Past Events: Lecture 21 March 2017

By Charles Gatt Monday, 27 March 2017

Maltese Trades and Professions of Yesteryear"


Joseph Borg


 The second MHA lecture for 2017 was given by our president, Joseph Borg, on 21st March.  The range of occupations, tools, techniques and terminology used by the men and women of yesteryear was fascinating. 



The Audience at the MHA

21 March 2017





Windmills, wheat, cotton, wool, and silk, lacework, fishing, making rope and nets, baskets, candles and wheels, loading and unloading ships, building roads and waterproofing roofs, door to door knife sharpening and tinsmithing, and deliveries of groceries, fish, bread, milk and pitrolju (kerosene) were a few of the topics covered.





Women waterproofing a roof in Malta












You can view the entire PowerPoint and listen to the lecture recording here:






Past Events: Lecture 21 February 2017

Last Updated on Monday, 13 March 2017 Friday, 10 March 2017

The Demise of the French and the Arrival of the British


Joseph Borg




IMG 8984The president of the MHA, Joseph Borg, gave our first talk for 2017 at 7:30 pm on 21st February at the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville.  His topic was The Demise of the French and the Arrival of the British (1798 – 1815).


Touched on by Robert Blythe in his October 2016 lecture on Sir Alexander Ball, this was a particularly turbulent period in Maltese History.  In 1798, the Knights under Grandmaster Hompesch surrendered to Napoleon, who left a strong garrison of 3000 men on Malta. Napoleon went on to conquer Egypt but his fleet, including his flagship, L’Orient, carrying looted Maltese treasure, was destroyed by the British under Nelson and Ball in the Battle of the Nile at Aboukir Bay. 


Meanwhile the Maltese soon rebelled against the French and, declaring allegiance to the King of the Two Sicilies, eventually forced them to retreat to Valletta. The French were blockaded there, with the help of the Portuguese and the British.  A plot to open the gates of Valletta from the inside was thwarted and over 40 insurgents, including Dun Michael Xerri, were executed in the palace square.  The Portuguese and the British left, the latter being preoccupied with other sea battles in the Mediterranean, and it was left to the Maltese to maintain the blockade. 


IMG 8989Starvation set in on the island, both for the Maltese and the besieged French. French relief forces were mostly unsuccessful but Alexander Ball organised food and troops from Sicily to support the Maltese.  Eventually the starving French were forced to surrender but key players, including Ball, representing the King of Sicily, and the Maltese were excluded from the negotiations.  However, Ball did secure a share of the prize money for the Maltese who had served on the blockade. 


Russia also had designs on Malta and had formed an alliance with Napoleon.  Now the Tsar tried to lay a claim under a pre-existing Convention with the British and the Two Sicilies.  He was unsuccessful. A stalemate between the British and French led to the Preliminary Treaty of Peace, which included returning Malta to the Knights. 


IMG 8986The Maltese objected strongly, prepared to submit only to the British or demand independence, even if it meant death!  Smaller groups of Maltese favoured the Knights, some even the French.  The tenth article of the Treaty of Amiens included a compromise offer.  Both the French and British would withdraw from Malta and it would become neutral, guaranteed by the signatories of the treaty.  The Knights would be restored but without the British or French langues and with the creation of a Maltese langue.  The Maltese felt betrayed and they drew up a “Declaration of Rights of the Inhabitants of the Islands of Malta and Gozo”


Meanwhile Britain, realising Malta’s strategic importance, secretly halted her withdrawal, facilitated by the breakdown of the Treaty of Amiens by the French, objections from Russia, and the delay in appointing a Grandmaster of the Order.  The Maltese demonstrated their objections to the Knights so strongly that a visiting representative of the Order left in disgust.  A number of different proposals, including independence, were put forward but Britain had made up her mind to possess Malta and ensure British naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. 


