Present Situation of Maltese of Egypt

Author: Ivan Magri-Overend

This paper I have been requested to submit has a sub-tropics “History Of Emigration, And The Present Position”, and as the idea of Federation Of Maltese Communities Overseas was initiated in 1936 by the Maltese Communities of French North Africa and the Maltese Communities of Egypt, we have concentrated our Survey of Maltese Emigration to countries around the Mediterranean which were the first to attract the attention of Maltese Emigrants.

Laurent Ropa, the French writer of Gozitan Origin, used the heroin of his novel Kaline, published in 1936 to develop his idea of a Federation Of Maltese Associations Overseas.

Kaline - Jacqueline Agius - after being ashamed of her origin, enthusiastically returned to the culture of everything that was Maltese. She pitied those Maltese who renegated Malta. She often thought about the future of all these Maltese scattered around the World; she was concerned of what would happen to them if they lost their original national link, i.e. their language and history.

As “Melita” the organ of the Maltese Community of Tunisia, published at Sousse, reported now and then news from Maltese established in Egypt, America, Australia and Canada, “why, Kaline thought, should we not have a united movement?”

A Federation meant the possibility of united action at least in certain important cases. Why should we not arrange for all these Associations' representatives to meet in Malta where they could exchange ideas and views, and establish fraternal relationships for the safeguard of our national traditions?

These ideas, when the book was received in Egypt, were more than welcome. Here it should be known that the Maltese like all the Europeans established in Egypt never lost their original identity even if they were born in Egypt. They remained subject to the laws of their country and in case of the Maltese as British Subjects, they were subject to British Laws.

In 1938, I was a youngster of 22, and already in contact with Ivo Muscat-Azzopardi (Alexandria) a friend of my father since their school years, and with Tony Said (Port Said) who were launching Il Qawmien Malti, and so I wrote to Laurent Ropa for more imformation.

The idea of a Universal Federation was also supported by Fredu Nicholas Editor of Il-Bulletin Tal Kommunita Maltija Tal Kajr and in my correspondence with Laurent Ropa we were thinking of publishing a Histoire Du Peuple Maltais, but World War II unfortunately stopped all these contacts. I continued however to publish articles on the history of Malta which were accepted by French Press of Egypt, until I left Egypt for England in 1953.

After the Suez events of 1956 Members of the Maltese Communities of French North Africa were dispersed all around France while most of the Maltese from Egypt established themselves around London to restart their lives in a new environment from scratch.

In 1966 I launched from London an Appeal through the Times of Malta for a Universal Union of Maltese Overseas, without receiving any response.

In 1969 thanks to Mons. Philip Calleja we had our Maltese Migrants' Convention which assembled Maltese from all over the world. Then in 1983 on St George's Day, The Association Of Maltese Communities Of Egypt and L'Association France-Malte went through a Twinning Ceremony with the following declaration confirming:

“Their will of respecting their respective bye-laws and to carry out a programme of fostering cooperation, mutual respect, friendship and of exchanging cultural, social, economic relations between the people of Malta, France and England, thus opening the way to a complete spirit of understanding without any discrimination between the two associations and members of any other Maltese association established outside Malta willing to join the initiative taken by the two above associations today 23rd April 1983 during the ceremony held at St Monica House, 83, Clapham Road, The Oval, London SW9”

and which I had the honour and pleasure of signing as President of The Association of Maltese Communities of Egypt with Mr Vincent Galea, Founder and Vice-President of L'Association France-Malte representing Prince Guy de Polignac, their President.

The news of this twinning was well received overseas though to this day No repeat No Maltese Association expressed the desire to join, but when in 1985 we launched an Appeal to help a young Gozitan to be operated in the U.K. we obtained £5,700 out of which £1,350 came from Associations and Members in Australia, Canada, France and The States and from individual members we had in Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Monaco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Switzerland.

A proof that Id-Demm Qatt Ma Jsir Semm (Blood is thicker than water) is still the bond that links us all wherever we are, and gives hope that after all we could have our federation of Maltese associations established overseas.

Laurent Ropa called it also La Grande Malte and the number of Maltese living out of Malta may soon reach One Million …

Over these three small islands - Malta, Gozo and Comino - a large population has over the past few centuries just managed to survive.

From just over 21,000 in the tenth century the population grows to just under 23,000 in 1514. And to approx. 25,000 in 1530 when the Knights take over the country to jump to 31,000 twenty one years later in 1551, and to reach 100,000 when Bonaparte expels the Order in 1798.

In 1849 the population was up to nearly 118,000 and to be over 145,000 thirty years later in 1879.

The census of 1901 gives a total of 186,389, those of 1911 and 1921 are more or less static at some 213,000.

We would stop here, as in this talk we are only concerned with an introduction to Maltese Emigration especially around the Mediterranean littoral on which our ancestors have concentrated, ignoring other more suitable places offered to them during the same period.

The figures just quoted show that in less than ten centuries, the population of Malta and Gozo increased tenfold without unfortunately any noticeable decrease in mortality (25 to 30%).

This abnormal rapid increase on a land that offers no sufficient resources to feed its own population would have been disastrous, had not the inhabitants naturally tried to export themselves without waiting for any government initiative.

Between 1861 and 1871 over 30,000 Maltese left Malta, half of them might have been migrants. The problem of overpopulation must be as old as Malta itself, but the idea of controlling its size came much more later after the Two World Wars.

That great friend of Malta, Cardinal Lavigerie, once described Malta as “un grand rocher” and added “ce rocher no produit que des hommes”. In a few words we find here condensed the whole problem of Maltese overpopulation, and to that problem only one remedy could be found: migration. and migrate our fathers did.

There was a joke frequently heard in the Middle East (especially among diplomats) that when the first explorer arrived at the South Pole he was not at all surprised to find there a Greek shoemaker and a Maltese grocer ready to assist him.

As it happened however it was with the occupation of Malta and Gozo by the Arabs that the original inhabitants of our islands became aware of the possibility of looking beyond their shores for a living.

The ruling of the Arabs having lasted from 870 to 1090, it is nowadays thought that only a minority of Maltese remained faithful to Christianity, and therefore there must have been a continual “va et vient” between Malta and North Africa, due to inevitable inter-marriages and changes of residence.

And when in 1224 the Arabs were finally expelled from Malta by King Frederick, it must have been natural that the inhabitants of pure Arab descent, many Maltese families, for one reason or another, decided to leave Malta for good to settle down on the opposite side of the Mediterranean.

Furthermore, for a very long time, Malta and Gozo's coasts and hinterland remained subject to frequent raids from African Corsairs. The victims - mostly women - can be considered even if against their will, as the forerunners of the Maltese Migrants of the 19th century.

In one instance, in 1429, Malta and Gozo lost 3,000 persons kidnapped by the Moors, when Kaid Radwan invaded the Maltese Islands. It is true the Maltese Army pushed back the invaders to the sea, but this victory could not retrieve the captives.

Again on 24 July 1551, in spite of the Knights presence, Gozo was invaded and according to their historian Bosio, practically the whole population of the sister island, some 600 men and five to six thousand women and children were driven into captivity.

