Regiments of the Malta Garrison The Royal Malta Fencible Regiment
The Royal Malta Fencible Regiment (1825 – 1861)
On 16 February 1815, Lieut Gen Thomas Maitland issued a General Order where by the three Maltese Corps, that is, the Provincials, Veterans, and Coast Artillery, were as from 24 February 1815, to be incorporated into one corps, to be called The Royal Malta Fencibles. Count Francesco Rivarola Sicilian Regiment commanded the Fencibles from February 1815 to September 1829.
Count Francesco Rivarola was commissioned ensign in April 1795. He left Corsica with the British troops in 1796. Rivarola recruited a significant number of men for the Royal Corsican Rangers, or Sir Hudson Lowe's Regiment. In April 1806, he raised the whole of the Sicilian Regiment, which through his exertions, was in 1811 augmented to upwards of 1,000 men. Gen Hildebrand Oakes placed him in charge of the newly established post of Inspector General of Police during the plague epidemic of 1813. Rivarola also held the post of Inspector of Foreign Troops, previously held by Major John Vivion RA. In 1815, Rivarola was bestowed with the command of the Royal Malta Fencibles as a reward for his services during the plague.
The Royal Malta Fencibles consisted of ten companies, including three companies of artillery. The Right Wing of the Fencibles was commanded by Colonel Count de Gatto. It had four companies at Zejtun, Zabbar Gate Barracks and Fort Ricasoli. The Left Wing was commanded by Major Baron Testaferrata. It had three infantry companies and three companies of artillery. The infantry companies were at Strada Torre Barracks Valletta, St Julian's Bay with a detachment at Qawra, Marsaxlokk with a detachment at St Thomas Tower, and St Paul's Bay with a detachment at the Red Tower.
The officers of the Royal Malta Fencibles were transferred to this corps from the Provincials, and continued to serve therein under the control of the colonial department until 1825. The Fencibles was then transferred to the British establishment with annual provisions being made for it by Parliament in the Army Estimates.
The enlisted men served locally, and initially supported the police and guarded convicts. Later, the regiment was restricted to general military duties in the garrison, its former anomalies character of police force having been suspended.
On 25 January 1861, the Royal Malta Fencible Regiment became a corps of artillery with six batteries. On 23 March 1889, the word Fencible was dropped from The Royal Malta Fencible Artillery, and the regiment became the Royal Malta Artillery.
31 Jan 1817 The Royal Malta Fencibles was reduced to just one surgeon. His daily rate of pay remained unchanged at 8 shillings. The assistant surgeons were discharged on a retirement allowance of 18 months full pay at their daily rate of 5s 6d.
The expense of maintaining the regiment was transferred to the Treasury of Malta. In 1838, its upkeep, which amounted to £12,000 a year, reverted to the British Treasury.
Oct 1820 The Royal Malta Fencibles was reorganised into four companies. A company furnished detachments to Gozo and covered the west coast of Malta, another company guarded the east coast and provided detachments at Citta Vecchia and Cottonera. HQ Coy was at Strada Torre Barracks Valletta, near Porta Reale.
In October 1820 the surgeon's pay was 6s 8d a day.
11 Feb 1823 The Royal Malta Fencibles assisted in the disaster which befell the convent of the Minori Osservanti at Strada St Ursula Valletta. During carnival, it was customary for a large number of children to gather for refreshments at the convent. On this occasion a panic ensued, and as the boys rushed out of the convent through a half open door they were trampled upon and suffocated. 110 boys aged between 8 to 15 years were killed.
May 1825 Strength 498 men. In May the Fencibles was reorganised into a regiment of six companies, with an establishment of 25 officers and 504 other ranks. It was transferred from the control of the Colonial Department to the British establishment. The artillery companies were lost.
From 1825, officers of the RMFR were commissioned by the Crown. Commissions ceased to be granted by the governor and be gazetted locally. Their names started to appear in the London Gazette. The men were detached around the coast of Malta and Gozo to protect the quarantine regulations and preventing the landing of contraband.
