Saturday, 26 August 2017

Letter from Alexandria

Today I received in the post a letter I bought on eBay from a seller in southern Italy. It has taken three weeks, and I was a little worried, but it was worth the wait.
The front of the letter. It predates the use of postage stamps,

It is addressed to 'Signor Cavaliere e Commendatore I. Sonnino Firenze' and postmarked 'TRIEST 15/2 Abends'. On the back it is postmarked 'FIRENZE 17 FEB 1857'. The letter itself is fascinating, written in Italian, and signed by G. Wollheim, whom I take to be Giuseppe Wollheim, usually known as Joseph in the family. The letter is in Italian, a pretty good, proper Italian, considering that he was a German-speaking native of Lissa, what is now Leszno in Poland, though with some errors that sometimes reflect Triestine dialect usage, and in a good, pretty clear hand. It deals with financial affairs in Egypt under the Ottoman Empire. I need help with correcting my transcription, and then it needs translating.




Trieste 14 Febº 1857


Mio Caro Sonnino! 
Ieri te scrisse due righe nel accompagnarti mia lettera ricevuta d'Alessand[ri]a per la tua Casa di Liv[orn]º. Ora ris[…] la grata tua 30 passato, sono contento di vederti soddisfatto della 2da lettera di Natale ed in fatti non poteva aver intenzione di farti un dispiacere nel rifiertarti [?] la reduzione del Cto Cte [conto corrente?] ma solo farti conoscere che ciò non conviene alla Banca, essendo ora appienato questo mal inteso non vogliamo più parlarne, e non dubito che il tema di Natalino sara pure come è stato sempre il mio verso di te di non dare mai il benche minimo motivo a un mal umore fra noi. Al 10 co[rren]te gli scrissi nel modo mi proscrivi [?] di tenere $40 a sopra [?] in C[on]to C[orren]te e di rimetterti il saldo al carso. L'affare fucili sta sempre ancora sospeso, il Processo pende, il Tribunale d'appello da […] in Egitto una nuova revisione n[ost]ra Consule se ne occupa, [?] Bey pare temere in assenza del Pascia di far un passo e cosi non m'è per ora nulla di nuovo ancara. La massa Bacca dicesi dara appena 10% e quella di Trasciati 30% ca ma nulla è di positivo.Le mie lettere d'Alessand[ri]a non contegnano grande cose questa volta il Pascia era sempre in viaggio e si attende il ritorno dal 10 a 15 Marzo. Il bilancio della nos[tr]a banca del quale avrai certamente avuto copia, ascende a [?]42/m Ca, Natale [?] mi osserva che le n[ost]re spese si sono di molto aumentati avendo dovuto per la gran carestia aumentare i salari in generale, i cambi alti ci partarono dano, cioe: una diminuzione d'utile [?] come pure il M[on]te aggii viene ridotto a una bagatella, tutto ciò considerando possiamo essere contenti del risulatato, mi mando pure una Lista delle n[ost]re Esposizioni la quale nulla lascia a desiderare. Per l'affare Rana attende vano per p[rossi]mo Vassare lettere di Joyce che l'a casa sia in perfetto ordine e che di accessi con la vendita del Carnio [?] anche esser fuori di qualunque pensiero. Cosi dunque mio buon amico stano le n[ost]re cose speriamo che n[ost]ri affari anderano sempre bene Inschalla! ed attendo sentirti contento del risulatato del rend'to Bilancio. Il mio Cansale [?] intanto si occupa col n[ost]ro affare Pretensiami [?] avendati nuovam[en]te diretto alla ambasciata per non perdere il tempo prezioso per il caso che il Pascia al suo ritorno facesse difficolta di arrangiarlo, o di accettare l'arbitraggio. Il governo si trova nuovamente in gran ristretezza, in altri tempi produsse una circonstanza simile in effetto  dei cambi, ma adesso non, i cambi restano alti per mancanza anche di carta primaria. Il Governo deve rimettere £68/m per il Tributo Valennim [?] e non furono chiamati per farlo. Trattono anche altre questo si dare 1 Milionze [?] di feti[?] al Governo in cambiali a 3pm, s'intende a delle buone condizioni. Alla fine della lettera mi anunzia per P. S. Natale, che per le £68/m pari o finito verso una quantificazione di $5/m, per il Milione di fetis[?] mi dira il di pr[opr?]ria con prossima sua cambinando questo affare, mi dice che dovra anche sopra te prevalersi di $20 a 3a/m. Non avendo altro d'aggiungere per oggi ti saluto unitamente a tutti tuoi per parte dei miei d in attesa di presto ricevere tue buone nuove sono tuo aff[etuos]o amicoG. Wollheim

