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Margherita Prosdocimi

Margherita Prosdocimi

Female 1878 -


The Prosdocimi Conundrum

Nina:- Julia Rosinia or Virginia?

Nina:- Julia Rosinia or Virginia? - The Prosdocimi Conundrum

[A Detective Story]

Relatively recently, I began research into my grand-uncles/aunts who were the children of Maria Royes' son: Frederick Christian Luther (1843-1900).Two of my great-uncles, Charles Royes Luther and Bertie Murray Luther married sisters: Nina and Rita Prosdocimi. I have photos of the sisters and wished to ‘flesh out’ more as to who they were. My interest in the sisters was tweaked as my aunt told me (many years ago) that the father of Nina and Rita was a famous painter in Italy before coming to Australia. I had absolutely no information on their father and so I started attempting to ‘nail down’ the sisters’ history. I was surprised that no matter where I looked on the web (Ancestry, royroyes site etc), Nina’s details (ie the wife of Charles) was given as ‘Julia Rosinia (aka Nina)’.born in Queensland in 1884. I failed to understand how such a diminutive could be fashioned   … or how a nickname Nina arose from the name Ros-in-ia. Of greater import was my possession of a birth certificate for a Virginia Prosdocimi born 25 December 1880. The following is an account of how I resolved the issue.

A search for Prosdocimi births post-1870 at the Queensland B.D & M (1), disclosed three sisters – Maria, Virginia & Julia (2).  Three daughters to Giovanni Prosdocimi and Johanna  Wernegreen. Copies of the birth registrations disclosed some interesting details:-

1. Maria’s birth was only registered when Virginia’s birth was, hence the same reference year (1881). Maria was actually born on 15 August 1878.

2. Julia was born on 8 February 1884. Nina’s marriage certificate indicates that she was born in 1884. So it was feasible that Julia was the Nina who married Charles Royes Luther.

3. If 2. Is correct, what became of Virginia? If 2. Is false, what became of Julia?

4. Who was Maria and where did the Rita who married Bertie Murray Luther come from? Well the answer to this is straightforward: Julia’s birth registration lists previous issue as Margerita (aged 5) and Virginia (aged 3). So some time between Virginia’s and Julia’s registrations, the parents opted for the name Margerita instead of Maria and from that we get Rita (3).

Searching Trove and other records (shipping etc), I found that Giovanni and Johanna arrived in Marlborough, Queensland in 1870 and married in 1877. Johanna died in 1889 but Giovanni and Rita and Nina stayed in Brisbane till 1904 when they all moved to North Sydney, NSW.

I could find no reference to a Julia Prosdocimi aside from her birth certificate. Her death wasn’t registered either in Queensland or in NSW. There was no mention of her in Trove’s digitised notices. What I did find however was something entirely unexpected.

There were reports of a death by drowning at Nudgee Beach (northern Brisbane) of a girl named Dora or Dorothy Mary Prosdocimi, one of two daughters of Giovanni Prosdocimi who were swimming under the supervision of St Vincent’s Orphanage, Nudgee.

To quote the Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser (17 Jan 1895)-

“A sad loss of life by drowning occurred at Nudgee Beach on Monday forenoon (says the Brisbane COURIER). A party of girls from Nudgee Orphanage were taken to the beach for a day's bathing, as is usual during the holidays. They were in charge of several Sisters and some of the employees of the institution. Some half-dozen or so of the older girls, venturing out upon a sand-bank at the corner of the beach abutting upon Cabbage-tree Creek, did not notice the rapidly rising spring tide which caught them unawares with considerable force, and carried them out of their depth, with the sad result that one was drowned; another rescued in a very weak state has since completely recovered. The name of the lost child, who was aged 11, was Dora Prosdocimi, the other being her sister. Both were daughters of Signor G. Prosdocimi, the well-known artist and draughtsman, late of the Survey Department. The deceased, whose body was recovered at low tide, was an exceedingly interesting child, and was not a State child, but supported in the institution as a boarder by her widowed father. The name of the rescuer of her sister is Owen Maguire, an employee on the Orphanage Estate.”

The child was 11 when she died in 1895….meaning she was born the same year as Julia, although no birth registration is recorded on the Queensland BD&M site. A search for Prosdocimi deaths in the Queensland BD&M revealed only one – Dorothy Mary Prosdocimi with parents Giovanni & Johanna. It gave her birthplace as Rocklea, Julia was born at Rocky Waterholes. Wikipedia in its article on Rocklea states: ‘The suburb's name is derived from the Rocky Waterholes in the area.’

