first families 2001

Bernasocchi 'Family Stories'

By Martyn Smith, 31 March, 2019

First Family Member Details
Family Stories
Family Contact, including related link

First Family Member Details

Given Name(s): Domenico Riccardo
Occupation(s): miner

Birth Details
Birth Town: Carasso
Birth County,
Region, Province:
Birth Country: Switzerland
Birth Date: 1836

Death Details
Death Town: Coomoora
Death State/Territory: Victoria
Death Country: Australia
Death Date: 19 Nov 1874

Immigration Details
Air/Port Landed: unknown
Ship/Plane: unknown
Year Arrived: c1859/60/61
Surname: BOYLE
Given Name(s): Bridget Mary
Occupation(s): servant, farmer

Birth Details
Birth Town: unknown
Birth County,
Region, Province:
Birth Country: Ireland
Birth Date: 1841/2

Death Details
Death Town: Hawthorn
Death State/Territory: Victoria
Death Country: Australia
Death Date: 25 Feb 1925

Immigration Details
Air/Port Landed: unknown
Ship/Plane: unknown
Year Arrived: unknown

Family Stories



First father Domenico BERNASOCCHI is recorded by Dr Joseph Gentilli (see 'Life Before Australia' below) as arriving in Australia in 1859 ...  but Gentilli records no ship's name.  Gentilli records Domenico's name as "Dom. Riccardo Bernasocchi" and records his birth year as 1836. 

However, Gentilli records Pietro BERNASOCCHI (who he notes as Domenico's brother), Giacomo BERNASOCCHI and Giuseppi BERNASOCCHI as also arriving in 1859 ... each one aboard the 'Black Eagle'.  Their names appear as "Pietro", "Gioc" and "Gius" "Bernasochi" on the passenger list of the 'Black Eagle'. 

There is no 'Dom'.  The name of his ship is not currently known.

Domenico's 1874 death registration records that he had been "13 years in Victoria" so it may be that Domenico followed Pietro, Giacomo and Giuseppi a couple of years after their migration. 

There is documentary evidence to say that Domenico and Pietro were not brothers, although Gentilli does note that they were (as does Dr Annamaria Davine - see 'Life Before Australia' below).  The official Colony of Victoria registration of each man's marriage (signed by each one, both young and literate) records a father of the same name, but the names of the mothers are different.  Domenico's mother's maiden name is recorded as "Maria VALMAGUNE" (confirmed on the Marriage Certificate - see below) and Pietro's mother's maiden name is recorded as "Tarasa MINOLI", likely misspelling 'Teresa'.

In "Letters of Naturalization" dated 3rd October, 1864, Domenico - identified as "Domenico Bernasochi of Daylesford in the Colony of Victoria, Miner" - was granted "all the rights and capacities within the said Colony of Victoria of a natural born British subject" by Governor Charles H. Darling, thus becoming entitled to purchase land.  Prerequisite to this, John Burton JP certified on 26th September, 1864, that he had known Domenico for two years and that Domenico was "a person of good repute."  Domenico duly swore his oath of allegiance on 1st November, 1864.


Domenico and Bridget were married on 10th February, 1866 in the newly completed St Peter's Roman Catholic Church at Daylesford, its first service having been conducted less than a year earlier, on 14th May, 1865.  The Marriage Certificate held at St Peter's records that

  • Domenico signed his name as "Domenico Bernasoco", whilst Bridget simply made her mark;
  • Bachelor Domenico was a twenty-nine years old miner born in Switzerland and spinster Bridget was a twenty-four years old servant born in County Clare, Ireland;
  • both resided at Coomoora;
  • Domenico's parents were Giacomo BERNASOCO, farmer, and Maria VALMAGUNE (likely an anglicised version of 'Valmaggione', a surname known in Ticino and possibly a derivative of Valle Maggia, a Ticino province);
  • Bridget's parents were John BOYLE, farmer, and Mary MACNAMARA;
  • P.J. Slattery officiated and the witnesses were Antonio Barr and Margaret Kennedy.

