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A short history of Bronte

The Facts from 2 to 5 August 1860

From July 29 to August 6, an impressive sequence of violence and hatred of class fell on Bronte.

The population, to the "sbarco dei Mille" (landing of the thousand) was divided into two factions: that of the "Communists" or Municipal, led by the lawyer Lombardo Nicolò, and the other of the so-called "civilians" or Ducal, friends of the duke Nelson, (at the epoch of the facts the Dukedom was in the hands of Charlotte Nelson-Bridport, granddaughter of Horatio Nelson, married to Samuel Hood, second viscount Bridport).

The brontese people, badly misinterpreting the spirit which was animating the Garibaldian shipment to Sicily, realizing that they were getting only promises. not trusting the courts for legal operations nor the managers of the council any longer, decided to intervene armed and compact, creating disorders and a terror climate.

Sure to be able to take possession of the immense land property of the Dukedom, gave vent to their secular hatred and anger with an aberrant slaughter of "Cappelli" (so were called the wealthy people and the feudatories of Bronte).

The massacre was in the air and had been nearly announced.

A common man, thought to be crazy, was shouting in the town streets, under the houses indicated to him, the repetitive chant: "Cappelli guaddativi, l’ura du giudizziu s’avvicina, populu non mancari all’appellu"(" look out hats, the time for justice approaches, people do not miss your roll call").

The "Galantuomini" (Hats, or gentlemen), stupidly enough, were laughing at the lunatic, while the common men were sharpening hatchets and knifes and preparing gun powder, opening their souls to the craving for wild vengeance.

Maybe if the lawyer Nicolò Lombardo, captain of one of the three teams of National Guard and "leader" of the "Communists" or Municipal, would have obtained from the Governor of Catania one of the two charges to which he was certainly aiming, (president of the municipality or judge), maybe he would have been able to brake the farmers agitation.


In the picture on the left, the year­ning for "freedom" that transpi­res from the facts of Bronte in a picture by Pietro Annigoni of 1988.

In the picture above a very rare photo taken in 1890: shows two public "banditori" (rea­ders of an­noun­cements) along the Corso Um­berto of Bron­te.
Such figure has disappeared in the town only since few tens of years; many re­mem­ber the last brontese pu­blic an­noun­cer called  "Braszi Piattella". He had confirmed to mo­dern time, besi­des  Council's advi­ces, adver­tised also the films showing in the old Cine-theater.

But the situation deteriorated in a few days: a street demonstration, got out of his control, resulting in a bloody revolution planned for the Sunday 5 August, the "Holyday" for the Madonna della Catena (of the Chain).

From the moment, however, that the persons indicated for revenge were slipping away on the quiet, the rebels (but not Lombardo) decided to besiege the town and, to the sound of the "funeral" bells, to anticipate the slaughter (the "scanna") at August 2.

Among the roadblock instituted to avoid the running away of the "hats" and the fires set to the thea­tre, the municipal archive, the "The gentlemen's club" (46 were the houses set to fire), the rebels, as a herd of ravenous wolves, desirous of blood and robberies, were coming out of every alley, they were sacking, they were firing, killing.

In a sequence of ferocious scenes were mercilessly slaughtered many well to do people and a rebel hit by mistake by a stray bullet.

Sixteen persons were cruelly massacred:

among others were killed, the notary Cannata and his son Antonino, the Council cashier Francesco Aidala, the municipal guard Carmelo Luca, a employee of the land register Vincenzo Lo Turco, Rosario Leotta accountant of the Duchy and the bailiff Giuseppe Martinez.

Behind these killings there was hatred never soothed, vexations never forgotten, extreme poverty, but also wish for freedom and generous anxieties risen up again in front of what was appearing the splendid and quick Garibaldi action, with his promises to give immediate satisfaction to the rural claims.

The hopes of the farmers, all poor laborers, had been suddenly re-lighted, they wanted to re-appro­priate of the state properties and of the immense land property usurped twice by the Hospital In Paler­mo (1494) and by the admiral Nelson (1799). And the gigantic case undertaken by the brontese community against the usurpers for three centuries (had lasted since 1554 and it had not been yet concluded ), could finally have an end.