Godfrey Wettinger in an article on The Gozitan Captives of 1551 published in The Malta year Book of 1977 reports how in 1925 Father Costanzo Bergna (Tripoli dal 1510 al 1850) discovered that a Tripolitanian tradition would have it that a large section of these wretched Gozitans were interned by their captors in Tarhuna (a conglomeration 40 miles from Tripoli) where in the course of time, they became absorbed into the indigenous population while still preserving uses, customs and expressions testifying to their partly Christian origin. In their quarrels, Arabs revile them with the words “Ìiddkom Malti” your ancestor was Maltese.

Therefore for many years, it was only as captives that the Maltese set foot on African soil. The first time they did so differently was when Charles V imposed on the knights as a condition on the use of Malta the occupation and defence of Tripoli. It can be assumed that with the Knights and Rhodians many Maltese (priests, doctors, soldiers, seamen, labourers etc.) took up residence in Tripoli, and when the Turks under Sinan Pasha conquered the fortress in 1551, these auxiliaries lost either their freedom or their life there.

The Knights and After

During their long period of administration of Malta, the Knights had considered the foundation of a Colonial Empire in The West Indies, and even suggested the occupation of Corsica, to transfer the surplus of Maltese population to these territories. These proved half hearted attempts and abandoned after two years.

So, though the first contacts with Africa were painful ones, the Maltese gradually came to the conclusion that this continent would be the field where they would be able to develop their innate instinct for agriculture and trade. As a matter of fact, and perhaps contrary to common sense, until 1914 the Maltese tended to consider the African Coasts as The Holy Land, harbouring the undeclared wish to be instrumental in the return of The Faith to these lands lost to Christianity and this in spite of religious hostility, plague, cholera, revolutions, venal administration and discrimination in land ownership.

However, while the supremacy of the sea remained in the hands of the Corsairs, no large emigration movement could be envisaged. There were, of course, instances of individuals settling down in African Ports, but the risks were too great for many people to copy this example. In most cases it meant abjuring The Faith.

First Scheme of Resettlement

The “break-through” in Africa occurred with the occupation of Malta by Bonaparte and the enlistment of Maltese in a Maltese Regiment for service in Egypt. These Maltese recruits by no means were the first Maltese to set foot in Egypt, as the painter Denon was served at home (in Rosetta) by “trois esclaves Maltais”.

The French occupation of Egypt revealed to Europe the possibility of emigration to the Barbary Coasts, and a Maltese Antonio Vassallo was commissioned by the French to submit a scheme for settling Maltese peasants in Cyrenaica. From then on until 1911 Cyrenaica was to remain the dream land of settlers, especially on account of its vicinity to Malta where, should the need arise, the migrants would be returning for safety.

Maltese emigration as a movement began to take shape with the slump which followed the “boom” years of The Napoleonic Wars. The external wealth disappeared but the population remained. The British Authorities were alarmed (especially if Malta had to suffer a siege) and though several schemes were considered (Jamaica, Queensland etc.) none was accepted principally due to Westminster reluctance to cover the cost.

The Authorities in Malta started negotiations with British Authorities around the Mediterranean, but this was a long process not to the liking of the impatient migrants who decided to migrate on their own initiative.

One such initiative nearly succeeded in incorporating Lampedusa to the Maltese Archipelago.

In an article published in Lil Óutna (July-December 1979) Father Lawrence E. Attard O.P. reports how in 1800 a Maltese trader Salvu Gatt and his wife Giroloma from Haz Zebbug obtained a long lease of the island, then lying abandoned and uninhabited.

Taking with them a number of Maltese workers, they repaired the Castle over which they raised The British Flag, hoping for British protection which for a while they had following the friendly relations then existing between Britain and Naples.

The couple brought with them animals, and trees from Malta and built warehouses. Their success encouraged The British Royal Commission to suggest in 1812 the purchase of Lampedusa, Linosa And Lampione, and possibly also Pantelleria for future use of the excess of Malta overpopulation; but with the downfall of Napoleon and the acquisition of the Ionian Islands by Britain, the strategic value of these small islands lost much of their importance, the scheme was abandoned. In 1843 Salvu and Giroloma Gatt had to move out of Lampedusa under the threat of two Neapolitan men-of-war.

And so ended a very successful initiative.

Less successful were those who tried European ports such as Palermo and Barcelona. These initiatives proved to be complete failures as Sicilians and Spaniards themselves were seeking a living abroad. They were to be competitors to Maltese later on in Tunisia and Algeria.

However, Charles Price in his Malta and the Maltese considers that after a cautious study of the number of passports issued between 1816 and 1825 that some 12,000 people left Malta as emigrants during that period. This may also be quite a conservative figure.

Where have the Maltese gone?

Gibraltar may have been one of their favourite destination. During the 19th Century Maltese began to settle down in this British Colony in such large numbers that Legislation had to be enacted to curb this influx.

If one walks down Main Street one would detect distinctly Maltese names such as Azzopardi, Mifsud, Zarb, Zammit and Xerri.

More Maltese made their names in politics, the most important of the them being Maurice Xiberras, leader of the opposition in 1978, who formed the Democratic Party of British Gibraltar, and whose integrationist idea collapsed in the face of Britain's refusal to consider integration as a solution to Gibraltar's future.

The recent Gibraltar general elections gave a clear majority of 52% to the Social Democrat Party whose Chairman is Peter Caruana Q.C., a third generation of Maltese outfitters who still keep a shop in the main street of the Rock.

He is in favour of greater dialogue with Spain and Britain, but insists that sovereignty is not negotiable. He has a vision for the future with which all pragmatic Gibraltarians should be comfortable. He is bringing not just a change of Government but also bringing in the Rock's philosophy of a Government with fresh ideas.

Marseilles may have been another outlet for Maltese unskilled labour, as by 1891 there seemed to be a small colony of 500 people, though they may have come through Algeria.

Casolani in his Awake Malta reports that in 1927, a Gozitan priest Father Angelo Camilleri volunteered to go to the South of France where by that time thousands of Maltese had settled down and from a derelict and religiously forsaken colony, he succeeded by tact and perseverance in forming a well disciplined Maltese Parish with its own Maltese Church.

But by the time that Gibraltar and Marseilles proved successful, Maltese migrants were already looking forward to go to the principal towns of The Ottoman Empire for a decent living.

Trading and Maritime Migration

Maltese had many opportunities to work along the African Coast (within easy reach of Malta) but expansion was in a way stagnant as, due to insecurity beyond the coastal districts, few openings were available until the occupation of Algeria by the French in 1830.

However these Oriental territories did not appeal specifically to Maltese farmers in view of The Moslem Law discriminating against Christians acquiring property, and fierce competition from the poorly paid fellah. But small ports offered ample opportunities for petty trading, and Maltese seamen were not slow in taking advantage of these opportunities, carrying textiles, tobacco, wines etc. and exchanging them along the African Coast for oil, dates, hides, cattle and cereals. These African products would then be delivered to large European concerns established in Valletta. Obviously, with increasing trade in these African ports, new openings were found for increased numbers of Maltese agents, tobacconists, wine merchants, and porters. It was reckoned what within 15 to 20 years large fortunes were made and not a few Maltese became creditors to the local beys or pashas. The big advantage for Maltese settlers was, in addition to vicinity, the cheapness of transportation from Malta.

