I am descended from two separate families who both travelled on the second voyage of the Marquis de Rays expeditions. I only realised the connection after my uncle Geoff Robertson told me a different version of the same story told by my mother, Karen Kellett. It inspired me to write a song about those pioneering contadini, conned into a new life by the Marquis.
My mother started digging into her Italian ancestry around 2003, including a pilgrimage to the New Italy site. Her great-great-grandparents were Antonio and Giovanna Mellare, contadini from Orsago in the Venuto Province of Treviso. They were among a group who travelled to Barcelona in April 1880, spending a few months in squalid conditions until they boarded the 885 ton steamer India on July 8. Antonio and Giovanna were accompanied by their six children, Zelinda, Trevilgia (Angelina), Lorenzo (Vincent), Giovanni, Catherina and Guidetta (Julia). Zelinda later married one of the single men from that journey, Michael Scarrabelotti, and they had 12 children. Giacomo Bazzo recalled an incident on the voyage when five-year-old Julia Mellare slipped overboard and her father Antonio jumped in to save her.
Independent of this story, my paternal uncle was also researching his side of the family, which he told me about in 2010. It sounded very familiar to me, but with different characters. His story began with Antonio and Giuseppina (Josephine) Feletti from the Treviso village of Santa Lucia di Piave, not far from where the Mellare family had set off. The Felettis were also seduced by the Marquis de Rays’ offer of a new life in New France, taking their infant daughter Mary with them on the India. Mary went on to marry my great-grandfather, Frank Robertson. Frank’s son, my grandfather Harry Robertson, recalled Antonio as a fierce man with a round head, bristly white hair and smelling of snuff.
The Mellares and Felettis finally made it to Sydney in April, 1881, via Port Breton and Noumea. That was where the connection ended as the families dispersed, until I discovered the links to both my parents, Philip Robertson and Karen Kellett, who married in 1968. While both were aware of some Italian heritage, they had no idea their descendants had travelled to Australia on the same perilous voyage until I pieced it together.
When my Uncle Geoff was planning his 70th birthday party in 2015, he asked his relatives to concoct various artistic presentations. Knowing his interest in genealogy, I decided the Italian story was a great basis for a song, and set about writing a tribute to our ancestors. It occurred to me that without the scheming Marquis de Rays, none of us would have been present at those birthday celebrations, so my song became an ironic dig at that French nobleman. Armed with images from various sources, I found there was enough material to create a video for the song, which published under my recording alias of Solo Sidekick. It is the most viewed video on my YouTube and Facebook pages, and is presented here for your enjoyment.
Descendent of Feletti and Mellare families