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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1988

[Stefano De Filippi]

page 35

Stefano, son of Domincio de Filippi and Maria Qudria, was born in Vervio, Lombardy in 1839. Very little is known of his early life, but it seems he followed his father into farming, and also served an apprenticeship as a stonemason. It may have been the lure of gold which drew him to the Southern Hemisphere for, in 1861, he was in Melbourne and later Sydney, finally arriving in Nelson in 1862.

He went first to the Wakamarina gold fields (1), and from this period comes the unsubstantiated story that he had a cup of tea on his way into the area with the men who were later to be known as the Maungatapu murderers. Stefano is reported to have found out about the events which led to their trial much later, when he returned to Nelson. Certainly the time and place are right but, as is often the case with family stories, there is no concrete evidence.

It is interesting to speculate on what actually drew Stefano to the Lyell in 1869. The combination of Swiss/Italian border compatriots and the challenge of gold were certainly contributing factors. The access to land may have instigated a return to farming. Under the guidance of Antonio Zala and Georgi Zanetti, Giovanni Robacco, Bernardo Menghini, Albert Iseppi, Romeno Zala and de Filippi prospected in the Irishman's Creek tributary of the Lyell and found evidence of a payable reef. The Alpine Reefing Company was leased in 1870 and finally registered on 15 April 1871, with the original prospectors listed as shareholders. Stefano held 20 shares at 50 pounds each. (2) The original company was auctioned off in 1874 and the United Alpine Company was formed. "Stephano defilippi, Lyell, farmer" held 500 of the 32,000 shares at 1 pound each. It is unclear whether he still held shares when the con-
Stephano de Filippi c. 1900. J. Davies

Stephano de Filippi c. 1900. J. Davies

page 36siderable
dividends began occurring about 1880, for the shares had dipped as low as sixpence in the intervening years. (3).
In 1873 Stefano, now of Three Channel Flat, on the Buller Road, along with four others, including long time friend Matteo della Vedova, applied for naturalization
The 35 foot iron waterwheel. J. Davies

The 35 foot iron waterwheel. J. Davies

The de Filippi house at Three Channel Flat. J. Davies

The de Filippi house at Three Channel Flat. J. Davies

page 37under the Aliens Act 1866. This was granted in 1874. (4) By 1875 the Lyell quartz leaders had been worked out, and Stefano had begun his gradual accumulation of property, and the development of business in Three Channel Flat.

The business for which he was best known, was a sawmiller. The mill was about 6 miles below the Lyell, on the river side of the road, a chain down a little gully. (5).

A flume was constructed to channel the water from what is now known as de Filippi Creek. It was 18–30 feet high where it crossed the road.

The harnessed water rotated a 35 foot iron wheel of 12 horse power and so drove the sawmill. The mill contained complete breaking down equipment, breast benches and an English planing machine. (6). Stefano seems to have cut most of the timber for the local market. Another story credits him with supplying the timber for, and helping to build, the church of St Joseph at the Lyell. There are no extant cash ledgers or minute books to confirm this claim (7) but it is indeed a possibility. The account of the blessing of the site of the church by Rev Fr Cummins states that the boats arrived on Monday June 5, 1876, with the timber for the church and that three Lyell women carried a symbolic plank to the site. (8).

It wasn't until 1882 that Stefano married, at St Canice's Church, Westport. He was by then aged 42 and Margaret Mary, daughter of Patrick Ruane and Mary Minogue, was 23. She had originally come from County Galway. Between 1883 and 1897 they produced 9 children: Patrick (1883), Stephano (1884), Mary Ann (Maria, Marie) (1885), Dominies/Dominico (born and died 1886), Dominico (1887), Bartolamoes Joseph (1891), Catherini Jane (Kathleen) (1892), Selina Margaret (1894) and Hannah Cecilia Anne (Annie) (1897).

By 1900, Stefano's property had increased to 360 acres, which he grazed. It included a small coal mine. The coal produced was described as "very fair steaming coal" and the dredges below the Lyell were supplied from this mine. It seems that when the sawmill passed on his descendants, it too was powered by steam (9). Stefano also had his own teams of horses, for transporting timber and coal.

There is evidence that some members of the de Filippi extended family were in the same area at this time. Naturalization papers for 26 year old saw miller, Joseph de Filippi, indicated that he had been in New Zealand for nearly three years. They also provide a clue that Domenick Quadria was also applying for naturalization. (10).

Margaret Mary, Stefano's wife, died in 1907, having had an adverse reaction while under anaesthetic for the removal of teeth. (11) She is buried at Orowaiti Cemetery, Westport, with Selina, a nurse, who died from consumption aged 21. By this time Maria had married John Richard Dalton, a blacksmith and former dredgemaster of the Mokoia Gold Dredging Company. Stefano worked this dredge from 1906–07, with satisfactory returns. (12). Kathleen stayed at home and looked after her father, and brothers Pat, Bert and Dom who increasingly took over the running of the property. Annie went to boarding school in Westport and was the only member of the family to receive an extensive education. (13).

The sawmilling side of the operation seems to have declined in tandem with the township of the Lyell, but local orders were still fulfilled. At this time the farm received increased effort, and the family ran an efficient butchery and delivery service from this base.

Stefano remained on the farm at Three Channel Flat until his death there on 24 August 1924. He was buried on Orowaiti Cemetery, with his wife, in an unmarked grave.