The normal charges on a Maltese Sperornara was 2 shillings to Tripoli or Tunis and 12 shillings to Alexandria or Constantinople.

Many thrifty Maltese would however pay 2 shillings and work their way overland from Tunis or Tripoli along the coast to the port of destination.

European labour, skilled or unskilled, was in great demand, and what more for foreigners working within the boundaries of The Ottoman Empire, there was at least officially for non-Muslims special provisions assuring protection against local abuses, assurance of religious freedom and right to be tried in their own Consular courts. These privileges, known as Capitulations dated back to a treaty in 1536 between France and The Ottoman Empire protecting Christians trading in territories controlled by The Turks. These privileges survived in Egypt until 1937, but they were abrogated by Italy and France when they occupied their part of North Africa.

As will be seen later on, it was in Algeria that the Maltese farmer found, with the active support of France & Swiss financing, the opportunities he was looking for in vain in the previous decades. In no time due to hard work and diligence, he will dominate the fruit, vegetable and milk markets.

Let us first examine the evolution of Maltese emigration in the Mediterranean countries from 1813 onwards.

Greece and the Ionian Islands of Corfù and Cephalonia

The most important of the seven Ionian Islands Corfù drew the attention of the Maltese prospective migrants as early as 1814/15.

In 1825 they were 1,800/2,000 and their number kept increasing until 1864 when the Islands were ceded to Greece and Britain dismantled her Naval bases.

The Maltese were instrumental in introducing the cultivation of vegetables.

Emigration to Cephalonia was organised on Government to Government basis i.e. between British Governors. In September 1826 a group of 278 Maltese led by a priest Don Luigi Ricca and Dr F. Camilleri left Malta full of hope and determination.

The group was offered vacant convent lands for five years but after two years hard work, the scheme proved a complete failure, and the migrants returned to Malta or joined other groups in Corfù.

Those Maltese who remained for good appear to have been fully integrated, but remained attached to the Roman Catholic Faith in spite of inter marriages.

The Buhagiars were amongst those who returned to Malta. They had a son Antonio, born in Cephalonia, who studied in Malta and then joined The Capuchin Order; he then went to Sfax where for twelve years he served the small community of Maltese settlers. Afterwards he was appointed Bishop Auxiliary to Cardinal Lavigerie who liked to be surrounded by Maltese priests.

In 1885 as the Archbishop of Malta Monsignor Scicluna was getting old the Vatican appointed Bishop Buhagiar as Bishop Administrator.

The British Authorities were surprised by the appointment of a francophile prelate to the See of Malta, and the local Clergy resented the fact that a Maltese born Overseas was preferred to a Malta-born Monsignor for this important position.

In vain Leo XIII explained that being Maltese but not involved in local politics Monsignor Buhagiar was the best possible choice, but the local furore was such that when Monsignor Scicluna passed away, he was replaced by The Bishop of Gozo, and Monsignor Buhagiar was appointed Apostolic Delegate and Envoy Extraordinary to San Domingo, Haiti and Venezuela.

Between 1850 and 1870, Maltese took part in all archaelogical excavations in Athens, and at the Athens Exhibition of 1888 Maltese from Corfù stands obtained several prizes.

Perhaps one should also mention that at the time of the Greek Rebellion it was suggested to the new King of Greece to raise a regiment of Maltese for the sake of his security.

At the beginning of the 20th century, it was reckoned that Greece including the Ioanian Islands had some 1,600 Maltese. Some of them especially those living on the mainland may have kept their British Nationality as during the evacuation of Greece by the British Commonwealth Forces in the last War, they were evacuated to Egypt.

Most of them knew only Greek.

Maltese tenor Icilio Calleja though born in Corfù was brought up in Alexandria.

Music composer Alexander Greck although born in Corfù, spent all his active life also in Alexandria where all his compositions were published. He returned to Corfù where he died.

Crete and Cyprus

It was Sir Henry Storks who invited the Maltese Council in 1865 to give active consideration to emigration to Crete then under Ottoman Administration.

The British Consul more or less endorsed the scheme enthusiastically but the Colonial Office refused to sanction the decision fearing the almost certain antagonism of the local Greek population.

Regarding Cyprus, there was a real effort towards making the official scheme a success.

When Sir Adrian Dingli was loaned to the Cyprus Government in 1878 he came back with the conviction that Cyprus provided the perfect land for Maltese farmers.

Negotiations took two years, but the publicity given to the scheme was such that people, taking no notice of public advice, migrated under their own steam.

Unfortunately the land purchased although fertile was infected with malaria, and the party dispersed due to ill health. The official scheme which covered large tracts of fertile and reputed healthy lands, had to be abandoned.

It was reported that in 1891 there were still 91 Maltese but this number was reduced to 61 in 1901.

In the light of recent events in Cyprus, it was fortunate that the scheme had to be shelved in 1880, yet in 1928 an offer was made to the Maltese Government to purchase lands described as suitable for Maltese settlers. Very fortunately again the idea while not rejected straight away, was deferred pending an official enquiry.

Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine

These three countries are grouped together as during the period of massive Maltese Emigration they were all - at least nominally - administered by Turkey.

a) Turkey Maltese were attracted to Turkish ports early enough to number a few hundred in Smyrna in 1842 and probably 1,000 in Constantinople.

During The Crimean War (1854-57) in spite of the boom existing in Malta due to military expenditure, many Maltese left their island for the Black Sea ports to work as batmen, pioneers and drivers. In 1865 they were 3,000 and in 1885 there may have been 4,500.

There was a big demand for European carpenters, smiths, masons, tailors, cobblers, but influx of Greeks and Armnenians kept wages down for skilled or unskilled jobs alike.

During the First World War many Maltese families from Turkey escaped internment by coming to Egypt. Many ranked as “merchants” in Consular eyes. Others preferred to stay.

During the Second World War, and when Greece was invaded in 1940, The British Authorities thought wise for these families to be evacuated to Egypt; some finished in Australia, others are with us in England. At least two Maltese in Turkey were notorious in the legal profession: Dr William Parnis Effendi had held office in 1864 at the Supreme British Consular Court at Constantinople before entering The Turkish Government Service as Legal Advisor, becoming the Permanent Under Secretary of State of the Ottoman Empire and was involved in negotiations with the Austrian Imperial Government.

Dr Lewis Mizzi LL.D., C.M.G. was reputed to know 25 languages and apparently pleaded in many of them. He was the Editor of a very important Anglo-French paper The Levant Herald and President of the International Bar Of Consular Courts.

Ivo Muscat-Azzopardi reports that he was the Legal Adviser to the Sultan of Turkey, the King of Rumania, and the King of the Hellenes. He was certainly by far the most important Maltese ever to live in the Middle East.

