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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - British Rule

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Malta under British Rule

Sir AlexanderBall

Pigot took on the role of the main adminstrator of the islands. Sir Alexander Ball was appointed Commisioner for Civilian matters. He left Malta in February 1801 and was succeeded by Charles Cameron. King George III declared his intention to transform Malta into the "Emporium of the Mediterranean", meaning that the Islands would become the hub of much commercial activity.

Mario Testaferrata was at the helm of a delegation that in 1801, petitioned the King to make Malta a permament protectorate of the British Empire. The Treaty of Amiens on March 25th, 1802 stipulated that the British should leave Malta within three months and that Malta be handed back to the Knights of the Order of St. John. This was never honoured however due to increasing tensions between the French and the British and Ball returned to Malta in June,1802.

The British resolved to remain in Malta indefinately in 1803. An emerging sentiment of nationalism became evident with the landmark Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Maltese Islands on June 15th , 1802, that was endorsed by 104 signatories. This declaration underscored democratic principles and the Rule of Law. A flourishing economy in the first decade of the 19th century paved the way for commercial banking. The Anglo-Maltese Bank was establish in 1809. Further commercial banks would take root in subsequent years.

Ball died on October 20th,1809 and was succeeded by Hildebrand Oakes. In 1811, Nicolo Testaferrata headed a delegation which presented a list of grievances of the Maltese population to the British A commission whose role was to discern the state of affairs in Malta was set up. In 1813, Oakes left Malta, and Sir Thomas Maitland, during whose reign Malta was officially annexed to Britain in 1814, took over as governor. An outbreak of the bubonic plague claimed the lives of some 4,500 inhabitants between 1813 and 1814, it was only after Maitland declared Malta having been free of the plague for six months that the economic situation on the island began to look up once again. Many foreign administrations imposed tight, quarantine restrictions and this stifled the Maltese economy. Hastings, a much admired governor from 1824-1826 persuaded several foreign governments to relax these regulations, giving the economy a new lease of life. Smallpox ravaged the population in 1830 and in 1837, and a cholera epidemic, also in 1837 killed 4,000 inhabitants.

Spearheaded by Camillo Sceberras and others, two petitions were drafted in 1831. These called for a formal code of legislation to be drawn up, and also for the setting up of what would have been termed: the Consiglio di Nativi — a group of some thirty locals elected by popular suffrage. The role of the Consiglio would be to draft local legislation and policies, within the framework of British Law. On April 1st , 1835 a Council, consisting of eight members was appointed — none was elected by popular vote, and only three of the members were Maltese. In September of that same year, Mitrovich had talks with Charles Grant (Lord Glenelg), the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, it was agreed that a commission should be sent to Malta to assess the situation and to suggest reforms for the islands. The Comitato Generale Maltese, a primordial, non—constitutional parliament was established, this used to convene twice weekly.

A new petition was presented to the British, demanding freedom of the press, an enhanced educational system, wage rises and a host of measures aimed at generally improving conditions for the Maltese. The Royal Commissioners established that poverty was widespread. Censorship was abolished in March 1839. Prior to this, printed matter needed to be vetted by the British authorities.

In 1849, a new constitution was drawn up, this document empowered the Maltese to elect the members of the government council. Eligible voters were males past their 21st birthday, with a knowledge of English or Italian and conforming to well defined criteria of wealth. Decisions taken by this council were still subject to approval by the British in London . This notwithstanding, this was a major milestone in establishing the roots of democracy in Malta.

The Ottoman Empire was on the decline, and Russia stepped up its efforts to conquer its lands. This sparked off the Crimean war in March l854, as Britain and France came to Turkey's aid in order to check Russian expansion. This war was an economic boon for Malta as allied forces converged in Malta for such services as medical care and general provisions. With the opening of the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean saw an increase in shipping movements and this similarly helped the economy of the islands to flourish.

In 1882, a ferry service linking Sliema and Marsamxett began to operate. 1883 saw a train service being launched, providing a "high speed" connection between Valletta and several towns and villages. The company operating this service went bankrupt after a few years, and the government had to step in with subsidies. In 1905, a tram service was introduced. In 1931, neither trains nor trams were required, as buses rendered them redundant.

