Since the latter part of the 18th century, there have been many emigrants from the poor rural areas in Switzerland. The remote and confined Poschiavo valley did not contain sufficient resources to support an expanding population, and so there was little option but for some to seek life elsewhere. Many went to other European countries, but from about 1830 onwards, it became possible to go far away, to America and Australia, despite the difficulties of such a journey in those days. Many Poschiavini chose to do this, and in our family, Federico Marchesi was the first to emigrate to Australia, followed by three of his brothers. The last of these - Adolfo - remained there, and you can find his descendants through this website.

If you wish to read more, select from the following options:-

Swiss Emigrants

After the Napoleonic era, Switzerland was one of the poorest countries in Europe, especially in rural areas. As a result, many Swiss saw no alternative but to emigrate to countries including France, Spain, Russia, and during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Australia, America and Great Britain.        

The small and enclosed Poschiavo valley could only support a limited population and many young people had to go abroad to find work. The impact on those left at home was sometimes traumatic, for the emigrants were venturing far away from their traditional life and values. They might never see their families again, although some did return in their later years, bringing home the prosperity they had achieved. The “Spanish Houses” in Poschiavo were built by emigrants who had made their fortunes in Spain.         

Some members of the Marchesi family no doubt went to various European countries and subsequently to America. We know certain Marchesi went to Australia and later to United Kingdom, and we therefore provide information about these ancestors. 

Swiss emigrants usually sailed to Australia via UK, France, or Hamburg, Germany, often on British vessels, as trade with Australia was common from these ports. It is recorded that between 1854 and 1856, over 2000 young men left Canton Ticino, Switzerland in the hope of finding gold in Australia and many Poschiavini also went around this time. We know that some early emigrants travelled to Hamburg, thence to Hull, and by rail to Liverpool, taking about 14 days for this journey.


Barque Ocean Pride 1865 painting by John Scott 1802 1885

The Barque "Ocean Pride" 1865, a typical vessel of the period

that would have sailed from Europe to Australia.


 Top of page            

The Australian Gold Rush

For details of this, click here:- Australian Connection


 Travelling on-board the emigrant ships      

Travel from the Poschiavo valley became much easier when the railway opened in the very early years of the twentieth century. Before that, journeys were much slower and more difficult, being by horse-drawn coach or sleigh, or even mule. (See Photo Album). Thus, to emigrate to Australia or America was a major undertaking. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, ships powered by steam travelled on that route. Earlier voyages would have been across the Atlantic Ocean via the Azores, around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, and then across the southern Indian Ocean.  To return to Europe, the ships would leave Australia or New Zealand and travel eastwards across the southern Pacific Ocean around Cape Horn, South America, and northwards in the Atlantic Ocean. The strong winds, huge waves and icebergs in these latitudes carried the ships with greater speed but more danger.

These voyages undertaken by our ancestors during the mid to late 19th century have often been so romanticized that people today have little sense of the trials and hardships they suffered. To reach a port in Europe from Poschiavo, a journey by coach lasting up to two weeks would be necessary. At this time, many of the ships would be powered by steam and sail, with tonnages of 600 to 2,500 and the larger ones would carry a crew of 25 and up to 600 passengers. The voyage took about 2½ months and the vast majority of passengers had never seen a vessel of that size let alone undertaken a voyage on one. Many hoped for a better life in a new land across the sea, but the wretched conditions on board ship sometimes meant that some never reached their destination.        

The ships were very cramped and much of the available space was jammed with cargo as well as a few live animals, to provide fresh meat during the voyage. Each family was allocated tiny living quarters, sometimes only divided from their neighbours by a canvas curtain. Fresh air was ducted in from above or through small portholes which, in rough weather also allowed in salt water. Imagine the lower deck about 40 x 10 metres. The bunks were about 1 metre wide and one above the other. There were bench seats, and the dinner tables were pulled up under the deck above to allow more floor space when not needed for meals. When heavy seas were running - almost every day and night - everything was rolling around.


immigrant ship circa 1850 below decks

           Immigrant ship below decks.         

In good weather, it was much easier for passengers to exercise on deck, but when stormy conditions prevailed, the ships were ill-equipped for emergencies. Passengers could be victims of poor food, damp conditions and illness. Deaths occurred from illnesses such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, and scarlet fever. Illnesses were exacerbated by the damp and cold conditions of the Roaring Forties or the sapping heat of the tropics. Many families consisted of six to ten children, and each ship carried men and women who were ill, homesick and nursing some of their families.       

While the Captain was responsible for his ship and its crew, the Ship’s Surgeon watched over conduct, morals, behaviour, and health of passengers. He would appoint a Matron to govern the single women and two or three Constables to keep order, distribute food and other supplies.       

Whilst most emigrants travelled willingly and in hope of achieving a better life, they had also torn themselves away from their country, family, and friends and were anxious about their future. It is understandable that boredom and anxiety took their toll on these long voyages, and those left at home were also worried. However, it is recorded that 54 young men emigrated from Prada near Poschiavo, leaving only 3 behind, who were able to choose their life companions from 50 young ladies!       

