An easily overlooked place at the Upper Barrakka Gardens is the tomb of Sir Thomas Maitland (nicknamed King Tom), who was the British Governor of Malta and the Ionian Islands between 1814-1824.
Among other things that Thomas Maitland was known for was the removal of the Universita’ Dei Grani. This was responsible for the importation of wheat in Malta and served also like a bank. Its HQ was were there is now the Valletta PO. Maitland called it a Den of Thieves and removed it. He followed Hildebrand Oakes and at that time there was the plague in Malta. Maitland believed in strict Quarantine and Isolation policies and he built double walls round infected villages like Qormi. He was a very strict disciplinarian and those who broke his strict Quarantine regulations could expect no mercy from him. A certain Quarantine guard Camilleri did just that and was condemned to death from the newly erected gallows in Manoel Island. However, since Malta had just passed to British rule by the Treaty of Vienna to celebrate this occasion this Camilleri was reprieved. Maitland was a rock which could either save you or destroy you but still a rock. He even tackled the Immunita’ Ecclesiastica’ problem which was a tough problem indeed but was finally solved. I think that we owe a lot to this man. Incidentally he liked Maltese stone and this was exported to Corfu’ to build his palace there.
History can be very unfair to certain people. Maitland took all the honour of getting rid of the plague of 1813-1814. Actually when he took over from Civil Commissioner Hildebrand Oakes who was quite elderly and getting tired the plague was already on its way out. The old and the infirm had already died, winter was approaching with the welcoming cold wearher, the rat population had reduced drastically, and the stronger part of the population had already developed a certain degree of immunity to the plague. It is interesting to note that the armed forces did not develop any cases of plague, probably because their ankles were covered by patties and the fleas could not reach the skin to bite and in so doing to inject the bacterium Yersina Pestis. Nobody had thought that the rats were the vectors of the fleas which caused the plague. Very stupidly they blamed and killed the dogs and cats which were the natural enemies of the rats, the black sewer rat Rattus Rattus imported by the small merchant ship San Nicola from Egypt where the plague was raging. Albert Camus in his great book La Peste describes the plague in Oran. The real cause of plague was found by the Frenchman Yelson in the epidemic of Hong Kong very late 19 th century/ early 20 th century. In my student years we knew it as Pasteurella Pestis but now as Yersina Pestis.
The Civil Commissioner Hildebrand Oakes had the honour of collecting all the books and manuscripts which were spread all over the place during the French blockade 1798-1800 and depositing them in the new purpose built building by Grand Master De Rohan and designed in the Manneristic style by the ” Italian” architect Itar. His portrait can be seen in the public library. I have put Italian in parenthesis because the Italian state did not exist as such at that time and Italy was just a geographical expression, as Prince Mitternich , the Austrian Chancellor once said. Italy went into four wars before it got United as we know it now. Still one may consider that by 1860 Italy was united with Rome still under Papal/ French control, the Veneto under the Austrians as were the Istra peninsula and South Tyrol.
The Great War of 1914-1918 is considered by Italians as the th war of the Risorgimento. The Italians lost about one million men in it, killed or injured and got only the Istra peninsula and the South Tyrol for it. It was a terrible war fought in the Alps and the Italians were the aggressors. General Cardoba was a general of the old class and finally decimated his troops especially those of Catanzaro who had no stomach for the fight. Decimation was a practice of the Roman Legions, one in ten soldiers selected to be killed by his colleagues for cowardice. The Allies had promised the Italians heaven and earth before their entry but finally got very little. This greatly contributed to the rise of Mussolini and Fascism. At Caperotto the Italian army was routed by the German/ Austrian army and French and British troops had to come to help. Still one may consider that after 1918 the Risorgimento was complete. After the end of WWII Italy became a Republic, the House of Savoia had to leave Italy and therefore one may say that Garibaldi, Mazzini, Crispi who were republicans would have been pleased if they were still alive, which they were not, of course ( remember the Republic of Rome 1848).
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