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Chiaffredo Venerano Fraire (1852–1931)

by Diane Menghetti and Peter Woodforde

This article was published:

Chiaffredo Venerano Fraire (1852-1931), merchant and immigration agent, was born on 22 October 1852 at Envie, Piedmont, Italy, eldest son of Chiaffredo Venerano Fraire, farmer, and his wife Giovanna Maria, née Bovo. Young Chiaffredo was educated to secondary level, probably at Cuneo. At the age of 20 he exchanged his interest in the family estate for cash in order to travel to Australia.

With sixteen priests and a number of other middle-class Italian men, he was attracted to Queensland by Bishop James Quinn . Fraire travelled with the bishop in the Silver Eagle, reaching Brisbane on 24 May 1872; the sculptor Achille Simonetti was also in the party. Fraire began work as a draper's apprentice but next year rushed to the new goldfield on the Palmer River. His career as a miner was short lived, however, and he became a clerk in a tent-store in the diggings, before leaving for Townsville within a year.

Fraire was then employed by the draper (Sir) James Burns, whose secretary (Sir) Robert Philp took over the Townsville branch in 1876 when Burns moved to Sydney. Philp and Fraire shared a house in these years. Burns, Philp & Co. prospered and Fraire, who was naturalized in 1878 (the year he took up Freemasonry), was despatched to England as a buyer in 1879. He also spent some months in Italy. On his return he married Brisbane-born Sarah Ann Shekelton with Anglican rites on 27 July 1880 at Townsville. They had four children between 1881 and 1886. In partnership with a fellow Quinn recruit, the pharmacist Pio Vico Armati, in 1880 he opened a drapery in a former Burns, Philp warehouse. In 1887 he sold out and again visited Italy.

Back at Townsville next year Fraire set up his own drapery and was appointed a justice of the peace. He also lobbied planters to support his scheme to recruit northern Italian agricultural labourers for the sugar industry. Philp had entered politics and with his support Fraire was despatched in 1891 to recruit his Piedmontese labourers. Despite some objections from the Italian government, 331 northern Italians arrived at Townsville in the Jumna on 2 December 1891. These workers formed the nucleus of what was to become in the 1920s a mass Italian migration into the north Queensland sugar industry.

In the following years Fraire speculated, not always successfully, in land and was declared bankrupt at Townsville in June 1899. After brief spells in Brisbane, and at Maryborough and Cairns, and the death of his wife in 1906, he settled at Rockhampton where he focussed his enormous energy and enthusiasm on theosophy (which he had taken up around 1900) and Freemasonry. He established the Theosophical Hall (opened 1919) and wrote a regular theosophy column, under the pen-name 'Vigour', for the Rockhampton Bulletin.

In the 1890s Fraire was slight and dark-haired, and sported a neat beard. In later years he wore a moustache but later still was clean-shaven. An early twentieth century photograph showed him in fancy dress as Garibaldi. He was a passionate vegetarian. 'Padre' Fraire died at Rockhampton on 5 January 1931 and was buried in North Rockhampton cemetery with Anglican rites. His son and three daughters survived him. A later biographer—Dr J. W. B. Bean, the brother of Charles Bean—wrote:

no one could have been humbler, more single-hearted, or less self-conscious than Fraire . . . His will-power was amazing, and to his own weaknesses and physical failings he was ruthless, but always tender and considerate towards others

Select Bibliography

  • F. Galassi, Sotto La Croce del Sud: Under the Southern Cross (Townsville, Qld, 1991)
  • W. A. Douglass, From Italy to Ingham (Brisb, 1995)
  • P. M. Armati, Pio Vico Armati (Syd, 1997)
  • J. W. Bean, biography of C. V. Fraire (manuscript, James Cook University).

Citation details

Diane Menghetti and Peter Woodforde, 'Fraire, Chiaffredo Venerano (1852–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fraire, Padre
  • Vigour

22 October, 1852
Envie, Piedmont, Italy


5 January, 1931 (aged 78)
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.