LIBERTA', DISEGNO DI BRUNO CARUSOThe anger, for long repressed, of the farmers exploded in forms of atrocious violence also for the infiltration of the many elements escaped from jail in all of Sicily and the contemporary arrival, from surrounding country towns, of other individuals not very reliable.

«Had got back to Bronte, from the jails, some criminals, known for killings and robberies. The rumbling in Bronte attracted also, as vultures to the smell of carrion, other lawless elements from Adernò, Biancavilla, Pedara, Alcara Li Fusi». (Benedetto Radice, Nino Bixio a Bronte).

On August 4 a company of the National Guard reached Bronte from Ca­ta­nia to restore the order, but the riots continued.

On August 5, on Sunday, a company of soldiers arrived in Bronte and the crowd started to calm down.

Garibaldi, camped in the river bed of S. Filippo, in the near south peri­phe­ry of Messina, more to protect the interest of the English property owners, (these were the pressing requests of the English consul John Goodwin) that for reasons of public order, decides to send his reliable lieutenant Nino Bixio, camped at Giardini, to go immediately to Bronte and put down the rebellion.

Rather than the primary rights of the brontese people, he chose the im­proper ones of the English citizens.

Strangely enough, the rebellion, intended to support the Garibaldian revolution, was stifled by the same Garibaldian chiefs.

The British had helped Garibaldi: to the ships of the English fleet, moored in the harbor in Marsala, had been ordered to support the Garibaldian landing, which took place quietly and without any opposition. They could not accept in silence the occupation of the Dukedom by the populace therefore required a vigorous intervention of the Garibaldian troops?

On the other hand, the new Italian go­vernment, from which was expected the annulment of the gift of 1799, renewed it in his turn and assumed also the burden to pay the canon due to the Hospital In Palermo for property that the Bourbon had assigned in 1799 to the Admiral.

Bixio reached Bronte on August 6 with two battalions of bersaglieri, when the rising had exhausted his violent charge and the true authors of the misdeeds had already disap­peared in the near countryside ("...the rebels obviously have run away", so Bixio himself wrote to the major Dezza in a letter of August 7).

He lodged in the Capizzi College and stayed there only three days.

Ordered immediately the state of siege and intimated that all arms would have to be handed over within three hours and a war tax of ten onzes per hour was quickly imposed.

To set an example of severity, as deterrent to other similar situations developing in other towns, he implemented a retaliation without precedents against defenceless farmers, and improvised avenger, turned his fury on the first fellows who fell in the net.

He made intervene the «commissione mista di guerra» (mixed war com­mittee), to hold a quick and hasty trial against those who were consi­dered the chiefs of the riot.

The matter was liquidated within few days: with extremely grave trial and juridical procedures, the cause was concluded, the evening of August 9, in just four hours.

At 12.00 to the defendants (some of them almost illiterate) was given an hour of time to present in writing their defence.

Rather than an hour, four of accused presented their paper at 14.30 and this was sufficient for the court to reject everything because the defense had been presented at expired time.

The attempts and the disputes of the principal defendant (the lawyer Nicolo' Lombardo) were useless and unsuccessful.

He tried with all his strengths to convince the judges of the weakness and falseness of the charges gathered against him.

The war committee issued the sentence on Thursday August 9 at 8 p.m.: five people, among which the Avv. Nicola Lombardo (old patriot of liberal education, who had spontaneously presented himself), culprits according to Bixio's judgment and that of the improvised and frightened Committee, were sentenced to death by firing squad.

The lawyer Lombardo Nicolò (truly innocent victim) and the common men Nunzio Spitaleri Nunno, Nunzio Samperi Spiridione, Nunzio Longhitano Longi and Nunzio Ciraldo Fraiunco, the town's idiot, totally infirm of mind, pointed to as the provokers of the sacks and the killings, victims of reasons to them incomprehensible, at the dawn of August 10th, 1860,  were shot in presence of all the population in the little square before the church of San Vito.