The pension granted to widows of medical officers of the RMFR was set at 7 shillings a day for a surgeon, and 3 shillings and six pence for an assistant surgeon.
3 Oct 1825 Widower CSgt Giuseppe Mulinari married Giovanna Barnes, widow of Sgt William Edward Barnes 1st/10th Regiment.
Jan 1827 The RMFR was increased from six to seven companies following the reduction of a British infantry battalion. British reinforcements arrived on 24 June 1828 when the company of RMFR was disbanded.
25 Oct Strength: Rank and File (Effective) 539, Rank and File (Establishment) 560.
Appointments 15 Jan 1827:
Lt Ellul promoted Captain with local and temporary rank.
Ensign Mederico de Marchese Alessi promoted Lieutenant with local and temporary rank.
Ensign Mattei promoted Lieutenant vice Lt Ellul.
Vol. Cadet Gouder appointed Ensign vice Ensign Mattei.
13 June 1828 General Orders HQ Valletta: The RMFR having been placed on the establishment of the Army from 25 December last, the regiment will henceforth be mustered on the 24th of every month instead of the 1st, as hitherto, and the accounts and other documents required to be transmitted to the Secretary at War by regiments abroad will in future be transmitted direct without going through the usual local examination.
24 June The RMFR was reduced by one company on the arrival of British reinforcements. The Regiment was commanded by Count Francis Rivarola, and consisted of six Companies of 78 Rank and File each, with the following establishment:
1 Colonel — Daily Pay (Sterling) £1 5s 6d
1 Major — 10s 3d 1/2d
6 Captains — 7s each
6 Lieutenants — 5s 1d 3/4d each
6 Ensigns — 4s 1d 3/4d each
1 Pay Master — 7s
1 Adjutant — 6s
1 Surgeon — 7s
1 Assistant Surgeon — 4s 3d 1/2d
1 Quarter Master — 4s 3d 1/2d
1 Quarter Master Sergeant — 2s
1 Sergeant Major — 2s 3d 1/4d
1 Pay Master Sergeant — 1s 3d 1/2d
1 Armourer Sergeant — 1s 3d 1/2d
1 School Master Sergeant — 1s 3d 1/2d
6 Colour Sergeants — 1s 5d 1/4d each
18 Sergeants — 1s 3d 1/2d
1 Drum Major — 10d 1/4d
11 Drummers and Fifers — 10d 1/4d each
24 Corporals — 1s each
444 Privates — 8d 1/2d
The officer commanding had an allowance of 3 shillings a day; Field Officers and Captains were granted an annual allowance of twenty pounds sterling. Stoppages from pay for men admitted to the Civil Hospital amounted to 5d a day; stoppages for rations to officers and their non-soldier servants was 2d 1/2d for each ration. Each private soldier was rationed for 1lb 1/2 lb of bread, 1/2 pint of wine, and 2 lbs of wood a day for which he was charged 1 tari or 1d 8/12d for each ration.
Non-Commissioned Officers and men of the Royal Malta Fencible Regiment received the following items of clothing every two years. The clothing was issued to them on 25 December 1827, and was to last them up to 24 December 1829:
1 White Kerseymere Waistcoat with sleeves
1 Pair of grey cloth trousers
1 Pair of half boots
1 Cap complete
25 June The period of enlistment for the Royal Malta Fencible Regiment was altered to seven years. A two pounds sterling bounty was paid to every fresh recruit, and one pound sterling bounty to those re-enlisting. The net pay for Drummers and Privates amounted to 4/12d more than the net pay for equivalent rank in Line Regiments. The men of the RMFR were entitled to this increase as their rations were inferior to those received by soldiers in Line Regiments. When in hospital, however, their net pay was a 1/2d a day more than the net pay received by infantry in the Line. It was proposed that hospital stoppages be increased to 5d 1/2d a day to remove the disparity. When sick soldiers of the RMFR were admitted to the Civil Hospital, stoppage money from their pay was paid to the Purveyor of the Civil Hospital.