The Baptismal Register at St Peter's, Daylesford records the following births and baptisms of the children of Domenico and Bridget:-

  1. Richard John, born 29/1/1867, baptised 9/6/1867, sponsors: Baptista Monetti, Sarah McCormack;
  2. Mary Anne, 24/4/69, 21/2/70, Johanna Carroll, Peter Ross;
  3. Catherine Josephine, 2/3/71, 27/8/71, John Boyle, Florence McCue;
  4. James Patrick, 5/9/72, 12/10/72, baptised "privately periculo mortis";
  5. Clara Bridget, 16/10/74, 23/11/74, Batista Menotti, Margaret Minihan.

The family's residence is given as Coomoora throughout this time.  Domenico is identified as "Richard" (three times), "Domenico" (once) and "Dominic" (once).  The family name is recorded variously on a 'Bernasoco/a' theme, with 'a' and 'o' occasionally finding a place earlier in the spelling.

(Note regarding Domenico's names:-  It appears that, with the birth of his first child in 1867, Domenico came to be known as 'Richard Bernasoco' or 'Bernasoca'.  With the exception of the registration of daughter Clara's 1874 birth - on which he is recorded as "Dominick Bernasoca" - each one of the official Colony of Victoria registrations of the births of Domenico's children and the death of one of them records "Richard Bernasoco" as father.)

The early years of marriage for Domenico and Bridget were troubled financially, as a notice published on 23rd March, 1868, in the Melbourne Argus revealed.  Under the headline "New Insolvents", on page 5, "Richard Bernasocco of Comosa, near Daylesford, labourer" was declared insolvent.  Surely this was Domenico, who lived at Coomoora, misreported as "Comosa", and who was commonly known as 'Richard'.  The total of his liabilities was 55 pounds, 15 shillings and 3 pence and his assets were just 2 pounds.  The cause of Domenico's insolvency was "Want of constant employment".  The official assignee appointed was Mr Courtney, who appears to have resolved the issue satisfactorily during the ensuing three years as the following events may indicate.

First, Domenico was admitted to membership of the "Loyal Hand of Friendship Lodge Daylesford" on 4th October, 1870.  The Honour Board of the Lodge, held at the Daylesford Museum, shows Domenico as "Richard Bernasoca".

Second, on 15th August, 1871, Domenico (denoted as "D. Bernasoco") acquired a nine-acre block of Crown land abutting Jim Crow Creek and now dissected by the Hepburn-Newstead Road, Shepherds Flat.  [In this modern satellite photograph, Domenico's Lot 22, Section 6, Parish of Franklin block is bounded by a straight line from Jim Crow Creek to join Ayreshire Drive till the first line of trees, then right along the line of trees till it is crossed by a right-angled line extended from the line of trees off to the right, then down that right-angled line back to join Jim Crow Creek as it bends away to the left.]  Neighbouring land, acquired at much the same time as Domenico's, was held in various blocks by "B. Minotti" and "G. Pozzi".  On both sides of the creek, these adjoining blocks formed a 'Little Ticino' enclave surrounded by a large patchwork of British-named landholdings, including some of those owned by the prominent pastoralist "J. Hepburn".

However, with four children under seven years of age ... a fifth, James Patrick, had died in 1872 ... Domenico ("Dominick Bernasoco" on the death Register) died of "Disease of the Heart" on 19th November, 1874, recorded to be thirty-five years old.  (Baby Clara was just five weeks old.  Sadly ... when one imagines Bridget's emotions ... within four months of her father's death, Clara, too, had died.)  Domenico's possible cousins (cf Gentilli), Gaetano and Battista Minotti, were witnesses to his 20th November burial at Daylesford Cemetery, officiated by Reverend Henry Bradbee.  Matters had proceeded quickly and, indeed, included an Inquest conducted by District Deputy Coroner James Izett and a jury of twelve "good and lawful men of Coomoora (Glenlyonshire)" on the very day of the death.

