Bronte's history

A short History of Bronte

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A short history of Bronte

by Bruno Luigi Spedalieri
Sydney 1993

To all Italian Migrants in Australia


For 24 years now I have been conducting historical and genealogical researches on the subject of my Family and the City of Bronte in Sicily. My findings are the result of lengthy analysis of lot of historical books, in particular: "Storia di Bronte" by Father Gesualdo De Luca, and "Memorie Storiche di Bronte" by Benedetto Radice.

But most of all are the result of direct examination of the Bourbon Archives and the Parish Archives of Bronte in Sicily, conducted between 1978 and 1981 by my father Gioacchino Francesco Spedalieri first and by myself, after his death in 1982.

Precious information I could obtain also by consulting the reference department of the State Library of New South Wales, where I discovered how the name of Bronte in Sicily was adopted by other countries and other people. In fact five different localities in the world are called Bronte: two in Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania, one in Canada on the Lake Ontario, one in Texas USA and one in the southern island of New Zealand.

All these names originated from Bronte in Sicily. And the famous English writers: Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë themselves derived their family name from Bronte in Sicily.

Both my parents were born and died in Bronte Sicily, and in 1973 when I came to Australia I was surprised to find the name of Bronte in these shores so far away from my country.

I decided then to continue my study and my researches here in Australia.

In 1987 a suggestion was presented to the Municipal Council of Waverley to suppress the name of Bronte together with those of Tamarama and Mill Hill to create a new unified suburb named Waverley.

I was one of the protesters against the proposal, I did send a letter giving the reason for my opposition. Finally the decision to keep those names prevailed.



Bronte in Sicily
The Origin
First Historical Documents
Bronte Duchy of Horatio Nelson
Bronte in the World
The Virgin Annunciate Patron of Bronte
Bronte and the Spedalieri
The Philosopher Nicola Spedalieri
Peoples of Bronte
The Venerable Ignazio Capizzi
Troubles in Bronte
Migrants from Bronte to Australia
Bronte's Coat of Arms

English version compiled by B. L. Spedalieri. Illustrations cho­sen by the author. Com­pleted in Sydney the 25 March 1993. Revised in Sydney in 2009. 33 copies have been produced and distributed. All rights reserved.

Bronte in Sicily

Bronte in Sicily, Italy. - The volcano Etna in the backgroundThe City of Bronte in Sicily is situated on the west side of the volcano Etna at 794 meters above sea level, between the cities of Adrano and Randazzo.

It is one of the 53 communes of Catania Province. The light train of the private Company Circumetnea connects Bronte with Catania, the Capital city of the Province, 55 kilometres South, and Giarre 58 kilometres North, together with number of other towns lying on the slopes of the volcano.

Bronte is essentially rural city renown for the pistachio nuts. Bronte’s territory is the only place in Italy where this precious nut is cultivated; it was imported by the Arabs in the 9th century. Recently on the territory of Bronte was discovered the methane gas and some petrol.

Its population has been stationary for the last four decades due to the massive postwar migration and the creation of Maniace Municipality.

(In the photo on the right the City of Bronte (Sicily, Ityalia) with the Etna Volcano in the background)

The Origin

The City of Bronte was founded by a group of Greek Soldiers from Athens around the year 413 B.C. The name was taken from the Greek Mythology, it means Thunder and was the name of one of the Cyclops, believed to live inside the Volcano Etna. The Founders dedicated a temple to their protective Goddess Athena.

In 1927, in the territory of the city were discovered some Greek coins showing the head of the Greek Goddess Athena, which confirms this theory. With the advent of the Roman Civilization, the Temple's name was changed in that of Minerva. Later on, the Christians dedicated the same temple to the Virgin Mary, calling it: The Church Santa Maria of Minerva. Today it is the Mother Church of the City of Bronte and is dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
Bronte 25,000 hectares territory is surrounded by the immense Etna Park on the east side and extends down the valley to the Simeto River on the West. The population number varies between 20,000 and 26,000 according to the way it is counted: strictly residents only or all people provided with resident status, some of which are actually working and living outside the territory.