25 Oct Strength: 467 men (6 Coys).
23 Dec 1828 Captain Paolo Ellul was recalled from the retired list, and appointed Captain with temporary rank. He replaced Captain Bonello who died on 23 October 1828.
The men were detached around the coast of Malta and Gozo to protect the quarantine regulations and prevent the landing of contraband. The average strength of the garrison, excluding the men of the Royal Malta Fencible Regiment, was 2,604 men and 100 Officers. The garrison had the minimum number of troops required to guard the Dockyard and the extensive fortifications. Any decrease in British troops was made up for by an increase in the Maltese Fencibles. The Maltese not only made good soldiers, but were cheaper to maintain than a British Battalion.
19 Oct 1833 Adelaide Levick, aged 13 months, daughter of Lt and Adjutant Levick RMF was buried at Malta.
Colours were presented to the regiment by the Governor Lieut Gen Henry Bouverie at the Floriana parade ground. The regiment was commanded by Colonel the Marquis de Piro. From 1836, it ceased to be used as a police force and became fully integrated within the garrison.
29 Jan 1836 Lieut J. Galland was promoted Captain without purchase vice G. B. Virtu who retired. Lieut A. Matei was recalled from half-pay and appointed Lieut with temporary rank in the army vice Galland.
From 1838, the upkeep of the regiment, which amounted to £12,000 annually, reverted to the British Treasury.
The RMFR were tasked to maintain order among the sailors of the fleet and the low description of Maltese and foreigners.
In February 1840 the RMFR had one surgeon and 1 assistant surgeon.
1 Aug 1840 The sick of the RMFR were admitted to their own Regimental Hospital. Hitherto, they had been treated in the Civil Hospital when a stoppage of 5d 1/2d a day was deducted from their pay and paid over to the Purveyor of the Civil Hospital. The pay of the private soldier in the RMFR was 8d 1/2d a day, leaving him 3d net pay after deduction of hospital stoppages. In May 1840, Major General Sir Henry Bouverie and the PMO Assistant Inspector of Hospitals Martin Montagu Mahony proposed to the increase the hospital stoppage to 6d a day, so as to place the sick of the RMFR on an equal footing with the British soldier. This increase, however left the soldier with a net pay of only 2d 1/2d a day. An English soldier in a Line Regiment was paid a shilling a day, and had 9 pence hospital stoppage deducted from his pay whenever he entered hospital, leaving him with a net pay of 3d a day.
The mean daily sick averaged only 22/1000, as opposed to 45/1000 amongst British troops. This was attributed to the men of the RMFR being of a different race and habits, and thus not as liable to be affected by sickness in the same proportion as troops from a more northern latitude1.
3 May 1842 The RMFR left their barracks at Strada Torre Valletta for the first time since 1815 and occupied the quarters vacated by the 88th (Connaught Rangers) Regiment at Floriana.
12 Aug Strength 532 men.
30 Nov 1842 An order dated Valletta 28 November 1842 authorised a Medical Board to assemble so as to award pensions to discharged men of the RMFR. The members were Brevet Major J. L. Smith RA as President, Capt Galland RMFR and Capt Fitzpatrick Rifle Bde. Medical officers were not eligible to form part of military boards. The board having carefully examined the documents laid before them, and having heard the statement of Lieut Col Marquis de Piro commanding the RMFR, of the adjutant, and of Surgeon John Montanaro RMFR relating to the services, conduct, and causes of discharge of the named men of the RMFR recommended them for suitable pensions.
21 Feb 1847 The Royal Malta Fencible Regiment marched from the Cottonera District to Valletta where they occupied Strada Torre Barracks and St James Cavalier.
1 Apr The regimental strength was 578 men. An addition of twenty-seven recruits increased its strength to 605 men. There was one death in hospital from disease. Seven men purchased their discharge and 28 were released time expired.
