Born in Foreign Parts- early Doneganis in England

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Born in Foreign Parts- early Doneganis in England
This month we take a look at those Doneganis "Born in Foreign Parts”, focussing on those who settled in England. (We’ll look at Scotland later).

Two things emerged from this mini-study. Firstly, that where historical records are available, they indicate that most of these Doneganis came from the Como area of Lombardy, close to the Swiss border. Secondly, that many were employed in the crafts and trades common to the Como region – the manufacture of barometers, thermometers, optical instruments and carved, gilded picture and looking glass frames. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these crafts were an economic lifeline for the inhabitants of the Como region of Lombardy, most of whom were farmers who earned a basic income from farms which required little work in the winter months. Many families spent the winters producing goods which were taken over the border into Switzerland and onwards, to be finished and sold direct to retail customers or to drapers and other retailers.[1] The range of skills required to make these goods also stood individuals in good stead to branch into other trades such as cabinet maker and optician.

We start with Anthony Donegany, a victualler, who in 1792 took out a fire insurance policy with the Sun Insurance Office for The Ship (Tavern), Gate Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn, London.[2] The pub is still there on the corner of Gate Street and Little Turnstile, though the current building was heavily renovated in the 1920s.[3] Although he was an innkeeper, we also have evidence that Anthony was involved in the barometer trade in the form of a 10” wheel barometer. made in 1795, marked ‘Anthony Donegan, Ship, Turnstile, Holborn’ which sold at auction in 2010. This does not mean that Anthony made it, as it was not uncommon for instrument dials to be engraved with the name of the retailer rather than the maker and indeed this barometer is signed on the inside by the maker, Pietro Del Vecchio of Lewes. So it is more likely that Anthony was a retailer, perhaps displaying the instruments on his pub walls. It is notable that this connection between members of the Donegani and Del Vecchio families was also evident in New York, Montreal and Dublin in the early nineteenth century.[4] We do not know if Anthony had family members in the Holborn area but barometers marked Peter Donegan, P Donegan, P Donevan, L Donegan and Donegan & Co were made in London at this time, [5] but we do not know if these are an anglicised version of Donegani or a Donegan family of Irish origin.

Copyright 2020, P. A. Oxley Antique Clocks and Barometers

Anthony’s involvement with the barometer trade is also suggested by the record of the discharge of Charles Pitsalla from Fleet Prison (a debtor prison in London) in 1805 as this names Anthoni Donegani as a party in the case.[6]  Pitsalla (or Pizzala) was a barometer maker in London during the period 1800-1820, residing at 221 High Holborn, round the corner from The Ship.[7]

Another early English Donegani was Joseph Donegani who married Mary Anouge in Dorchester in 1791. Their first child was baptised in Bath but in 1794 and 1796 they had sons baptised in the Sardinian Chapel at Lincoln’s Inn, just a few minutes’ walk from The Ship. There is a possibility that Joseph was related to Anthony but we must remember that many newly-arrived Italians initially stayed in Holborn and that Mary was also from an Italian émigré family which had settled in Holborn. Joseph was later described on his son’s marriage certificate as an optician which would have involved making as well as dispensing spectacles. Joseph and Mary moved to Hull in the early 1800s and had two more sons baptised in the same Roman Catholic Chapel, and around the same time, as the children of James Pioty (or Piotti) an optician, carver, gilder and looking glass maker of Hull,[8] They later moved to Somerset, settling in Bath.
A second Joseph Donegani was described at his daughter’s baptism in Birmingham in 1818 as being “prope Mediolanum” or from near Milan. Whether he was born there or was en route from Como we do not know. He was a silversmith and jeweller, initially in Birmingham and then in Northampton where he ran a jewellery shop in Gold Street, later moving to George Row and then to Drapery. He also ran jewellery stalls at markets in nearby towns such as Daventry.  In newspaper reports of a burglary at his shop in 1826 it was noted that stock to the value of £200 was stolen [9], the equivilant of around £20,000 today, so we may assume this was a substantial business. However, in the 1841 census he is listed as a looking-glass maker, perhaps using craft skills learnt earlier in Como, with assistance from his eldest son Austin. Austin later left the trade and became a fishmonger in Oundle but Joseph’s second son, William became a gilder and framer (of picture frames) in Birmingham. (See our Notes and Queries item at the end of this blog for more on Joseph Donegani of Northampton).

Northampton Mercury, 28 January 1826,p.3. C The British Library Board.

Austin Donegani is also recorded in the 1841 census for Northampton and is shown as born in Foreign Parts and aged between 30 to 34, [10] We have no direct evidence that he was related to Joseph the jewellery store owner but Joseph's naming of his son Austin may indicate a family connection.  Austin’s occupation was that of a hawker. We have no clues as to what he sold but he appears in historical records in Little Bowden, near Market Harborough in Leicestershire and in Kettering and may be responsible for a barometer marked 'Donegan, Leicester' which is listed by Banfield. [11]
Another early Donegani was Francis Donegan (Donegani) of Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire. Francis married in Newcastle in 1811, had at least one  son, Joseph, and ran a draper's shop in the Ironmarket. He also sold barometers signed in a variety of styles including: Donegan & Co of Newcastle; Donegan & Co of Stafford; F Donegan, Joseph Donegani, Newcastle-under-Lyme and other variations, along with thermometers, looking glasses and frames. The range of his goods is well illustrated by this advertisement in the Staffordshire Advertiser in 1821.

