single, a piano tuner by trade, and was registered as living at 16 Murphy Street, Wellington. He had also worked for the DIC department store, and was an active member of the Garibaldi Club. See post re Frandi family’s arrival in New Zealand in 1876 OKURU SETTLEMENT

Captain Frandi had spent 24 years in the volunteers and territorials in Wellington, and for many years commanded the 31 Company (Wellington) Senior Cadets. He was rated as ‘one of the first authorities in infantry drill in New Zealand.’ His YMCA Cadets had won the New Zealand competitions for two years straight.   How Great Uncle Ateo’s War Service Medal found me.

In 1912 a dispute between Captain Frandi and the Defence Department over seniority between Captain Frandi and another officer was widely reported throughout the country and even referred to in Parliament on a number of occasions. Captain Frandi originally resigned over the dispute, but retracted his resignation and was able to resume his command of the Cadets.

Wellington was the embarkation port for some 60% of our soldiers, and Captain Frandi’s unit embarked for Egypt on 14 December 1914 with the Second Reinforcements. He arrived in Suez on 28 January 1915 and landed at ANZAC Cove on April 25th.

Major-General Godley, commanding the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli wrote, reporting Captain Frandi’s death – published in the Evening Post, “He did so much good service in Wellington that it should be known how well he did on active service” and “His company all say that they have never known any officer who gained so rapidly the confidence and liking of the men under him, and his bravery and fearlessness and qualities of leadership were most conspicuous.”

All the Frandi brothers enlisted; Lance Corporal Antonio Raffaello Frandi served in the 1st NZRB B Company, Driver.  Alfredo Giusseppe Frandi (Anne Frandi-Coory’s grandfather and youngest brother of Ateo) and nephew, Driver Ricciotti (Richard)  Frandi, were both in the Main Body Field Artillery. Nephew, Gunner William Donald Frandi, was in the 7th Field Artillery, and nephew Menotte Frandi also served. Nephew William Frandi, a gunner with the Field Artillery was reported wounded in the Evening Post of 27 September 1916 which said three others of the family were also serving at that point.


Menotte & William Frandi

Ateo’s nephews Ricciotti and William Frandi


Ateo’s Will named as first beneficiary  his sister Italia Corich and her daughters Helena and Elvira. The Pension Board granted his parents support in November 1915 on receiving confirmation that he had financially supported them. His father Aristodemo died aged 86 in 1919, and mother Annunziata aged 79 in 1920.

Captain Frandi was clearly held in high esteem. A concert in his memory was held by the Senior Cadets on the first of November 1915 in the Wellington Town Hall.

When the Carillon was built as a memorial to those who had served in the War, most of its 49 bells were named for specific battles, and in memory of individual soldiers. Captain Frandi’s sister, Italia, paid for bell number 30, ‘Krithia’, in his memory. His mother donated a memorial shield for the Cadets, now held at the Army Museum in Waiouru.

I saw Captain Frandi’s name on one of the white crosses of remembrance at each of several local school and community commemorations recently. At ANZAC commemorations we say ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.’ This Friday 8th as the sun goes down at 5.45, we will remember one of those men, as was intended when the Council of 1917 renamed a little street in Thorndon.

This post is taken from an article specially written by Wellington City Councillor, Andy Foster, for the commemoration of Frandi Street.

Photographs by Neil Price.


Frandi St 4Frandi St 1


Frandi St 5

Bugler, Andrew Weir, plays The Last Post

Frandi St 7

Left to right: Paul Glennie WCC, Andy Foster WCC, Italian Ambassador His Excellency Carmelo Barbarello, Captain Paul Prouse Officer Commanding Wellington Company 5/7 Battalion RNZ  Infantry Regiment, Sub Lieutenant Sean Audain (HMNZS Olphert)

Frandi St 2

The Last Post following Andy Foster’s reading of the dedication to Ateo Frandi.


Frandi St 3

Wellington City Councillor Andy Foster reads a statement by Anne Frandi-Coory on behalf of descendants of Ateo’s parents, Annunziata and Aristodemo Frandi.

On behalf of all descendants of Aristodemo and Annunziata Frandi, I would like to thank Andy Foster along with Wellington City Council for this commemoration to Ateo Frandi for his long  and dedicated service to the New Zealand Armed Forces. Ateo was greatly influenced  by his father, Aristodemo, in fighting for a country he loved. Aristodemo was a brave fighter in Italy’s struggle to free itself from foreign rulers, before he and Annunziata emigrated to New Zealand in 1876.  Ateo in his turn was so proud to be a part of the  ANZAC contingent to Gallipoli, and he urged his brothers and nephews to join up as a duty owed to their country. Ateo Giusto Leale Frandi, we will never forget you or the ultimate sacrifice you made. —- Anne Frandi-Coory

If Jason’s father Ateo (Arthur) Frandi had been reported and convicted for sexually abusing his sister and his step children,  (and possibly others) would Dagmar Pytlickova have been murdered?


