Flanders to Rome

Nicola Sciascia
Family Pilgrimage 2007

Nicola Sciascia and Riria McGregor

Nicola 13-04-1840 to 29-03-1898
Riria 1857 to 16-05-1938

Nicola {Nicolo) Sciascia was born April 13th 1840 in the village of Trani in the Italian province of Bari.  He was the eldest Son of Carlo Sciascia and Maria Giancinta di Toma. The Sciascia couple had six children – Margherita, Nicola, Giacinto, Bartolomeo, Rafaella and Orsolina.  Not much is known about Nicola’s early life except that it can be imagined that the family was moderately well off and perhaps educated, because all six children survived into adulthood and all but Orsolina married and had children - a fairly rare occurrence in those far off times. Father Carlo was a fisherman so the sea was in Nicola's blood. At age 16 Nicola left the family home and went to Fiume, a city to the north of Bari. He was granted a safe conduct pass to move from one province to another by the Duke of Traetto. The safe conduct document gives a physical description of Nicola and the order that he be allowed to pass unmolested and without fear of his life, through the countryside between Traetto and Fiume. Nicola is described as having medium height, brown hair and brown eyes and of natural colouring without any visible distinguishing marks.

He may have been journeying to Fiume to stay with other family members and in 1859 joined the merchant navy of what was then called the Kingdom of the Two Sicily's. Ordinary seaman Nicola Sciascia went to sea and it must have been ten years later that he arrived in New Zealand. In between times we can imagine him crossing and recrossing the Mediterranean until he eventually found ship to New Zealand, then being settled and colonised.

The first we hear of Nicola in New Zealand is when he obtained employment with the Marine Department as coxswain at Foxton. In 1882 at the age of 42 he married Riria McGregor at Foxton. They had 11 children - the first Margaret Carlotta was born in 1883. Then followed John de Tomba, 1884, Mary Christina, 1885, Nicola James, 1887, Lydia Louisa, 1888, Elsie Maud 1890, Charles Rangiwawahia 1891, Ellen Ruth 1892, Emma Hannah 1895, Frank Tariuha 1896 and Pirihira 'Waikawa in 1898.

Nicola Sciascia worked always near the sea variously employed as coxswain, signalman, assistant lighthouse keeper and harbour boatman. While employed as assistant keeper at the Pencarrow Head Lighthouse was in the unfortunate position of falling asleep while on duty.

A Marine Department report for 1895 -1896 says on the night of August 12, the assistant keeper was found asleep on watch. In consequence of his previous good record during a long period of service and of the fact that he was suffering from influenza at the time, he was not dismissed but his salary was reduced by 10 pounds a year and he was moved to a station less favourably situated. That is the time the Sciascia family moved to Portland Island (Waikawa) at Mahia and that is where they stayed for three years until Nicola met his untimely end. Nicola was gored by a bull and died of his wounds on March 29, 1898. He was 58 years old and his widow; Riria was faced with the prospect of bringing up her children alone. Riria liked to wear a long skirt of the McGregor tartan and smoked a pipe. She always kept the Sabbath Day especially for the Lord. (rest and no work). After the death of Nicola Sciascia in 1898 she returned to Koputaroa. Through the years to follow she lived with her daughter Pirihira (Tutu} at Porangahau with returning visits to Koputaroa to stay with her daughter Lydia (Lucy). With her death in 1938 at Porangahau, her body was returned to Koputaroa by her son Frank and buried beneath Charles Rangiwawahia Memorial Stone at Puaotau cemetery, Koputaroa.

The Waikawa lighthouse still exists and has been moved to Wairoa and restored to its former state. An excerpt from a commemorative Pamphlet of the lighthouse's restoration in 1961, "said on the morning of March 29, an assistant keeper was coming off watch in the tower, and saw a bull on the lighthouse reserve tossing something which he thought to be a sack, but, on getting closer was horrified to see it was the body of the principal keeper. The bull was driven off but the keeper was dead. His body was buried on the reserve and the grave marked by a neat tombstone and fence. The Marine Department report (1898) said Keeper Sciascia left a widow and ten children and it was decided to grant Mrs. Sciascia a compassionate allowance equal to one years salary. The Inspector of Lighthouses said Mr. Sciascia met his death by being gored by a bull, which was partly owned by Nicola Sciascia. After the sad accident the animal was destroyed. On a previous tour of inspection, the inspector had seen the bull and it seemed tame and quiet.

In his journal 'Remarks at the Pilot Station Manawatu' dated November 5 1875, Nicola wrote ‘strong NW gale and heavy clouded sky with few showers in the first part of the day, middle and latter part blowing a hard gale from the NW with heavy sky, heavy sea and strong freshet throughout. January 13, 1876, Light SW breeze calm and clear sky and smooth bar throughout the day. At daylight to ketch at anchor to the Northward of the bar and a1so the two that came to anchor on the 12th about 8 am, they got under way. SS Napier crossed the bar outward for Wel1ington and afterward the schooner Florence crossed the bar inward from Dunedin. Went on board the Florence, she being aground on a flat in the river. Ran an anchor out astern but did not get her afloat by the night tide. September 6 1877, commenced with light variable breezes and calms up to 8 a.m. bar rough throughout the rest of the day. Jan Duglass crossed the bar outward about 11 a.m. and the schooner Josephine dropped down to the mouth and anchored.’

Nicola Sciascia was said to be a hard worker and an intelligent man. It's said he taught some of his children astronomy or how to recognise the constellations of the skies and he most certainty would have imparted knowledge about the weather and tides to his family. Coupled with his wife's own natural skills and abilities any children of the Sciascia’s would have made an impact on New Zealand's life anyway, but the feeling remains that the early death of Nicola shattered the family.

Nicola Sciascia’s lonely grave on Portland Island off the Mahia Peninsula stands as a tribute to the baby born in Trani in 1840, who lived in this country for no more than thirty years and leaves the inheritance of at least four thousand descendants.

Most text has been taken from the reunion books of 1972 and 1987. However some changes have been made due to recent research identifying some minor errors in previously published text.

Click here to view the text of a speech by Dr Guido Nicosia
Dr Nicosia was Italian Ambassador to NZ

Riria's Personal Page

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Nicola's and Riria's portrait images kindly scanned and edited by Diane Taylor
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