Amadeo Preziosi, A Painter Born in Malta and who lived in Turkey considered to be one of the most celebrated water colour painters of the 19th century. Born in Malta in 1816, he studied in Paris and in 1854 he seemed to have established himself in Constantinople.

His works representing scenes of daily ordinary life in Turkey are partly preserved at the British Museum. He visited Egypt in 1862 and his reproductions of sites on the Nile now extinct, have helped to keep the record of ethnic groups, today defunct.

In the Dardanelles, a Salvage Flotilla owned by the Grechs rendered invaluable services to vessels in distress.

b) The Lebanon The Maltese here centred around Beyrouth and when the British Fleet bombarded this port in 1840 to put pressure on the Egyptian Army to evacuate the country, no mass evacuation of Maltese was reported, and therefore it is assumed their number has never been high. During the First World War many however were interned, and a cousin of ours John Magri-Overend passed away while in internment. He was the Chief Cashier of the Vacuum Oil Company.

Nowadays, very few Maltese live in Beyrouth and in the present circumstances their situation is not without causing great concern to their relatives in England.

When Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire, Members of the Abela Family were for a long time Hon. Consuls in Beyrouth, and a scion of the family is considered one of the most successful businessman of the Middle East. He has just passed away and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales was represented at his funeral service.

c) Palestine In pre-1948 Palestine with the exception of monks and nuns living there in the course of their duties, there does not appear to have been any Maltese conglomeration of any size.

It is thought that the Convent of Mount Carmel was founded by a Maltese discalzed Carmelite Father Grech.

Palestine was however seriously considered in 1919 as a possible outlet for the labour expected soon to be discharged from the Malta Dockyard. According to The Daily Malta Chronicle of 24 February 1919, the then Governor of Malta Lord Methuen, closing a lecture on Islands by Sir Archibald Garrod, expressed his anxiety for the forthcoming discharges involving 16,000 families and proposed Palestine (then a Mandatory Territory) where a breakwater was being built.

Due to lack of transport and other reasons, the scheme never saw light. In 1948 when the British Forces were evacuating Palestine, a Maltese John Vella was left in charge of The Cable & Wireless Office, Haifa. As history repeats itself it was also a Maltese Emm. Testa who was left in charge of the Port Said Telegraph Office when in 1956 the British and French had to reoccupy the Canal Zone.

Egypt Soon after peace was established in the Mediterranean with the downfall of Napoleon, Maltese started going to Egypt. There were already some 1,000 settlers mostly in Alexandria when Mohamed Aly started a huge programme of westernising his country, devastated by International and local conflicts.

The Maltese, according to Vadal, were the very first Europeans that came to settle down permanently in Egypt, under the protection of the Capitulations. It must be emphasised that there never was an organised movement of Maltese Emigration to Egypt. Individuality was and remained the principal aspect of this migration.

By 1810 Mohamed Aly was in full possession of his adopted country, and he required help to restore finances, trade and introduce new agricultural products especially cotton, etc.

During the Greek War of Independence (1825/29) he had to join Turkey but his fleet was destroyed at Navarino (1827) and therefore he decided to built an Arsenal and Dockyard. There was work for 30,000 people and most of the semi-skilled work and supervision was left to Europeans and The Skill of the Maltese Foremen Was Extremely Useful.

The Maltese took full advantage of these opportunities and by 1825 they were numerous enough to warrant a report from the British Consulate stating that during a recent cholera epidemic, no class of persons suffered more than the Maltese.

Mohamed Aly was the first Pasha to assure full security to Christians, hence rare occasions of Consular reports of Maltese grievances. In 1830 it was reckoned the Maltese were 1,500 scattered between Alexandria, Cairo and Rosetta. They were not rich, but not poor either, as according to an agreement of Mohamed Aly with all the European Consuls, immigrants before being accepted, had to prove means of subsistence or produce a reputable surety.

Under Ismail, his grandson, there was more extensive work available for the extension of Railways, Telegraph, new Canals, the Suez Canal, Tribunals, the Opera House, etc.

Another wave of migrants, this time of the clerical type, followed at the turn of the century until the 1914/18 war.

One main point should be emphasised here strongly. These exiles never tried to transplant into Egypt the class division in which they had been brought up in Malta.

When on 20 September 1854 a few Maltese workers gathered around their Church in Alexandria and formed Il Konfraternita Tal Madonna Tal-Karmnu they were making history by founding the very first Maltese Association Overseas. They laid the foundation stone around which the Maltese were to built up their Mutual help Societies, Benevolent Societies, Social Clubs, Scouts, Guides, Sports clubs etc. Later in the 1930s all these associations, while keeping their independence, were grouped into four local community councils, Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, which in turn formed the central council of the Maltese Communities of Egypt.

When at the time of the Suez Events the Maltese were expelled from Egypt, this pattern of unity in independence was kept by The Association of Maltese Communities of Egypt when this association took over from the central council. In effect there has been no interruption in activities.

From the very beginning the object of all these Associations was the defence of the rights of the individual. Nothing Came Easily. They had to fight against indifference on the part of the British Authorities for example on the question of British Education, prejudice, discrimination in employment, so much so that before 1914 there was a long exchange of letters to the Editor in one of the principal English Dailies, because one firm in advertising a vacancy specifically stated “Maltese Need Not Apply”.

If one compares this silly incident with a list of Managing Directors, General Managers, Bank Managers, Barristers, Brokers, Physicians, Chief Accountants, Chief Cashiers etc. one can realise how successful the Maltese community as a whole has been in the Commerical Life of Cosmoplitan Egypt.

In the Canal Zone for example the first concession for Electric Supply was obtained by a firm having a Maltese Partner: Wills & Manche; the personal physician to Ferdinand de Lesseps was Dr Herbert Zarb who was also the first consular Agent at Port said; the Director of the Egyptian Posts was Attilio Nani M.B.E.; the Director of the Public Health was Dr William Sacco; Dr M. J. Paris was at the Quarantine etc. etc.

Most of the companies supplying food and water to vessels passing through the Canal were Maltese. Cory Brothers was founded by a Mitrovich whereas the Port Said Water Suply Co. Known as “The Maltese Fleet” was owned by the Brothers Said.

Some of the very first Suez Canal Pilots were Maltese (Capt. A Caruana, Capt. Fernandez, Capt. Naponelli, Capt. Nicola Fleri etc.) so was the A.D.C. to the Governor and Commanding Officer of the Police Bonelli Bey.

In Cairo, the main railway station was built by a Zarb, a Maltese Architect, and later in the mid-1930s Arnold Zarb built the most modern building in Cairo for the Assicuratrice Generale in spite of Fascist pressure and keen competition from Italian Architects who very naturally expected the commission.

Similar examples could be found in Alexandria. Many Maltese were members of the Municipality Council - positions sought for by important personalities of the European community.

Early in the 1950s Robert Borg was the President of the Mixed Courts Bar.

British-consular Services were staffed with Maltese, many of whom attained the highest positions which is all to their credit as they were not “Home Staff”:

Suffice to quote:

a) In Cairo Raphael Borg C.M.G. who after several commissions in Alexandria was promoted in 1884 to Consul in Cairo; then in 1895 transferred to Alexandria as Acting Consul General, retransferred to Cairo as Consul in 1900 with jurisdiction over half of Egypt.

