The Army Medical Department
And the Malta Garrison

The Malta Garrison – 1813

Plague (Mar 1813 – 8 Sep 1814)

St Roche
Lija farm house showing St Roche the patron saint against the plague pointing to his sore and with a dog by his side bringing him bread.

Malta had been free of the plague for almost 130 years. On 16 April 1813, the daughter of a shoe maker living in Valletta sickened with fever and died. Her mother also fell ill and developed swellings of her inguinal glands. Rumours begun to circulate in Valletta that the plague had made its appearance in the town. In Malta, the plague raged from April 1813 to January 1814. A small outbreak erupted in Gozo towards the end of Feb 1814, when a man and his daughter died suddenly, after the family had been visited by a relative from Casal Qormi.

Map of Manoel Island dated 29 March 1856, showing plague burial ground (TNA:MFQ 1/220).

In 1813, Dr Salvatore Bardon, who later became First Surgeon at the Female Hospital, was in charge of the plague hospital at Fort Manoel. He spent an entire year at his post, during which he himself became infected but recovered from an attack of the plague.

In 1813, Dr Francesco Leone Gravagna, Physician to the Civil Hospital Valletta, Chief Medical Officer and member of the Council of Health, died of the plague which he had contracted in the course of his duties.

plague huts
An ex-voto of the Plague of 17 Aug 1813 of Anna Lungaro showing the pest Hospital Valletta. The light house on Fort st Elmo can be seen through the arch where an attendant with a mask around his face is purifying the foul air. (Sanctuary Our Lady of Mellieha)

The Naval Hospital in Strada San Christoforo, with its 40 to 50 patients including the hospital attendants, had but one case of plague. A nurse who used to go out to market with an officer and who strayed away one day to an infected family, went down with the illness.

The man was seized and immediately removed to the Pest Hospital, but by the prompt measures adopted, burning everything he had touched, the pestilence did not spread beyond the individual.

Emily Laing, wife of the Rev Francis Laing Chaplain to the Forces died on 17 Sep 1813. His son, Alex George Laing had died on 5 June 1810, aged 2 years.

Lt Gen Sir Thomas Maitland (1813 – 1824)

Thomas Maitland
Sir Thomas Maitland Governor of Malta and Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands died Floriana 17 Jan 1824, aged 68 years (Upper Barracca Gardens Valletta)

On 25 May 1813, the Malta Garrison consisted of: 8 Field Officers, 22 Captains, 87 Subalterns, 3,310 Rank and File, 3,608 Establishment.

On 5 Oct 1813, Malta no longer remained a British Protectorate. The Treaty of Paris recognised Great Britain's sovereignty over the people of Malta and Gozo, who became subjects of the British Crown. On 3 Oct 1813, Lt Gen Thomas Maitland reached Malta as its first Colonial Governor. Maitland had served in Ceylon, (1805-1811), where he had been Governor, Commander-in-Chief, and Officer Commanding troops.

Maitland brought to Malta the reforming zeal that he had unleashed on the Sinhalese. In Malta, as in Ceylon, all power was concentrated in himself, which earned him the title of King Tom. Maitland directed his energies towards the eradication of the plague, for the revenues of the island would never improve while the neighbouring countries kept Malta under quarantine.

On 27 Nov 1813, Maitland abolished the Board of Health, which brought him into conflict with the merchants. He alleged that under Hildebrand Oakes, the doctors had usurped to themselves the whole function of the Executive Government, and had burdened the treasury with unnecessary expense in their battle against the plague. Maitland introduced his policy of strict segregation and expurgation in an attempt to extinguish the pestilence. When plague broke out at Qormi, he enclosed the village within a double wall, and surrounded it with a cordon of troops.

With the epidemic declared vanquished on 8 Sep 1814, Maitland turned his reforming zeal towards the judiciary, and the charitable institutions. No function of government escaped his scrutiny in his attempt to balance the budget, decrease expenditure, improve the revenue and curtail so called abuses. Sir Thomas Maitland died at Floriana of apoplexy on 17 Jan 1824.

Medical men for the Army

A letter to Deputy Inspector of Hospitals Edinburgh William Somerville, dated 24 Apr 1813, from Director General John Weir and Principal Inspector Charles Ker shows the Army Medical Board lowering the required qualifications in their bid to attract men to the medical services of the army.

... a letter to the Royal College of Edinburgh giving them the decision of HRH the Commander-in-Chief, that the Diploma from that College shall here after be allowed to be taken as the qualification for regular commission, in the same manner as those from the London Colleges are received. We request that you make this known at Edinburgh as a number of well qualified persons for the junior ranks of the department are now wanted, particularly for the service of the Peninsula.

It is proper to mention that as the service of the Peninsula requires a number of persons for the inferior employment in the hospital, whose duties requirements do not call for much medical information, we have thought it expedient to relax the rule lately laid down of requiring 12 months attendance at a hospital, and will now receive as Warrant Mates for Temporary Service, persons who have attended 6 months only at a hospital. With regards to those of higher qualifications, such gentlemen as have regularly graduated as Physicians at Edinburgh, on entering the Medical Department will be taken notice of, and will receive early promotion.

A War Office circular dated 8 June 1813, conveyed the approval of HRH the Commander in Chief of gentlemen receiving appointments in the Medical Department of the Army by commission, being in future styled Hospital Assistants to the Forces, while those appointed by warrant were to retain the term Hospital Mates.

The rate of pay for Hospital Assistants was 7s 6d a day, but the fee payable for their commission was £4 19s 6d.