First historical documents

During its long history Bronte was subjected, like all Sicily, to invasions and occupations from the Greeks in the 8th century before Christ, and the Romans in the 3rd century BC first, then during the Christian Era, invasions from the Byzantines of the East, from the Sarazins of the South, from the Normans of the North and from the Aragoneses of the West. The Arab occupation of Sicily lasted over 200 years from the 827 to the year 1091.

Since the beginning of the second millennium, the territory of Bronte was claimed as own property by the neighboring Benedictine Monks of Maniace's Abbey Santa Maria, and the citizens were bound to pay heavy taxes to their masters.

In 1491 the Cardinal Rodorigo Borgia, Abbot of Maniace's Abbey and future Pope Alexander VI, donated the territory of Bronte to the Pope Innocent VIII. The Pope, on his turn, elected as beneficiary of the offer the New Hospital of Palermo. In so doing the Pontiff put the territory of Bronte in the hand of the King of Sicily. The people of Bronte did protest but were unable to reverse the situation.

Bronte Duchy of Horatio Nelson

HORATIO NELSONIn 1799 Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily, saw a good opportunity to get rid of the problematic Dominion. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson, in June of that year had helped the King to fight and win the French aggression against Naples. The Kingdom was saved and the Throne also. As a reward, on the 13 August 1799, the birthday of Queen Caroline, the King conferred to the Admiral the title of Duke, (Royal Secretariat of Palermo Doc. N. 4178, File N. 27), and made him the owner of the Dominion of Bronte with all the properties and dependencies. Bronte itself was elevated to the title of Duchy on the 10 October 1799, (State Archives of Palermo, Year 1799-1800, Vol. 7, File 1-5).

The people of Bronte, who had never accepted any previous feudal masters, reacted strongly against the new Duke. Horatio Nelson, on his part, had never and would never set foot in Bronte, his Feudal Territory.

The Duchy Nelson of Bronte lasted 7 generations. At the death of the Admiral (1805), the Duchy passed to his brother Reverend William Nelson (1805-1835), then to Dame Charlotte Marie (1835-1874), the daughter of William, married to Samuel 2nd Baron of Bridport. From them the Duchy passed to their eldest son General Alexander 1st Viscount and 3rd Baron Bridport (1874-1904), and from him to his son Honorable Sir Alexander Nelson Hood (1904-1937).

From Sir Alexander the Duchy passed to his nephew Lieutenant Commander 3rd Viscount and 5th Baron Bridport (1937-1969). Alexander Nelson Hood Junior, the son of the Lieutenant was the 7th and the last Duke of Bronte (1969-1980).

The Duke Alexander Nelson Hood Junior in 1977 at the age of 28 decided to sell the properties of Bronte. The vast rural land was partitioned and sold to the peasants of Maniace.

The Castle, the surrounding garden and the ancient Abbey Santa Maria were acquired by the Council of Bronte. All the contracts were signed by the beginning of 1980 and since then Maniace has become an independent municipality.

Bronte in the world

THE NAME OF BRONTE RADIATE ALL AROUND THE WORLDIronically it was that ambiguous promotion of the Admiral Horatio Nelson that made Bronte renown to the world. In the middle of the 1800, in honor of the Admiral, the name of Bronte was given to a vast property acquired by the barrister and politician Robert Lowe 1st Viscount of Sherbrooke, in New South Wales, Australia, in the eastern shores of Sydney.

The same name of Bronte was given to an extensive property, situated in the centre of Tasmania, purchased by Lieutenant Arthur Corbett between 1834 and 1863.

Lieutenant Corbett was married to a relative of Lady Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Duke Horatio Nelson, and in honour of the great Admiral he gave to the property the name of Bronte Park.

Again in Canada, in the Shire of Oakville, the name of Bronte was given, in honour of the Admiral, to a little centre planted on the shores of Lake Ontario in 1833. And also in his honour were named the City of Trafalgar, Bronte Creek and Bronte Harbour.

