George Cross ceremony, Palace Square 13th September 1942

The British Rule in Malta

Of all the periods in Maltese history, the time when Malta was a British colony is the one that still generates emotional debate. The main reason for this is that many Maltese still remember British rule with a certain degree of nostalgia. Likewise, British nationals presently residing in Malta always point out that the British were invited to Malta.
 
In the first months after the insurrection against the French, the Maltese leaders realised that they needed a great power to help them expel the French and protect their national sovereignty. First, they appealed to the King of Naples for help but having trouble with Napoelon himself, help instead came from the British who were allies with Naples and rivals of the French at that time. 

In February 1799 Captain Alexander Ball was appointed president of the National Congress. In March 1799 the Congress petitioned King Ferdinand IV of Naples to transfer his sovereign rights to King George III of Great Britain. King George accepted the Maltese demand and granted the Maltese ‘nation’ full protection and the enjoyment of all their dearest rights. In October 1801 the Congress declared not to surrender the islands to any other power except Britain, nor would they accept back the Order of St. John. The British were here to stay and by 1813 Malta was declared a Crown colony. However, Maltese patriots felt cheated because they wanted Malta to be ruled by a Maltese elected assembly and the role of the British would have been only that of protectors of the islands.
 
Although the British brought improvements to the Maltese economy, education and medical sectors,the Maltese longed for self rule. They never forgot that they had asked the British to come to Malta to expel the French. As soon as World War I ended the Maltese petitioned the British for self-government. On 1 November 1921 a joyful populace attended the opening ceremony of the first Maltese Parliament by the Prince of Wales. At that time, Italian was the language of the Church, of the law and of ‘society’. Because of this the question of English or Italian being taught in schools created a difficult problem in Parliament. This problem combined with issues regarding the Governor’s powers resulted in the constitution being revoked. In 1939 a constitution allowing for a parliament with a minority of Maltese citizens was granted, but the beginning of World War II caused local government to be suspended.
 
During the first years of British rule the island was not given much importance but its excellent harbours became a prized asset especially after the opening of the Suez Canal. The island went on to become a military and naval fortress, the headquarters of the British Mediterranean fleet. During the Great War (World War I), Malta came to be known as the nurse of the Mediterranean as it served as a hospital for the injured. Meanwhile, its strategic position led to its own drawback during WW II when the island suffered heavy bombing and many casualties. It was during this period, in 1942, that the George Cross was awarded and it to this day forms part of the Maltese flag: “To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the island fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”.
 
After World War II the islands achieved self-rule once again and then the question of whether Malta should be integrated with Britain or achieve independence was one that would occupy the Maltese for over a decade. Independence was granted in 1964 but Malta was still considered a Monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II. By 1974 Malta became a Republic with the head of state being a Maltese President. The decreasing strategic importance of Malta to the Royal Navy meant that the British government was increasingly reluctant to maintain the naval dockyards and by 1979 Malta stopped being used as a British military base.
 
To this day the presence of the British influence in Malta is felt throughout the islands, from the use of English as one of Malta’s official languages to the many buildings and monuments. The British introduced the Neoclassical style of architecture to Malta, evident in several palaces built during this period, in the Greek revival portico of the parish church of Sta. Marija Assunta in Mosta, and in the soaring spire of St Paul's Anglican Cathedral which dominates the Valletta skyline. Neo-Gothic architecture was also introduced to Malta during this period, in the Chapel of Santa Maria Addolorata at Malta's main cemetery, and in the Carmelite Church in Sliema. Sliema itself, which developed from a sleepy fishing village into a bustling, cosmopolitan town during the British period, once boasted an elegant seafront that was famed for its Regency style architecture, strongly reminiscent of the British seaside town of Brighton.
 
Joe Demanuele B.Ed.(Hons.), M.Sc. 


