Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1988
[Stefano De Filippi]
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.
Stephano de Filippi c. 1900. J. Davies
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.