It was under the pressure of the settler William Chisholm, who in 1827 had bought acres of land at the mouth of the Sixteen Mile Creek, that on 30 December 1833 William Hawkins submitted to the Surveyor General plans for a new town. On 19 August 1834 the name of the new town did appear, for the first time, as "Bronti" in the Upper Canada Gazette.

In Irland, in 1800, Patrick Prundy, the grandfather of the famous English Writers: Anne, Emily and Charlotte, in honour of the Admiral Nelson decided to change his family name in that of Brontë. Scrupulously he added a dieresis on the last vowel to preserve the correct Italian pronunciation.

In Texas, 50 kilometres north of San Angelo, a little town was built in 1888. It was called Bronte in honour of the English Writer Charlotte Bronte. The name was preferred to that of Bronco.

In 1906 the timber houses of the old Bronte were moved half mile northeast to be placed near the east-west railway, which was under construction.
In New Zealand, on the extreme north of the southern island, near the city of Nelson a little town is called Bronte.

The Virgin Annunciate patron of Bronte

It is documented in a census conducted by the Emir of Catania, during the Arab occupation of Sicily, that in 830 of our era Bronte counted 994 Muslims and 664 Christians, a total of 1658 people (Airoldi Vol 1, page 291: The population in Sicily).

By 1535 the population had dropped as low as 250 souls, due to some natural events: earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but mostly caused by plagues and famine.

Many people had died and many others had left the unsafe centre and taken refuge into poor hamlets in the midst of the etnean woods.

In October 1535 the Emperor Charles V, in his way back from a campaign against the Turks in Tunisia, visited Bronte. He was surprised and shocked at the miserable situation of those poor people. He decided then that all the people living dispersed in the neighbouring hamlets should go back to their original centre of Bronte.

To promote the unification the Emperor left in the little centre his friend and councillor Noble Nicola Spedalieri, son of Joaquin of the Hospitallers of Saint John in Jerusalem, Earl of Cessole in North of Italy. Also he sent a letter of recommendation to the Governor of Randazzo, under which jurisdiction was placed the Territory of Bronte: “Commendo tibi tuguria Brontis”.

The Noble Nicola Spedalieri, contravening the suggestions of the Government of Randazzo, refused to use constriction to achieve the goal set by the Emperor, he trusted instead the deep religious feelings of the brontese people.

In 1540 Nicola Spedalieri went to Palermo and commissioned from the renown Sicilian sculptor Antonino Gagini a group of statues in marble representing the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.

The contract was signed the 21st January 1540 in the office of Notary Giacomo Dimitri (Mons. Gioacchino Di Marzo: I Gagini e la Scultura in Sicilia). The price was agreed at 48 ounces, which were the equivalent of 100,000 Euros at today conversion. The statues arrived in Bronte in 1543 and since their arrival many prodigies were reported. Attracted by the miraculous images, the people of the surrounding hamlets started moving toward the centre. By 1548 the population of Bronte had reached the number of 2815 souls (Census by the Viceroy De Vega).

Bronte and the Spedalieri

After the unification of the centre, Noble Nicola Spedalieri settled in Bronte, and his descendants kept giving their active contribution to the development of the city, to its economical growth and to its cultural promotion.

Following the creation of the Municipal Councils in 1820, the first elected Mayor of Bronte, was: Gioacchino Spedalieri, son of Nicola Antonino, descendent of Noble Nicola.

In 1885 another Nicola Spedalieri, son of Gaetano, was Mayor of Bronte, and again in 1893. In 1894 his cousin Doctor Arcangelo Spedalieri was elected Mayor of Bronte.

The philosopher Nicola Spedalieri

Nicola Spedalieri (self portrait)By far the most famous of all Spedalieris was the priest Nicola Giacomo Spedalieri born in Bronte the 6 December 1740. He died in Rome on 26 November 1795. He was a strenuous Apologist and a Philosopher of vigorous ingenuity.