There is no doubt that there were only three Prosdocimi children. Johanna’s death certificate (1889) lists only three children (all living) – Margaret, Virginia & Julia (4). Giovanni’s death certificate (1916) lists two living (Margurita and Nina) with 1 female deceased.

Even a hard-nosed sceptic would accept that Dorothy was Julia and Julia died tragically in 1895. 

So who was ‘Nina’ who married Charles Royes Luther – clearly Virginia is the outstanding candidate. ‘Nina’ is an obvious diminutive of ‘Virginia’. The only other candidate is Rita and who married Bertie Murray Luther (and this has never been contested).

But it does raise other questions:

1. How did ‘Julia Rosinia’ morph into ‘Dorothy Mary’?

2. How is it that Nina’s marriage certificate suggests she was born in 1884? and

3. How was Virginia overlooked as the bearer of the diminutive, Nina? 

How did ‘Julia Rosinia’ morph into ‘Dorothy Mary’?

I doubt that this will ever be known, but we can surmise a possibilty. Julia’s mother died in 1889 leaving three young children aged 5 (almost 6), 9 and 11. Giovanni could not, himself, look after them and their education whilst continuing earning a living. It seems reasonable that the girls were placed in St Vincent’s Orphanage, Nudgee as paying pupils so they could be properly looked after. Did Giovanni use common Irish names when placing them in the sisters’ care? There do not appear to be any extant records of those the sisters allowed as ‘boarders’. A search of the orphanage’s orphan enrolment books disclosed no-one named Prosdocimi.

The informant for ‘Dorothy’s’ death certificate was M B Conlon, Sister-in-Charge, Nudgee. Mother Mary Bridget Conlon was a Dublin-born Sister of Mercy. She was in the original band who went to Queensland to establish convents throughout the state. She was 63 when ‘Dorothy’ died. It’s hard to understand why she was the informant and not Giovanni. It may have been that Giovanni was not in Brisbane at the time and his return was unknown, hence arrangements had to be made including registering the death (‘Dorothy’ was buried the day after her death).

If this seems undue haste, a study by H E Maclean in ‎2015 [Funerary consumption in the second half of the 19th century in Brisbane, Queensland] found the cheaper the grave (site and headstone) the sooner the burial (p74) – 40% of cheaper graves had burials on the same day. Giovanni was retrenched from his government position in 1888 and was not reappointed till 1895 (after ‘Dorothy’s death). Whilst Giovanni gave art lessons and designed illuminations for scrolls etc, money may have been tight, hence the quick unelaborate burial.

The death was not registered till 19 January 1895, 5 days after her death and 4 days after her burial. I can only imagine that Giovanni’s grief over the loss of his youngest child inhibited him from engaging in such details. As registration occurred after the burial, it is clear that one was not a pre-requisite for burial and it is likely that no death certificate was ever issued (at least, to Giovanni). So Giovanni wasn’t the registry informant and had no reason to check the details given by Mother Mary Bridget Conlon.

But did Giovanni enrol his daughters under false names?

It is hard to understand why Giovanni would have done this. If he did, it is exceptionally difficult to understand why he would choose ‘Irish’ names. Giovanni appears to have been a proud Italian notwithstanding being a strong supporter of the English monarch. He was a prominent member of the Italian community in Brisbane. He did not become naturalised till a few months before his death. In addition, his younger brother, Alberto, (who remained in Italy) was a knighted Italian artist who was commissioned by European monarchs for his portraiture work. In ‘A Directory of Queensland Architects to 1940’ by Donald Watson & Judith McKay, Giovanni is listed as having fought with Garibaldi. 

Some may contend that the foregoing ignores that he was also known as ‘John’ rather than ‘Giovanni’. I have found no references to a ‘John Prosdocimi’ in any news item nor in any official documents save two. First was on Julia’s birth certificate where Giovanni was not the informant. Second was on his Application for Certificate of Naturalisation in 1916.He filled it in as ‘I, Giovanni…’ and signed it as ‘Gio Prosdocimi’, Subsequent to that someone added ‘(otherwise John)’. So neither use was of Giovanni’s making. He stood by Giovanni until the end. Could this man really have named his child ‘Dorothy Mary’ when he enrolled her at Nudgee? Hardly!

So the question remains: Why did Sister Conlon register the death as ‘Dorothy Mary’? Was it her Irish heritage? Was it the accidental misreading of the records by one who didn’t personally know the child? Both seem unlikely. The answer, I’m afraid, is that we will never know.

