in Family history

One Italian Ancestor – Charles Ambrosio Discacciati

Church on Isle of Wight

Church at Isle of Wight UK

Charles belongs to my son and is his 4 x Great Grandfather. I would dearly love to know more about him.

He was apparently Italian but we only have his own word for that.  His name was mangled on every British record so he is hard to trace.  However, my son’s ‘My Origin’ results at FtDNA suggests 12% Western European and that might come from this man. If so, he might come from Northern Italy.

Apparently born in 1782, Charles was a silversmith, a jeweler, a clockmaker or a merchant, depending on the record.  It’s clear he had something to do with jewelery. At the age of 46, he married Mary Ann Woolfrey of Lulworth, Dorset.

Mary Ann came from a respectable and devoted Catholic family and was born in 1807, the youngest child of Henry Woolfrey and Mary Wilkins/Wilkinson.  By the time she met Charles, her eldest sister Helen had already become a nun, and two of her brothers had entered a monastery.  She had another two brothers.  Joseph was a publican and after her parents’ deaths it seems that Mary moved in with him.  Their father died when she was a child, and Joseph may have become her guardian.  She also had a brother called Charles who was definitely the black sheep of the family.  He tried the monastery, hated it, became a black market publican, was arrested and eventually joined the army to avoid transportation.

Charles the Black Sheep ended up in Australia, having straightened out somewhat.  Brothers Henry Norbert Woolfrey and William Odillo Woolfrey, Cistercian monks, also ended up in Australia and are somewhat famous for establishing the first Cistercian Monasteries.  They were granted access to significant funds by their order and must have been capable and trustworthy persons.  Eventually they returned to England.

There are two more siblings, Catherine and James, who I have not located.

Mary Ann Woolfrey was devout and lived with her God fearing brother Joseph, the publican, who ran an honest and clean house in Lulworth. To a 21 year old of quiet habits in a small town, a mature Italian jeweler was probably quite exotic. He was by no means the only Italian around but no other has his family name.  Reading between the lines, he was probably a smooth talker and quite suave and sophisticated.  He travelled – he had a business in Newport on the Isle of Wight and probably visited the Dorset mainland in the line of business.  He was Catholic, as she was, and it seems quite likely that he played the religious angle, since his later years show no sign of religious rigour.  The engagement was announced in the paper, the advertisement placed by Joseph Woolfrey who I’m quite sure would not have allowed his sister to marry someone questionable.  They fully believed in the honesty and integrity of Charles Discacciati.

As may be apparent from my choice of words, I’m not quite convinced.  I am not sure what was going on but given the amount we know about the Woolfreys, if he was an open book we’d know as much about him too.   Perhaps he really fell in love with Mary.  Perhaps they were happy.  But it was odd.

Charles the travelling jeweler/silversmith from Italy aged 46 was going to have a story.  Parents, siblings – a first wife and family perhaps?  A reason why he left his native shores behind?  They were married in Lulworth in January 1828 and moved to Newport soon after.   Their son Charles Norbert Discacciati was born in December of that year.  Charles Junior was an only child.  Mary’s brother Joseph came to Newport too, after a while.

Was it that Mary was quite unprepared for the reality of a wife’s world?  She was undoubtedly a sheltered girl, raised in the pure church ways.  Was it that Charles was not a good husband?  Was there illness?  The Woolfreys were a prolific lot and Mary might have been expected to have a whole brood of children.  It was also the Catholic’s duty.   Perhaps Charles only married for a son and heir.  One child only is unusual.

Charles died in 1840 at the age of 58.  Charles Junior was placed in the care of his uncles at Mount St Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire.  Maybe he was already there.  Mary entered Stapehill Convent, a nunnery in Dorset.  She was thereafter known as Sister Scholastica and eventually became Abbess.  From the time she entered the convent, she was known by the surname ‘Ambrose’.

Charles Junior was sometimes given the surname Ambrose and sometimes Discacciati.  Eventually he emigrated to Australia where he married.  He was the father of many children but most of them died at birth or shortly after.  There are not many people surnamed ‘Discacciati’ to be found anywhere.  I’m not sure that there are many in Italy either. I’ve found the greatest number of them in Brazil.  Of course, this might just be due to the search engines.

I’m waiting for DNA testing to resolve this one too.

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  1. Joseph Woolfrey was anything but God-fearing, having been arrested several times in Lulworth and Newport. He was already in Newport when Mary married C. A. Discacciati. The Priests died in Australia (their wills are at the NA). James went to London, had 3 children in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden. There is DEFINITELY NO relation to the Discacciatis of New Zealand, nor the Photographer in Australia. Joseph was the subject of great interest in the ecclesiastical courts in London, the priests were, indeed well-known and it’s rumoured that Henry went doo-lally in Oz, having taken to appearing like a wild man. I might have photos of Mt. St. Bernard (which Dickens mentions) and Norbert’s parish in Leics. I can certainly run up and take a picture of Joseph’s burial site in Newport. Feel free to contact me should you wish.

    • Christina my husband is a 3 x grandson of CHARLES FREDERICK Woolfrtey B: 08 Jan 1792 East Lulworth Dorset England D: 03 Apr 1857 Kincumber Central Coast Australia

      Do you have any more info on his brother JAMES WOOLFREY who went to London