Consul Borg is reported of having tipped Disraeli of the offer to acquire the Khedive personal shares in the Suez Canal Co. Though according to Paul Morand “Le Route Des Indes” the offer was made directly to Disraeli by one Frederic Greenwood; but was Greenwood only an emissary?

In Alexandria we had vice consuls Paul and Joseph Cassar, the latter after a period at the Foreign Office as Chief Translator, was the First British Servant to be seconded to the E.E.C. in their Translation Department with the rank equivalent to assistant Secretary in the British Civil Service.

At Alexandria the Pro-consul was Anthony Cumbo etc.

At Port Said we had Charles Caruana as pro Consul, Joe W. Caruana M.B.E. as Vice Consul and several times Acting Consul, prior to his transfer to Tripoli as 1st Secretary H.B.M. Embassy and Head of the Consular Service in Libya etc. Pio Vella was Pro Consul.

At Suez, there was D. Scerri M.B.E. as Vice Consul, Robert Camilleri M.B.E. also as Vice Consul prior to his appointment to Khartoum and Rawlpindi.

Ivan Vella formerly of the Suez Consulate was later attached to H.B.M. Embassies in Berne and Paris; Aldo Mallia Testaferrata from the Cairo Consulate was attached to the High Commission at Lagos and H.B.M. Consulate at Strasbourg.

During the last war, the Maltese of Egypt were conscripted for military service under an Order in Council. Many received a Commission and the Officer in Charge of the German Prisoners of War Camp in the Middle was Major Edwin Magri-Overend; the Royal Air Force Assistant Judge was Wing Commander Wyndham Grech.

Of the many Maltese who were a credit to Malta, we would mention some of those who through their artistic activities distinguished themselves:

Prof. G. Wolgeshaffen Malfiggiani, Impresario, Theatre Zizinia between two seasons in which he was not Impresario of the Royal Opera House, Malta.

Icilio Calleja, Tenor of La Scala, Milan. Although born in Corfù, he was brought up in Alexandria.

Salv. Frendo De Mannarino, author of Il Barunissa Maltija, etc. who had a School for Europeans and where many Maltese children received their education.

Jos. Geo Pisani, music composer (A bust of his could be seen for years at the Orpheum Theatre, Gzira).

Alexander Greck, another music composer (born in Corfù, but brought up in Alexandria. He passed away in Corfù).

Joseph Bonello, the famous etcher, to whom we owe the A to Z map of Cairo. A painting of his depicting St Paul in Malta, was at St Joseph Church in Cairo.

Mrs Violet Seisun (nee Magri-Overend) pianist who at the age of 17 graduated as piano performer with honours (Berlin Academy of Music). In the same year she won a Grand Piano Pleyel in a public competition.

Mrs Elena Zarb, famous sculptress, Cairo Academie des Beaux Arts, one of only two first females admitted to the Osmani Arts School.

There was a Maltese explorer, Andrea Debono, who under the name of Latif Effendi travelled far enough inside Africa to practically reaching the source of the Nile. He was mentioned by Jules Verne in his book “Five Weeks In A Balloon”.

The Royal Opera House Orchestra, Cairo, included many Maltese professional musicians, and lately we heard that at the request of the Khedive, the Sultan of Turkey allowed Maestro Joseph Calleja a member of his Court Staff, to lead the Orchestra for the inauguration of the Opera House, Cairo, as part of the festivities organised for the opening of the Suez Canal, for which all the Royal Houses of Europe sent representatives. Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III was the guest of honour.

Our co-nationals could be found in every sphere of commercial activities from the humblest to the highest positions. A short and incomplete list was recently published by the Newsletter of the Association of Maltese Communities of Egypt and it extended over four full pages. There must be many names which with failing memories have been forgotten. There was even a Radio Schembri transmitting Music and News. Many Maltese received decorations and awarded the title of Bey for services rendered to the Egyptian Authorities. Until 1924 many Government positions were held by Europeans, and some continued to work with the Government for longer periods under contract.

In the Sudan (which was formerly part of Egypt) we had Sir Edgar Bernard Pasha who under Lord Kitchener was Financial Secretary.

Cosmopolitan Egypt saw the beginning of a brilliant career in Vatican Diplomacy: that of Archbishop Emm. Gerada. In the early 1950s he was appointed by his superior, Monsignor Montini (afterwards elected Pope Paul VI) to the Internunciature at Zamalek (Cairo) as a first step which took him to Eire, Japan, India, Mexico, Ruanda, El Salvador, Guatemala, Pakistan and then again Eire.

One should also mention Bishop Annetto Casolani (1815-1866) who in 1846 was with Propaganda Fide involved in a mission to Khartoum and Central Africa.

The last time a Maltese Regiment saw service in Egypt was during the last war when a battalion of the Royal Malta Artillery was posted to Alexandria.

Maltese Servicemen first came with Bonaparte and almost the whole contingent was wiped out at the Battle of the Pyramids. Then in 1801 they were in Egypt under Sir Ralph Abercromby, in 1882 with General Wolseley and again in 1900 and during the 1914/18 War.

The British Military Cemetery at Tell el Kebir contains many Maltese graves.

In 1885 a contingent of Maltese Commissariat Drivers was at Suakin in the Sudan.

During the Allenby Palestinian Campaign of the first World War, there was a Pioneer Corps formed of Maltese.

During their long stay in Egypt, the Maltese Communities never lost contact with Malta. They suffered with their fellow countrymen in Malta at times of danger and crisis.

For example in 1919 Port Said alone contributed over £390 - towards Lady Methuen's Fund, and during the last War over £60,000 were collected for the Malta Relief Fund through the initiative of the late Chev. Philip Bianchi C.B.E. This of course in addition to personal remittances to relatives both in food parcels and money.

After World War II, new legislation introduced by the Egyptian Government restricted employment for foreigners. The consequences were that when a Britisher was unable to find another job due to this restricting measure, this Britisher could claim an allowance from Consular Funds based on the number of dependants, until such time as he could leave the country for England or Australia, or any other country except Malta.

This situation created a migration towards the Commonwealth with assisted passage through British Consular Funds, British Legion etc.

This of course came as no surprise, as since the war it was expected that the whole position of foreigners in Egypt had to be reconsidered one day or another. It was the duty of our leaders to find an outlet for the unemployed and naturally Australia was first on the list.

Our Councils were conscious of their responsibility and they always stressed the importance of a British education for their children, and through patience and perseverance, they succeeded at long last to obtain through Lord Lloyd of Dolobra (who was High Commissioner in Egypt in 1930) the required assistance.

Most of the Maltese born in Egypt between the two wars received a French education which incidentally insisted on the knowledge of three languages, but with the help of Lord Lloyd and his British Council, new British schools to cater especially for the Maltese were established and the chance of settlement in Australia became brighter.

