Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rossi, Maffio (1855–1932)

by Gianfranco Cresciani

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Maffio Rossi (1855-1932), businessman, was born on 14 April 1855 at Sondrio, near Lake Como, Italy, son of Maffio Rossi, silk merchant, and his wife Maria, née Calvi. He completed an accountancy course and learned from his father how to transact business. Disappointed with his prospects, in 1879 Rossi went to London where he worked in an accountancy firm and began reading about Australia.

After visiting Sondrio, on 28 May 1880 he embarked at Plymouth in the Cotapaxi, reaching Melbourne in August. With another Italian, Francesco Villa, he obtained a hawker's licence and, assisted by the Hetherington Trading Co., bought a 'mobile merchandise store', a wagon drawn by four horses; they began selling mainly linen and clothing in Victoria and the New South Wales outback.

By 1883 Villa & Rossi had opened a store in New South Wales, at Ivanhoe. Rossi visited Italy in 1887 and on 3 May at Bergamo married his fiancée Lucia Marianna Enrichetta Carini (d.1936), a teacher of French and musically gifted. On their return Rossi built a new store at Hillston, which prospered. Elected to Hillston Municipal Council in 1890 he was mayor in 1892-95 and later a justice of the peace. Moving to Sydney in 1898, Rossi started importing Italian manufactured goods. In 1906 he established the Australian Commercial Co. Ltd which soon became the largest importer of Italian marble and maintained this position of virtual monopoly until World War II. Among other products Rossi imported Borsalino hats, buttons, shoes, olive oil and vermouth. In 1922-32 he was foundation president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Australia. For his role in promoting Italian trade, in 1922 he was appointed cavaliere of the Order of the Crown of Italy.

From 1900 he lived in a palatial home in Park Street, Burwood, moving about 1910 to Liverpool Road. Frequent guests were the leaders of the Italian establishment in Sydney, as well as such celebrities as the Italian soprano Toti Dal Monte, the tenor De Muro Lomanto, the apostolic delegate Archbishop Bartolomeo Cattaneo, and (Cardinal Sir) Norman Gilroy.

In the 1920s Rossi, like most Italian businessmen in Australia, expressed sympathy for Mussolini's Fascist regime and attended public functions in its support. His last successful enterprise was to establish the Hatbands & Trimmings Manufacturing Co. Ltd: he had visited Italy early in 1929, buying a factory manufacturing textile trim at Intra on Lake Maggiore, and bringing to Australia the plant, its thirty factory workers and its technical manager Ettore Maderna.

On 19 May 1932 Rossi died of cerebral haemorrhage at his Burwood home and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. His wife, three daughters and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Y. McBurney and G. Twigg, An Italian Heritage (Syd, 1985)
  • Italian Bulletin of Australia, 16 Apr 1928
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Aug 1922, 5 Sept 1923, 25 Nov 1925, 13 Mar 1929, 20 May 1932.

Citation details

Gianfranco Cresciani, 'Rossi, Maffio (1855–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rossi-maffio-8275/text14499, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 30 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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