How is it that Nina’s marriage certificate indicates she was born in 1884?

When Nina married Charles Royes Luther in November 1908, she gave her age as 24. That would put her birth at 1884. We know that Julia Rosinia was born 8 February 1884 and so without any information to the contrary it appears that Nina and Julia are one and the same! However there is no other evidence supporting this either. My analysis above also dooms such an interpretation.

On the other hand, I have a 1996 copy of the birth extract for Virginia Prosdocimi – 1881/27191. She was born on 25 December 1880 to Giovanni & Johanna Prosdocimi. In April 2018 I also obtained a copy of her birth’s entry in the register – 1881/B27191. Given that Maria/Margherita/Rita married Bertie Murray Luther, Virginia MUST be the marriage partner of Charles Royes Luther. So if Virginia was actually 28 years old, why did she give her age as 24? Well, who knows? One thing is sure, however, there was virtually no impediment to ‘fudging’ your age. 

Marriages in NSW were then covered by the Marriage Act 1899 (NSW). That Act only required a celebrant to ensure that the parties were 21 years old or more – no ‘official’ documentation had to be produced to prove age. In Nina’s case, she was clearly over 21 and so she was taken at her word as to her age.

It is interesting to note that Nina’s age on her father’s Death certificate is given as 28. He died on 18 June 1916, so by her birth certificate Nina was actually 35 and by her marriage certificate age, 31. Of course, Nina was the informant giving the registration details!

How was Virginia overlooked as the bearer of the diminutive, Nina?

All I can say here is that Julia was born on 8 February 1884. Nina’s marriage certificate indicates that she was born in 1884. So it was feasible that Julia was the Nina who married Charles Royes Luther. Job done! Move on with our genealogical records! Closer examination, however, reference to birth and death certificates would have revealed how wrong this assumption would have been.

I must admit, that my possession of Virginia’s birth extract meant I couldn’t blindly accept that Julia was Nina. In addition some second cousins of mine who lived their lives in the Oberon/Edith/Gingkin region (the centre of the family of Frederick Christian and Sarah Elizabeth Luther and most of their descendants) were adamant that Nina was Virginia..


1. Julia Rosinia tragically drowned at a Nudgee Beach, aged 11.

2. Virginia was known as Nina, at least till after the death of her father. (5).

3. Always check your sources and never accept an unsubstantiated unlikely connection.

(1): Replicating the search today only turned up two sisters – Maria and Julia. Why? Who knows, but I did order and receive a copy of Virginia’s birth registration back in April 2018.

(2): Qld birth registry entries: Maria - 1881/682, Virginia - 1881/B27191 & Julia – 1884/C6605. Note that both Maria’s and Virginia’s births were registered at the same time (1-02-1881). Also note that unless you allow for inexact search matches, Virginia’s name won’t be listed (her surname was computerised as PROSDOCOMI). There is a difficulty here. Doing a search from this url ( does not allow for inexact matches; but this url ( does.

(3): There seems to be some flexibility with the recording of foreign names. Maria’s name was changed to Margerita on Julia’s birth details, to Margaret on her mother’s death certificate, to Margherita Bernadette on her marriage certificate, to Margurita on her father’s death certificate and back to Maria on her own death certificate! In addition Giovanni Prosdocimi some times appears as John, or John Henry, Prosdicimi. Johanna, his wife, appears as Johanna, Johanna Christina and Annie. The intrusion of Anglicised names of Maria, John, Annie and Margaret and the misspellings of Margherita may well be an artifact of officious clerks at the registries. 

(4): I initially thought that must have moved to NSW with her husband, as I found no record of her death in Queensland. However, I searched again for Johanna’s death certificate and allowed for inexact matches. And there it was with her name spelt ‘PROSDOCIRNI’.

(5): Nina was a co-author of a book titled ‘Kings Cross Calling’ published in 1944 in which she used the name Virginia Luther.

John Richardson ( I am interested in hearing from descendants of the Luthers and from the Dunn line beginning with the marriage of Anna Maria Hougham Luther and Charles Dunn. I am especially interested in old photos people may have from these lines. Feel free to email me on the matter. 