Bridget's official Deposition to the Inquest (endorsed by "her mark") serves to slow the process for a reflective, modern reader.  It evokes considerable sentiment and is quoted here verbatim:-

"I am the wife of the deceased Dominic Barnasoco now lying dead, upon whose body this inquest is being held.  He was thirty five years of age.  The day before yesterday when he came from his work at the claim where he was engaged as a miner he laid down on the bed and complained of pain in his Kidneys, and in his head,  he had not complained of anything for years previously.  He had apparently never been in better health.  Yesterday he said he felt better and went to work again; he never went to a Doctor, as he thought he was all right again.  When he came home yesterday from work, about five oclock in the evening, he milked the cows.  We had tea together about six; he enjoyed a good tea.  After tea, he went into the garden and rolled away some logs.  After which he went down to Mr Haddin's, a neighbour, to attend a sick cow.  He returned about seven, and went to bed about eight o'clock; he was then apparently perfectly well; he never looked as well or was as merry for many years.  I sat up sewing, until halfpast ten oclock, I then went into the bedroom, and he was then lying on his right side asleep.  I went in very gently being anxious not to wake him.  I went to bed and lay at the foot of the bed as I had a sore breast and on account of the baby.  The baby woke me twice during the night.  About six oclock this morning the baby woke me again the third time.  When I saw him I thought that there was something the matter with him.  I spoke to him but he was dead.  I called to him but it was useless.  I then sent for Mr Haddin who gave information to the police.  My husband was a very sober man, I never saw him tipsy in my life.  We have been married about nine years."

Scientifically, on the other hand, "duly qualified Medical practitioner" George Roche deposed "... On opening the body I found the pericardium distended with blood, and there was a recent rupture of an aneurism of the Aorta.  The lungs were healthy.  There were no other indications of disease.  Death must have taken place instantaneously upon the rupture taking place. ..." 

Altogether, this was a sudden and distressing end to the life of an aspiring and healthy young husband and father.


A lithographed plan produced by the Department of Lands & Survey, Melbourne in October, 1937 shows that Bridget (denoted as "B. Bernasochio") acquired slightly more than three quarters of an acre of Crown land in Coomoora on 7th December, 1875.  The same plan shows that, more than a decade later, on 6th March, 1888, her daughter Catherine (denoted as "C.T.J. Bernasochi") acquired a slightly more than two-acre block of Crown land abutting Bridget's.  Catherine was just seventeen years old. 

(Note:  'T', for 'Theresa', has been added to her name by 1888. Indeed, she is named as "Catherina Theresa Josephina", aged three and a half years, on her father's 1874 death registration.  On later official documents, viz. her 1896 marriage and 1962 death registrations, 'Josephine' has been dropped and her given names appear as 'Catherine Theresa'.) 

The advertised terms for the sale of the land acquired by Catherine were reported in The Kyneton Observer on 21st February, 1888 as follows:  "Sale (No 6651) of Crown Lands, in Fee Simple, at the Court House, Daylesford, on Tuesday, the sixth day of March, 1888, at Eleven o'clock a.m. ... Coomoora, Parish of Wombat, County of Talbot.  At the site of the improvements of Miss Catherine T. J. Bernasoco.  Upset price (pounds)5 per acre.  Charge for survey (pound)1.  Lot 6, area 2a 0r 19p, allotments 1, 5, and 6, section G3  Valuation (pounds)60 ... Charge for survey must be paid at the time of sale. ... Deposit, on fall of hammer, 25 percent of purchase-money.  Balance in twelve (12) quarterly instalments, bearing six per cent interest.  The whole of the purchase-money may be paid at sale, without interest.  Any number of instalments may be paid at the same time, interest only being charged up to the end of the quarter in which they are paid."

It would appear that the land, which in the late 1990s was in open paddocks south-west of the intersection of Wallaby Creek and the main road to Glenlyon, was all or part of Domenico's original miner's right.  This notion is supported in a report of the proceedings of the meeting (25/09/1882) of the Castlemaine Mining Board that appeared in the Mount Alexander Mail on 26th September, 1882.  Mr Robert Haddin, to whom Bridget had turned on the morning she found Domenico dead, reported to the Board, according to the newspaper, thus:  "The ... land referred to, allotments 1, 5 and 6, G3, Comoora ... has been held first by R. Bernasoca, afterwards by his widow, therefore if it could be held for a length of time, why cannot it be licensed as before? and stating that the land should not be sold.  Received and adopted."

Certainly, the blocks are at the south-western extremity of the originally surveyed subdivision "Residence Sites at Comoora", photo-lithographed at the Department of Lands & Survey, Melbourne, 3rd December, 1866.  Making a comparison utterly inconceivable for nineteenth-century Bridget and Catherine, a match of the 1866 photo-lithograph to the modern satellite-photograph enables the women's landholding to be identified here as the strip between the right-angled arm of Maric Court and the clearly-defined edge of the open land off to its left, from the bend all the way down to Djurkovic Road, bar an almost half-acre block clipped from the strip at the point of the bend.