During the French Revolution he wrote the book: "De’ Diritti dell’Uomo”,  “The Human Rights”, which made him famous all over the world (cfr. Robert Bergin: "This Apocalypic Age". Manchester 1970).
Of him it was said that he was the first to talk about the rights of the citizens in Italy.

The Philosopher was also an expert painter, a poet and an appreciated musician and composer. A self portrait painted by the philosopher is kept in the Collegio Capizzi's Gallery of Bronte, and his musical compositions are kept in the Cappella Giulia of Rome.

Bronte has dedicated to the Great Philosopher the main square of the City.

The University of Catania bears the name of Nicola Spedalieri, in honor of the Philosopher, and the Capital of Italy has built a monument to Nicola Spedalieri in Piazza Sforza Cesarini, not far from the Vatican City.

(In 1994 the book “De’ Diritti dell’Uomo” of Nicola Spedalieri was translated in English by Bruno Spedalieri. Copies are now deposited at Sydney University, Faculty of Philosophy, in the Catholic University of Sydney and in the National and State Libraries. Other copies were sent to the Vatican Library, to Moscow School of Philosophy and to Las Cruces University).

Nicola’s nephew: Arcangelo, born in Bronte the 17 April 1779, was an acclaimed anatomist. At the age of 29 became first surgeon assistant at the Medical University of Bologna. The following year 1811, at the age of 30 was nominated Professor of Natural Sciences in the same University.

The 2nd of October 1819, the Emperor of Austria Francis II nominated Arcangelo Spedalieri Rector Magnificus of the University of Pavia. His publications on anatomy and physiology are numerous. He died at Alcamo in Sicily the 6 May 1823.

People of Bronte

The City of Bronte was endowed with a number of great people other than the Philosopher and the Anatomist. Between its sons Bronte counts a Cardinal: Antonino Saverio De Luca (1805‑1883). Before been elevated to the cardinalate, De Luca was Counsellor of Propaganda Fide and Professor at the University of Rome. He was then nominated Apostolic Nonce of Bavaria and subsequently of Vienna. He was elected Cardinal the 16 March 1863.

The Bishop of Patti: Giuseppe Saitta (1768‑1838) was also a citizen of Bronte. He was an excellent orator and was nominated Professor of Literature and Theology at Monreale Seminar before been elected Bishop of Patti on 25 February 1834.

Placido De Luca, brother of the Cardinal Antonino, was professor of Political Economics at the University of Catania and then at the University of Naples. He has written applauded books on Economical Sciences, Financial Sciences and Statistics. He died in Paris the 1st November 1861.
Giuseppe Cimbali (1858‑1924) was Professor of Law at the University "La Sapienza" of Rome. In 1882 started writing books on Social Philosophy, on Law and Ethics. He was a devout of the Philosopher Nicola Spedalieri, whom he did consider a strenuous defender of the people's rights and sovereignty.

Venerable Ignazio CapizziThe Venerable Ignazio Capizzi

Ignazio Capizzi was born in Bronte the 20 September 1708 from a poor family. Ordained priest in Monreale the 26 May 1736 started dedicating his time and energy to the poor people of Palermo. His activity in the Sicilian Capital earned him the appellative of Apostle of Palermo.

Nevertheless he didn't forget Bronte. His home town was still deprived of schools. Conse­quently the children of poor families were kept uneducated and they were forced to work in the farms. The wealthy people were able to send their children to other centers to study.

At the beginning of 1774 Ignazio Capizzi went to Bronte with some cash money determined to buy a lot of land and build an educational centre. The 1st of May 1774 was lied the first stone of what will become the majestic and prestigious Collegio Capizzi.

THE CAPIZZI COLLEGEThe cooperation of the people was great. The peasants put their arms at the service of the holy priest, the reach people gave their financial contribution.

The 15 October 1778 the doors of the new college opened to welcome the first students.
With the years Capizzi's College, the first school of Bronte, has grown in size and in impor­tance. It has functioned as Primary School first, then as High School and Boarding School. It has become the Cultural Centre of the region.