Mr Chiefley, Prime Minister of Australia gave an assurance that “provided … Maltese in Egypt could comply with the usual conditions applicable to all British Subjects . . . they could enter Australia without further applications or formality …”

And so whole families took advantage of this new opening for the future. In 1956 there were still many Maltese in high positions who when compelled to leave, found in England warm hospitality and opportunity to start a new life afresh.

During their long stay in Egypt the Maltese experienced several setback but each time they started again full of energy. In 1835/36 they suffered the plague; in 1839/40 they were threatened with expulsion when relations between Mohamed Aly and England were at their worst; plague again in 1864/65 and mass evacuation to Malta in 1881/82 at the time of the bombardment of Alexandria when nearly 9,000 Maltese had to leave everything behind to save their lives. In the second world war they risked internment had the Axis won the Desert War and then in 1956 at the time of the Suez Events they suffered final mass expulsion.

To note also that during the riots of 26 January 1952 one of the first buildings to be set on fire, was Malta House, Cairo. More than 70 years of records were lost for ever.

This final expulsion proved a blessing in disguise, as the Maltese whether in England or Australia have within 15 years built up for themselves new opportunities which would not have been available to their children in a country full of restrictions.

How many Maltese were there in Egypt?

Figures are contradictory but it is thought that there were 7,000 Maltese by the end of the 19th Century. Before 1939 it was reckoned that there were 18,000/20,000 in Lower Egypt with a score of families in Upper Egypt. This number was greatly reduced by emigration and almost completely wiped out by expulsions in 1956.

Spiritual Needs

To look after the spiritual care of so many people, there were so very few Maltese priests, that it is a real miracle that the Maltese in Egypt remained faithful to the Roman Catholic Faith. Though divorce was freely available under the British Legal System which according to the Capitulations regulated the private life of H.M. subjects in the country, very few Maltese took advantage of it.

The Parish Church of St Eugenia, Port Said, was partly built with stones imported from Malta. It contains a famous painting by Cali “Regina Decor Carmeli”.

In Cairo, the Parish Church of Mousky kept by the Franciscan Fathers, the Blessed Water Font has been erected by the Maltese Community of Cairo to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1887.

A special tribute of gratitude is due to these very few priests who devoted the best years of their lives at the service of the Community in Egypt.

Members of this Community are now scattered around the World but mainly in Australia, Canada, England, France, Italy, South Africa, Zimbabwe, a few in Brazil and even in Malta.


As soon as England got rid of the corsairs in the Mediterranean the first Europeans who dared venturing along the Libyan Coast were Maltese.

They gradually settled down at Tripoli and Benghazi bringing with them European goods to be exchanged for ostrich feathers, ivory, tanned skins etc.

However the real movement towards Tripoli could not begin before the Karamanlis who ruled the country from 1171 to 1835 had been ousted by the Turks.

By 1832 the Maltese controlled the whole trade (coastal) between Tripoli and Tunis. A very lucrative commerce in cattle was organised to feed the British Garrison in Malta, and within a short time shopkeepers became opulent; some of them becoming creditors to the Pasha.

In spite of their success and probably because of it, there existed a permanent hostility towards the Maltese, not necessarily due to religion since economic jealousy was not uncommon. The Maltese could however rely on Consular support, and here Consular reports speak of good and quiet behaviour on the part of the Maltese facing unpleasant incidents. The Consuls had Formal Instructions from the Foreign Office to uphold and protect the rights of the Maltese.

There were many tentative organised schemes for settlement on a permanent basis, but almost all failed due to opposition from Whitehall.

For example Dr Naudi's utopian dreams of recreating the famous province of Pentapolis met with the flat refusal of both the Colonial and Treasury's Offices to utilise Maltese funds.

In 1842 instability in the Mediterranean due to political complications with France, led the Governor to propose the settlement of the Colony at Tripoli to relieve the pressure on the population should France Blockade Malta, reducing the civilians to starvation and leaving no alternative to the garrison to surrender; exactly the position the late General Dobbie had to face 100 years later.

The reaction of the Maltese merchants of Tripoli and of the Consuls were favourable. The Pasha of Tripoli was ready to assist the experiment by granting lands. The Foreign Office approved but the Treasury rejected the scheme.

Again in 1865 Sir Henry Storks, then Governor, revived the scheme which was again supported by the Consuls of Tripoli and Benghazi. This time however, people were discouraged by the ban on land ownership by Christians. It was also rightly pointed out that wild tribesmen were active in the vicinity of the proposed lands. Insecurity might have required protection by troops.

In 1869, the Turkish Government released new territories around Bomba by exempting lands from taxes. The inducement was very attractive until it was realised that settlers had to renounce their European Nationality. Question of security played an important role, and the Foreign Office was not prepared to go against Turkey.

A good chance seemed possible in 1874. Sir Adrian Dingli suggested private negotiations through a Maltese Land Company. Maltese investors were ready to help and the reaction from London was at long last favourable, but failure followed difficulties in drafting the project.

Yet according to conservative figures, it was estimated that in 1842 there were 1,000 Maltese in the area, in 1865 there were 2,000 and they increased to 3,000 by 1900.

Although Rene Pinon reports that in 1910, Maltese were as numerous as the Italians, from 1880 the possibility of an official Maltese Dependency had to be forgotten.

Vadala quotes the names of an architect Richard Cassar, Dr Angelo Mizzi and cattle breeders Vella and Cachia. Also according to him the only foreigners at Derna in 1843 were Maltese working as bankers and traders.

Maltese also acted as British Consular Agents at Murzuk and Ghadames with special duties to look out for the slavery trade.

As in Egypt, Maltese from Tripolitania had to return to Malta due to plague, civil wars, typhus etc. In September 1911 Italy declared war on Turkey without waiting for a reply to an ultimatum. This War proved to be the ruin for many Maltese prosperous firms, and whose owners had to quit at a moment's notice. A first batch of 1,300 arrived in Malta herded as cattle, penniless. More followed.

In October one of the refugees died of Cholera; within a few hours the disease spread and took months and eighty five lives to be stamped out.

After annexation of the whole territory by Italy, Maltese returned but of course had to sustain harsh competition from Italians who then had full support from their Colonial Administration.

During the last War some of them had to opt for Italian Citizenship and join the Italian Army. Others joined the British Troops when the 8th Army advancing into Cyrenaica released them from internment; others suffered longer internment.

A large number of them now live in the United Kingdom.


As in Libya, the Maltese were the first pioneers in Tunisia. Many early adventurers ended their lives in captivity and when Bonaparte was in Malta in 1798 he obtained from the Bey of Tunis the release of 50 Maltese captives by releasing all the Moslems slaves he found in Malta.

Emigration started through La Goulette towards Tunis, Sousse and Sfax. Most of the immigrants entered the country illegally and had to accept to do the lowest paid menial works. Others were obliged to become Moslem for the same reason.

However, permanent emigration did not really start until the conquest of Algeria in 1830. Until then it was too hazardous to settle down except on the coast, where as we have already seen the Maltese monopolised trade between Tripoli and Tunis. Some excelled in unlicensed trade of exchanging by night European products for Tunisian Oil.

When in 1864 Arab traders besieged the smaller ports south and east of Tunis, Maltese traders were involved in considerable loss of property.