Bridget Mary BERNASOCCHI (nee BOYLE) may not be a 'first mother'.  It is possible that she emigrated with her parents during the 1850s.  This is being investigated currently.  Following Domenico's death, Bridget Mary married Irish labourer Patrick LEE, of Glenlyon, at St Peter's, Daylesford, on 16th December, 1876.  Bridget, "34", identifies herself as "Farmer" on the Marriage Certificate thus conforming to a familiar pattern that saw many of the wives of absent (due to death or migration) Ticinese husbands continuing the family enterprise, usually very productively.  This pattern occurred in both Ticino and Victoria.  Bridget and Patrick had two children, William Patrick and Eliza Bridget.  Sponsors at the baptism of William Patrick were John Boyle and Catherine Boyle.  These are the second and third references to 'Boyle' at the baptisms of Bridget's children, thus suggesting that she did have family in Australia, including, maybe, her parents. 

A poignant detail on the Form Of Declaration accompanying Bridget's and Patrick's Marriage Certificate is Bridget's clearly determined attempt to sign her name, an action perhaps indicative of her personal development from servant ... to wife and mother ... and to breadwinning farmer.  Bridget scrawls marks recognisable as her first name that are deemed unacceptable by RC Priest Fr WC Gough, who scratches Bridget's writing, initials his scratching, writes her first and last name and asks her to make "her mark", which she does with "X", which he also initials.

Bridget's official Death Registration records, inter alia, that Bridget

  • died, aged 87, on 25th February, 1925, of cerebral haemorrhage (6 days);
  • was living at 9 Stewart Street, Hawthorn, Victoria at the time of her death (ie with daughter Catherine and son-in-law Henry OLVER);
  • was buried at Box Hill Cemetery on 26th February, 1925.

(Domenico's name is spelt "Domnico Bernasocchi" on Bridget's Death Registration.) 


Catherine's brother, Richard, also came to live with her towards the end of his life. 

William Henry SMITH -- son of Catherine's daughter Cecelia (ka Florence) -- who died in 2017, aged ninety-five, remembered "Uncle Dick" clearly and Bridget less clearly when each of them lived at Stewart Street.  He recalled an aged lady living in an earthen-floored shed in the backyard.  At the time, toddler William Henry, known all his life as 'Harry', lived at Stewart Street with his mother and grandparents before they  later moved around the corner to Victoria Road. 

Richard BERNASOCCHI appears to have been an active member of the Daylesford community in the decades surrounding the turn of the century.  Records at the Daylesford Museum show that he was a member of a Lodge (with Henry OLVER), the fire brigade, a brass band and the cricket team.  Also, he is reported in the local newspaper of the time to be a member of the Hepburn Progressive Association.  Again from newspaper reports, Henry and Richard were partners in contract construction work in Daylesford and surrounds.  In 1915, for example, they built a shed at Jubilee Lake for the Borough of Daylesford at a price of 15 pounds 12 shillings and 6 pence.

Richard was the fortunate survivor of a mine accident in 1919.  On 18th April of that year, the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express carried the following story:  "At the Ajax North mine, Daylesford.  Gordon Thompson, aged about 21, and Richard Bernasocchi had fired three shots, and were breaking down the loose stone, when about 12 tons of ore came away and buried young Thompson.  The debris was removed quickly but he was dead ... Barnasocchi (sic) was slightly bruised and narrowly escaped death." 

Richard died at Camberwell in 1930, the day after his sixty-third birthday.  His Death Registration spells his surname with the original "Bernasocchi", as it also does when recording his father's name.  Richard was buried with his mother at Box Hill Cemetery.  The monumental inscription is quoted verbatim here:-  "Our Dear Brother / Richard Bernasocchi / Died 30th Jany 1930 / Aged 63 years / Till We Meet. / Also Our Mother / Bridget Mary Lee / Died 24th Feby 1925 / Aged 87 Years." (NB the variance from her Death Registration regarding Bridget's date of death.)  Catherine OLVER held the Right of Interment, which may be relevant for understanding who those referred to as "our" may have been; probably Catherine, approaching fifty-nine when her brother died, and her sister Mary Anne Frances TODD, almost sixty.