The defeat of the French by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Treaty of Paris, and the Congress of Vienna ensured that Malta would become an important part of the British Empire, and commit her to the roles she would play in world history over the next 150 years.




Vale Fra Richard Divall AO OBE

By Charles Gatt Sunday, 22 January 2017

The MHA is saddened to report that Fra Richard Divall AO OBE passed away on Sunday 15 January 2017

Richard was Conductor, musicologist and for thirty years Music Director of the Victorian State Opera, and Principal Resident Conductor of the Australian Opera.  Amongst many other honours, he was  a Knight of The Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta.

Richard was one of the founders of the MHA and a long time supporter of our group.  He gave many interesting talks about Maltese Music and was involved in transcribing the music of early Maltese composers, especially from the period of the Knights, including the complete sacred music and operas by Nicolas Isouard (1773–1818) and was working on the sacred music and operas of Girolamo Abos (1715–1760).

He will be greatly missed.

May he rest in Peace.

His Requiem Mass will be held on Wednesday 25 January 2017 at 10:30am at St Patrick’s Cathedral.



Season's Greetings

The crib at St Mary Star of the Sea in West Melbourne


The MHA wishes all its members and friends a Happy and Holy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year for 2017.  May it be your best year ever!

We are looking forward to our first talk at 7:30 pm on 21 February, as usual on the third Tuesday of the month, at the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville.





By Charles Gatt Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Maltese Historical Association held its Annual General Meeting on 15 November 2016 at the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville, with 15 members present. The minutes of the previous year’s AGM were read and Robert Blythe was thanked for the MHA facebook page, which has received 12,000 likes!






October 2016 Lecture

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 November 2016 By Charles Gatt


 Sir Alexander Ball and the Part of Malta that Almost Was


Robert Blythe


On Tuesday 18th October 2016, Robert Blythe gave a lecture to the MHA about Sir Alexander Ball.  Ball was a British Navy Admiral who played a key role against the French in Malta and also at the Battle of the Nile. Popular with the Maltese, he helped bring Malta under British rule. He also tried to annex the Island of Lampadusa to British Malta, which could have altered the course of Maltese history. 




September 2016 Lecture

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 October 2016 By Administrator Wednesday, 12 October 2016


The Building of Valletta 1566


Joseph Borg

It is the 450th anniversary of the foundation of Valletta.   In 1565 Malta was in ruins after the Great Siege but the Order of Malta, under Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette, was being praised in the courts of Europe for their outstanding defence of the Island of Malta, stemming the Turkish tide into the underbelly of Europe.


IMG 8943v2








Some of the audience at Joe Borg’s talk  

Photo:  Lewis Zammit






August 2016 Lecture

Monday, 22 August 2016

Lola’s Story



Susan Pierotti

On Tuesday 16th August 2016, Susan Pierotti spoke to us at the MHA.  Last year, she edited and brought to publication City Kid, the memoirs of Lola Russell.  Lola's story begins with the arrival in 1838 of her great-grandfather, Antonio Azzopardi, Melbourne's first Maltese settler. 





July 2016 Event

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Malta a Panorama


Mario Bonnici


Last month a number of members again braved the winter weather and attended our July activity. This was a PowerPoint presentation with various photographs of Malta and Gozo. Since many of our friends or family members are currently holidaying in Malta, we thought we will join them for a couple of hours, at least visually.





June 2016 Event

By Charles Gatt Friday, 08 July 2016


Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Malta

by Joseph Borg

Summary: Charles Gatt


Joseph Borg introduced his talk with an introduction to Plate Tectonic Theory.  The solid earth we know is just a thin crust, floating on molten rock, called magma.  The crust is cracked like a broken egg shell and the pieces, called plates, move around in different directions, driven by convection currents, warm magma rising and cool magma sinking.  These slow but powerful forces cause volcanoes and earthquakes, especially at the edges of the plates.





May 2016 Event

By Charles Gatt Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Melbourne Book Launch of Dr Claudia Sagona’s latest book,

The Archaeology of Malta from the Neolithic through the Roman Period.

