The Army Medical Department
And the Malta Garrison

The Malta Garrison – 1847

Malta Garrison

The average strength of the garrison was 2,574 men. On 24 July 1847, Sir Patrick Stuart, Governor and Garrison Commander, left for England, leaving the command of the troops and the administration of Government to Colonel Fane 54th Regiment.

On 14 December 1847, Stuart was succeeded by the Civil Governor The Right Honourable Richard Moore O'Ferrall. The new governor reformed the Charitable Institutions through his Inspector of Hospitals and Prisons Joseph Becket Henry Collings.

On 31 December 1847, Lt Gen Robert Ellice landed at Malta and assumed command of the garrison. The post of General Officer Commanding Troops Malta was introduced in 1847 so as to enable the Governor to devote more time to civil affairs.

The average daily sick during 1846–47 was 87. The total treated in hospital was 2,102. The proportion of deaths to the number treated was 1 in 63. The proportion of deaths to strength was 1 in 69.

Morbidity and Mortality (Apr 1846–Mar 1847)
  Off Sgt Cpl Drm Pte Total
Av Strength 114 142 124 53 2257 2576
Died 1 2     35 37
Invalided   3 2 2 68 75
Morbidity and mortality for year ending 31 Mar 1847 (TNA:WO 334/16)

In 1847, nineteen cases of cholera were treated at the Military Hospital Valletta. There was only one death.


Influenza appeared in Oct 1847. It progressed until early Mar 1848, when it disappeared, leaving several cases of catarrh. The PMO James Barry recorded that the civil population suffered considerably, with many cases proving fatal. The military was also infected. Men, women, and children were attacked indiscriminately, but none proved fatal.

Influenza started with a dry hoarse cough, a hot skin, a full pulse, a dull pain in the frontal region, and a sense of weight over the eyes. There was also occasionally much thirst, loss of appetite, and depression of spirits. Symptoms lasted from 24 hours to six days leaving a hacking cough, and great prostration of strength.

The disease for the most part yielded to occasional doses of Calomel, saline purgatives, diaphoretics and warm or rather hot baths. Leeches and cupping were also used to good effect. When the acute symptoms subsided tonics and a generous diet, wine and porter, were recoursed to, for the re-establishment of the patient's health.


In Jan 1847, The Provincial and Surgical Journal published reports of surgical operations performed under the influence of ether. On 6 Mar 1847, vapour of ether anaesthesia was used for the first time at the Naval Hospital Bighi by Thomas Spencer Wells and Dr Burmester in a case of partial amputation of the hand. The anaesthesia, however, was not total due to the inadequacy of the Hooper's inhaler. The apparatus was brought to Malta from London by the Oriental. The Malta Mail reported that credit is due to Dr Wells, whose superior scientific attainments are well known here as being the first to introduce to Malta at rather considerable personal expense, the ether apparatus.

On 16 March, Spencer Wells demonstrated the apparatus and reported other cases to the Maltese Medical Society. On 16 Nov 1847, Prof Simpson, Professor of Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh, used chloroform as an anaesthetic agent which he found had all the advantages of sulphuric ether without the disadvantages of ether.

Hydrophobia (Rabies)

In 1847, no fewer than four cases of Hydrophobia (rabies) were reported to have occurred in Malta. Surgeon Dawson recognised that the malady was so rare, that only two cases had been reported since Britain had taken possession of the islands in 1800.

The first case was in 1805, in a 60 year old female from Siggiewi who had been admitted to the Civil Hospital. She was examined by Drs William Franklin and Gravagna. The second case occurred in a woman in 1825, and was reported on by Dr Robert Grieves, Superintendent of Quarantine and Dr Gravagna.

Of the 4 cases of hydrophobia, reported in 1847, three were Maltese, the fourth was a soldier of the 54th who fell ill on 5 Nov 1847. He complained of inability to swallow, aerophobia, and hydrophobia. He died 36 hours after experiencing his first symptoms of numbness in his left arm and hand.

On 30 Nov, Surgeon Dawson carried out a joint consultation with Dr Vassallo, Physician to the Police. Francisco Napolitano, a Maltese lad of 16 years, was found in bed in a very excitable state. He was kicking and throwing his arms about as in a violet passion, talking with great vehemence and with a shrieking voice, frequently spitting, and occasionally grasping his throat and constantly calling out Ghajma, Ghajma, a term used by the inhabitants when in much pain.

He was uncontrollable. He could not bear light and became agitated and violent when attempts were made to move him. He would call for coffee, but then order it away. He had a wild expression, He could not bear the least currant of air, or the entrance of anyone in the room. He remained agitated until the following morning when he calmed down. He swallowed coffee without difficulty, but when the spoon approached his mouth, he at first drew back with a sort of shudder, and the muscles of the neck were seen to contract spasmodically. The muscles of his face contracted slightly giving him the appearance of smiling, which Surgeon Dawson defined as an evidently involuntary action. He died 30 hours after the appearance of his symptoms.

On 15 Aug, Francisco, had been bathing near the public road at Pieta, when a large mongrel, suddenly leapt into the sea, and attacked him. Francisco's occiput was severely lacerated, and the back of his right arm and leg were also bitten. Slight suppuration took place in the lacerated wound of the occiput, but no symptoms occurred until 18 Nov 1847, when he had some discomfort in the back of his neck. On 22 Nov, he complained of pain over the scar of the occiput with tingling in his left ear, and stiffing of the muscles of the neck. On 29 Nov, he developed aversion to light and air, pain around the lower jaw, and numbness of the left arm. He died the following day.