The RMFR placed 18 soldiers on the East Coast, 34 on the West Coast, 87 in Gozo and Comino, and 4 in Casal Lia.
The RMFR had 25 officers, and 470 wives. The families received their medical care at the Civil Hospital.
16 July 1847 Major F. Bussiett CMG was promoted Lieut Colonel with local and temporary rank vice the Marquis Giuseppe de Piro CMG who retired upon full-pay. Captain C. Cutajar became Major vice Bussiett; Lieut F. Rizzo moved up to Captain vice Cutajar; Ensign G. Sesino became Lieut vice Rizzo; Gentleman F. G. Testaferrata became ensign with local and temporary rank vice Sesino.
A fifth of all hospital admissions were due to eye diseases. There were 34 venereal cases, 55 abscesses and ulcers, and 24 cases of influenza, 14 of which were classified as Common Continued Fever and the rest as Catarrh. There were in addition 19 cases of other fevers.
The RMFR moved to Citta Vecchia as there was insufficient accommodation for the increased number of troops in the station.
Governor Maj Gen Sir William Reid recommended an increase in the pay of the RMFR to encourage enlistment. He considered the RMFR to be a valuable connecting link between the English and the Maltese, but the difference of pay between the British and Maltese soldier was felt more acutely since increase in commerce had greatly raised prices1.
12 Oct 1853 HQ Coy moved from Valletta to Isola Gate and occupied quarters vacated by 47th Foot which moved to Verdala Barracks. Two companies were at St Francesco de Paola, and another at Fort San Salvatore.
1 Dec 1854 Strength: 557 men. The RMFR was kept as a reserve at the Inquisitor's palace until needed in the East. In 1855, Lt Col Baynes, commanding the RMFR, applied for his regiment to join the army in the Crimea, but his request was turned down.
1 Jan 1860 Strength: 25 Officers, 36 NCOs, 13 Buglers/Drummers, 563 rank and file, 637 total all ranks. (Total garrison strength 7018 rank and file).
1 June Strength: 25 Officers, 36 NCOs, 13 Buglers/Drummers, 559 rank and file, 633 total all ranks. (Total garrison strength 6203 rank and file).
In 1860, the Royal Malta Fencibles had an average strength of 608 men. There were 448 admissions into hospital (737 per 1000 of mean strength) with no deaths. The admissions were 120 for miasmatic diseases, 35 for venereal infections, 52 for respiratory illnesses, 87 for digestive conditions, 96 for soft tissue injuries and 48 for accidental injuries.
In 1861, the Royal Malta Fencibles had an average strength of 605 men. There were 506 admissions into hospital (836 per 1000 of mean strength) with 6 deaths (9.92 per 1000 of mean strength). The admissions were 138 for miasmatic diseases with 1 death, 54 for venereal infections, 40 for respiratory illnesses, 3 for tubercular diseases with 1 death, 86 for digestive conditions, 101 for soft tissue injuries and 74 for accidental injuries with 3 deaths. One soldier was killed.
25 Jan 1861 The Royal Malta Fencible Regiment was converted to a corps of artillery and designated the Royal Malta Fencible Artillery. Lt Col Antonio Mattei who had commanded the RMFR became its first commanding officer.
Rollo D, 1999. The Guns and Gunners of Malta. Malta: Mondial, p 14-15.
Chesney A. G. 1897 Historical Records of the Maltese Corps of the British Army. London: William Clowes and Sons Ltd.
1TNA:CO 158/165, Reid to New Castle dated 19 Jan 1853.
TNA:CO 158/38, Count Francis Rivarola.
TNA:WO 43/451, f 316-363, Royal Malta Fencible Regiment, 1 January 1829 to 31 December 1840.
TNA:WO 334/10, Sick Returns and Reports of the Garrison of Malta from 1 January 1833 to 31 January 1834.