Staffordshire Advertiser, 12th May 1821, p.4.

We may not have recognised Francis as a Donegani but for the press notice shown below, which appeared in the same paper some twelve years later. A few weeks later, Francis sold the substantial contents of his house at auction and, it has been suggested, moved to Canada, though we have not seen any evidence of this. His son Joseph, appears to be the source of the barometers and thermometers sold by Francis. He did not take over the drapery business but continued in his own trade from premises in Lads Lane (off Ironmarket) until around 1840. He then appears, as Joseph Donegani, in census returns for various locations across the Midlands, as a hawker and travelling salesman, possibly selling what he had made.   

Staffordshire Advertiser, 26th October 1833 p.1.

Our own 'Born in Foreign Parts' ancestor – Mark Donegani - was born in Moltrasio, Como in 1809 during the time of the French occupation of Lombardy (1796 to 1814). The earliest historical record we have found for him in England is from 1833 when he donated a guinea to a collection for a monument to be erected to the late Duke of Sutherland overlooking Trentham Hall (now Trentham Gardens). As Trentham is located very close to Newcastle-under-Lyme, there may be a family connection to Francis Donegani (above). We have as yet found no firm evidence for this but note that Mark's father is named as John Donegani on Mark's marriage certificate and a Johannes Donagan was the sponsor for Francis' son Joseph at his baptism in 1814. Mark was notable in that he was not occupied in the trades and crafts followed by the other Doneganis from Italy and in the 1841 census he appears as a manservant at the Sutherlands' newly renovated Lilleshall Hall, Shropshire. From 1851 he was a tenant farmer on the Lilleshall Estate and was also the brewer and Usher of the Hall, earning £21 per annum. Post-pandemic, we hope to spend some time exploring the Sutherland archives further to try find out more about Mark’s early days.   
J. Loch, Memoir of George Granville, late Duke of Sutherland, K.G, (London, 1834), Appendix. Amount donated is in £ s. d.

Finally, arriving in England a little later, was a family group from the Como area who settled in Rochdale. Anthony Donegani was born in Moltrasio in 1829 but migrated to England in 1847 at the age of 17. [12] After arriving in Liverpool, he moved to Manchester for a few years and then moved to Rochdale. Anthony's occupation was that of a cabinet maker and, later, a looking glass and picture frame maker and gilder. Two of his brothers (or possibly half-brothers given the age difference between them) followed. Santino Donegani, born in Lombardy in 1847, arrived in England from the USA around 1869 (his nephew later said that his uncle had “travelled twice around the world”).  After a brief stay in London, he moved to Rochdale to run a jewellery stall on the market for several years before opening a wholesale and retail tobacconist business. His brother Diego Donegani, born in Italy in 1859, arrived England in time for the 1881 census and worked initially as a cabinet maker and then as a picture dealer and frame maker living next door to Santino and his family in Spotland, Rochdale.  

Notes & Queries
The 1841 Census for England and Wales records two familes headed by Joseph Donegani in Northampton. The entries are remarkably similar and we have taken the view that they refer to the same family. We have found no evidence of a second family in civil registration records or later censuses. Joseph's wife Sarah died just a few weeks before the census.
HO 107/814/11 Folio 16 p. 25 Bearward Street, Northampton, the household of William Hunt.
Joseph Donegani, 50, no occupation, born in Foreign Parts
William Donegani, 10, born Northamptonshire
John Donegani, 3, born Northamptonshire
HO 107/814/12 Folio 27 p.7 Crispin Street, Northampton, the household of Joseph Donegani
Joseph Donegani, 53, Looking glass maker, born in Foreign Parts
William Donegani, 12, born Northamptonshire
John Donegani,3, born Northamptonshire.
If you have any further information, we'd love to hear from you.
[1] E. Banfield, The Italian influence on English barometers from 1780. (Baros Books, 1993).
[2] London Metropolitan Archives. CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/387/602115. Records of the Sun Insurance Office, Policy registers, Fire insurance policy issued 2 July 1792, Anthony Donegany, The Ship, Gate Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
[3] The Ship Tavern, 12 Gate Street, Holborn, London WC2A 3HP
[4] M.C. Van Cott, 'The Del Vecchios of New York', Furniture History, vol, 25, 1989, pp.221-234. Also, L. Codignola, Blurred nationalities across the North Atlantic (University of Toronto Press, 2019), pp. 74-77. (Extract available on Google Books.)
[5] E. Banfield, Barometer makers and retailers, 1660-1900 (Baros Books, 1991), p.71.
[6] The National Archives. PRIS 10. England.King’s (Queen’s) Bench, Fleet, Marshalsea and Queen’s Prisons : Miscellenea. Record of the King’s Bench, Fleet and Marshalsea prisons, Entry books for Discharges 1793-1805, p. 412.
[7] Advert for a housemaid for the Pitsalla family, Morning Post, 17 Dec 1815, p.4, col. 3.
[8] Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette 9 Feb 1805, p.1.
[9] Exeter Flying Post, 2 February 1826, p.4.
[10] In the 1841 census adult ages are rounded down to the nearest 5 year multiple. There are some exceptions where a specific age is shown.
[11] Banfield, Barometer makers and retailers, p.71
[12] The National Archives. HO 1/122/4763. Naturalisation certificate – Anthony Donegani, 15 July 1865.

c..2020-2023 Karen L. Donegani
Photo: Moltrasio, Lake Como 2017, courtesy of Josh Donegani
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