On Tuesday 17th May 2016 the MHA and MCCV hosted the Melbourne book launch of Professor Claudia Sagona’s latest book, The Archaeology of Malta from the Neolithic through the Roman Period. About 55 people attended an excellent lecture and social gathering afterwards.

IMG 8767IMG 8768











Audience at Dr Sagona’s talk         Photo:  Lewis Zammit                                        Dr Sagona speaking at the MHA      Photo:  Lewis Zammit





April 2016 Event

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 May 2016 By Charles Gatt Thursday, 21 April 2016

George Portelli: Grandmaster Hompesch:  Villian or Victim?

Summary: Charles Gatt


In his lecture on 19 April, George Portelli spoke on the topic: Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch: Villain or Victim?  He began by giving the background to Ferdinand von Hompesch born in 1744 into an ancient noble family from Germany.  In Malta, the Hompesch Gate and a monument that bears his name can be found in Zabbar (Città Hompesch). 

Siġġiewi (Città Ferdinando) recalls his name, and Żejtun (Città Beland) was named after his mother, who was a Bylandt.




March 2016 Event

By Charles Gatt Sunday, 17 April 2016

Professor Maurice Cauchi:  As Others See Us:  

(What visitors to Malta over the ages had to say about Malta)

Summary:  Charles Gatt


Malta and Gozo were mentioned by early Greek writers and poets during 

img 8702the Greek and Phoenicians expansion into the western Mediterranean.  Around 300 BC, Callimachus identified the island of 'Gaudos' with the island of Calypso. 



The first Latin reference to Malta is by the Roman poet and historian Naevius (270 – c. 201 BC).  In his epic poem, Bellum Punicum, he described how the island was plundered and laid waste by fire around 256 BC, during the first Punic War.  Livy wrote that in 218 BC, during the second Punic War, Hamilcar, not the one who was Hannibal’s father but the commander of a Carthaginian garrison of 2000 soldiers, surrendered the island to the Romans and Malta became part of the Roman province of Sicily. 

 Professor Cauchi speaking to the MHA     Photo: Lewis Zammit






February 2016 Event

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 March 2016 Saturday, 12 March 2016


Women in Malta in the Eighteenth Century


 Professor Yosanne Vella

 Summary:  Charles Gatt   Photos: Lewis Zammit.


At our February lecture Professor Yosanne Vella gave some insight into the lives of Maltese
women in the eighteenth century, pieced together from notary archives, inquisitor records and court cases.  Malta thrived under the Knights.  By the end of the eighteenth century, the population had risen from about 10,000 to 100,000.  Most worked in agriculture, followed by corsairing, and Malta was starting to become a commercial centre. 

Women worked unpaid at home and on family farms but a register of paid labourers on the Order’s farms showed about a quarter were female. Textile production employed females as cotton spinners and weavers, and some ran businesses.  Licences were awarded to women for a variety of shops, and as innkeepers and hawkers. Prostitution seemed to be an acceptable occupation.

Women were both victims and perpetrators of crime.  Many filed accusations of theft.  Violence against women was rampant and many injuries were serious.  Women were charged with non payment of debts, illegal gambling in their taverns, abuse and blasphemy, drunkenness and fighting.  Petty theft was common and servants stole valuables.  Punishments included warnings, fines, imprisonment or even exile to Gozo! 

There is very little evidence of women’s education in the 18th Century. Most people were illiterate, women probably even more so.  Schools are mentioned but little is known about them.  De Soldanis, the official librarian of the Order, lamented that, unlike overseas, Maltese girls were not sent to school in Rome or elsewhere.  He noted many girls roamed the countryside, unemployed and begging.  He believed women were ambitious and willing to succeed, and envisaged girls’ boarding schools to teach ‘womanly virtues’ but it is unknown whether any eventuated.

