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“We shall not stay long”

Leonardo Pozzi Giorgio Cheda

Leonardo Pozzi, along with thousands of other young men, set off for the gold fields of Australia in the mid 19th century, expecting to return home a rich man.

Reprinted here is the 1855 letter he wrote his mother just before he boarded a ship in Hamburg for what would prove to be a one-way journey.

The second letter (see “related stories”) is one Pozzi mailed home from Melbourne after nearly four months at sea. In the New World section, we have reprinted a third example of Pozzi’s correspondence, which he wrote 50 years later, reflecting on his life in Australia and New Zealand.

The Pozzi correspondence is taken from the two volumes on the migrations of Ticinesi to Australia (L’emigrazione ticinese in Australia) by historian Giorgio Cheda, and reprinted with his kind permission.

Hamburg, 29 May 1855

Dear beloved mother!

We left Giumaglio on the 19 of this month and arrived here yesterday at four in the afternoon. As far as I and any honest person are concerned, we can thank God and our leader, because we have been well treated so far. There were moans on two occasions when we had to sleep on mattresses on the floor for lack of beds, because there were not always the facilities to accommodate 155 people properly. But it was only for two nights, and as it was too hot to cover oneself with sheets, there was not much to complain about. And no one can say they had to go to bed hungry, because our leader told us that if anyone didn’t like a particular food, or there wasn’t enough of it, they should feel free to ask, and he didn’t want anyone to leave the table unsatisfied. So if anyone complained, it was their own fault because they did not ask for what they wanted. As for me, I would hope that any honest person might end their days as we spent our time on this journey. As well as what we ate at table, everyone filled their pockets with bread to eat in the carriages.

Our people from Giumaglio are also satisfied, as is everyone generally, and no one has ended up in prison, either in Switzerland or Germany, so the stories told by Curate Neurone and the Piezzis were a load of rubbish.

That large gold coin, I thought it was a 100-franc piece and gave it to Müller for just 4 napoleons (around SFr80 at the time). I shall have a second-class berth on the ship. The ship is not one of the biggest, but is well maintained. There will be 160 or 170 of us.

I have had time to visit Hamburg. One of the masters took me all over the town, where there are delights and curiosities. People dress in much the same way as in Switzerland. There is a great harbour with around 100 ships and a number of steam vessels. The city has about 100,000 inhabitants.

Cousin Musci is very happy so far and has to admit that he has been treated not only as they promised but much better, as if we were Englishmen. The same goes for the boy with him. They both greet their dear ones back home. The young fellow in question has a swollen cheek, I think as a result of the fresh air.

Tomorrow we shall board ship. The Swiss consul has already been to explain the rules and, this afternoon at four o’clock, the Government police are coming to inspect us all. I am very well and, since Alessandro knows the procedure better than we do, and is maybe more sensible, what he does will be our example to follow.

Please read this letter to the others in Giumaglio, I mean the three Sartoris and Michele Bonetti, with the exception of anything private. God preserve and protect you in his omnipotence. Before we go on board, we shall address ourselves to him, since it is he who sustains us in both worlds. In full confidence that I shall return from Australia and that we shall be able to embrace, and perhaps with my coldness because I have tried your patience in recent times, and am convinced that you will have forgiven me in your tender kindness, again I ask you to excuse me and forgive my failings.

Farewell, farewell. Try to remain in good health, and in all things let the will of God be done. We shall not stay long in Australia. Greeting you all at home, relatives and friends, and especially you, dear mother, believe me to be your dear son.


One of the main reasons so many people emigrated to Australia was the “hard sell” of the shipping agencies. A “comfortable” passage cost between SFr450 and 1,200 at a time when a manual labourer earned little more than a franc a day.

Here is a translated extract from a newspaper advertisement: “During the voyage, passengers receive food of excellent quality, in accordance with the legal provisions in force at the port of embarkation, with three meals served each day. The dormitory is perfectly ventilated and healthy; first-class berths are furnished with every convenience, and perfect cleanliness is maintained on board”.

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