Father Ignazio Capizzi died in Palermo the 27 September 1783. Ten years later started the process of beatification of the holy priest. In May 1819 Pius VII declared Ignazio Capizzi Venerable. His mortal rests are venerated in the Sacred Heart church of the Collegio Capizzi in Bronte.

(In the two photos the Venerable Ignazio Capizzi and the majestic and prestigious Capizzi College of Bronte)

Troubles in Bronte

During the nineteenth century the city of Bronte in Sicily was shaken three times by brutal revolts. The 1st of January 1820 started the Spanish Revolution against Ferdinand VII; this event lighted the Sicilian Revolution against Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies.

n Sicily the revolt created two strong factions: one favoring Spain and the King of Naples, the other claiming independence and a Sicilian Monarch. The administrative authority of Bronte was with the second faction, but the population kept faith in the King of Naples and revolted against the bureaucrats. General Floristano Pepe had to intervene sending to Bronte the Captain Gregorio Zuccaro to control the revolt.

Twenty-five years later, troubles started again. The 16 June 1846 Pius IX was elected Pope. The new Pope offered a general amnesty and introduced reforms to the Pontifical State.

His example was followed by nearly all the Sovereigns of Europe. But Ferdinand II of Naples refused to carry out any reforms in his Kingdom and held strongly to his absolute authority. His firm attitude against any constitutional reform provoked a revolt in Palermo, which started the 12 January 1848. The Sicilian Parliament went as far as electing a new King of Sicily in the person of Albert Amadeus of Savoy on the 12 April 1848. The sound of the revolt echoed in Bronte, where again the events did create factions, tensions and agitations between the Communards (Independentists, mostly peasants) and the Ducals (Conservatives, mostly bureaucrats). But the wind of freedom didn't last.

Ferdinand II from Naples sent General Filangeri against the Sicilian rebels. The resistance of Messina was the first to be crashed. Catania was re-conquered the 6 April 1849 and the 14 April 1849 Palermo was again in the hands of the Bourbon King Ferdinand.
The third time, it was in 1860, troubles exploded, again and more violently, in Bronte. The successful expedition of Giuseppe Garibaldi to Sicily with his one thousand red shirted soldiers, decided to liberate Italy from the Bourbons, alighted anew the aspirations of the Brontese people to freedom. They were oppressed with heavy taxes imposed by the Commune and by the Duke.

The 2nd August 1860, one faction of the population revolted angrily and started plundering the houses of reach people, and chasing employees, lawyers and administrators of the Municipality and the Duchy. 14 people were killed in few days.

Garibaldi had to intervene. He sent his field general Nino Bixio to Bronte. Nino Bixio went to Bronte determined to settle the matter in the shortest time possible so he could join again Garibaldi in his way to Naples. The Court Martial was established to deal with the crimes, and in only four hours of hearing the sort of five people was decided.

They were sentenced to death by firing squad. The event shocked deeply the people of Bronte and it is talked about up to this days. In 1987 a Special Commission was installed to find out if Bixio had acted with impartiality and sense of justice. Bixio was acquitted by the Special Commission, but this wasn't good enough to placate the offended feeling of the Brontese people.

Migrants from Bronte to Australia

There are around 200 migrants born in Bronte living in Sydney, smaller groups are in Melbourne and Adelaide; another consistent and active group is in Perth.

According to the information I could gather, it appears that the first Brontese did arrive in Sydney the 22 September 1926 on the Ship Caprera, they were Mr Carmelo d'Aquino, Mr Luigi Destro and Mr Salvatore Messina. In 1949 Mr d'Aquino went to live in Orange and there he did create a wine industry of huge dimensions bearing his name. Mr D'Aquino died in Griffith NSW in 2002 at the age of 101.

In 1988 the Brontese migrants of Sydney decided to form an Association, they have called: Associazione Maria Vergine Annunziata.

