Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Rossi, Francis Robert Louis (Lewis) (1823–1903)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Francis Robert Louis (Lewis) Rossi (1823-1903), landowner, was born on 19 February 1823 at Port Louis, Mauritius, elder son of Captain Francis Nicholas Rossi, general superintendent of convicts, and his wife Antoinette Geneviève, née Sornay. He reached Sydney with his family in the Hercules on 7 May 1825, was educated at The King's School, Parramatta, and declined an army commission in order to work with his father. On 15 December 1847 at St Saviour's, Goulburn, he married Jane Hannah, eldest daughter of Rev. William Sowerby. In 1851 he inherited Rossiville, near Goulburn.

Rossi was proud of his membership of a noble Corsican family (he succeeded his uncle as comte de Rossi in 1896). He was also solicitous about his position as a colonial squire, extending and improving Rossiville, which was robbed by Ben Hall and John Gilbert in 1864, and playing with enthusiasm and some success the role of the hospitable country gentleman. He was a magistrate and from 1866 a sheep director for Goulburn.

On 7 July 1870 Rossi became captain of the Goulburn Volunteer Rifles. His overbearing conduct aroused public protest and led in 1873 to a recommendation for his removal by a Legislative Assembly select committee; but Governor Robinson ordered a military inquiry and precipitated a constitutional crisis in 1874. Rossi was relieved of his command and enlisted as a private. He was temporarily reinstated when the governor left in 1879.

A devout Anglican and first registrar of the diocese, Rossi was trustee of much Church property. As in other dioceses, dispute and litigation arose about the parish church when it was given cathedral status. The incumbent Archdeacon A. T. Puddicombe, the parishioners and Bishop M. Thomas were the chief disputants but Rossi became heavily involved. In 1884-94 court actions, newspaper controversies and synod debates confused motives and legal rights. Rossi's alleged position as sole trustee of the cathedral property gave him a key role which he used to the full. Piqued because Bishop Thomas refused to allow a family tablet to be re-erected in the new cathedral, in 1887 Rossi placed it there and kept guard over it; later it was removed and in 1891, amid scenes of great scandal and public excitement, he occupied the building with a group of men. Even after the trusteeship was resolved in 1894, he remained absorbed in proceedings about the episcopal residence and the West Goulburn parish. His role, though sometimes played with popular backing and always with a show of legalism, generally created additional confusion.

From 7 August 1870 Rossi served as registrar of the District Court at Goulburn. In 1871 his salary was reduced and he began a long paper war with the government; in 1902 he sued in vain for £10,000 compensation, a sign of his financial difficulties. In 1890 he had sold Rossiville for over £15,000 to the government for a lunatic asylum. A near-by property, Kenmore, had been acquired already for this purpose; the mix-up led to an official investigation and seemed to symbolize the later stages of Rossi's career.

In 1883 he left his wife and ceased to support her; in November 1892 she divorced him for desertion under Sir Alfred Stephen's new Act. On 29 September 1894 Rossi was married by the Presbyterian minister W. Dill Macky to Florence Jane Hayley of Bowral. Bishop W. Chalmers of Goulburn refused to admit them to the Holy Communion and the Rossis began, but left off, a suit for damages. Rossi died childless at Sydney on 12 November 1903 and was buried in Waverley cemetery. His second wife pressed their unsettled property claims against the diocese of Goulburn with unabated energy.

Rossi's chosen vocation as a local worthy had begun well and he always retained some popularity. But everything went wrong. Sometimes unfortunate, he was occasionally obliged by straitened resources to make discreditable claims. His lofty disregard for convention, his pertinacity in seeking redress of grievances and his dramatic flair caused constant turmoil and irritated both church and state. If there was any way of making a difficult situation worse, Rossi would invariably find it.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937) and The History of Goulburn, N.S.W. (Goulburn, 1941) and ‘The Comte de Rossi and the Goulburn Cathedral dispute’, JRAHS, 24 (1938)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, 131, 1883-84, 6, 31, 77, 1887-88, 2, 143, 897, 1085, 1890, 7, 283
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 15 Apr 1865
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Dec 1873, 2 July 1890, 27 Jan 1892
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 June 1897
  • Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 9 Aug 1902
  • Diocese of Goulburn, Synod proceedings, 1891-92, 1894 (Diocesan Registry, Sydney)
  • Rossi papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/574/620, 628, 577/4, 54, 73.

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Rossi, Francis Robert Louis (Lewis) (1823–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rossi-francis-robert-louis-lewis-4511/text7379, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 30 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Comte de Rossi
Birth

19 February 1823
Mauritius

Death

12 November 1903
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation