On 19 May 1798, a French fleet sailed from Toulon, escorting an expeditionary force of over 30,000 men under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The force was destined for Egypt, Bonaparte seeking to expand French influence in Asia and force Britain to make peace in the French Revolutionary Wars, which had begun in 1792. Sailing southeast, the convoy collected additional transports from Italian ports and at 05:30 on 9 June arrived off Valletta. Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, refused Bonaparte’s demand that his entire convoy be allowed to enter Valletta and take on supplies, insisting that Malta’s neutrality meant that only two ships could enter at a time.
Capitulation of Malta to General Bonaparte
On receiving this reply, Bonaparte immediately ordered his fleet to bombard Valletta and on 11 June General Louis Baraguey d’Hilliers directed an amphibious operation in which several thousand soldiers landed at seven strategic sites around the island. The French Knights deserted the order, and the remaining Knights failed to mount a meaningful resistance. Approximately 2,000 native Maltese militia resisted for 24 hours, retreating to Valletta once the city of Mdina fell to General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois. Although Valletta was strong enough to hold out against a lengthy siege, Bonaparte negotiated a surrender with Hompesch, who agreed to turn Malta and all of its resources over to the French in exchange for estates and pensions in France for himself and his knights. Bonaparte then established a French garrison on the islands, leaving 4,000 men under Vaubois while he and the rest of the expeditionary force sailed eastwards for Alexandria on 19 June.
During his one week stay, général Buonaparte issued no fewer than 10 Orders or Ordinances embodying 98 Articles, to ensure that Malta now belonged to the French Republic. French was made the official language. The articles included the dismissal of the Order, the mandatory wearing of the tricolour cockade, the abolition of the slavery, the liberation of the buonavogli, the abolition of the University and the creation of a central school, religious freedom for the Orthodox Greeks and the Jews, compulsory schooling.
The Ordinances Napoleon issued can be grouped in four categories (see table below). His reforms were based on the principles of the French Revolution. But the French did not have enough time to put these reforms to practice.
A brand new government was composed of nine Maltese notables and the Chief French Commissary Regnaud de Saint-Jean- d’Angély. The Palace Square became place de la Liberté, and streets took the name of rue de la Félicité Publique, rue des Droits de l’Homme ou rue Napoléon Bonaparte. On 18 June, he was on board l’Orient with the treasure of the Knights worth five million francs in gold and one million in silver plates. On 19 June, the expedition set sail for Egypt, leaving général de division Vaubois, appointed Commandant en chef des Isles de Malte et du Goze, to defend the islands with 3,053 men, 5 companies of artillery and a medical unit. At first the French tried to win the support of the Catholic Church, but quickly the Maltese Church found itself nearly abolished: papal jurisdiction abolished, prohibition of the consecration of new priests under the age of thirty, and expulsion of all priests, regular clergy and nuns who were not native of Malta. Additionally, civil marriage was declared to be legal.
The Maltese were soon disgusted by their new masters. Outraged by the plundering of their churches, and faced by an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that had been precipitated by the draining of most of the cash. On 2 September, this anger erupted in a popular uprising during an auction of the Mdina Carmelite church property, and within days thousands of Maltese irregulars had driven the French garrison into Valletta. Soon the two islands were in a state of full rebellion, and the Maltese formed a National Assembly. They dispatched to a petition to King Ferdinand, their official Suzerain, in Naples, to help them in their struggle against the French. Though Ferdinand promised much, he did little, soon having enough on his own plate to worry much about his loyal Maltese subjects. Valletta was surrounded by approximately 10,000 irregular Maltese soldiers led by Emmanuele Vitale and Canon Frangisk Saverio Caruana. The Maltese were armed with 23 cannon and a small squadron of coastal gunboats. Although there was intermittent skirmishing between the garrison and the Maltese, the fortress was too strong for the irregulars to assault. On 19 September, a Portuguese squadron of four ships, Principe Réal, Rainha de Portugal, San Sebastian, and Alfonço Albuquerque, under the command of the Marquis Pinto-Guedes de Nizza Reale, appeared off Malta, and the blockade began. The squadron had been sent by St. Vincent from Cadiz to reinforce Nelson, but had arrived off Alexandria too late to take a part in the battle of the Nile.
The Portuguese ships returned to the blockade of the island in October. On 25 September 1798, a British convoy consisting of 13 battered ships under Captain Sir James Saumarez appeared off the island. Survivors of the Battle of the Nile, they were in urgent need of repair and unable to directly assist in the siege. Nevertheless, Saumarez met with representatives of the Maltese and on 25 September, sent an offer of truce to Vaubois on their behalf. Vaubois replied “Vous avez, sans doute, oublié que des Français sont dans la place. Le sort des habitans [sic] ne vous regarde pointe. Quant à votre sommation, les soldats français ne sont point habitués à ce style” (“You might have forgotten that the French hold this place. The fate of the inhabitants is none of your concern. As for your ultimatum, French soldiers are not accustomed to such a tone”). Unable to persuade the French to give in, Saumarez instead provided the Maltese forces with 1,200 muskets with which to continue the siege. Saumarez, unable to delay repairs any longer, sailed for Gibraltar at the end of the month. On 4 October, Nelson sent his orders to Alexander Ball:
You are hereby required and directed to proceed in his Majesty’s Ship Alexander, under your command, off the Island of Malta, taking with you the Ships named in the margin (Terpsichore, Bonne Citoyenne and Incendiary), whose Captains have my orders to follow your directions, and to use your endeavour to blockade the Ports of that Island, so, as to prevent any supplies getting in them for the French troops, as well as to prevent the escape of the French Ships now in that place…
From then on, the destinies of Alexander Ball and of Malta would be inextricably entangled. On 12 October, the British ships of the line HMS Alexander under Captain Alexander Ball, HMS Culloden under Captain Thomas Troubridge and HMS Colossus under Captain George Murray joined Niza’s ships off Malta, marking the formal start of the blockade. On the same day, Vaubois withdrew the last of his soldiers into the fortified new city of Valletta, accompanied by approximately 100 Maltese nationals who had joined the French forces. The garrison numbered over 3,000 men and initially at least was well supplied. In the harbour lay the ships of the line Dégo and Athénien and the frigate Carthaginoise, all of which were former ships of the Maltese Navy, as well as the newly arrived Guillaume Tell and frigates Justice and Diane, survivors of the Battle of the Nile under Rear-Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, which had reached Malta at the end of September. On 24 October, the Vanguard, in company with the Minotaur (74, Captain Thomas Louis), arrived with Nelson on board. He confirmed his orders to Ball and added the Audacious and the Goliath to the blockade.
Capture of Gozo
On 24 October, after a ten day passage from Naples, Nelson joined the blockade squadron in HMS Vanguard accompanied by HMS Minotaur. On 28 October, Ball successful completed negotiations with the French garrison on the small island of Gozo, the 217 French soldiers there agreeing to surrender without a fight and transferring the island, its fortifications, 24 cannon, a large quantity of ammunition and 3,200 sacks of flour to the British. Although the island was formally claimed by King Ferdinand of Naples, it was administered by British and Maltese representatives, whose first action was to distribute the captured food supplies to the island’s 16,000 inhabitants. Malta and the surrounding islands were not self-sufficient and quickly the challenge of feeding the population became a strain on the islands’ resources, particularly with so many men under arms. Although now formally in command of the islands, King Ferdinand refused to assist with supplies, and the responsibility was left to Ball and his captains to arrange for the transport of supplies from Italy. By the end of the year, the number of Maltese troops in the field had fallen from 10,000 to 1,500, supported by 500 British and Portuguese marines from the blockade squadron. The blockade fleet, consisting of five British and four Portuguese ships, operated from St. Paul’s Bay and Marsa Sirocco (now Marsaxlokk) on the island of Malta itself.
1799 was a frustrating year for the British and Maltese forces deployed against Malta, as efforts to secure sufficient forces to prosecute the siege were repeatedly denied. Major-General James St Clair-Erskine, commander of British Army forces in the Mediterranean, considered the on going War of the Second Coalition in Italy and the defence of Minorca to be higher priorities than Ball’s siege, while the defeated Neapolitans continued to refuse assistance. A Russian squadron under Admiral Fyodor Fyodorovich Ushakov briefly appeared off the island in January, but was almost immediately ordered to join the Russian and Turkish forces besieging the island of Corfu. In addition to the difficulties the Allies faced in obtaining food for the Maltese population, the French succeeded in bringing supplies through the blockade in the early part of the year: in January 1799 a schooner reached Valletta from Ancona, and in February the frigate Boudeuse evaded the blockade and entered the port with supplies from Toulon. In May, a major French expedition under Admiral Etienne Eustache Bruix entered the Western Mediterranean, forcing Nelson to recall his scattered fleet from across the region, temporarily raising the blockade of Malta. During this operation a number of French supply ships took advantage of the absence of the British squadron to enter Valletta. However, despite these occasional supply ships, the French garrison was rapidly running out of food. To conserve resources, the French forced the civilian population out of the city; the civilian population dropped from 45,000 in 1799 to 9,000 by 1800. Nelson himself took nominal command of the blockade, while Ball was made president of the Maltese National Congress. As liaison between the Maltese military and civilian commanders, he directed the distribution of supplies to the Maltese population, which was beginning to suffer from disease brought about by food shortages. He was replaced on Alexander by his first lieutenant, William Harrington. On 1 November Nelson again offered terms of surrender to Vaubois, and was again rebuffed, with the reply “Jaloux de mériter l’estime de votre nation, comme vous recherchez celle de la nôtre, nous sommes résolus défendre cette fortresse jusqu’à l’extrémité” (“Keen to deserve the esteem your nation, as you seek that of ours, we are resolved to defend this fortress until the end”). By this point, Nelson was conducting the blockade at a distance, based at the Neapolitan court in Palermo. There he indulged in gambling and social engagements, becoming closer and closer to Emma, Lady Hamilton, wife of the ambassador Sir William Hamilton. His behaviour was heavily criticised, not just by his commanding officer Vice-Admiral Lord Keith, who had recently replaced Earl St Vincent, but also by old friends such as Thomas Troubridge, who wrote to him “If you knew what your friends feel for you I am sure you would cut out all the nocturnal parties . . . I beseech your Lordship, leave off”. In December 1799, Erskine was replaced by Lieutenant-General Henry Edward Fox, who immediately redistributed 800 troops from the garrison at Messina to Malta under Brigadier-General Thomas Graham. These troops filled the gap left by the withdrawal of Portuguese forces, which had been ordered to return to Lisbon. Disease began to spread within the city as rations became scarcer. The arrival of an aviso in January 1800 with the news of the events of 18 Brumaire that made Bonaparte First Consul of France prompted a brief respite and a public statement from Vaubois that the city would never be surrendered, although conditions continued to deteriorate.
Starvation and relief
At the beginning of February 1800, the Neapolitan government, reinstated in Naples after being expelled the year before, finally agreed to participate in the siege and 1,200 troops were embarked on a squadron led by Vice-Admiral Lord Keith’s flagship HMS Queen Charlotte and landed on Malta. For a time, both Keith and Nelson remained with the blockade squadron, which consisted of six ships of the line and several British and Neapolitan frigates. On 17 February a message arrived with the squadron from the frigate HMS Success, which had been stationed off Sicily to watch for French reinforcements. Captain Shuldham Peard reported that he was shadowing a squadron of six or seven French ships sailing in the direction of Malta. These vessels were a relief squadron, sent from Toulon with extensive food supplies and 3,000 additional troops under Contre-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Perrée in Généreux, one of the ships of the line that had escaped at the Nile two years earlier. On 18 February, the convoy was sighted by lookouts on Alexander. In the ensuing chase, Success captured a French transport and attacked the much larger Généreux. Although the frigate was damaged in the exchange, Success’ second broadside mortally wounded Perrée and delayed the ship of the line long enough for HMS Foudroyant, under Lord Nelson, and HMS Northumberland to join the battle. Heavily outnumbered, Généreux surrendered. Shortly after the capture of the Généreux, Keith returned to the Italian coast in Queen Charlotte, where his flagship was lost in a fire that killed more than 700 of its crew, although Keith was ashore at the time. Before departing, Keith issued strict instructions to Nelson that he was not to return to Palermo, but was to confine any shore leave in Sicily to Syracuse. Nelson ignored the order and by late March was in Palermo conducting an open love affair with Emma Hamilton. In his absence, Troubridge took over command of the blockade, delegating temporarily to Captain Manley Dixon. Dixon led the squadron on 31 March when Guillaume Tell attempted to break out on Valletta under Decrés. Spotted by the frigate HMS Penelope under Captain Henry Blackwood, Guillaume Tell was chased northwards and engaged by first Penelope and then by Dixon’s HMS Lion, driving both ships back but suffering severe damage. Eventually the arrival of the powerful Foudroyant under Captain Sir Edward Berry proved too much for Decrés, but he continued fighting for another two hours before he was forced to surrender his battered and dismasted ship; in the engagement, he lost more than 200 men killed and wounded.
In the aftermath of these defeats at sea, and with the food supply in Valletta dwindling, the British sent another demand for capitulation. Vaubois again refused, with the reply “Cette place est en trop bon état, et je suis moi-même trop jaloux de bien servir men payset de conserver mon honneur, por écouter vos propositions.” (“This place is in too good a situation, and I am too conscious of the service of my country and my honour, to listen to your proposals”). In reality, the situation was dire: during February, prices of basic foodstuffs stood at 16 francs for a fowl, 12 francs for a rabbit, 20 sous for an egg, 18 sous for a lettuce, 40 sous for a rat and six francs per pound for fish. For the civilian typhus patients, the only food available was a horse-flesh soup. On 23 April, Nelson departed Palermo in Foudroyant, with both Sir William and Emma Hamilton on board as his guests. The party visited Syracuse and then travelled on to Valletta, where Berry took Foudroyant so close to the harbour that the ship came under fire from the French batteries. No hits were scored, but Nelson was furious that Emma had been taken into danger and immediately ordered Berry to withdraw. His anger was exacerbated by Emma’s refusal to retire from the quarterdeck during the brief exchange. From there, Foudroyant anchored at Marsa Sirocco, where Nelson and Emma lived together openly and were hosted by Troubridge and Graham. Sir William Hamilton, a prominent antiquarian as well as a diplomat, spent his time exploring the island. By early June, Nelson and his party had returned to Palermo, the beginning of a lengthy overland journey across Europe to Britain. Nelson also detached Foudroyant and Alexander from the blockade, again in defiance of Keith’s explicit orders, to assist the Neapolitan royal family in their passage to Livorno. Enraged at Nelson’s disobedience, Keith publicly remarked that “Lady Hamilton has had command of the fleet long enough”. In May, Troubridge returned to Britain and was replaced in command by Captain George Martin, while Graham was superseded by Major-General Henry Pigot.
The British blockade continued to prevent French efforts to resupply Valletta during the early summer of 1800, and by August the situation was desperate: no horses or pack animals, dogs, cats, fowls or rabbits still lived within the city, the cisterns had been emptied and even firewood was in short supply. So desperate was the need for wood that the frigate Boudeuse, trapped by the blockade, was broken up for fuel by the beleaguered garrison. With defeat now inevitable, Vaubois gave orders that the frigates Diane and Justice were to attempt a breakout for Toulon, the frigates given minimal crews of approximately 115 men each. On 24 August, when the wind was favourable and the night dark enough to obscure their movements, the frigates put to sea. Almost immediately, lookouts on HMS Success sighted them and Captain Peard gave chase, followed by HMS Genereux and Northumberland. Diane under Captain Solen was too slow and Peard soon overhauled the under strength French ship, which surrendered after a brief exchange of shot. The frigate later became HMS Niobe. Justice, under Captain Jean Villeneuve, was faster however and outran its pursuers, eventually making Toulon, the only ship from Malta to do so during the siege. On 3 September, with his men dying of starvation and disease at the rate of more than 100 a day, Vaubois called a council of his officers at which they unanimously decided to surrender. The next day, envoys were sent to the British and in the afternoon General Pigot and Captain Martin signed the agreed terms with Vaubois and Villeneuve. The Maltese were excluded from negotiations entirely, although their commander, Alexander Ball, subsequently became the first Governor of Malta. The terms of the surrender were absolute: the island, its dependencies, fortifications and military supplies were all turned over to British control. This included the ships of the line Athenien and Dégo and the frigate Carthagénaise, although only Athenien was of sufficient standard to be incorporated into the Royal Navy, becoming HMS Athenienne. The other ships were broken up in their berths. Two merchant ships and a variety of smaller warships also were taken. The capture of Malta returned control of the central Mediterranean to Britain and was an important step in the invasion and liberation of Egypt from French rule in 1801. An essential condition of the Treaty of Amiens in the same year, which brought an end to the French Revolutionary War, was that the British leave Malta. Russian Tsar Alexander I had a long standing claim to the island as titular head of the Knights of St. John, and demanded that it be turned over to Russian control before agreeing any alliance with Britain. Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger flatly refused, and the Napoleonic Wars with France began soon afterwards, in part due to the failure of Britain to comply with this clause of the treaty. The island subsequently remained in British hands until its independence in 1964.
PERSONALITIES DURING THE FRENCH BLOCKADE
Dr Charles J. Boffa
Cavaliere Vincenzo Borg
Cavaliere Vincenzo borg (Braret) was one of the leading merchants of the time and hailed from Birkirkara. He as a popular figure and was describedby his contemporaries and in a British despatch as a man of much drive and energy. When the uprising commenced, he was chosen by the inhabitants of Birkirkara and Mosta as their leader. He took charge and organised the largest battalion of Maltese volunteer troops from his area and tackled problems head on.
He had a fairly good educational background by the standards of those times and was generous with the workers who worked for him in his business before the uprising commenced.
He had an intense desire to rid Malta of the French. This desire and his courage in a difficult situation led to an impressive performance. Although he could not be described as a very tough man, he had plenty of stamina and his qualities of leadership were obvious. He contributed a lot to the defeat of the French. Two years later he clashed with Captain Ball. However in later years he was created CMG Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George.
Canon Frangesco Caruana
Canon Frangesko Caruana had previously been a member of the French Commission of Government, but realized that the French were abusing their their powers in various ways, were harming the church’s jurisdiction and religion and that this should be stopped.
He was well known for his pastoral work, good sermons, will power and high sense of duty towards his country. He played a very important part against the French.
According to Captain Ball, he was very able and intelligent, but at times tended to assume too much power and ignore his deputies. While the insurgents had elected Notary Emanuele Vitale as general in command of the troops and village battalions, the people of Zebbug and Siggiewi refused at first to recognise him as such and considered Canon Caruana as their leader. Vincenzo Borg intervened and emphasised that unity was vital. Harmony was restored in due course.
Mgr Caruana had a high academic background and was appointed Rector of he University after the French left Malta. He was appointed Bishop of Malta thirty years later.
Notary Emanuele Vitale
The other outstanding leader was a very competent professional man – Notary Emanuele Vitale who was involved in activities against the French from the beginning of the Uprising.
He took a keen interest in the public sector and being a legal man, understood fully the radical changes which the French had introduced. He had a strong following at Rabat, Mdina, Dingli, Attard and Qormi.
It takes dedication, hard work and natural born talent to rise and be titled as General during a period of hostilities. An intelligent man, he managed resources effectively, including time and skills. He was a man of action and worked tirelessly for what he felt convinced to be the best interests of the Maltese; employing his skills to keep up the morale of his troops, especially in the beginning when they were short of muskets, guns and adequate rations.
Because of his sustained efforts and his being regularly in the field with his men, he had to give up nearly all his professional work as notary. Previous to the insurrection, sometimes he used to go hunting with friends and could shoot well.
Notary Vitale was appointed Governor of Gozo on 20th August 1801.
Dun Mikiel Xerri
As Professor of philosophy at the Seminary and of Mathematics at the University, Dun Mikiel Xerri was one of the foremost academics of his times. He was a gifted speaker and had a good rapport with Maltese at various levels and with students. He was well known for his exemplary life. He had an inner strength, imperturability, resolution and inspired his colleagues and others with a quiet confidence.
He lost his good life aged 60 for his ideals. He was promised a free pardon if he would reveal the names of others who were involved in the plot to infiltrate into Valletta and overthrow the French. “I am here to answer for my actions … and not to be the spy of my countrymen … I am guilty oand ready to die”.
He faced death unflinchingly.
“A man is as great as his love of his country, faith and courage.”
Brigadier General Thomas Graham
One of Captain Ball’s first initiatives during early 1799 was to request Colonel Graham then in Messina in command of the British garrison who were to strengthen the defence with other Sicilian and Italian troops, to transfer his to Malta. This was done in due course and he integrated his troops with Maltese ones along the defence lines and took overall command.
Who was Thomas Graham? He had a distinguished career in the British army had served in previous campaigns, gaining a lot of experience under battle conditions and man management. “He was tall, of a goodly presence and muscular frame and capable of great fatigue. He tended to discuss problems with both Maltese and British officers and when visiting troops on duty made it a point to say words of encouragement and appreciation. His easy and cultivated manners, his kindly disposition, his high sense of integrity and honour rendered him popular wherever he went”.
He served with the Austrian army in Italy in 1796-7 and escaped from Mantna when besieged by the French. He helped Sir Charles Stuart to win Minorca.
The rank of Brigadier General held good only during his service in Malta. In 1837, together with Vice Admiral Sir G. Martin, Sir T. Graham was invested GCMG by the King, mainly for services which had been rendered in Malta.
Captain Guglielmo Lorenzi was a Russian corsair who had settled in Malta since he was a young man. Earlier in his career, he had been given the honorary title of Colonel in recognition of his performance while commanding some ships during a previous war between Russia and Turkey. He was living at Valletta, was well off and generous with poor people and the elderly. He was the top leader who planned to overthrow the French administration in Valletta and some secret meetings were held at his summer residence at Pieta’.
He was a hardened warrior and courageous, he had spent many years of his life at sea and taken part in sea battles. Although 64 years of age, he knew no fear.
There is a parallel with Dun Mikiel Xerri in his attitude before the military tribunal after being arrested. Like Dun Mikiel, he refused to betray his Maltese accomplices, There is no doubt that there were other Maltese who were involved and were not caught. If Lorenzi and Xerri had divulged names, others would have been condemned to death.
Before being shot, Captain Lorenzi prayed and wanted Roman Catholic rites. Before the firing squad, Lorenzi remained calm and did not show any fear or perturbance. It is likely that he was buried in the cemetery at St. Publius, Ploriana, with others who were executed.
Luca Azzopardo, a hawker who used to sell agricultural produce and other items, was involved in the planned uprising. He was a good marksman and an energetic person. When the French started arresting those people supporting Mikiel and Lorenzi, somehow he managed to avoid capture and later escaped to countryside.
Two others who managed to avoid capture were Paolo Greco and Xmun Gili. It is surmised that they swam at night from Valletta to Kordin.
In 1797, Gejtano Balzan was a senior official who managed the Cotton division in the Customs Department and part-time commanding officer of the Siggiewi militia. He was a very capable and influential person who led by word and example. Soon after the insurrection began, he was deeply involved in the campaign and participated in actual fighting. Besides, he also served as the administrative-cashier at the San Guzepp army camp. He was awarded the Silver Medal.
Between 1800 and 1814, he continued serving as a captain in the Militia and in 1814, he was appointed the senior police officer of the area of Siggiewi – Imqabba and Qrendi.
Mattew Bonavia had been trained and had wide experience in civil engineering and also management as he had served as clerk-of-works with leading architects of his times, under the Order of St. John. He seems to have socialised, probably because his expertise, among higher circles and was well known among skilled workers,
He opposed the French occupation and was imprisoned at Tigne from where he managed to escape with a colleague and gave service on land with the British forces.
He accompanied Canon Francesco Caruana and other representatives of the Maltese, and acted as an interpreter aboard Nelson’s flagship off Malta when the Maltese sought the assistance of Great Britain and pressed him to take action.
He took an active part in what was going on and got on well with the workers and troops he commanded. Apparently, Bonavia made a very good impression on senior British and Neapolitan officers as he was entrusted with the construction of some defence works – one of these being a ditch on the landward side of San Lucjan Tower in Marsaxlokk. Furthermore he was placed in charge of parties
Maltese workers entrusted with the unloading of stores from British warships and craft at Marsaxlokk. His valuable service is mentioned in one of the British dispatches.
At least on two occasions, General Graham and Captain Ball sought his opinion and services. He was awarded the medal for meritorious services and a commendation. Captain Ball offered to recommend him for a commission as a regular army officer. After the French were defeated, Mattew Bonavia was attached to the Royal Engineers’ department and was involved in various activities. He served with distinction as adjutant to the company of Maltese sappers, miners and tradesmen until he retired in 1814.
Pietru Buttigieg, a notary by Profession joined the protesting Maltese from his village of Zebbug, which had a population of approximately 4300, but which later increased by about another 700 refugees from Valletta and the Three Cities. By word and example, Dottore Buttigieg together with Canon F. Caruana – one of his closest friends, encouraged the peasants and villagers to join the village battalion and began at once to help in the organization and future of the men under arms. The village battalion increased in numbers and efficiency with a total of nearly 500.
These included a substantial number who had previously served in the Militia and Cacciatori and included four officers, 15 sergeants and 15 corporals with previous military experience.
Notary Buttigieg was a man of scholarship, intelligence and a born leader. He took an active part and put in an appearance often at the defence posts to attend to the needs of the men. Because of his activities, he disrupted his professional practise and even helped financially in the war effort.
Although he was not a military officer, he was physically present, during the planned attack on part of the Cottonera lines, with a large party of Zebbugin and many others from other villages, hidden at Fgura in the fields where the Tal-Karmnu chapel once stood and in Wied Blandun. From here they had to synchronise their advance towards the Ghajn Dwieli area, where the climb was due to be attempted, approximately 130 metres to the North of the present Ghajn Dwieli tunnel.
The assault did not turn out well and was a failure. Dr. Buttigieg retreated with the rest when the French concentrated their fire as well as on Wied Blandun, the inlet at Bormla, Fgura and Tal Borg.
Although as village representative on the National Congress, he exercised discipline, if anyone was in difficult straits he was there to help altruistically.
Michele Cachia – military and civil engineer, was chosen by the inhabitants of Zejtun as their leader. During the times of the Order of St. John, he was active on a part-time basis, in the militia as a senior officer and adjutant of the village battalion. In 1787 he spent a few months in Rome and Naples to broaden his expertise in architecture. He was involved in various dangerous activities against the French.
He was the mastermind with a few others who organised a system of sending messages by means of coloured flags and banners which were hung on the Zejtun church and other vantage points such as at San Lucjan – Marsaxlokk, the Ghaxaq and Luqa churches, Zabbar , etc.
When Brigadier General Graham set up his headquarters at Palazzo d’Aurel at Gudja, Michele Cachia who knew the terrain of the landscape well, was asked by Graham and other senior officers to give them advice. He also supervised the construction of the batteries at Tal Borg and Kordin. Michele combined expertise and tireless energy,
Michele Cachia is mentioned in a dispatch from the civil commissioner Charles Cameron. “He was involved in the construction of all the batteries and contributed money towards the expense of the war. He is famed for his wisdom in counsel. His integrity and talents have acquired him a great reputation and the entire confidenvce of the people of every description”. Michele Cachia was one of the Maltese who proceeded to England to present a petition to the British Foreign Office in December 1801. Some information about each personality was passed on to London. He was awarded the Gold Medal for highly meritorious services and a special commendation by General Graham. The house with some structural alterations where Mikiel Cachia resided in Zejtun is now known as Juventutis Domus.
Michele Cachia served in the public service during Sir Alexander Ball’s admistration and supervised the construction of the beautiful gardens of the Luogotenenti of the Casals.
Captain Aniello Cafiero
Captain Aniello Cafiero – While the leaders planned their strategies, they had behind them the support of many. Captain Cafiero possessed an intense spirit to play his part at risk to his life. There is information on Malta at the Archivio di Stato di Napoli, Sezione Esteri. Among other things, there is mention of a claim submitted by an Italian Neapolitan officer after being invalided because of serious health reasons while in Malta; disciplinary measures taken against two soldiers for insubbordination. (1789); and reference to the 2,100 troops sent to Malta under General G.B. Fardella, by King Ferdinand.
Captain Cafiero – a Neapolitan was the captain of a small ship who previous to the French occupation, earned his living by carrying cargoes between Sicily, Naples and Malta. He had settled in Malta years earlier where he lived with his family in Senglea (Strada Due Porte) . He was a respected and popular figure, partly because he was generous with neighbours and the poor.
Captain Cafiero knew Lorenzi. He agreed to be involved in the planned fighting and had hidden 55 muskets, several daggers and ammunition in his ship and also a quantity of gunpowder in the cellar of his residence at Senglea. He was to lead his men and another group from Cottonera and assault St. Angelo, overpower the guards, take it over and raise the Neapolitan flag. After the plot of the Valletta uprising was uncovered, Cafiero and his crew were arrested, put under investigation procedures and imprisoned in the cells at St. Angelo. When things turned out contrary to the hopes of many, his wife emptied the containers with gunpowder in the sewage pipes. Meanwhile, Cafiero waited and prayed – he could have faced a firings quad. He managed to escape to the countryside.
At the end of hostilities, Cafiero submitted a request (supported in writing by some Maltese) to the King of Naples, to be reimbursed for the expenses he incurred for the weapons and gunpowder which he had bought, meant to be used against the
French. (Archivio di Napoli, fasc. 2806).
Lieut. Colonel Teodor Cardona
Lieutenant-Colonel Teodor Cardona was the commanding officer of a Neapolitan regiment that was sent to Malta to participate in the blockade of the French. It is likely that he was born in Corfu of Maltese parentage. As a young man he was commissioned as an ensign, and later served at various officer levels. He had extensive battle experience. He had even served in campaigns, against the
Teodor Cardona was a well mannered, respectable officer. Appearances may be illusory – he was tough and brave. For some time after he arrived in Malta with his regiment, he wished to be appointed commandant of all the Maltese troops. In fact Judge Guzeppi Kalcidon Debono had written a letter (26 Oct 1798) to Canon Frangesco Caruana, that Teodor Cardona had informed him that he wished to be appointed senior commandant.This could have possibly led to a crisis in command and various Maltese leaders refused to comply.
Throughout the blockade, he helped the Maltese in various ways, including the training of gunners and infantry tactics. Oblivious to tiredness, he often worked himself to the limit and discussed matters with his Maltese counterparts. He was assisted by a young Lieutenant, Bascal Gauci.
Lieut. Colonel Cardona was an ardent supporter of the Maltese cause and his services (and also the 2,100 Neapolitan soldiers under the overall command of Colonel Fardella) contributed immensely to the final French surrender.
Philippo Castagna, Luogotenente of the two cities of Burmola and Senglea. “A man of an excellent public character and popular with the inhabitants. He distinguished himself at the siege of Valletta and in the National Congress, by his courage, moderation and wisdom. He took Gozo from the French with a handful of troops. He is warmly attached to His Majesty’s Government”. (British report)
P. Castagna was an erudite scholar. In 1805, he was involved in establishing the Monte di Pieta, where people went to pawn their gold and silver, under certain conditions.
Indri Cilia, an officer in the Birkirkara battalion, under Vincenzo Borg, was one of the leaders, who had been waiting for two days in the store-rooms at Marsamxett to commence the operation of the 12th January 1799. Remaining quietly hidden in the dark storerooms must have been hell. When surprised by the French troops who had come over from Fort Manoel to investigate after suspecting that something unusual was happening at Marsamxett, several were killed, others tried to escape and drowned, others surrendered while others escaped.
I have not managed to find what happened to this brave leader. It seems that he was not among those shot by the French and to the best of my knowledge not even among those listed dead in the parish records of that year.
Dr. Felic Cutajar
Dr Felic Cutajar, a mature learned lawyer supported the Maltese insurrection from the start and also took part when a large number of Maltese from different strata assembled at the Banca Ciuratale in Mdina to decide on a line of action.
A professional man of integrity, he was also a good linguist; he knew French and Italian well and also had a fair working knowledge of English – which was not common among Maltese at that time. He was Vincenzo Borg’s secretary for a num ber of months. When Captain Ball needed a secretary, he was an obvious choice.
He had an excellent rapport with Ball, Vincenzo Borg and Canon Frangesco Caruana. Dr Cutajar’s name is synonymous with Ball’s drafting of certain pronouncements, legal and administrative work. At times he served as laison between Ball and other eminent Maltese leaders.
He was so competent and trusted by Captain Ball that after the French left, he was kept on in a senior legal and administrative capacity. He was highly commended for his services, both when serving as Captain Ball’s secretary and later on as Pro-Secretary of the administration, and deputy head of the civil service. (equivalent to Administrative secretary).
Dr. Cutajar wrote ‘Il-Breve Storia della venuta dei Francesi nell’Isola di Malta e loro modo di governarla‘. As he was an eyewitness of the happenings of those years, his account is invaluable.
Guzeppi Damato, previous to the French occupation, was a senior non-commissioned officer in the Regiment of Malta. He was what one may describe as a typical army man – full of zeal and initiative and an ardent supporter of the plan. He was condemned to death and shot.
I have not managed to find enough details about Santu Formosa, who led the armed men from his village of Zurrieq, where he was a gentleman of some’ influence. He took a leading part during the first period of hostilities and continued to show sustained resource during later operations against the French. He carried out the duties of an officer and must have been a man of sound character and energy.
Chev. Ganni Gafa
Chev. Ganni Gafa: Although this notable citizen was fairly well off, he took an active part during the period of hostilities, instead of remaining comfortably at home. In 1798, the population of Gharghur was approximately 1000, mostly farmers, who elected him as their representative on the National Congress.
Ganni Gafa was also an exemplary cleric. As a point of interest to readers, it is relevant to mention that at that time there were many clerics in Malta and Gozo.
Although some did in due course become priests, many others did not. In their everyday life, they lived as normal citizens but were usually involved and participated in church activities and religious services. A substantial number helped those less fortunate in the community. During certain church activities, they wore a habit nearly similar to that of priests. The posts of clerics were abolished by the Church authorities about a century later.
From the beginning of the uprising, Ganni Gafa showed unremitting commitment both in the National Congress and in encouraging the formation of a company of about 180 men, several of whom had previous experience in the militia.
Besides collecting some money from the locals and in kind – agricultural produce for those under arms, he contributed himself for their everyday needs, to supplement their meagre pay and rations. At Gharghur, the battery of Vendomn with six guns had been set up by the Knights in 1701 and the Tower of St. Mark with two guns in 1607. Some of these guns were moved to new sites to strengthen the defence lines in the San Gwann area.
Gafa supported Vincenzo Borg throughout and combined competence with considerable drive. During this difficult period and when the British administration took over, he broadened his range of civic activities for the good of all.
Chev. Ganni Gafa had a high reputation and was appointed to the then prestigious post of Lieutenant of Gharghur with local administrative powers, in which he served until 1813.
Stanislaw Gatt – At that time the village doctor, the parish priest, the pharmacist, the area inspector or sergeant of police and some merchants were the ‘elite’ or influential persons of the area. Furthermore the pharmacist, because many of the medicines in use were hand made from local herbs, was knowledgeable in some aspects of medicine and also in administering first-aid to the injured. Stanislaw Gatt was well known and very capable in his profession.
He took a keen interest in public affairs and was elected to represent the people of Qormi in the National Congress. He was an erudite individual and at one time he used to give practical tuition to some aspiring to take up the profession of pharmacy. He helped the poor, by often dispensing medicines without receiving payment or just charging them the bare minimum to cover his expenses.
During the critical period when food was very scarce, he emphasized to those under arms and the people in general, not to discard the leaves of some vegetables, such as carrots, cauliflower and potatoes but to eat them. Vitamins were not known as such at that time, but from practical experience he attached a lot of importance to fresh green vegetables for health reasons. He was perfectly right. (Mr. Guze’ Cardona, M.A. had mentioned S. Gatt, among others, in his lecture ‘Professionals of the Past’).
Stanislaw Gatt, with no previous military background, led a large detachment from Qormi and occupied in the initial stages of the insurrection, Jesuit Hill (east of Qormi) and also blocked the road which from Marsa goes up to Kordin and Pawla. In this daring initiative, his detachment included many who had previiously served in the Militia and also two officers from the Qormi district. Beditt Sciluna and Salvu Galdes. Gatt’s house in St. Catherine Street is preserved.
Grand Master Ferdinand Yon Hompesch
Ferdinand Von Hompesch who was of German origin was elected Grandmaster at the age of 53, in 1797. His long stay in Malta, since he was 12, as a page of Grand Master Pinto and his ability to speak fairly good Maltese. added to popularity with the Maltese, especially villagers and workers. Before being elected Grand Master, he resided in a 18th century palace, ‘Palazzo Hompesch’ which was situated in Old Bakery Street, Valletta. Unfortunately this was one of the many buildings destroyed by bombing in April 1942.
He was a Grand Master of winning manners and did not lose any opportunity to be present in towns and villages during feast celebrations. He was very charitable and used to throw coins (although his financial situation was not good at all – in fact he owed money) to the crowds greeting and cheering him. The granting of a title of Citta’ after requests were made was another way of showing respect. During his short term (1797-1798) Zabbar was raised to the status of Citta Hompesch, Zejtun – Citta Beland and Siggiewi – Citta Ferdinand.
To give an example, Hompesch attended the celebrations on the occasion of the feast of the Annunciation held at Tarxien in May 1797, where he was received with enthusiasm. In the parish records, Esiti Veneranda Lampada 1798, f 55, there is mention of payment for a caleche which the parish priest ordered to take him to Valletta to invite Hompesch and also the cost of a bouquet of flowers (payment in scudi) which was presented to him at Tarxien.
Grand Master Hompesch is often blamed for the dishonerable capitulation, but one must consider the fact that his authority had been undermined by many French Knights in various sectors. He was at the mercy of factors beyond his control. However looking at this period with the benefit of hindsight and reading references to him, he was not a tough person and not given to warrior rhetoric.
Mgr. Vincenzo Labini
Mgr. Vincenzo Labini, a Sicilian who had occupied various senior posts in the Church set-up in Sicily took over as Bishop of Malta and Gozo on the 19th June 1780. He was pious and energetic and visited the parishes fairly often and did not limit these to specified times of the year:
He encouraged the clergy to utilise when possible, part of the money given in aid of religious services for the souls departed to aid the poor, when poverty was rampant – a sensible idea.
Another wish of his was that the canopy used during processions over the Blessed Sacrament should as much as possible be carried by members of the clergy and not by laymen. Furthermore he encouraged more teaching on religion, visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Via Sagra (Way of the Cross).
During the French period, the pressure and mental strain must have been great.
During the heavy fighting at Bormla, it was probably Labini’s personality and exhortations which persuaded the large number of angry insurgents to put down their arms and avoid more bloodshed. During his term as Bishop he consecrated various new churches and chapels.
Antonio Mallia (a Gozitan gentleman). From the beginning of the uprising he was actively engaged in resistance to the French occupation and encouraged other Gozitans to do likewise, risking his own life in the process. He was popular among the Gozitans because of his affable character, charitabale disposition and his interest in the future of Gozo.
Sir Charles Cameron noted “He is the Lieutenant-Governor and first Provost of Gozo and zealously attached to the British Government”.
Chevalier Mallia rendered important services to the Gozitans during critical times. He was awarded the Gold Medal.
Count Salvatore Manduca
Salvatore Manduca, 3rd Count of Montalto, was the son of Francesco Manduca, and Domitilla Fiott De Noto. He married Donna Elena Portughes and died in Notabile on 12 November 1800. He was the father of (Count Sir) Vincenzo Manduca.
Count Salvatore Manduca, a gentleman of culture played a prominent role in the confused period following the collapse of the Order of St John and the arrival of the French.
He was one of the delegates who together with Bishop Labini, accepted the inevitable entry of Bonaparte’s forces into Mdina ‘provided that the religion of the people, their liberty and their property be respected and the safety of the public institutions guaranteed’. It was soon clear that this was not to be and after an initial period agitating for the return of the Order, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the insurrection against the French and worked for the support and protection of Nelson and the British. He was elected a Representative of the People and together with Marquis de Piro and Count Theuma Castelletti continued to play a prominent part in the events of that period, until his death in November 1800.
Don Pietro Mallia
Magister Theologiae in the Public College, a priest with a high academic ground and lecturer who represented Hal Ghaxaq on the National Congress. A man of pure reputation, enjoying confidence, and is much attached to His Majesty’s Government, as are many of the Maltese priests and Monastic Orders”.
Paolo Muscat – served for several years in the militia, both under the Knights and during the period of hostilities, when he served as sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain. He certainly possessed a solid foundation of character and the determination to accomplish his missions, irrespective of the risk these entailed. During an attack on the Samra Battery he was wounded but luckily he recovered from a flesh wound and continued to take an active part, a few months later. For a period he served as an instructor. He won the medal for meritorious services and a Commendation. At times, he tended to be rather strict.
When the French attacked the Samra Battery, he ordered half of his detachment to hide behind rubble walls and trees at Msida and started retreating with a pre-arranged plan – as soon as he had reached a spot further on, the troops behind the rubble walls had to venture out and attack the French from the rear. Meanwhile half the detachment he was leading turned round and the French found themselves between two fires, they were thrashed leaving behind them several dead and wounded. This shows that temporary Captain Muscat, according to a British mention in a dispatch had “a real knowledge of tactics and movement which are the basis of a good leader’s plan”.
I was not able to find data on all the Maltese citizens or officers who led by word and deed, or who contributed towards the final victory. There must have been other unsung heroes.
Lieutenant (temporary captain) A. Peralta, who had served under the Knights in the regiment Cacciatori Maltese had requested the French to continue serving in the army. It appears that he was accepted, but later on was so disappointed with the laws being enacted, that he had second thoughts. He was involved with the plans being formulated by Captain Lorenzi and was among those shot.
Xandru Pisano, a carpenter from Cospicua who previously had also served as an armed leading seaman on the Order’s galleys, had hidden in a small dirty stable close to the bastions – (for a considerable time the number of French sentine inadequate), a number of muskets, swords and iron bars. He had planned to lead a group of persons from Bormla – where there was a lot of antagonism against the French – if the Maltese had managed to climb up the bastions in the area not far from the Ghajn Dwieli area and join in the attack. As fate would have it, the assault failed so the part he meant to be involved in, did not materialise.
Major-General Henry Pigott
Major-General Henry Pigott served in Malta as Civil Commissioner during 1801. He arrived in Malta with 1,500 British troops only a month and a half before the French surrendered and was given overall command of the British and Neapolitan troops. At that late stage, he was perhaps not well acquainted with the vital part played by the Maltaese in the struggle and what the Maltese had gone
Pigott was unfair in not allowing a Maltese leader to sign the capitulation with the rest. Pigott was intransigent when the Capitulation was signed and notwithstanding Captain’s Ball’s clear wishes, he did not allow him to sign as Head of the Maltese. Pigott should not have yielded to the insistence of Vaubois; because cut off from all outside assistance, having exhausted all their provisions and with hundreds of troops sick, the French had no alternative but to surrender.
In 1801, Major-General Pigott, following instructions from London, issued the following official order: “His Eminence the Bishop of Malta is to receive from all guards, honour due to a Brigadier-General. When after World War I, this rank was abolished, the Archbishop of Malta was classified from the point of military status, as a Major-General.
In 1837 H. Pigott was invested GCMG.
Mattew Pulis – With the exception of Dun Mikiel Xerri and Captain Guglielmo Lorenzi, he bore a mantle of responsibility perhaps greater than any of his compatriots in Valletta in the plot to overthrow the French garrison. There could be no doubt that he was for a long time on a knife-edge of risk. Mattew’s brother Filippu was also involved in the Valletta plan.
Mattew Pulis resided in Valletta and had been carrying out his duties regularly under the Knights, at the Ramo Quarantena (quarantine branch), mostly at the Lazaretto as Sotto-Ispettore di Sanita e Purfumatore. From a normal life Mattew and his son were plunged into a real life adventure which was dangerous and bizarre, as well as one of the most extraordinary to have befallen a law abiding citizen of his times. He had a special French pass which entitled him to travel by boat between the Lazaretto and Valletta and enter and leave the capital on work related with his duties. This meant that he was in a unique position to pass on secret letters
and communications from Maltese leaders in the countryside to Valletta and vice-versa, such as from Canon Caruana and Emanuele Vitale to Dun Mikiel Xerri and Captain Lorenzi. How he did this is not clear, but there are indications that when necessary, he took letters with him from Valletta to the Lazaretto and his brave son at that time a teenager somehow, (possibly by swimming or while fishing) passed on the letters to another Maltese, probably at Pieta or Msida.
Mattew Pulis must have had plenty of guts. The staff and men working with and under his direction had trust in him. It required no great genius to carry letters. What did require brilliance was the game of bluff on which Mattew Pulis and his son deliberately and at great risk embarked. He was among those shot by the French when the Valletta plot was uncovered.
Don Emanuel Riccard
Don Emanuel Riccard, was first a Capuchin, but as his health suffered because of the rigour of the Order, he became a priest. “He is a man in whom Governor Alexander Ball puts much confidence; he is very zealous in our cause and in that of his country. Sir Charles Cameron concluded this brief about him, that he is a respectable man and speaks French”. Don Riccard was a scholarly person and for some years was a teacher.
Agostino Said was elected by the inhabitants of Zabbar as their representative. He was popular and had abundant resources of energy, intelligence and determination. According to Mgr. G. Zarb who had researched about some past Zabbar personalities, Agostino Said hid these qualities behind a rather modest appearance and down to earth approach. Said owned a few fields and had served for a period in the Militia. Although there is some doubt about this, he was probably employed in a clerical capacity under the Knights. He had an upright character and had a fairly good educational background, because the locals went to him for advice. He started working when he was 16, was trusted and helped in church activities.
As village representative he was ipso facto the head of the local battalion and the ‘Gente di Guardia’. Although I think that he was involved in some fighting or related aspects, I have not managed to find any documentary evidence to support this. Mgr. G. Zarb had told me that there was another W. Said (probably Wistin Said) who had been active with the armed peasants and who was also a police constable or corporal. The Zabbar battalion which consisted of 250 men was commanded by four officers. Emanuel Lia, Guzeppi Cachia, Klement Elul and Guzeppi Ellul.
Guzeppi Scicluna – Soon after the insurrection commenced, the men of Luqa chose the Rev. Guzeppe Grima as head of the Luqa battalion. However, Guzeppi Scicluna emerged as the de facto spokesman and active leader of the battalion, for which he was well suited.
He possessed mental vigour and a resolve to overcome obstacles.He enjoyed the confidence of the people, the clergy and the principal Maltese leaders. He had an interesting background. Although not young in years, he had plenty of stamina. He had served for about 34 years first as a sergeant and for 24 years as a “sottotenent’ ub Lieutenant). As commandant of the Maltese troops, E. Vitale appointed him Captain.
He was involved at first in active defence and eventually to an ethos of the offensive both at Kordin and during the unsuccessful Cottonera attack. With other Maltese officers, he had formulated part of the plan to the climb-up of the bastion at Bormla. He managed to borrow about 15 iron helmets which were used many years earlier by soldiers of the Knights, and he had suggested their use by some of the Maltese climbing up, as a protection. (although these could have restricted their movement and agility). He was awarded the meritorious service medal.
Marquis Mario Testaferrata
Marquis Mario Testaferrata – (one of the leading families in the Island). “He has been distinguished for his prudent though manly conduct in the various trying situations he was placed in since the invasion of the French. He was so well thought of by all parties that he was appointed one of those who drew up the capitulations to the French. He has shown great attachment to his Majesty’s Government. As to his talents, he is a man of sound judgment and is well informed with respect to the ancient privileges, as well as the present state of the Island”.
Gan Indri Trevisan
Gan Indri Trevisan, a supremely brave young man aged only 17112 from Zebbug, fought against the French garrison of Mdina with the Maltese led by Emanuele Vitale, where he was wounded in his arm. On the 6th September 1798, leading a detachment of Maltese troops and peasants he broke into an ammunition store, situated near Kordin and after overpowering the French guards they carried away 78 barrels of gunpowder, 40 boxes of cartridges and some firearms. In this activity he was slightly wounded again.
He was going to be involved in the planned attack on Valletta, as an officer leading a company of Maltese. He served both at the Samra area, at Marsa and at Kordin during different periods, where he was hero-worshipped by the men he commanded.
He exposed himself repeatedly to danger and during the attack on the Cottonera lines, he was wounded in the head, but thanks to his healthy physique, he survived again. As a young officer aged 18 to 20, he bore an incredible burden of responsibility and his strong powers of resilience made him recover rather quickly.
He was rewarded with the gold medal. In later year she served as an officer with the British army in Calabria and was caught prisoner when the French captured Capri, from where he managed to escape. During the plague of 1813, he was the controller of the ships which arrived in the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett. In 1846, his son Dr Ganaton Trevisan applied to serve as a magistrate in Gozo.
General C.H.B. De Vaubois
General Claude Henri Belgrand De Vaubois was one of the best cadets while at the military academy and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1770. After the French revolution, the army was disorganised and needed good officers.Vaubois was one of them. Vaubois’ career ran nearly parallel to that of Napoleon. When Napoleon was a recruit, Vaubois was his senior. When Napopleon was promoted to Lieut. Colonel in 1793, Vaubois’ had just been promoted General De Brigade. Later on, Napoleon’s genius and success at Toulon impressed the French Directorate and he was promoted to General De Brigade. In the same year, Vaubois distinguished himself with his impressive stand at the Siege of Lyons.
