Born in Foreign Parts - early Doneganis in Scotland

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Born in Foreign Parts - early Doneganis in Scotland
Published by K L Donegani in Early Doneganis UK & Eire · 8 December 2020
Tags: LookingglassFramemakerGlasgowEdinburghAliens
Picture: W. G Herdman, In Edinburgh, the High Street, Leith Wynd and Canongate, dated 1856.  <>. The entrance to Leith Wynd is shown to the right of the painting.

Our previous blogs looked at the early Doneganis in England and Eire, and, as we have not found any in Wales, we’ll complete this series by sharing what we have found in the Scottish historical records.

When starting our search, we were delighted to find that Edinburgh City Archives hold the Register of Aliens for the City of Edinburgh 1794-1825 and have provided an online index to the register [1] which is particularly useful in this time of restricted travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The index lists entries on the Register for foreigners who had registered with local magistrates or whose presence had been reported to the authorities by landlords and boarding house keepers. This registration system was set up across Britain in response to the government’s concerns regarding the number of continental migrants (potential radicals) in Britain after the start of the war with the French Republic in 1793. A series of war-time Aliens Acts [2] required foreigners arriving in Britain to register with customs officials and all masters of ships had to declare the details of the aliens aboard their ships. All new arrivals and those already living in Britain also had to make a declaration before a Magistrate, stating their name, rank, occupation, address and origins. The information collected from these individuals gradually expanded and some entries in the Edinburgh registers include detailed information on place of birth, place of abode in their home country, ports of departure and arrival, date of arrival, the intended duration of their stay and additional comments such as identifying family groups.

The index contains two references of particular interest to the study of Donegani families.
1. Registration date: 30th July 1798.
Andrea Donegana of Carate, Lombardy [3], living in Carate before travelling to Britian. In 1798 Andrea was living in Hanover St Edinburgh and working as a print seller. He arrived at Dover in 1792. His age is given as 28 years suggesting he was born in 1770.

CORRECTION: Although we initially thought that Andrea Donegana could be the same person as Andrew Donegan (below), this now seems unlikely, In 1798, when Andrea was registered in Edinburgh, Andrew Donegan (below) was married and had his first son baptised in Glasgow.  Whilst Andrew Donegan then settled in Edinburgh, Andrea Donegana travelled around Scotland and England selling prints, At the Wakefield Quarter Sessions in July 1799 he was charged with offering for sale an "infamous" print on paper and was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment in York Castle jail. The print in question - "A Toast for New France" by George Murtatroyd Woodward - was actually a satirical comment on the revolutionary French government by a prolific cartoonist so it may be that the witnesses and the magistrates just did not get the joke.
2. Registration date: 10th November 1803
Andrew Donegan of Moltrasio, Como but living in Milan prior to travelling to Britain. In 1803 Andrew was living in St Mary Wynd and working as a looking-glass maker. He arrived at Dover in 1790. His age is given as 36 years suggesting he was born in 1767.

We have found historical records in Glasgow and Edinburgh relating to Andrew Donegani of Moltrasio and Milan. The marriage records of the Roman Catholic Chapel of St Andrew (later the Catholic Cathedral) in Glasgow shows that:

Andrew Doneghan from Milan was married to Kitty Anderson of Glasgow on 8th May 1797. [4]

