French were expelled from the Island, the British were
not so much interested in keeping Malta, as keeping
the French out. In fact, at the Treaty of Amiens (1802),
that brought hostilities between Britain and France
to an end, it was decided that Malta was to be returned
to a reformed Order of St. John under the protection
of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and that her neutrality
was to be guaranteed by all the Great Powers. The Maltese,
in the majority were thoroughly opposed to such an arrangement.
If Britain refused sovereignty over the Island, it was
up to the Islanders themselves to decide what was to
be their fate.
Italian continued to be the language of culture and
learning as it had been for centuries before, and official
proclamations were phrased in the Italian tongue.
With the British in command of the sea, all mercantile
shipping was obliged to call at the Valletta Harbour
for clearance by the British Navy, and before long,
the Maltese Islands became the most important center
of trade in the Mediterranean.
Under the Treaty of Paris (1814) the Island was confirmed
as a British Possession.
With the cessation of hostilities, Malta lost its favoured
position under the protection of the British Navy and
as a plague epidemic carried away thousands, an era
of wealth and prosperity for the Maltese people came
to an end.
As steam replaced sail, Malta became an important coaling
station, all the more so after the opening of the Suez
Canal in 1869. The dockyards were expanded and provided
work for a sizeable section of the population. Agriculture
was encouraged to make the Island Fortress as self-sufficient
as possible and the growing of potatoes, now a major
agriculture export, was introduced. The ever present
problem of the water supply also received urgent attention.
Prosperity brought about a rapid rise in the population
and emigration was actively encouraged to ease the burden
on the Fortress economy. Various Maltese settled in
Egypt and the Barbary Coast (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria
and Marocco) where they prospered, though some did return.
Italian political refugees of the Risorgimento sought
refuge in Malta and the examples of these Italian patriots
had the effect of further fanning the flames of Maltese
At the insistence of the Maltese a Council of Government
was set up in 1835.
The military worth of Malta and its islands was to
be demonstrated during the Crimean War (1854-56) when
the Island Fortress became a rear base for the departure
of troops and a receiving station for casualties.
Imperial policy dictated that Britain take Malta under
its wing and anglicize, as far as possible, the local
population. An “upstart”, educated in as
English university, or an English university, or an
English military academy, was looked down upon by an
upper-class intellectual brought up and schooled in
the Italian language. Before long, the Language Question,
as it came to be called, lost its shibboleth value and
the fight resolved itself on which of the two languages,
English or Italian, were to be taught in Government
schools. The Maltese tongue, the language of the people,
was to receive a welcome boost from the pro-British
faction which promoted the vernacular in favour of the
Italian as a second language.
In the meantime the question of proper representation
was inching slowly towards self-determination. The First
World War placed Malta on a war footing and as happened
in the Crimean War sixty years earlier, Malta was to
provide harbour and dockyard facilities to the Allied
Navies, and her contribution in the cause of sick and
wounded soldiers hospitalized on the Island earned Malta
the title “Nurse of the Mediterranean”.
When peace had been restored hundreds of dockyard and
other workers and servicemen were mad redundant and
unemployment was widespread.
A National Assembly was set up to make proposals for
a new constitution. During one of the public meetings
of this Assembly, held on the 7th June 1919, the crowd
grew hostile and the troops were called out to restore
order. When the troops opened fire on the rioters, three
of them were killed while another died of his wounds
later. With the new Constitution, that of 1921, Malta
was, at last, to be granted Self-Government with responsibility
for all internal affairs. The British Government retained
control on Defence; Foreign Affairs; and Immigration.