Pietro and Tomaso Marsini were described in the Guildhall court as ‘Savoyard brothers’. Savoy was a historical region in what is now territory shared between France, Switzerland and Italy. The House of Savoy was an old Italian family, reaching back to the 11th century, which rose in power throughout the medieval and early modern period eventually ruling Sicily from the early 1700s. We might imagine then that the Marsini brothers were the ancestors of the Mafia that rose i the early twentieth century. I might be being a little fanciful however.
What we do know is that Pietro and Tomaso were in court accused of assault and wounding. John Mullins and John Geary, two London bricklayers, were making their way along Phillip Lane close to London Wall one evening in July 1860 when they encountered the two Italians. A quarrel broke out and the four men fell into fighting. The ‘Savoyards’ had knives, the English men merely their fists, and so the outcome was perhaps inevitable. Mullins was helped into court by two friends but Geary remained at risk in hospital, his life in the balance.
The Italians spoke little English and so the evidence of one of the victims (Mullins) had to be translated for them. Mullins claimed they had been attacked for no reason but the brothers said they had been provoked. Another witness, a chimney sweep and his mate, seemed to support this. He saw the two Italians (and one other not in court) in the street with a flageolet, a harp and and monkey and noticed John Geary approach them. Geary (who was clearly very drunk according to the witnesses present) tried ‘to shake hands with the monkey’ and this caused the animal to fall off its perch. Pietro shoved him out of the way and Tomaso aimed a blow at him with his cane. He hit Mullins and it all kicked off.
The four tumbled in the street and while several bystanders watched in horror knives were produced and both Englishmen were stabbed. The police were called and the two Italians arrested while the third escaped with the monkey and the instruments.
The court was told that Geary had suffered a wound to his thigh and another which had penetrated his lung. he was not out of danger but it was hoped he would recover. He did survive and the Marsini brothers were eventually brought to trial at the Old Bailey in August. They pleaded guilty and were sent to prison for six months.
[From Daily News, Thursday, July 19, 1860]