A woman could achieve social status as a nun or as a bizocca.  The latter did not take religious vows but lived a saintly, celibate life.  De Soldanis credited them with miraculous powers.  However, many other women were brought before the Inquisition accused of dabbling in the occult, placing curses or practising medicine illegally. 

Maltese women suffered many restrictions and limitations in legal and social rights.  They were not directly involved in any great events in the 18th century but their contribution to the growth and development of their society should not be overlooked or undervalued. 

To read the full article please see the March 2016 Newsletter (pages 2 - 3)

Click here to listen to Prof Yosanne Vella's talk (1:05:32)




September 2015 Eventlecture

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 March 2016 By Charles Gatt Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Great Siege of Malta, 1565: Lecture 3 of 3

THE GREAT SIEGE OF MALTA: The Final Stages & Aftermath

Robert Blythe

A number of people, including some younger ones, attended Robert Blythe’s lecture on 15 September.  He introduced his talk with a summary of the main events of the siege.  The Turkish Armada set sail from Constantinople on 22 March 1565, arrived at Marsaxlokk on 18 May then transported their
supplies and munitions to Marsa.  The assault on Fort St Elmo resulted in its fall on 23 June 1565, shortly after Dragut’s death on 18 June.




June 2015 Lecture

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 March 2016 By Administrator Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Great Siege of Malta, 1565: Lecture 2 of 3

Lecture by Joseph Borg

Mr Borg started off with a short review of the first lecture. He then read an extract from the book, The Siege of Malta 1565, by Francisco Balbi di Correggio, relating to the events that happened on the 16th June 1565, exactly 450 years earlier.  This reading described many of the topics that Mr Borg wanted to talk about later in the evening.




May 2015 Lecture

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 March 2016 By Administrator Saturday, 13 June 2015


The Events that led to the Great Siege of Malta 1565

Summary of May Lecture by Joseph Borg

The reasons for the Great Siege of Malta of 1565 have their roots going back to the rise of Islam in 630.  With the expansion of Islam, the Holy lands fell under their influence.  This affected the Eastern Roman Empire as well.  Later, the spread of the Mongolian hordes impacted on the eastern end of this empire.





April 2015 Event

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 By Administrator

World War I:  Malta, Australia and the ANZACS
Mario Bonnici

On Tuesday 21 April, Mario Bonnici gave a fascinating talk to the Maltese Historical Association.  We saw how the assassination of the Archduke of Austria started the Great War. The main combatants were, on one side, the Allied Powers, which included France, Russia, Britain and later Japan and the United States, and on the other, the Central Powers, which included Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Malta was part of the British Empire but it was not directly involved in World War I. However, there were about 30,000 Maltese enlisted in the Royal or Merchant Navies and many Maltese civilians were engaged at the Malta Dockyard, as the Mediterranean fleet was partly based in Malta.  Most of the Maltese in the Navies were employed as stewards, cooks, stokers, firemen and bandsmen. As many worked below deck, they lost their lives when the ships were sunk by enemy torpedoes.  A large number hailed from the Grand Harbour area.




March 2015 Event

Last Updated on Monday, 20 April 2015 Monday, 20 April 2015

Malta through its Monuments


Professor Maurice Cauchi

There are many ways at which to look at Maltese history, whether through its political involvement, through its social history, the arts, etc.  In the past talks to the MHA have included topics relating to history through stamps, coins, buses etc

In this talk, the history of Malta was approached from a look at its monuments, which highlight the various epochs of life in Malta.

To start with, the speaker emphasized that monuments consist not only of bronze statues, but any artefact that serve to highlight some aspect of Maltese history.  From this point of view, even the prehistoric temples constitute important monuments to a way of life that has long disappeared.

This was followed by a fallow period, with a dearth of artefacts which lasted until the Phoenician and later on the Roman period. Some outstanding examples of these were illustrated in this talk.