The name Sonnino is nowadays mostly known as that of Sidney Sonnino, the nineteenth Prime Minister of Italy. Wikipedia says that he was born in Pisa on 11th March 1847. His brother Giorgio was born on 17th February 1844 in Alexandria in Egypt, the son of Isacco Saul Sonnino, and of his Welsh wife. Sidney was raised as an Anglican. His father was Jewish, a native of Livorno (Leghorn), and was an important and wealthy banker in Alexandria. He was the recipient of this letter, which reflects the related interests of the Wollheim family also in Alexandria. Joseph (here Giuseppe) Wollheim's sister Johanna married Leopold Schiff, and the couple must have spent time in Egypt, as their first child was born there, and named Emma Alessandra in recognition of this. Their eldest son Charles Schiff was also involved in the Egyptian side of the business and is believed to have lived and worked there in his youth, and even to have been involved with de Lesseps in the construction of the Suez Canal which took place from 1859 to 1869.


Sidney Sonnino, son of Isacco Saul Sonnino, the recipient of this letter
The letter is addressed to I. Sonnino simply in Florence. In fact, Isacco had purchased a sixteenth-century fortress which became Castello Sonnino. He became a baron on 29th November 1862. He was born in 1803 and died in 1878.


Castello Sonnino
Giuseppe (Joseph) Wollheim, the sender of the letter



The Conversion of Isacco Saul Sonnino: Missionary journal and memoir of the Rev. Joseph Wolf, written by himself; revised and edited by John Bayford. London, J. Duncan, 1824


3 June 1838: a bank failure in which Isaac Sonnino was implicated



I find on your list of English burials at Livorno the name Anne Menhennet, without a date of burial. She is undoubtedly related in some way to the great Italian statesman Sidney Sonnino (1847-1922). I daresay Sonnino is the only former Prime Minister of Italy to have the first name Sidney and at the same time be of Jewish descent and to practise the Anglican faith. Sidney Sonnino’s Parents, Isaac and Georgina (Isacco & Giorgina in Italian) were married in Alexandria, Egypt,on 13th of April 1843 under the rites of the Anglican Church. In the marriage agreement Georgina (aged 19) is described as the daughter of Mrs Anne Menhennet and of Mr Sidney Terry, an English Merchant of Alexandria. Isaac Sonnino (aged 39) is described as a merchant and a man of property, resident in Alexandria. He was the son of Signor Moise and Signora Dolce Sonnino of Livorno.At the time of the wedding Sidney Terry was married to Sara, nee Friend, from the English community at Alexandria; I am descended from them.Isaac and Georgina stayed in Alexandria for some years before eventually returning to Livorno. From these facts it would seem that the Anne Menhennet buried at Livorno was Georgina’s mother, and Sidney Sonnino’s grandmother. We would have to conclude that Georgina was illegitimate. Unfortunately that is not the tradition as understood by either the Italian or the English side of the family. I can develop this story further if anyone is interested.Dr Richard Rowlatt, Ulverston, Cumbria, England.



Kingdom of Egypt, Cheque 50'776,09 Egyptian Piastres 12.06.1849 Alexandria F.lli Sonnino & C.
Kingdom of Egypt Cheque 3086,2/40 30.04.1842 Alexandria




28 August 2017

Some searches on the internet produced interesting results for Sidney Terry, the father-in-law of Isacco Sonnino. In the National Archives there is a deposit recorded in the British Library of letters for the period 1842–1847, and he is described as 'Terry, Sidney (1801-1847) Merchant of Alexandria and Bombay'. I have not seen these letters. 


American Travelers on the Nile: Early U.S. Visitors to Egypt, 1774–1839

By Andrew Oliver

City of Gold: The Biography of Bombay


By Gillian Tindall





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The Memsahibs: The Women of Victorian India

By Pat Barr
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Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students ..., Volume 2

edited by John Venn

Allgemeine Zeitung München: 1843




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