"One of the sentenced, not hit by the shooting discharge, keeping in his hand the image of the Virgin, was shouting": - Grace! Grace! - It was the madman. The officer approached him and gave him" the grace blow. (Benedetto Radice)

On August 10th, 1860, together with five unlucky ones, was also dying the warlike spirit of the bron­tese folks, betrayed by the one in whom they had believed: the "liberator" Garibaldi, behind whom many volunteers from Bronte had gone "to do" the revolution.

The action imposed by Bixio to the judges of the mixed war committee was a choice coldly calculated. He was certainly sacrificing justice but fully answering to politic necessities and the hard laws of the war. The shootings gave wide satisfaction to the British nation whose secular interests on the Dukedom had been seriously threatened by the revo­lutionary wave.

In Bronte it wasn't possible to touch these privileges that the people wanted to knock down and that had languished and degraded in poverty for many generations all the brontese community.

Few days later Bixio was announcing that "the murderers and thieves of Bronte were strictly punished"... the shooting followed immediately their crimes".

And in the end everything was getting back as before: the "gentlemen" to their place, the poor rural men now poorer than ever.

"In the town everybody went back to what were doing before.
The gentlemen couldn't work their land with their own hands, and the poor people couldn't live without the gentlemen.

The tragedy of Bronte had ended, and had not solved anything.

The brontese people were left with the same miserable conditions, the hunger, the "freedom wish" from slavery and poverty and the bitter certainty of promises never kept.
Nino Bixio shall have for all his life on his conscience those dead of Bronte; so was writing in a letter to his wife: "damned mission, where a man of my nature should never been destined".

To the first summary proceedings instituted by Bixio before a special commission and rapidly concluded with five death sentences, another one, celebrated before the Catania Court of Assizes, followed.

It lasted three years and ended in 1863 with 37 sentences, 25 of them to life imprisonment.


The horrible slaughter of brontese "galantuomini" (the "cap­pelli") in drawing of the painter Orfeo Tamburi; on the right, Nino Bixio.
In the images above: the killing of the young Antonino Cannata, son of the notary of the Ducea, in a scene from the film by Florestano Vancini «Bronte, chronicle of a massacre that history books have not told»; a drawing by Bruno Caruso entitled "Libertà"; the general Garibaldino Nino Bixio and a mural with the shooting of the five revolts wanted by Bixio.

The convent and the Church of  San Vito. On the square in front, near the entrance to the courtyard, Bixio had the avv. Lombardo Nicolò and others shot, as culprits of slaughter in the facts of 1860.

The drawing from the History Of The Town In Bronte of Gesualdo De Luca (1883)


The integral edition of the Nino Bixio to Bronte (Benedict's Radice monograph drawn by the II° volume of the "Historical Memories of Bronte")
We offer it to You in format

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The Facts from 2 to 5 August 1860

(Italian version)

Garibaldi's proclamation

   "I have brought to you a rank of valiant men  rushing to Sicily's heroic call, rest of the Lombard battle.
   We are with you! We won't other then the freedom of our land. All together, the work shall be easy and brief. To arms then!
   Who does not take up an arm is a coward and a traitor of his country. Don't use the pretext of the lack of arms. We shall have guns; but for the moment any arm is sufficient, in the hands of a valiant man. The Councils shall look after the kids, the women, the fragile old people.
   To arms, all of you! Sicily shall teach once again how a country can become free from oppressors with the strong will of a united people".