Again this was followed by a period where monuments are not very common. In particular, the Arab period is represented by very few artefacts which remind us of this period. However, it was stressed that perhaps the greatest 'monument' bequeathed to us from this period is the Maltese language itself. It is arguable whether our unique language would have persisted but for the presence of the Arab domination.

When we come to the period of the Knights of Malta, there is such a plethora of riches that it is difficult to summarise in a few words. This period has been covered already, and will be covered in talks to come.

The talk itself dealt with various other aspects of history. Firstly, recent political history, starting with the British domination. Monuments about this period can be found all over the island. Then the history of Malta's first step to self-government and future independence.

Other aspects of the talk dealt with the history of literature and the arts in Malta, an area which is often neglected when we talk about Maltese history. Important also is the history of migration, which was such a hallmark of Maltese history. Several monuments now remind us of this history.

Finally, it was emphasized that the history of the nation is not the history of wars or even politicians, but that of the people, including the social aspects of those factors which mould such a history.  Among these were included several philanthropists who have been a boon to the people of Malta.

Malta through its Monuments


Professor Maurice Cauchi



Coming Events: 7.30 pm Tuesday 17 March

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 By Administrator Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Malta through its Monuments


Professor Maurice Cauchi

7.30 pm Tuesday 17 March 

Maltese Community Centre

Ievers St Parkville  

For the average tourist, a history of a nation is most obvious through its monuments.  Even a cursory walk though a main city would familiarise the average tourist of what happened over the past several hundred years. Malta is no exception, and a walk through the City, and even the most humble village, will reveal many items of which the natives are proud.

In this talk we will go over the more important moments in Malta and how they illustrate the history which they are expected to represent.  But first of all we have to ask ourselves: what is a monument? Is it just a bronze or marble statue? Or does the term include any indicator meant to commemorate an event, person or indicator of importance in the history of the nation?

We shall skim over the very early history of Malta, and wind our way down to more recent history, stopping along the road to see what Malta has thought fit to highlight and showcase, to us, the natives born and bred there, but also to the millions that come and visit every year. One could easily spend a whole week describing the wealth of artefacts left by the Knights of Malta, but in the hour available we shall just sit back and enjoy some examples of what history can be gleaned from a necessarily cursory and superficial look at some of these monuments and what they try to tell us as we walk pass them.

About the presenter:

Professor Maurice Cauchi is well known to the Maltese Community and others, mauriceboth in Malta and Australia.  Born in Għarb, Gozo, he graduated M.D. at the Royal University of Malta in 1961 before gaining a PhD for cancer research from the University of London in 1967.  Coming to Australia in 1969 he held senior positions at Melbourne and Monash Universities and the Royal Women’s Hospital.  He returned to Malta in 1992 as Professor of Pathology and was Chairman of the Bioethics Consultative Committee and the Gozo Health Council, before returning to Australia in 2003.

Professor Cauchi has been involved with the Maltese community for decades, as President of the Maltese Literature Group, as member of the Maltese Community Council, including several terms as President, and a founding member of the MHA in 1987. 

He has also been interested in wider ethnic issues, and was a member of a number of organisations, including the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Victoria, Chairman of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria, and Chairman of the Commission for Maltese Abroad.  He helped set up the Migration Museum and, in 2001, the website, which contains a compilation of information about Maltese living abroad, including a vast collection of historical information about migration.

Professor Cauchi has been very active in promoting publications relating to Maltese settlement in Australia, first with the Maltese paper 'Il- Maltija', and through several books, including Maltese Migrants in Australia (1996), The Maltese Migrant Experience (1999), Worlds Apart (2002) A Who’s Who of Maltese-Background Persons in Australia and New Zealand (2008), and Under One Umbrella (2010), this last being a history of the MCCV and the Maltese community in Victoria, Australia.