Catherine's sister had married William TODD in Port Melbourne at the age of twenty-seven.  They had two children - Margaret Henderson and Francis Richard.  Frances, as she was known, died on 24th May, 1953 aged eighty-three, at her home in Warwick Road, Greensborough.  Widowed at the time of her death, Frances had been unwell for some time, suffering senility (four years), gangrene of the right leg (four months) and pneumonia (four days).  She was buried in the Brighton Cemetery on 26th May.  Frances' Death Registration shows her father as "Richard Bernasocki" and her mother as "Bridget Mary Bernasocki".  Again, William Henry (Harry) SMITH recalled reciprocal visits with "Aunt Minnie" in his childhood days.


Catherine and Henry OLVER's daughter, Cecelia Jane, married twice, first to Reginald Tresise SMITH and then to John Rowling CUGLEY.  She had no children by her second marriage.  At some time before her first marriage she became known as Florence Cecily.  Her son from her first marriage, William Henry (Harry) SMITH, also married twice, first to Phyllis Joyce O'HARA and then to Margaret WATSON (nee BENNETT).  He and Margaret bore no children.  His and Phyllis Joyce's daughter, Helen Cristine (that's not a typo - there is no 'h'!) SMITH, married a SMITH!! - Martyn Geoffrey.  An exceptional touch of no change of name!

Life Before Australia:

Giorgio Cheda, in his Italian-language 2-volume L'emigrazione ticinese in Australia (Armando Dado', Locarno, 1976) includes the intriguing note "Scioglimento di responsabilita paterna." ("Dissolution of paternal responsibility.") regarding Domenico in his rudimentary list of migrants from Ticino that forms part of his social, economic and political account of the Ticinese migration to Australia.  The note appears on a single line under "1858.", also on a single line, inferring that the dissolution occurred in 1858.  Currently, no more is known about the significance of this note.  Other information provided for Domenico is that he was born in "1836", his father was "Giacomo" and he died in Australia on (incorrectly) "7 marzo 1876".  No mother's name is recorded.  Cheda specifically advises that the source of his information is Foglio Ufficiale delle pubblicazioni e degli annunzi del Cantone Ticino 1874, p 810.

Domenico, identified as "BERNASOCCO DOMENICO", is numbered 1714 on Cheda's list.  Number 1715 is "BERNASOCCO PIETRO" who, Cheda records, died in Australia on (correctly) "5 agosto 1880".  This is the Pietro who Joseph Gentilli and Annamarie Davine record as Domenico's brother.  Again, no mother's name is recorded but Cheda records that Pietro's father is "Giacomo" and it may be that this is the basis for saying that he and Domenico were brothers.  However, see documentary evidence to the contrary above.  (NB fellow migrants Giacomo and Giuseppe BERNASOCCHI, who sailed with Pietro aboard the 'Black Eagle' in 1859, are not listed by Cheda.)

The story of Domenico and his fellow Ticinesi also is told in Dr Joseph Gentilli's The Settlement of Swiss Ticino Immigrants in Australia.   This is an Occasional Paper of the Department of Geography, University of Western Australia, published in the Department's publication GEOWEST 23, August, 1988.

Additional works that provide informative descriptions of Ticinese life before Australia, comprehensive accounts of life in Australia and extensive bibliographies, are:

1.  Carlson, Bridget Rachel, Immigrant Placemaking in Colonial Australia: The Italian-speaking Settlers of Daylesford, Department of Social and Cultural Studies, Victoria University, Melbourne, 1997.  This is an unpublished doctoral thesis that can be found on the worldwide web.

2.  Davine, Annamaria, "Neither Here Nor There"  Italians and Swiss-Italians on the Walhalla Goldfields 1865-1915, Italian Australian Institute at La Trobe University, Melbourne, 2009.  This is a published doctoral thesis.  The Abstract and Table of Contents of the original thesis can be found on the worldwide web, also.


Family Contact
Surname: SMITH
Given Name: Martyn
Related Link: Directory of Helen and Martyn Smith's FF2001 Webpages

Last updated by Martyn SMITH on 31 March, 2019.