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Birth and Parentage-Descent-His Mother-Education-Early Business
Experience-Goes to South Africa-Starts a Business at Cape Town, Enterprise and Energy-Closes Business—His Life at Cape Town.
JOHN CHARLES MOLTENO was born on the 5th of June, 1814, three months before the final cession of the Cape of Good Hope to England, and one year before the battle of Waterloo. The stirring events of the time in which he was born were reflected in his christian names. It was said he was called • John Charles' after Napoleon's General Bernadotte, who at this time was making a considerable stir, and who became King of Sweden in 1818. These were the days of Catholic disabilities. His father, John Molteno, was a Catholic, and the boy's birth was registered at the Bavarian Ambassador’s Chapel in Warwick Street. Mr. Molteno was in the home Civil Service at Somerset House, and he died at an early age, but he had already attained to the position of a Deputy-Controller of Legacy Duty, while he had also qualified himself to practise as an attorney of the King's Bench. His wife was Caroline Bower, a daughter of Mr. George Bower, whose family have been connected for generations with the Bank of England, and who himself occupied the
position of head of one of the legal departments in that great institution.
As the surname indicates, the family was originally of Italian descent, though already settled for some generations in England. Three brothers had come over from Italy with their friends the Colnaghis, the founders of the wellknown firm of printers and lithographers in Pall Mall. Italy is a country of very ancient memories and records. Leland tells us that there are still families extant whose names are to be found written in Etruscan characters on ancient monuments upon the estates of which they are still in possession. If this cannot be said of the Molteno family, it is nevertheless sufficiently ancient. An old chronicler thus explains the origin of the name : The noble signors, after the destruction of Milan by Uraja, who had retired among the surrounding villas, seeing the danger of their situation, turned to Milan, and, that they might be distinguished family from family, preserved, every one of them, as a distinctive name, the name of the district or villa from whence they came. And in this manner many of the Milanese families had their origin from the Brianza : such names are the Pirovano, the Brevio, the Osnago . . . the Molteno all noble families whose names occur in our most ancient charters and historical documents, and all now extant.
If we ascend to the roof of the Cathedral at Milan and look northward to the line of Alps, we are struck by the peculiar serrated ridge of the mountain Il Resegone (the Saw), which marks the extremity of the Lecco arm of the Lake of Como. All who have read Manzoni's novel, The Betrothed,' will remember the description of the country
Englishmen and Frenchmen are the result of odern mixtures of people, but the Italians, like Hawthorne's Marble Faun, are absolutely ancient, if not pre-historic. There are families in Italy who find their family names in Etruscan monuments on their estates.' P. 11 of Introduction to Etrusco-Roman Remains, by C. G. Leland.
with which he opens the narrative. In this neighbourhood the crested Alps cease, and are represented by subdued ridges and isolated hills, interspersed with small lakes, together comprising a country celebrated for its beauty and fertility. This is the Brianza or Bel Paese. The hills finally pass into the level plain in which lies the great city of Milan. If we proceed over the bridge at Lecco along the Via Promessi Sposi, passing the lakes of Anone and Pusiano, very charming in their quiet beauty, after traversing a distance of nine miles we arrive at the small town of Molteno, situated on one of the isolated hills, the slopes of which are covered with vines and mulberry trees; the church towers above the town, crowning the hill top and commanding extensive views from its broad steps. The houses cluster in narrow, crooked streets about the lower slopes and base of the hill. This is the spot which gave its name to the family of Molteno. It must have formed a strong position as a fortress, and though the castle has disappeared, the spot is still known as the Piazza di Castello. Here they founded a church, and for many years held the patronage in consequence.
The name of the family of Molteno occurs frequently in the early history of the Brianza. While retaining possession of Molteno they were among the leading families of Milan, and came into especial prominence at the time of the great struggle between the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the municipal towns of Lombardy. The family of Molteno are specially mentioned as having taken part in the negotiations with Frederick relative to the surrender of their native city in the year 1162.2
! See Teatro Araldico, Lodi, 1843, vol. iii.