Between 1850 and 1860 the six or seven thousand Maltese constituted the largest Christian Community in Tunisia; it was only in 1870 that the Italians outnumbered them.

Like the Maltese in Egypt they came under the jurisdiction of Britain; thanks to the same Treaty of 1536, The Capitulations, they were outside Tunisian Law.

In 1863, the British Consul had obtained for them the right of owning property and was trying to arrange for a penetration on economic grounds with British Capital and Maltese Labour. It was a failure, but the Maltese had by then become recognised farmers which no foreigner before them could have even thought to become.

By the year 1900 they owned over 2% of the total properties belonging to European in Tunisia.

In 1881, when France established her protectorate, the Maltese were 7,000, and this number kept increasing so rapidly that the French Authorities started to worry as the Maltese population was not counter-balanced by a similar growth on the part of the French settlers.

The Maltese formed their Benevolent Society in 1900, but their Mutual Help Society and Maltese Band dated back to 1883.

It did not matter as the Tunis Correspondent of the Daily Malta Chronicle Mr Fallot pointed out that “Maltese Immigrants Arrive In Groups Without Having Any Shoes On Their Feet Or Jackets On Their Backs”. They were still unreservedly welcome as they were. French Administrators certainly wished to have more of them. One of them declared: “This Element is the best that foreign countries offer us … the Maltese Migrant is more assimiliable than any other foreigner. . . . One should try to increase their number…”

By 1926 the Maltese Community included millionaires and industrialists. Maltese also took their share in local administration. Many Municipal councillors were Maltese and in 1911 a Maltese - Joseph Grech - was the principal Interpreter of the Protectorate. He was later promoted to the rank of Consul of France.

By 1891 they numbered 11,527 and ten years later more than 15,000. the Tunis census of 1921 counted 13,520 Anglo-Maltese and 4,963 French- Maltese reflecting a greater number taking advantage of the Nationality Legislation (8 November 1921).

Cardinal Lavigerie who understood what he could obtain from Maltese Priests had many of them around him. Monsignor Brincat was his Secretary and the Bishop of Sfax Monsignor Polomeni was also Maltese.

It was for the use of the Maltese community that many of the churches built between 1838 and 1848 were erected.

In Tunis there was a Rue Des Maltais, a Rue Malta Gzira, a Rue La Vallette, pointing to the Maltese influence.

It was therefore not surprising that the French and Maltese Governments came to terms and signed a Labour Contract in 1929 normalising the recruitment of Maltese workers of every category by a representative of L'Office Gratuit Du Placement Des Francais En Tunisie. Maltese were to be given the same wages and conditions as those granted to French nationals. So they prospered and published their own paper Melita in French and Maltese.

During the last war the Maltese in Tunisia went through very difficult times as they were pro-Free French and always ready to assist the Allied cause.

At great risk to themselves they looked after the welfare of the British Prisoners of War and as reported in Malta Blitzed But Not Beaten by Philip Vella, news of this help was regularly transmitted by the wife of the U.S.A. Vice Consul to their next of kin.

The Maltese Community of Tunisia was a predominant one until the early 1950s, but since the independence of Tunisia they have joined in the exodus of European Communities and left the country in search of a new home in the U.K. or in France.


It is recorded that in 1833, Marechal Soult (Minister for War and Foreign Affairs) proposed in a report to Louis Philippe to form a Special Commission with power to consider the origin of settlers for Algeria. Not only French colonists were to be considered but also Germans, Maltese and Mahonese. The two last ethnic groups were qualified as “less commendable, but easily adaptable” to the conditions of the newly acquired territory. In his report Soult added “It would be unwise to be stringent on quality when one needs quantity”.

This was a very unfair comment as certainly the French themselves were no models for holiness. In effect French Authorities soon realised the value of the indigent, illiterate but potentially thrifty Maltese colonist whose hard work in spite of his defects was to be so useful to them. History has proven how Soult was wrong.

One of them Paul Cambon who knew them well as Resident General in Tunisia would later in the course of history vouch that “France sympathises with the Maltese as they are sober, hardworkers, thrifty and full of talents … and the Maltese put all these assets at the service of France …”

The Maltese were welcome, as in Tunisia, for their lack of political ambition. It was in Algeria that at last they found the land which they could cultivate and that they had been looking for so long around the Mediterranean.

Money was being poured into Algeria from France and Switzerland to create settlements, but Maltese labourers demonstrated also by their success in small farming what, with goodwill, hardworking peasants could achieve without any capital to back them up.

In fact the Maltese were the first amongst the settlers to recognise the possibilities of the Algerian soil. They planted large plots with orange groves and introduced the cultivation of Maltese fruits such as the “ghambakar” and “baitar tad-dem”. They also imported the Maltese goat whose milk became one of their best sold products.

French Military rule helped by abolishing venal and partisan local government. The settlers were more confident than ever before, having the protection of the army, but needless to say military rule was at least at first, impotent against epidemics, fevers of all sorts etc. And the Maltese labourers paid a heavy toll tilling, ploughing a new land.

Vadala mentions names such as Attard, Xerri, Gales, Brincat, Hili, Grima, Sultana etc. whose orchards, vineyards, vegetable gardens brought prosperity unknown until then to former large sterile areas.

Ten years after the French occupation, the Maltese numbered 5,000. Whenever the French Army went they followed as interpreters, suppliers and soldiers. In 1856 they were just over 7,000 and they doubled this number in 20 years.

They intermarried with the French and became so fully integrated that among the foreigners, Maltese women were those who most often married Frenchmen. Soult must have turned in his grave!!!!

No trade or profession was barred to them.

The grocery trade was more or less in their hands.

In 1903, for example:

a) there were in Bone 13 Maltese grocers out of a total of 18 and in

b) Philippeville there were six Maltese butchers out of a total of six and seven Maltese grocers out of a total of 12.

The field of their activities was so large that, within two generations Maltese could be found in all existing trade, arts and crafts, legal and medical professions.

Many of them reached high rank in the French Army. In the Medical Corps Maltese Doctors were numerous; so were Maltese interpreters in the Intelligence Corps.

Many took advantage of the 1889 Legislation for obtaining French Citizenship. At times this status was not always easy to obtain but the privileges and advantages both commercial and administrative were considerable.

Several Maltese reached the high position of majors as early as the beginning of this century. One can mention typical names such as Fenech (Mayor of Bone), Mercieca in Algiers, Attard at Orleansville, Debono at Boufarik.

Needless to say the Maltese remained staunch Catholics and divorces amongst them were rather rare.

Amongst the social workers the name of Marie Bugeja was not unknown. Mme. Bugeja was born Moisan. She took an active interest in the education of the Moslem Women. It was under her Maltese name that she published all her books and in 1936 she obtained The Grand Prix Litteraire Du Centenaire De L'Algerie.

Two French Poets of Maltese origin had their roots in Algeria.

One of them Fernand Grech was even elected an “immortel” of the Academie Française.