A copy of the Gagini group of the Annunciate was commissioned from Micciché Company of Palermo. The statues, in fiberglass did arrive in Sydney on 19 May 1991 and were placed in the St. Mary's Church of Concord.

In 1990 I have published the booklet "Bronte, La storia in breve", which I took to Italy and gave a copy to the then Mayor Dott. Francesco Spitaleri. I did invite him to Australia and did suggest a Twinning Celebration between Bronte in Sicily and Bronte of New South Wales. But his mandate ended in 1991 before he could do anything.
The 16 July 1992 the Archbishop of Catania Mons. Luigi Bommarito, the Delegate of Catania Province Dott. Francesco Bruno, the new Mayor of the City of Bronte Dott Gino Anastasi, the Archpriest of Bronte Fr. Antonino Longhitano, and the Solicitor Domenico Azzia, Director of “Sicilia Mondo”, have come to Australia to visit the Brontese migrants of Sydney and Melbourne.

Great celebrations were organized for the occasion by the Committee of the Association Maria Vergine Annunziata. The delegation was also warmly welcomed by H. E. Cardinal Edward Bede Clancy, by H. E. the Lord Mayor of Sydney Frank Sartor, of Italian origin, and by the Consul General of Italy in Sydney Dott. Fabio De Nardis.

I have personally paved the way for a meeting between the Mayor of Bronte in Sicily and the Mayor of Waverley. The 20 July 1992 the Mayor of Bronte, Mr Gino Anastasi, met the Mayor of Waverley Municipal Council Mrs Barbara Armitage, in which territory lies the suburb of Bronte N.S.W..

The two Mayors, in an amicable atmosphere, offered each other some gifts and discussed the way to encourage

friendly correspondence and implement cultural exchanges between the two Cities. Mention was made of an eventual future twinning celebration.The Coat of Arms of the City of Bronte

In 1993, after another visit to Sicily, I decided to write this "Short History of Bronte" to allow the Australians and the Italo-Australians to know better about the relations between Sicily and Australia.

I have given a copy of the book to the Mayor of Waverley, Mrs. Barbara Armitage. Copies were deposited in the Waverley Council Library the 5 April 1993 in the State and the national Libraries of Sydney and Canberra. Copies were sent also to the Cities of Bronte in Canada, in Texas (USA) and Tasmania (Australia).

Bronte'a coat of arms

The Coat of Arms of the City of Bronte in Sicily consists in an Eagle bearing a Shield marked with the Symbols of the Hamlets which did congregate together, between 1535 and 1548, with the original centre of Bronte.
The logo reads: "Fidelissima Brontis Universitas", (Faithful City of Bronte). The origin of the emblem and the logo is not clearly known.


Gioacchino Francesco Spedalieri: Gli Spedalieri. Bronte 1977
Bruno Luigi Spedalieri: Bronte, La Storia in breve. Sydney 1988
Sac. Gesualdo De Luca: La Storia di Bronte. Milano 1883
Benedetto Radice: Memorie Storiche di Bronte. Bronte 1925
Mons. Gioacchino Di Marzo: I Gagini e la scultura in Sicilia. Palermo
Mons. Giovanni Jacono: Il Venerabile Ignazio Capizzi. Bronte 1934
Francesco Currenti: Il fulgore della Santità. Roma 1989
Vincenzo Schilirò: Nicola Spedalieri. SEI Catania 1939
Giuseppe Cimbali: Nicola Spedalieri. Città di Castello 1888
Philip Brimacombe The Story of Bronte Harbour. Oakville 1976
A. W. Reed: Place-names of New South Wales. Sydney 1969

Researches were conducted by the Author at:
The Bourbon Archives. Collegio Capizzi, Bronte
The Church Archives. Chiesa Matrice, Bronte
State Royal Archives. Palermo, Sicily

Informations were received by the Author from:
Pat Martindale, City Secretary. Bronte, Texas
Judy Henderson. Oakville Historical Society
Mary McRae, Principal Archivist. Hobart


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