Bixio' proclamations

(originals preserved in the archives of the Capizzi College)

Bixio, as soon as arrived in Bronte, with announcement of the 6 August de­cla­res the town culprit of injured humanity


So that everyone knows the public government intends to restore order in the councils from whom will dare to upset it, the Governor Of The Province Of Catania infers to public knowledge the following decree:

The general g. N. BIXIO in virtue of the faculties received by the dictator


the rountry town of Bronte Guilty of injured humanity is declared in state of siege. In the term of three hour to starting at 1:30 p.m. the inhabitants will deliver the cutting and firearms, transgressors shall be shot.
The municipality is dissolved to reorganize to the terms of law. The national guard is dissolved also to reorganize to law term.
To the military authority will be delivered the authors of committed crimes to be judged by a special committee. A war tax of ten onzes per hour is imposed to the country beginning at 10:00 p,m. of the 4 current day, time of the mobilization of the military strength in Postavina and shall terminate at the moment of regulate organization of the country.
The present decree will be affix and announced from the public announcer.
Bronte August 6th, 1860.

The Governor of the Province of Catania

The mixed special war Commission publishes the sentence of the  9 August, that shall be affixed to all Sicilian Councils.

Makes public the decision emitted in Bronte, from the mixed special war Commission, for crimes there occurred, so conceived:
The mixed special war Commission purposely erected, resident in Bronte, composed by messrs Francesco De Felice Major President, Biagio Cor­magi, Alfio Castro, Ignazio Cagnotti Giudici, with the intervention of the fiscal advocate Miche­langelo Guarnaccia, assisted by the Secretary Chancellor Niccolò Boscarini in the seating of today has emitted the following decision.

In the cause against D. Niccolò Lombardo, D. Luigi Saitta, D. Carmelo Minissale, Nunzio Longhitano, Nunzio Spitaleri Nunno, Nunzio Saperi Spirione, and Nunzio Ciraldo Fraiunco from Bronte, accused of civil war, devastation, robbery, fires with murder, and of detention of arms but for Lombardo, Longhitano, and Spitaleri, happened in Bronte from the 1 August and following of the 1860 in damage of  Rosario Leotta and company, and of public order.


1. It is not consistent enough that Luigi Saitta and Carmelo Minissale could be guilty, unlike to the conclusions of the fiscal advocate.

2. It is consistent that D. Nicolò Lombardo, Nunzio Samperi Spirione, Nunzio Spitaleri Nunno, Nunzio Ciraldo Fraìunco, and Nunzio Longhitano Longi are guilty of the crimes to them charged, according to the indictment, and to the oral conclusions of the fiscal advocate.


To get a more ample instruction in the case of the said Saitta and Minissale, who should remain in the same custody mode.

Condemns D. Nicolò Lombardo. Nunzio Samperi Spirione, Nunzio Ciraldo Fra­iun­co, Nunzio Spitaleri Nunno, and Nunzio Longhitano Longi to death pe­nalty to be executed by shooting, and with second degree of public example in the cur­rent day at 10:00 p.m. of Italy, condemns them also to pay the cost of the judgment in favor of the Bank of Finances to be liquidated according to the law.

Orders finally that of the present decision would be made as many copies as are the Councils of the island for the due publicity.

Done, decided, and published in Bronte the 9 August 1860 8:00 p.m.

For conforming extract - Niccolò Boscarini
FOR THE GOVERNOR the General Secretary

Inhabitants of the Catania Province

The 12 August Bixio announces to the inhabitants of the province of Catania that in  Bronte justice has been done

The murderers, and the thieves of Bronte were severely punished -- you know it! The shooting followed immediately their crimes -- I leave this province -- The municipalities, and the civic Councils, the reorganized national guards shall answer to me of the public quiet!
... However the chiefs should stay in their place, with energy and courage, have confidence in the Government and in the strength, who doesn't feel -- Well to his place should resign, there is no lack of skilled and vigorous citizens who can replace them.
The authorities should tell to their managed that the government is responsible for suitable laws and the opportune legal judgments for the reintegration of some public property -- But they also should say to who tries other streets like doing justice by himself woe! to the instigators and to whom tries to subvert the public order under any excuse.
If not I, others in my place will renew the shootings of Bronte if the law wants it. The military commandant of the province covers the councils of this district.
Randazzo August 12th, 1860.
The General Major G. Nino Bixio

Translated by Sam Di BellaITALIAN VERSION

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