The Children

MARIA Birth : QLD 1881/682 Registered: 1-02-1881 at Brisbane

Born: 15 August 1878, Quay St, North Quay

Father: Giovanni Prosdocimi, draftsman, 35 years, b.Roviglio, Venice, Italy     (b. c1843)

Mother: Johanna Christiania (nee Wernegreen), 25 years, b.Skieve, Denmark    (b. c1853)

[Skive, lylland, Denmark   ....Iylland = Jutland]

MARIA Death: NSW 13084/1984

Died: 10 June 1984 at Ashfield (Pittwood Nursing Home) late of Charlotte St, Ashfield

Age/status: 105 years, widow   ………..(b.1878 as per above birth certificate)

Place of birth: Brisbane, Qld

Marriage: Bertie Murray Luther at North Sydney

Age at marriage: 29 years (accords with marriage certificate, but not with reality as wed in 1912)

NOTE: The name Maria ONLY appears on her birth and death certificates. During her lifetime she was always known as Rita, with acknowledgment of Margherita only on her marriage certificate. Nina, however, chose to name her only daughter ‘Margarita (Rita) Royes’ no doubt in affection for her elder sister.

VIRGINIA Birth : QLD 1881/B27191 Registered: 1-02-1881, Brisbane

Born: 25 December 1880, Quay St, North Quay

Father: Giovanni Prosdocimi, Lithographer, 39 years, b.Roviglio, Venice, Italy    (b. c1842)

Mother: Johanna (nee Wernegreen), 28 years, Denmark    (b. c1853)

Previous Issue: Maria aged 2, living;     

none deceased

JULIA ROSINIA Birth - QLD 1884/C6605 Registered: 1-04-1884

Born: 8 February 1884, Rocky Waterholes

Father: John Prosdocimi, draftsman, 41 years, b. Venice, Italy     (b. c1843)

Mother: Johanna Christiania (nee Wernegreen), 31 years, b.Shieve Iylland, Denmark

[Skive, lylland, Denmark   ....Iylland = Jutland]     (b. c1853))

Previous Issue: Margerita aged 5   ====> born late 1878 - coincides with Maria b.15 Aug 1878

Virginia aged 3       ====> born late 1880 - coincides with Virginia b.25 Dec 1880

None deceased

DOROTHY MARY Death - QLD 1895/224 Registered 19-01-1895

Died: 14 January 1895

Where: Nudgee Beach, Nundah district

Age: 10 years, 11 months, 26 days   =====> so born b. c14 Jan 1884

Cause: Accidental drowning

Parents: Giovanni Prosdocimi and Joanna Wiernigring; Artist

Informant: M B Conlon, Sister-in-Charge, Nudgee

Registered: J G Cameron on 19-01-1895 at Nundah

Buried: 15 January 1895 at Nudgee Cemetery

Born: Rocklea near Brisbane, Qld (in Colonies since birth)

The Parents

JOHANNA Death - QLD 1889/B22443 Registered 24 October 1889, Brisbane

Died: 22 October 1889  at Brisbane Hospital

Name: Annie Prosdocimi, Housewife

Age: 38 (so born c. 1851)

Burial: 24 October 1889, Toowong Cemetery

Marriage: Brisbane, Qld, for 12 years to John Prosdocimi

Children: Margaret, aged 11   =====> born c.1878

Virginia, aged 8      =====> born c.1881

Julia Rosinia, aged 5  =====> born c.1884

GIOVANNI Death - NSW 8720/1916 Registered: 24 June 1916 St Leonards

Died: 18 June 1916

Where: Mater Miseicordia Hospital, Nth Sydney late of 226 Miller St, Nth Sydney

Name: Giovanni Prosdocimi, Artist

Age: 76 (so born c. 1840)

Cause: Chronic nephritis

Informant: N Luther, daughter of 234 Miller Street, Nth Sydney

Burial: 20 June 1916 at RC Cemetery Gore Hill

Marriage: Brisbane, Qld at age c.41 years to Christian name n....... Vernegreene (?)

Children: Margurita (Luther) 33   =====> born c.1883

Nina (Luther) 28       =====> born c.1888

1 female deceased

NINA’s Marriage – NSW 1908/10539 Registered 2 December 1908  

When/Where: 24 November 1908 at St Pauls Church, Canterbury

Parties (him): Charles Royes Luther, Bachelor aged 32

born & lives at Wetzlar, NSW;  Grazier

Parties (her): Nina Prosdocimi, Spinster aged 24       =====> gives 1884 as birth year

born Brisbane; Lives at North Sydney; Gentlewoman

Owner/SourceJohn Richardson
Linked toMargherita Prosdocimi; Virginia Prosdocimi