Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Francesco Cesare Luigi Stefano Vanzetti (1878–1967)

by Dorothy Erickson

This article was published:

Francesco Cesare Luigi Stefano Vanzetti (1878-1967), public servant and university lecturer, was born on 29 April 1878 at Padua, Italy, eldest child of Domenico Vanzetti, clerk, and his wife Malvina, née Ricca. Francesco, intending to become an architect, began studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence, but was orphaned at 17. His uncle Eugenio Vanzetti brought him to Western Australia; they arrived at Albany in the Ormuz on 3 January 1896. Other members of his family were to follow. Francesco settled in Perth and was employed from 1900 as a clerk in the statistical branch, Department of Mines. Tall, handsome and personable, he joined the Western Australian Society of Arts, serving as honorary secretary from 1901, and treasurer in 1903-06. He designed bookplates, catalogue covers, fountains, furniture, jewellery and a leadlight panel for H.M.S. Commonwealth, and taught drawing at the Fremantle Evening School.

On 26 February 1903 at St Bartholomew's Church of England, East Perth, Vanzetti married Evelyn Baxter (d.1960). Naturalized on 30 September that year, he was to Anglicize his name to Francis. With J. W. R. Linton he won a national competition in 1909 to design and make a challenge shield for the Commonwealth Council of the Rifle Associations of Australia. The two men did not work well together and fell out shortly after. In 1912 Vanzetti selected land at Marchagee, north of Moora. To fund the venture he sold his house at South Perth and its contents, including all his art works and his wife's jewellery. Drought, flood and wheat rust dogged the family's farming efforts and they were in danger of losing the property until his wife borrowed money and purchased it in her own right.

In 1919 Vanzetti joined the Department of Agriculture in Perth as a clerk while his wife worked the farm with the help of their two sons. He became assistant to G. L. Sutton, and in 1922 was appointed wheat experimentalist at the Merredin Experiment Farm. As part of his duties he lectured to farmers and wrote on agricultural matters for the Western Mail. When he was not promoted in 1924, he resigned and returned to the farm for four years. He called this period his 'dishwashing years', although he continued to write articles on agriculture for the West Australian until 1930.

Vanzetti met Professor (Sir) Walter Murdoch about 1928. At Murdoch's suggestion the University of Western Australia established an Italian course, and Vanzetti began lecturing part time in 1929. Joining the University Art Club, he exhibited his old designs for jewellery and became an art critic for the West Australian. In 1933 he wrote: 'culture alone can liberate us from the slavery and incubus of our modern materialistic existence'. When Mrs Vanzetti returned to Perth in 1952 the couple bought a house at Claremont. Founding president (1952-55) of the Dante Alighieri Society in Western Australia, he was awarded the society's gold medal in 1956. In 1962 the university conferred an honorary M.A. on him. He continued lecturing for one more year, retiring at the age of 85. Survived by his sons, he died on 10 September 1967 at Claremont and was cremated. Since 1987 the department of Italian at the University of Western Australia has commemorated him with the Vanzetti memorial lecture.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gentilli, The Unbent Poplar (Perth, 1988)
  • Gazette of the University of Western Australia, vol 17, no 3, Sept 1967, p 34
  • Western Mail (Perth), 26 Sept 1903, 3 Dec 1904
  • West Australian, 9 Feb 1909, 15 Sept 1967.

Citation details

Dorothy Erickson, 'Vanzetti, Francesco Cesare Luigi Stefano (1878–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 April, 1878
Padua, Italy


10 September, 1967 (aged 89)
Claremont, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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