Source for article below: The Christchurch Press 31 May 2012 & Herald Sun 30 May 2012


Jason Frandi

>< Waimate police were looking for Jason Frandi the day before his body and that of a Czech hitchhiker tourist were found. Frandi had earlier been informed by a member of the public that a sexual allegation had been made against him and police were worried about what action he might take. The bodies of Frandi, 43, and Dagmar Pytlickova, a 31-year-old woman from the Czech Republic, were found in a rugged forest area near Waimate, on New Zealand’s South Island last  Sunday. It’s alleged that Frandi raped Pylickova before cutting her throat. It’s also alleged that Frandi had admitted 12 years earlier that he planned to rape a young woman and then kill himself. This is a pretty chilling scenario considering what happened at the weekend. Frandi was jailed for three and a half years in 2000 for abducting a 19-year-old Oamaru woman, with the intent of having sex with her.  Media reports at the time said the woman was pushing her bicycle down the street when Frandi forced her into his vehicle. Police praised a bystander who heard her screams and tried to intervene, grabbing the door handle then taking the registration number of the car as it sped off.  Despite his previous convictions, police weren’t keeping a specific eye on Frandi.  Pytlickova, also known as Dasha, arrived in New Zealand in January and had been working at a Cromwell-area vineyard until recently, police said yesterday.  They said she left Cromwell on Saturday and was hitchhiking to the Timaru area when she was picked up by Frandi somewhere between Omarama and Kurow. His car was found parked among some trees near Waimate yesterday, and the hitchhiker’s back pack was found inside the car. ><

Czech Republic tourist, Dagmar Pytlickova


Police believe the pair walked from the car to the spot where their bodies were found by charity event riders, about 3km away. Empty alcoholic drink bottles were scattered around the scene.  Pytlickova’s mobile was turned off at 6.40pm.  Autopsies were conducted yesterday in Christchurch.

Frandi was known around the community as a man with a troubled past.  “I know he could be violent when he was drinking,” resident Annette Dungey, who had known him for many years, said.  “I know that because he told me himself.”


See my essay   My Right To Write My Memoir is it right to expose inter-family abuse?


I found the above news item particularly disturbing in view of that fact that Jason Frandi  was a member  of my maternal extended family. I wrote a book  Whatever Happened To Ishtar?; A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers’  (published 2010 and 2014) after interviewing descendants from the Lebanese and Italian branches of  my family tree, and perusing myriad documents.  In this post about Jason Frandi’s background, I am concentrating on the Italian branch.  During research for Ishtar? I discovered an Italian family history of abandonment, and sexual and physical abuse.

There were many reasons why I wrote ‘Ishtar?’ and although I started writing to exorcise past demons, among them to understand why my own mother, Doreen Frandi, abandoned me when I was an infant, it quickly developed into a far-reaching saga.  See  Letters to Anne Frandi-Coory

Jason Frandi  (43) was the son of Ateo (Arthur) Frandi, b. Wellington, 8 April 1934.  When I interviewed Arthur’s immediate family for my book, they told me that Arthur sexually assaulted his younger  sister in their family home when he was a  teenager.  The only reason the abuse stopped was because Arthur was caught abusing his sister by another brother. Consequently, no other family members knew of the abuse, and it was never reported to police. Following the failure of Arthur’s first marriage to Jason’s mother, Arthur married a woman who had four children from a previous relationship. The marriage broke up when his wife discovered he was a paedophile who had been molesting her children.  I have carefully contemplated this section of the Frandi family history and I wonder whether the rape and  murder of an innocent tourist, Dagmar Pytlickova, by Jason Frandi in May 2012 could have been prevented if his father had been brought to justice many years ago. It appears that Arthur was an abuser from a young age, and there is the possibility that there are many more of his victims out there who are yet to come forward.   It is also possible that Arthur sexually abused his own children, including Jason.

The Frandi family history seems to have taken a wrong turn when Jason’s ancestors, my great grandparents, Annunziata and Aristodemo Frandi fled Italy in 1875 and settled in the barren and wind-swept Okuru Settlement on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  I can’t know for absolute certainty, but according to the Frandi family, their life in Italy was privileged until  the aftermath of the Garibaldi uprising and Risorgimento (Unification). The environment  at Okuru was harsh with no medical facilities, no schools and a lack of food supplies. After persevering at a subsistence level for almost four years the family was moved to Wellington in the North Island, at the cost of the NZ government.  The three children Annunziata and Aristodemo brought with them from Italy were the stalwarts of the family, but later born siblings seemed to have been hewn from a different mould. During my research, I uncovered another paedophile within the family’s ranks, and I write about that extensively in my book.

My grandfather Alfredo Frandi was the youngest son of Annunziata and Aristodemo, and Arthur’s grandfather Francesco was their oldest son.   Francesco had three sons including William who was Arthur’s father.  I interviewed William’s middle son extensively, (Arthur was his oldest son) as well as his wife who told me that her husband had a violent ‘Frandi’ temper which terrified her and her children at times. He also had a severe speech impediment which he himself put down to very poor communication and his deep fear of speaking when he was a child.

This is a small window into the extended family my mother was born into; she witnessed horrendous violence toward her own mother at the hands of her father, Alfredo.  The question is, how much family violence is due to environment and how much is genetic? William Frandi  was abandoned by his mother when he was a toddler and he never really overcame his deprived childhood . She ran off with another man and later moved to Tasmania, and he never saw her again. He had a large extended family who did what they could for William, his two brothers and sister, but the damage was done. All four adult siblings were considered either ‘strange’ or ‘intellectually slow’. All had very troubled and unsettled early lives. According to William’s family, he was a man of very few words and barely spoke to his sons at all. He moved to Waimate soon after his marriage to escape the gossip about his mother.  William was too timid to approach a girl in person so he put an advertisement in the local paper, and eventually married a woman from England.

After writing Ishtar? I came to the conclusion that perhaps one of the best things that ever happened to me was that I was placed in an orphanage at ten months old, as traumatic as that turned out to be.  In my case, I hope it is nurture over nature.


Jason Frandi – He Was My Friend

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