During the years 1877 and 1878, three commissioners were sent by the British government to evaluate the situation in Malta and to propose reforms that they deemed necessary. Rowsell suggested increased taxation and abolishing the University in order to alleviate the island's financial woes. These proposed measures sparked public outrage and crowds took to the streets of Valletta in protest. Julyan and Keenan emphasized that the English language should generally replace Italian.

Additionally, Julyan dismissed the Maltese request for a civilian governor, A group of Maltese, under the leadership of Pasquale Mifsud flanked by Sigismondo Savona, supported the reforms proposed by the commissioners. These came to be known as the Reform Committee.

Others were less amenable to such reforms, and grouped together as the Anti-Reformists, led by Fortunato Mizzi. In the election of 1880, three Reformist candidates and five Anti—Reformists were elected. The Anti-Reformists were staunchly pro-Italian. These later underwent a name change and came to be known as the Partito Nazionalista (P.N.)

Malta made further democratic inroads as the constitution of 1887 stipulated that a majority of members of the Committee would be elected by the voters.

In 1912, Enrico Mizzi, son of Forrunato Mizzi suggested that Malta and Italy should come together in a tightly knit Federation.

Emmanuel Dimech published an article in 1913, overtly expounding the idea that Malta should be free from British dominion. Dimech was deported to an Egyptian prison camp by Lord Rundle in 1914, where he died seven years later.

During the First World War, Malta provided medical services to injured soldiers and became known as the “nurse of the Mediterranean”.   

Monument to the four Victims of the Sette Giunio riots.

Widespread unemployment, price hikes and severe food shortages stirred major unrest within the population. This culminated in the bloody events that took place on June 7th, 1919 (Sette Giunio). On that day, riots broke out in the streets of Valletta and an ad hoc National Assembly was set up, with the intention of drafting a constitution for self governance. The British troops attempted to control the riots and mortally wounded several locals in the process.

According to the Constitution of 1921, Malta would have a two tiered government — an Imperial Government headed by the British Governor, and a local Government which would include 32 members elected by the voting public, and seven ministries. Elections would have been held every three years. Four parties contested the 1921 elections — the Constitutional Party (CP) led by Gerald Strickland, the Unione Politica Maltese (UPM), the Partito Democratico Nazionalista (PDN), and the Labour Party (LP). The UPM and the PDN governed jointly, and it was not until the 1927 elections that a coalition composed of the LP and the CP was elected into power, and Strickland was sworn in as Prime Minister. The constitution broke down in 1930 and the British revoked self-rule until 1931 when self-governance was re-established with a massive Nationalist victory at the polls.

1933 saw self-governance being revoked once again and the cabinet was dissolved. Political meetings were banned and control on the press was tightened. Self government was once again granted in 1947.

Kingsway, now Republic Street in Valletta - the trail of destruction left by the Axis forces in their wake.

During the Second World War, Malta was heavily bombed, the Opera House was destroyed by bombs dropped from German Luftwaffe aircraft, and a bomb crashed through the Mosta dome which miraculously failed to detonate. King George VI awarded Malta the George Cross in 1942, in acknowledgment of the the bravery shown by the Maltese people. On August 15th of that same year, the British Operation Pedestal, bringing much needed supplies to Malta ,was successfully accomplished.

Sir Paul Boffa's Labour Party won the 1947 elections, but major players in the party did not see eye to eye on a number of issues, Dom Mintoff was appointed leader of the Labour Party and Boffa established the Malta Workers Party. Fresh elections were called in 1950. These were won by the Nationalists. The prime-minister, Dr. Enrico Mizzi died shortly thereafter and was succeeded by Dr. Giorgio Borg Olivier. The Nationalist victory was however short—lived following a no confidence motion against the Prime Minister. The PN formed a coalition government with the Boffa Party in the 1951 and 1953 legislatures and Mintoff's Malta Labour Party won in 1955. Mintoff advocated the integration of Malta with Great Britain.

This alarmed the local ecclesiastical authorities who thought that this may endanger the Roman Catholic religion in Malta, voting for Labour was made a mortal sin. Following 1958, integration ceased to be on Mintoff's agenda, who was now advocating independence. Dr. Giorgio Borg Olivier's Nationalist Party won the 1962 elections. Borg Olivier submitted a formal request for independence shortly thereafter.