? Milan was at this time the first city of Italy, and headed the league which had for its object a determined resistance to the pretensions of the Emperor to the exercise of rights which had long fallen into abeyance. Frederick Barbarossa, the imperious and energetic representative of the Roman Emperors, led from Germany seven successive armies against the Lombard towns; the brunt of the struggle fell upon Milan. Having attacked her with an army of 15,000 cavalry and 100,000 foot she successfully repelled his assault, and so little was
The historian Galvaneus Flamma mentions them by name as one of the thirty-one commissioners appointed to treat with the Emperor, while the chronicler of the Counts of Angleria mentions Menaduxius de Molteno amongst those who aided and gave passage to Frederick when he attacked the Counts of Angleria, who claimed feudal lordship over them. These families, in common with their class, were eager to assert their independence of all feudal control ; their position would be almost analogous to the imperial knights found in Germany and Austria at the end of the last century. Flamma says they did not consent to the destruction of Milan, which followed upon the surrender to Frederick, but merely to the destruction of the counts. Crescenzi (di Pietro) tells us that the family of Molteno were friendly to the Emperor, giving passage to him as above, and that he 'confirmed the privileges, increased the titles, granted the bearing of the imperial eagle, crowned and named barons of the empire the families of Casati ... and Molteno.' A coat of arms with the imperial eagle crowned on a field of gold, has been handed down in the family to the present day.
Fagnani, whose work is the authority on the nobility of Milan, and who wrote at the beginning of the seventeenth century, says: 'We have gathered from many ancient writings that the family of Molteno is a very ancient and noble family.'?
The family continued to take an important part in the
gained that peace was made as between equals. The proud Emperor deter mined to humble the pride of the cities. He led a new army of 100,000 men against Milan. He did not dare to attack the town directly, but ravaged their territory for several seasons in succession, destroying their crops, and thus starved the town which he could not take by assault. Milan was compelled to yield to famine.
| The Dizionario Araldico says the bearing of the Black Eagle on a ground of gold denotes a brave and intrepid mind, accompanied by the favouring circumstances of a stable good fortune (* nero in fondo d' oro dimostra un animo forte e intrepido in mezzo ai favori della stabile fortuna ').
: Codici MSS. entitled Fagnani Famiglie, p. 106.
various leading events in the subsequent history of Milan. We find Georgius di Molteno appearing as the head of the great College of Advocates and Notaries at various times from 1403 to 1435. In 1448 Phillipus di Molteno was one of the thirty-six men who were added to the twelve • leaders of liberty' of the Republic of Milan after the death of the Duke Philip Maria Visconti. In 1447, among the councillors • returned to the general council of the Republic of Milan, and elected as the best, wealthiest, and most useful citizens, and as loving the peaceful condition of their country,' appears Petrolus di Molteno. While among the 150 nobles elected for the purpose of preferring the oath of fealty to the eldest son of Galeas Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, are found Petrus, Joannes, Christopher, and Henricus di Molteno, as well as Ambrosius di Molteno, all elected for various quarters of the city, showing that at this time they were a numerous and important family. About the year 1498 a Molteno is found in charge of the works in connection with the building of the cathedral. Mention is made of them in the works on the history of Milan and Lombardy at various periods ranging from the sixteenth century down to modern times.
The reader will remember that Italy was the first country in Europe during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, in wealth, in literature, in art, in music, and all the forms of expression of the highest civilisation. It was the cradle of our modern civilisation, which spread itself northwards to France, Germany, and England. The subsequent history of Milan was an epitome of the history of Italy. Attacked by the French, the Spaniards, and the Turks, all at the same time, it succumbed. The French under Louis XII. took possession of Milan and held it for twelve years from the year 1500. It was again conquered in 1515 by Francis I. When Francis was defeated at the great battle of Pavia in 1525, Charles V. annexed it to the Crown of Spain, and so it remained until the year 1714,