A prolific author, Professor Cauchi has published several books in Maltese on a range of topics, as well as many books on health, medicine, and bioethical issues.  His latest articles can be found at:

Taking care of our body, February 20, 2015

Bad luck and cancer, January 24, 2015

Dire warnings about artificial intelligence: are they justified?  December 17, 2014

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?  November 24, 2014

Undermining decades of multicultural peace, October 20, 2014

Unresolved cancer conundrums, September 8, 2014

For his services to the community, Professor Cauchi was made a Member of the Order of Australia, (AM, 1991) and awarded the Medalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (MQR), (‘Medal for Services to the Republic’ of Malta, 1992).

We at the MHA are very appreciative of the many generous contributions that Maurice has made to our group over the years.  He has written many articles and given talks on a wide range of topics, including health, migration and language.  His talks are sometimes controversial but always thoroughly researched and interesting. 

Professor Cauchi’s latest lecture to the MHA, in April last year, explored the origins of Maltese surnames. His next talk with the MHA will be on Tuesday 17 March at the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville at 7.30 pm.  It will look at aspects of Maltese history as seen through its monuments and it should be most enjoyable.  Bring your family and friends.  All are Welcome.  




February 2015 Event:

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 By Administrator Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Elections in Malta 1947 - 2013

The triumph of democracy and constitutional progress

Albert Farrugia PhD

Prior to World War 2, the British had awarded a number of constitutions to Malta. 150217 Albert FarrugiaThe self-governing constitution of 1921 restricted the vote to literate males who owned rental yielding property.  The main contenders were either pro-Italian or pro-British. The former won most elections and would go on to become the Nationalist Party (PN).  The latter, led by Gerald Strickland, won the 1927 election, in coalition with the very small Labour Party.  Condemned by the church, they lost the next election handsomely, and the constitution was suspended in 1932.  

Following the war, the 1947 Constitution awarded the vote to all men and women over 21, irrespective of education and economic status. The elections were held using the single transferable vote system, which usually translates into seats. 

The Nationalist party was weak and demoralised after the war.  The Labour Party, led by Dr Paul Boffa, absorbed the anti-Nationalist forces and, supported by the Trade Unions, won a sweeping victory, with 60% of the vote and 24 of 40 seats, an achievement unparalleled before or since.






Annual General Meeting November 2014

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 By Charles Gatt Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Annual General Meeting of The Maltese Historical Association was held at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 18 November 2014 at the Maltese Community Centre, 477 Royal Parade, Parkville. A summary follows:


 The AGM was well attended, with 25 members present.  After receiving a number of apologies, Charles Gatt, the Secretary, read the minutes of the last AGM and SGM.  Joseph Borg then gave the President’s Annual Report, which will be posted to the MHA website shortly. 




October 2014 Event: Malta between the 15th and 18th centuries; an overview from a historical and social perspective (Part 2)

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 By Administrator Saturday, 01 November 2014

Presentation by George Portelli

George introduced the evening by reviewing his previous lecture, and then explained how the names of some early villages started with Ħal, as in Ħal-Qormi or Ħal-Zebbuġ. Ħal is short for Raħal, which comes from the Arabic Rhal, meaning a stopping place after a journey.  They were used by farmers walking their merħla (flock of sheep).  Eventually these resting places developed into razzetti (farmhouses), then hamlets, villages and towns.  In Gozo, this did not apply, because of the many invasions by the Barbary Corsairs, especially when they were based in Comino.  The inhabitants of Gozo tended to cluster around the main citadel of Rabat.  No towns in Gozo begin with Ħal.




September 2014 Event: Malta between the 15th and 18th centuries; an overview from a historical and social perspective (Part 1)

By Charles Gatt Tuesday, 07 October 2014

Presentation By George Portelli

In his engaging, interactive style, George introduced the
topic by highlighting particular historical milestones prior
to 1436, such as the sacking of the Maltese Islands by
the Arabs in A.D 870, which was followed by a period of
total depopulation; the liberation of Malta by Count
Roger in 1091, and again by his son Roger II in 1127. 



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