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Iakovos (James) Sigalas, Greek Migrant, circa 1890s

Letterhead - Jas.Sigalas and Co. Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1940s

Image: Letterhead - Jas.Sigalas and Co. Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1940s

Source: Museum Victoria

Iakovos (James) Sigalas was a Greek migrant born on the Island of Sikinos. In the 1880s he migrated to Egypt with his brothers in search of work, and they established a coffee house in Zag-a-Zig. Iakovos was called back to Greece for his military service, but on his return to Egypt there was no place for him at the hotel, and no financial assistance. He boarded the first ship departing, which happened to be heading for Perth. According to family legend he shucked oysters in Perth, and then did a short stint in Melbourne in an oyster shop near the Menzies Hotel, in Bourke Street.

Iacovos then left for New Zealand in 1895, where he married Winifred Curry from Wellington in 1896 (her family had emigrated from England). He opened a shop there, having learnt how to make confectionery on Syros. The couple had three children - Eleutherios (known as Letho), born in 1899, Rita, and Katie born in Adelaide in 1903.

The family migrated to Adelaide in 1901 and opened a store at 19 Rundle Street, which operated under the family name James Sigalas and Co until the 1980s. James was also involved in the building of the kiosk on the Glenelg Pier.

The family then moved to Melbourne around 1905. James would bring out members of his family from Greece at different times, as there were relatively few Greeks in Melbourne and he wanted to surround himself with people he knew and could trust. He did not have a great deal to do with the Greek community in Melbourne - his interests were his business, his children and his extended family.

In 1906 he opened the Anglo-American café in Bourke Street. Then in 1912 James built four double storey terraces at 390 St Kilda Road, one of which became the family home. All the family who arrived from overseas stayed at the house (which was demolished in 1971). In the mid 1930s James opened the Centenary café three doors down from the Anglo-American café. (his nephew Ion Nicolades would transform the Anglo American into the Legend Café). His businesses were a success and he was able to purchase more property and probably pay the fares out from Greece for his relatives, including his sisters Coralia (Margetis) in 1903 and Anna (Devolis) in 1914.

In 1920, James took his three children to Athens to find them spouses and he had particular people in mind. He had heard that his cousins the Vrahamis family were in Athens, so he arranged for his son Letho to be engaged to Lili; his daughter Katie was engaged to Nikos Alafouzos and Rita to Andreas Nicolades from Samos. The three families were all related to James or were well known to him or to whom he was related. Katie and Nikos remained in Greece although they came to Melbourne after World War II and then eventually returned to Greece.

James frequently returned to Sikonos for summer breaks, where he would travel alone, spend money and impress his friends and relatives with his success. He was a benefactor of the island and godfather to numerous children which was a costly undertaking. He purchased a house on the island and left a personal income to the people of the island, which has been used to improve amenities. He also made donations to hospitals in Melbourne. James died in Melbourne in 1950.

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