Malta’s House of Representatives used to meet in the Tapestry Room, seen here in 1903, until it moved to the old State Armoury Room in 1976
Malta’s House of Representatives used to meet in the Tapestry Room, seen here in 1903, until it moved to the old State Armoury Room in 1976
Photo: Network Publications
The first meeting in the Tapestry Room of the Maltese Parliament under the constitution of Self-Government 1921
The first meeting in the Tapestry Room of the Maltese Parliament under the constitution of Self-Government 1921
Malta's Grand Harbour during the British Period
Malta's Grand Harbour during the British Period
Malta's harbour area as seen today from an aerial view
Malta's harbour area as seen today from an aerial view
The British Governor, Lord Gort making a speech before the granting of the George Cross at Palace Square on September 13, 1942
The British Governor, Lord Gort making a speech before the granting of the George Cross at Palace Square on September 13, 1942
The Chief Justice, Sir George Borg, receiving the George Cross on behalf of the people of Malta from the Governor, Lord Gort, at Palace Square
The Chief Justice, Sir George Borg, receiving the George Cross on behalf of the people of Malta from the Governor, Lord Gort, at Palace Square
The Chief Justice, Sir George Borg, receiving the George Cross on behalf of the people of Malta from the Governor, Lord Gort, at Palace Square
The Chief Justice, Sir George Borg, receiving the George Cross on behalf of the people of Malta from the Governor, Lord Gort, at Palace Square
Commemorating the George Cross
Commemorating the George Cross
Debris reminiscent of the WWII attacks on Malta, along the original message in King George’s own hand awarding the George Cross to Malta and the George Cross itself.
The original message in King George’s own hand awarding the George Cross to Malta
The original message in King George’s own hand awarding the George Cross to Malta
Dr. George Borg Olivier, then Malta's PM waves the declaration of independence at the  Independence celebrations, 21st September 1964
Dr. George Borg Olivier, then Malta's PM waves the declaration of independence at the Independence celebrations, 21st September 1964
The VIP tent where PM of Malta Dr. George Borg Olivier waved the declaration of independence at the Independence celebrations, 21st September 1964
The VIP tent where PM of Malta Dr. George Borg Olivier waved the declaration of independence at the Independence celebrations, 21st September 1964
Independence Monument by Guze Bonnici - Photo Hamelin de Guettelet
Independence Monument by Guze Bonnici - Photo Hamelin de Guettelet
Malta became a Republic on 13th December 1974 with PM Dom Mintoff and Malta's first President Sir Anthony Mamo
Malta became a Republic on 13th December 1974 with PM Dom Mintoff and Malta's first President Sir Anthony Mamo
The granting of Malta on becoming a Republic on 13th December 1974
The granting of Malta on becoming a Republic on 13th December 1974
Sir Anthony Mamo's first speech as President of Malta
Sir Anthony Mamo's first speech as President of Malta
Malta's first President of its Republic Sir Anthony Mamo and PM Dom Mintoff saluting the crowd at Palace Square
Malta's first President of its Republic Sir Anthony Mamo and PM Dom Mintoff saluting the crowd at Palace Square
The last of the British troops in Malta out of Fort St Angelo
The last of the British troops in Malta out of Fort St Angelo
The President of Malta Anton Buttigieg saluting the HMS London leaving the Grand Harbour on 31st March 1979, Freedom Day
The President of Malta Anton Buttigieg saluting the HMS London leaving the Grand Harbour on 31st March 1979, Freedom Day
A newspaper reportage on Freedom Day, 31st March 1979
A newspaper reportage on Freedom Day, 31st March 1979
Freedom day monument in Birgu commemorating the end of Malta as British naval and military base
Freedom day monument in Birgu commemorating the end of Malta as British naval and military base
Freedom day monument in Birgu commemorating the end of Malta as British naval and military base
Freedom day monument in Birgu commemorating the end of Malta as British naval and military base
St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Valletta in Neo-Classical style erected instead of the Auberge d'Allemagne
St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Valletta in Neo-Classical style erected instead of the Auberge d'Allemagne
St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral at present at Independence Square
St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral at present at Independence Square
The steeple of St Paul's Anglican Cathedral by Albert Azzopardi
The steeple of St Paul's Anglican Cathedral by Albert Azzopardi
The Mosta Parish Church built on Neo-Classical style
The Mosta Parish Church built on Neo-Classical style
Mosta's Parish Church nowadays known as the 'Rotunda' due to its particular structure
Mosta's Parish Church nowadays known as the 'Rotunda' due to its particular structure
The Addolorata cemetery steps leading to the cemetery's chapel built in Neo-Gothic style
The Addolorata cemetery steps leading to the cemetery's chapel built in Neo-Gothic style
The Addolorata chapel at present still in authentic in the British Neo-Gothic style
The Addolorata chapel at present still in authentic in the British Neo-Gothic style
The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Balluta, Tower Road Sliema, was also built in Neo-Gothic style
The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Balluta, Tower Road Sliema, was also built in Neo-Gothic style
Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at present still reminiscent of the British Neo-Gothic style
Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at present still reminiscent of the British Neo-Gothic style