Their first child, Andrew, was baptised at the same chapel in December 1798 but the couple were living in Edinburgh by 1802 when their second child, Peter, was baptised in the Roman Catholic Chapel of St Mary (later the Roman Catholic Cathedral). Six more children (Margaret, Antony, Charles, John, Lewis and Catharine) were baptised at St Mary's, the youngest in 1817. [5]
The Post Office Directories for Edinburgh [6] published during the period 1812 to 1828 list Andrew Donegan as a looking-glass maker and a maker of lasts and boot-trees, working from premises in Leith Wynd. Leith Wynd was a steep and narrow street full of workshops and boarding houses which ran from Canongate in the eastern section of the Old Town, to the Leith Docks. It was once the prime route from Edinburgh to Leith but by the nineteenth century the tenements were in poor condition and the Old City wall, which formed the west side of the street. eventually collapsed, killing three children, in 1854. [7]  Leith Wynd was replaced by Jeffrey St and Cranston St in the 1890s and later Cranston St was closed and the area cleared to make way for the development of Waverley Station.
We have no trace of Andrew after 1828. Catharine died of Decay of Nature (old age) at the age of 47 and is recorded in the Edinburgh Record of Mortality for 1832 as Catharine Donegani, the wife of Andrew Donegani, Picture Frame Maker, resident in Baillie Fyffes Close. She was buried in the “old ground” in Leith burial ground [8]. Although this entry suggests a change of occupation for Andrew - a picture frame maker rather than a looking-glass maker - this was not an uncommon extension of this trade as both involved the carving and gilding of wooden frames.  
Andrew and Catherine’s eldest son, Andrew, was described as a looking glass maker when he married Agnes Wells at St Mary's Catholic Chapel in 1821, but he is recorded as an optician on the 1841 Edinburgh census. His marriage and burial records name him as a “Donegan”, but he appears in the 1841 census as Donegani. Andrew and Agnes had at least four children baptised at the same chapel but we have not yet found any trace of this family after 1841.
Andrew and Catharine’s second child, Peter was also described as a looking glass maker at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Boyd in 1821 at St Mary's Catholic Chapel, where their sons, Andrew and Peter, were later baptised. However, by 1837, Peter was in Aberdeen where he married Martha McLachland, presumably after the death of his first wife. Peter and Martha moved to Dundee and several of their children appeared in civil and court records, press articles and military records, using the name Donegani.  Some of their grandchildren emigrated to New York in the 1890s, appearing on passenger lists under the name Donegani.  
Margaret, the eldest daughter of Andrew and Catharine, married Peter Reva (or Riva) at St Mary's Catholic Chapel in 1824. Peter Riva was a looking-glass maker of Nether Barn and a member of the extended Riva family of barometer and looking-glass makers, carvers and gilders, and printers living in Edinburgh and Glasgow. One of Margaret’s nephews (the son of Peter and Elizabeth) was baptised Peter Riva Donegani in 1828, possibly presumably out of respect for his uncle or because of a familial or other connection to the Riva family.
Andrew and Catharine’s fourth child, Antony, died as an infant and we cannot find any trace of their younger children - Charles, John, Lewis and Catharine – other than their baptism records.
Returning to the Edinburgh Registers of Aliens, this historical source provides clear evidence of a community of migrants from Como living in the Canongate area of the city in the 1790s and 1800s. Of the 108 Italians shown on the registers, 36 came from Como, 13 from Milan and a further 7 from other areas of Lombardy. In contrast to those from Rome, Venice and other more southerly regions, many of whom were musicians and music teachers, performers and artists, the Como emigrants carried on the traditional crafts of their home land – making or selling barometers, looking glasses, picture frames, framed prints and fancy goods such as plaster figures. Only three described themselves more generally as “merchants”. Although most of them had arrived in Britain in the 1790s and early 1800s a few had been in the country since the 1770s. They lived close together in the side-streets off Canongate, often sharing a tenement flat with others from their home towns - three living at 8 Hanover St, three at Candlemakers Row, four in a property “at foot of Leith Wynd”, five in Leith Wynd, four in St Davids St and three on St Margaret Wynd.
The baptismal records of their children suggest that Andrew and Catharine were fully integrated into this community and had close links with fellow Lombardians. The sponsors chosen for their children include Felix Zappi, Mrs Pirotti, Charles Galleti, Benedict Ghery, Peter Masino and the reliable Mrs Stampa who was god-mother to five of their children. From the Post Office directories of the 1810s and 1820s we can see that these individuals were also occupied in the traditional Como crafts – for example, Mr Zappe was a maker of artificial flowers; John Pirotti was a figure-maker at Fountain-well; Mr Stampa was a carver and gilder of Leith Street and, in partnership with Mr Galletti, sold art prints in Shore St.
These baptismal sponsors also include one “Joseph Donagon”, sponsor to Andrew and Catharine’s son Antony in 1806. We do not know for certain if this Joseph was a Donegani or whether he was born in Italy or in Scotland but we do have a fleeting glance of a Joseph Donegani in two Post Office directories over thirty years later (1838-39 and 1839-40) where a spirits dealer of that name is listed at Jock’s Lodge, Edinburgh. [9] As we have no further sightings of any Joseph Donegani in Scotland, we will keep an open mind on this!


[1] Edinburgh City Archives. Registers of Aliens <>
[2] The registration requirements of the 1793 Regulations of Aliens Act were expanded by an act of 1798. A centralised registration system was established by the Acts of 1816 and 1826 but dismantled by the 1836 Aliens Act.
[3] There are two villages named Carate village in Lombardy - Carate Urio in Como and Carate Brianza in the neighbouring province of Monza and Brianza.
[4] All marriage records are taken from Find My Past, Scotland, Roman Catholic Parish Marriages <>   

[5] All baptism records are taken from Find My Past, Scotland, Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms <>   
[6] Scottish Post Office Directories <>
[7] The Times (London, England) 25 February 1854, Issue 21674, p.12.
[8] Scotland’s People. Old Parish Registers Deaths 692/2, 340/105, Leith South, Record of Mortality, 8 July 1832,
[9] Scottish Post Office Directories, Edinburgh,1839-40 and 1840-41<>

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