Here are three of the ships which our ancestors travelled on:

SS Scottish Chief

SS Scottish Chief

This is the sailing shop on which Federico Marchesi travelled to Australia in 1858. We cannot find a photograph or painting of SS Morning Light, on which Giuseppe Marchesi travelled.

 SS Somersetshire 67

SS Somersetshire between decks in a storm 18th November 1873 copy

SS Somersetshire

SS Somersetshire between decks in a storm on 18 November 1873


Tomaso Marchesi sailed on this ship. It was built at a cost of over £70,000 by Money Wigram and Sons at Blackwall on the Thames, as the company's second auxiliary steamer for the Australian trade and launched in June 1867. She was a barque, with a service speed of 9 knots, and 2342 registered tonnage. A ‘barque’ has at least 3 masts, all of which have square sails except the mizzen (aft) mast. She could carry 363 passengers, and the greatest number recorded for a voyage was 287, arriving in December 1871. Somersetshire replaced the " London", which sank after foundering in the Bay of Biscay with the loss of 230 lives on only her third voyage to Australia.

The "Somersetshire" was the first steamer in the Australian trade to be equipped with more efficient compound steam engines, and one of the first steamers to establish a regular direct service from London to Melbourne, averaging under 60 days on the run from Plymouth to Melbourne. On early voyages she worked outwards via the Cape of Good Hope, with occasional calls at Cape Town, and returned via Cape Horn. Following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, return voyages were made via Suez. She was withdrawn after making a final voyage for her original owners in July 1880, although two subsequent voyages were possibly made from Liverpool under different ownership, before she was sold in 1885 for conversion into the sailing vessel “Prince Edward.”

           SS Durham

            SS Durham                      

Salvatore Adolfo Marchesi sailed on this ship from London, England, on 15 January 1876, and arrived at Melbourne on 28 March 1876. She was built at a cost of £35,000 by Money Wigram and Sons at Blackwall on the Thames, registered in London in 1871, and launched in May 1874. The design appears to be the same as that for ss Somersetshire. She was an iron single screw barque, with a gross tonnage of 2,284 tons, propelled by a 300-horsepower steam engine. Her dimensions were, 286ft long and 39ft beam. Her master was Captain F. Anderson. In 1880, she did two return voyages to Lyttleton, New Zealand, via the Cape of Good Hope from London, for Shaw Savill & Co. who later became Shaw Savill & Albion.

Top of page    

Emigrants to England including Federico Marchesi.         

One of the first Poschiavini in England was Antonio Fanconi in 1850, followed by Giovanni Compagnoni, a pastrycook who had learned his art in France. Perhaps the most important however, was Hans Semadeni, who had worked in Italy and Australia. After a short time in London familiarizing himself with language and customs, he established what became a very successful pasticceria at Brighton. In the twenty years from 1868 to 1888, more than three hundred Poschiavini came to England and Scotland. Semadeni himself had directly assisted forty of his compatriots, and so he may perhaps justifiably be regarded as the father of the emigration to England. Swiss Cafés opened in many towns along the South Coast particularly, and became very well known amongst the gentry for their fine pastries.

Federico Marchesi (1839 – 1922), was the eldest son of Giuseppe and Anna Maria Marchesi (née Gaigher). He went to Australia  to seek his fortune, marrying an Australian lady Elizabeth Claxton. Three of his brothers followed him, but they all returned to Switzerland in due course, except Salvatore Adolfo (known as ‘Dolph’) who remained in Bendigo, near Melbourne, marrying Elizabeth Ann Hester.         

From ships passenger lists published on the web, and also from papers found in San Carlo, we can be almost certain that the following details refer to our ancestors: -

MARTHESI FREDR arrived Melbourne, 18 May 1858 on SS SCOTTISH CHIEF. MARCHESI GIUSEPPE arrived Melbourne, 21 Jan 1861 on SS MORNING LIGHT. MARCHESE TOMASO arrived Melbourne, 21 Mar 1873 on SS SOMERSETSHIRE. MARCHISI ADOLFO arrived Melbourne, 28 Mar 1876 on SS DURHAM.            

Although there are spelling mistakes, other well-known names from Poschiavo including Cortesi, Beti, Dorizzi, Crameri, Lanfranchi, Giuliani, Bontognali, appear on the lists, thus indicating that groups of Poschiavini travelled together. Details such as ages don't always match on the lists but this might be because the writer did not understand the passenger correctly, the passenger wanted to look "more adult", or the handwriting was misinterpreted when the transcription and indexing were made. We are 95% sure that Federico was on the Scottish Chief, the exact dates for this voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne being 06.02.1858 - 10.05.1858. The other ships were all from British ports to Victoria, and whilst some details have been traced, further sources of information would be welcome.

Top of page