When General Vaubois was appointed commander-in-chief of the French garrison in Malta, he was 50 years old. Although in general, he was considered an affable person, he possessed a strong personality and excelled as an administrator. For a long time, he refused to admit defeat, even when he saw his dreams crumbling. Leading and controlling a garrison craving for food and a high proportion sick due to malnutrition and other factors, was a feat in itself and a credit also to the French officers and troops who for a very long period did not mutiny or ask for surrender.
In his book ‘History of Italy under Napoleon’, Botta writes (translation) “Glorious, certainly was Lord Nelson, but not without glory was its defender, for neither greater courage nor greater fortitude, nor greater ingenuity could have been displayed by Vaubois” .,. “Deserted by all, he struggled for two years and at least overcome not by force of arms, but by that dreadful scourge, famine, which always takes from man, the strength and often the will to resist”.
The strict blockade by sea established by, first the Portuguese ships and later by the English, destroyed all hopes of success in the repeated attempts (onlv a few ships managed to get through) made to revictual the French garraison.
When Vaubois returned to France he was welcomed as a hero and in 1808 he was honoured with the title of Count of the Empire. He died in 1839, at the venerable age of 91.
Girolmu Vella – It is an accepted fact that efficiency depends a lot on aptitude, training, enthusiasm and mental vigour. Girolmu Vella proved to be an effective, brave combat commander. He had served as a soldier and sergeant in the Maltese regiment under the Knights.When the uprising started he was off duty helping his cousin in a bakery at Qormi. He joined voluntarily the Maltese under arms.
Vella had been a very efficient sergeant and among the best marksmen. Furthermore the fact that he used to be entrusted with the part-time training of recruits, shows that he was among the elite N.C.O’s. Emanuele Vitale selected him to be among his circle of staff with the duties of an officer, and captain of a com pany of Maltese volunteers. He served as such with merit and was awarded the medal for meritorious services. Later he was also commissioned in the Maltese Light Infantry.
Captain S. Vella
Captain S. Vella had been serving as an officer in a regiment under the Knights, was an ardent supporter of the Maltese cause from the start of the insurrection. He and another officer Indri Cilia trained a number of armed Maltese who had planned to infiltrate into Valletta and was hidden with many others in the store rooms at Marsamxett, when unexpectedly French troops rushed on them and opened fire.
Captain Vella was among those who were taken unawares and caught prisoner. However he had a very good army record and was a brave officer. That breeze at night carried straws of disaster. Although he was a regular army officer, when arrested, there lurked the hazard of ending before a firing squad.
After being repeatedly interrogated by a military tribunal, the unexpected happened. There were two versions of what happened – Although condemned to death, the sentence was never implemented. One version was that he insisted that as a regular army officer, and on active service, according to the rules of war, it was against the rules to shoot a prisoner. The second version was that he managed to get his release and fled to the country through the assistance of Captain Olivier – President of the French Military Commission.
Captain Vella later continued to serve as a regular officer, in Maltese Regiments, the last Regiment being the Royal Malta Fencibles, up to 1823.
Dr Nerik Xerri
Dr Nerik Xerri who had shown great interest in medicine since he was young, left Malta and qualified with merit as a doctor at the University of Salerno. After he returned to Malta, he worked indefatiguably among his countrymen. He was popular and the inhabitants of Kirkop elected him as their representative on the National Congress.
He was a very able doctor and administrator. He frequently visited defence posts and camps of the Maltese and attended to their needs, and for a short period also those of British troops, when two British medical officers were sick. Of all the 400 British marines serving in Malta all but 178 were incapacitated by fever at some time or other. A large number of British and Neapolitan Troops
was likewise affected, When the attack on the Cottonera lines started, he together with another doctor, Francesco Caruana accompanied the Maltese troops that were due to advance, if the scaling of the bastio had ucceeded. For his valuable services, he was awarded the Gold Medal and larer a pecial commendation by Captain Ball.
In 1800, Captain Ball appointed him Captain of Ports and served as such until 1806, when he became a member of the staff of the Universita. In the meantime he retained the then prestigious title of Lieutenant of Kirkop between 1801-1804.
During the terrible outbreak of plague of 1813-1814, he served with distinction as Commissioner of Health. Later, he served as the personal physician of the Pasha of Tripoli for a number of years and died in Malta in 1841.
Mgr Saverio Cassar
Studied in Rome. Cassar graduated doctor of Divinity and was ordained priest in Rome on 30 March 1771 by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Francesco Mattei. Cassar was nominated archpriest of the Gozo Matrice directly by Pope Clement XIV on 20 April 1773. He was created Provicar of Gozo on 1 January 1775, chosen head of Government and Superintendent of all the island of Gozo on 18 September 1798.
Soon after the rising against the French on 2 September 1798, the Gozitans decided to coordinate their effort and formed a provisional local government made up of nine well known people with Atchpriest Cassar as head of government and inspector general.
He was a born leader with a dynamic personality, a steely will power, and an awe inspiring bearing – characteristics which made him the only arbiter of life in Gozo. Cassar organised the Dejma and obtained weapons and foodstuffs from foreign leaders. He collected money to pay the troops under his command and even arrested pro French partisans, including three canons.
He met Nelson and discussed the terms of capitualtion of the French which took place on 28 October 1798. Thus Gozo was liberated and became an independent entity.
As governor-genral and governing head for the king of Naples, Cassar organised the administration, reopened the law courts, elected new jurats, opened a custom house and even wanted to make Gozo an autonomoys diocese.
He was responsible for internal affairs and foreign policy. However, the Maltese congress disapproved of these actions and he British replaced him by Emmanuele Vitale as governor of Gozo.
Luogotenenti Di Governo
This is a list of Maltese citizens who (with many others) had given valuable services and were among the first in 1801 and after to be appointed to the then prestigious post of Lieutenant of their town or village. This was not a military appointment. The post carried with it certain administrative powers and responsibilities, such as those of an executive police officer empowered to arrest criminals and thieves and with the authority of a magistrate who could deal with minor offences where the fine did not exceed 25 skudi. They were also entrusted with some local administrative work and distributing Government relief to the very poor.
Those appointed were men of the strictest integrity who had proved themselves, were able to deal with local needs and serve as laison with the administration of the Government in Valletta.
Dr. Enrico Xerri – Kirkop
Dr Giuseppe Casha – Vittoriosa
Filippo Castagna – Cospicua and Senglea
Gaetano Fabri – Floriana
Vincenzo Borg – Birkirkara
Giovanni Chetcuti – Mosta
Dr. Pietro Buttigieg – Zebbug
Nicola Camilleri – Siggiewi
Emmanuele Gellel – Qormi
Saverio Zarb – Attard
Michele Vassallo – Naxxar
Salvatore Gafa – Lia
Giuseppe Montebello – Tarxien
Dr. Giuseppe Casha – Luqa
Giorgio Bonnici – Gudia
Giuseppe Abela – Zejtun
Alessandro Damato – Zurrico
Francesco Zammit – Crendi
Giovanni Gafa – Gharghur
Ch. Giuseppe Abdilla – Safi
Agostino Said – Zabbar
Conte Baldassere Sant – Notabile, Rabat, Dingli
Conte Paolo Parisio – Valletta