The other is Laurent Ropa (whose Maltese name Rapa was francisized into Ropa by the French Immigration Officer when his parents entered North Africa). He revealed to France and North Africa the existence of the Maltese Language by his translations of Maltese Works, and his own original novels.

A poet and writer in his own right he depicted in his works life of the Maltese in North Africa.

Many Maltese took part at the liberation of French Territories fighting with the Free French Forces.

According to Eric Brockman in his book Last Bastion a Maltese Lady married to a Vichy Frenchman was a key figure in the North African Resistance. She was Madame de Caumont (nee Zammit - Cutajar) and the French gave her The Cross Of The Legion D'Honneur, the British gave her the M.B.E.

Since the independence of Algeria most of these Maltese families have settled down on the French Mediterranean coasts, Marseilles, Nice, in the Pyrenees, around Paris, around Lyons.

In effect the two groups: Maltese from Tunisia and from Algeria have now amalgamated with the nucleus of Maltese that went straight from Malta in France. It would be difficult to mention names of Maltese who succeeded in reaching the highest position attained by Mr Edgard Pisani, a Minister in General De Gaulle's Cabinet, and France representative at the E.E.C.

The General is reported of having said of him “Ce Maltais Est Mon Meilleur Ministre” to Mr John Axisa when the latter presented his letter of credence as first Ambassador of Malta to France.

There are also numerous doctors, lawyers, industrialists, directors of companies, civil servants, members of the French Parliament, high ranking officers of the French Armed Forces, members of the High Councils of the State, members of the Press, and prominent personalities in the arts, cinema etc.

France must be really thankful to Marechal Soult that in spite of his misjudgment, he is the one that wanted the Maltese in North Africa in the first place.

Wasted Opportunities?

Have our forefathers and fathers wasted their lives by emigrating to North Africa and the Levant?

If one considers the problem of Migration as the firm intention of effecting a lasting change of Residence, these notes would show that nationalism - a factor never thought of in the 19th Century - has destroyed for ever all what our parents had patiently built for 150 years.

Prosperous Maltese Communities formerly of Egypt, Tripolitania, Tunisia, Algeria are now scattered in Australia, Canada, France, England, North and South America, countries where the original Maltese migrants should have gone to in the first place, had they been properly advised.

Maltese migration up to 1921 failed to take advantage of the various opportunities of building stable settlements in the new countries freely opened to Europeans in Australasia and the Americas.

The great attraction of the Levant and North Africa to the Maltese i.e. their nearness to Malta, should have been a sufficient reason to disregard any programme of organised emigration since by allowing re-emigration it killed its principal object: reducing Maltese overpopulation.

Furthermore, the lack of foresight in failing to recognise the advantages of emigration to Australia and America harmed and prejudiced for a long time Maltese emigrants to these countries. After the First World War the number of prospective emigrants to these countries was severely limited by the smallness of pre-war Maltese communities. To quote the case of the U.S.A. the 1921 quota law based on the number of emigrants of 1910, allowed to Malta a quota of 14 per annum.

If only on these considerations then the migration to the Levant and North Africa cannot unfortunately be regarded as a success.

Fortunately, however, the Maltese of our generation who had to leave home, job, property, capital behind them without notice, had those Maltese qualities of vitality and courage to face the realities of the new situation and start life anew. The experience acquired overseas and the contacts made and maintained were definitely not a loss. In this context, therefore, in spite of sacrifices suffered We Have Won.

In his book “The Mediterranean” Emil Ludwig, speaking of Malta said: “From such an island as this, one may conquer the world, or be conquered”. These few pages will, I feel confident, prove that We have not yet been conquered.

I do not want to give the impression that we were all saints. We had our own bad sheep as anybody else, but nobody can cast on us the first stone. Bad elements whenever possible were repatriated.

What I can say with pride is that if Malta hija kbira f'ulhieda, then Malta and the Maltese have much to be thankful to that nucleus of expatriates, whether illiterate or educated, who nearly two hundred years ago, acted on their own initiative, while the Authorities and their politicians were wasting their time in palavers.


A companion to these notes could be found in a serie of articles of mine published in 1977/78 under the title Humble Beginnings and Great Achievements (see Lil Óutna in Malta and Forum Militense (Toronto)).


Attard Father Lawrence O.P., Kolonja Malta ©o Lampedusa (1800/43), (Lil Óutna July/December 1979), Early Maltese Emigration (1983).

Azzopardi Francis, The Appointment of Bishop Buhagiar, (History Week 1981)

Bradford Ernle, The Mediterranean, Portrait of a Sea (1971), Gibraltar, The History of a Fortress (1971)

Branigan & Jarett, Mediterranean Lands (1975)

Brockman Eric, Last Bastion (1961)

Bryans Robin, Malta & Gozo (1966)

Blouet Brian, The Story of Malta (1967)

Camilleri Carmel, Une Communaute Maltaise en Tunisie (1972)

Casolani Henry, Awake Malta (1930)

De Vaujany H., Histoire de L'Egypte (1881)

Donato Marc, Les Maltais en Algerie

Earl Peter, Corsairs of Malta & Barbary (1970)

Eden Sir Anthony, Memoirs: Full Circle (1960)

Genet Raoul, Malte et son Destin (1933)

Gailland H., Histoire Contemporaine (1780/1848)

Galea Victorine, Andrea de Bono (1939)

Galea Joseph, Art Twelidi (1984)

Ganado Herbert, Rajt Malta Tinbidel (4 vols) (1975/7)

Hummel H. & Siewert W., Il Mediterraneo (1938)

Laferla Albert V., Story of Man in Malta (1939), British Malta (2 vols) (1938 & 1947)

Leacock Stephen, Our British Empire (1940)

Little John, Modern Egypt (1958)

Ludwig Emil, The Mediterranean, Saga of A Sea (1943)

Luke Sir Harry, Malta, An Acccount & An Appreciation

Magri-Overend Ivan, Humble Beginnings, Great Achievements

Mizzi Paul, Amadeo Preziosi (Heritage Ap. 1987)

Monroe Elizabeth, The Mediterranean in Politics (1936)

Muscat Azzopardi Ivo, Malta & Her Sons (1943)

Nies Kbar Maltin (1963)

Pinon Rene, L'Empire de La Mediterranee (1912)

Price Charles A., Malta & The Maltese (1954)

Roux Francois Charles, Bonaparte, Gouverneur d'Egypte (1936)

Sammut Carmel, A paper On The Maltese Community of Tunisia (1972)

Silva Pietro, Il Mediterraneo (1939)

Trevelyan Sir Humphrey, The Middle East in Revolution (1976)

Vadala N., Les Maltais Hors De Malte (1911)

Vella Philip, Malta, Blitzed But Not Beaten (1985)

Waterfield Gordon, Egypt

Wettinger Godrey, The Gozitans Captives of 1551(Malta Year Book 1977)

Wright John, Libya (1969)


Newspapers cuttings since 1910 kindly lent to me by the late Joe W. Caruana, M.B.E., which I understand have been destroyed by fire some 25 years ago.

En Terre d'Islam

Il Habbar Malti fl-Egittu

Lil Hutna

Newsletter, Association of Maltese Communities of Egypt

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