The Army Medical Department
And the Malta Garrison

The Malta Garrison – 1855


Malta Garrison

The average strength of the garrison was 3,218 men including 881 men of the Army of the Crimea. The military campaign in the east had completely transformed Valletta, which became exceedingly crowded. By 23 Dec 1855, the larger portion of the reserves for the army in the Crimea were under canvas, with soldiers encamped wherever space became available, occupying the ditches and ravelins of the fortifications.

Instructions from Horse Guards, dated 29 Jan 1855, established a Reserve Depôt at Malta for the Army in the Crimea.

That a Depôt of drafts shall be formed at Malta for each of the forty Battalions of the Line and the three Battalions of the Guards now in the Crimea, as a first reserve to be in immediate readiness for embarkation to reinforce their Service Companies at the shortest notice.

The Depôt of drafts of 5,160 men was the first Reserve to the Army in the Crimea. Warm clothing for 10,000 men, was also to be kept in stores at Malta. Major General J. L. Pennefather KCB, who had the local rank of Lieutenant General, took over command of the troops in Malta from Lt Gen Sir James Ferguson KCB (Horse Guards 22 Sept 1855).

The constant communication with almost every port in southern and western Europe exposed the inhabitants more than ever to epidemics. Cholera had ravaged Italy in 1855 and towards the end of August cases appeared among the corps crowding Lower St Elmo, Fort Manoel and Pembroke Camp. Many patients in the lower wards of the General Hospital Valletta were also suddenly struck down by disease.

Following the departure of the Expeditionary Force, Malta was garrisoned with the 14th Foot and the Royal Malta Fencibles. On 10 January 1855, the 14th Foot left for the Crimea and the island was partly garrisoned by militia from England which had volunteered for overseas service.

Baptisms Burials 1855

  • 4 Jan Burial of Pte William Meads Scots Fusilier Guards (Expeditionary Force).
  • 15 Jan Burial of Pte William Topham 8th Hussars (Expeditionary Force).
  • 7 Feb Burial of Pte Edward Newell aged 39 years, 8th Hussars (Expeditionary Force).
  • 2 May Baptism of Emily Charlotte Williams born 14 April 1855, daughter of Emily and Brig Gen William Fenwick Williams HQ Staff.
  • 26 Nov Baptism of Howard John Trench born 6 November 1855, son of Sarah and Staff Surgeon John Power Trench. Staff Surgeon Trench was born on 28 April 1881 and died on 1 December 1859.

Convalescent Hospital Fort Chambray Gozo

Fort Chambray
Fort Chambray Gozo

Fort Chambray had a small hospital of four wards for twenty men. This was hardly used and never had more than two or three patients. The hospital was inadequate for the sick of the Crimea.

In Jan 1855, Malta became a reception centre for the ill and injured from the Crimea. In Mar 1855, houses were hired in and around Valletta for their care.

In Aug 1855, a military hospital was set up at Fort Chambray for 250 to 300 invalids and convalescents. Twenty four Vienna Huts were erected at Gozo, but the huts were found to be of poor quality, and unsuitable for the local climate.

From 21 Sep to 4 Oct 1855, 49 deaths were recorded at the military hospital at Fort Chambray, of which 13 were from cholera.

Fort Chambray was staffed by Inspector of Hospitals Gibson James Brown, Purveyor Woodley James, Apothecary John Herbert, four Surgeons, 16 Assistant Surgeons and a steward of the recently formed Army Hospital Corps.

Maltese Civilian Practitioners

Surgical instruments
Surgical Instruments belonging to Dr Luigi Pisani (1828–1908) who had served at the hospital at Scutari. (Maritime Museum Vittoriosa)

In May 1855, Drs Bellanti, Grillet, and Vincenzo Muscat, who had served at the hospital at Scutari were engaged by the PMO as temporary regimental surgeons.

On 4 May 1855, Dr Salvatore Luigi Pisani was appointed medical officer to the camp at St Julian's. He had served at the hospital at Scutari, from where he had recently arrived on sick leave.

Dr Vincenzo Muscat was in charge of troops at Cottonera

Dr Bellanti took charge of an encampment outside Portes de Bombes. Bellanti resigned in September and was replaced by Dr G Cousin.

Dr George Cousin took medical charge of the troops at Fort Ricasoli.

Dr Giuseppe Montanaro who had served at the military hospital Valletta became surgeon to the troops encamped at Marsamxetto.

In Aug 1855, Dr Antonio Pullicino was appointed to look after the troops encamped in the Cottonera District. He also stood in for staff assistant surgeon Henry Alexander Gogarty, who proceeded to join his regiment in India.

In Sep 1855, Dr Borg took charge of the detachment of the Ta' Grazia Minie Rifle Range. He was paid 7s 6d a day, including rations for himself and a servant.

Surgeon De Salvo accompanied the troops to the Crimea.


The Royal Warrant of 31 Oct 1855, authorised the following ranks in the Purveyor Department: Purveyor in Chief (Major, daily pay £1 5s.), Deputy Purveyor in Chief (Captain, daily pay 15s.), Purveyor (Lieutenant, daily pay 10s.), Purveyor Clerk 1st Class (Ensign, daily pay 8s.), Purveyor Clerk 2nd Class (Junior Ensign, daily pay 7s.). Purveyor's clerks were non commissioned officers and held relative rank only.

Army Wives

Wives accompanied their menfolk where ever they were stationed. Barracks were first built in 1792 and soldiers screened off a corner of the barrack as their married quarters. Children were born and lived in the barrack room. In 1801, an order from Horse Guards limited their number to the regulation 6 wives per company of a 100 men. When a regiment was warned off for active service, lots were drawn to choose the 6 to 8 women that were granted official leave to accompany the regiment. The rest reluctantly returned to their parishes or accompanied the army as best they could. Those with leave to accompany the regiment were neither allowed baggage nor bedding and were accommodated in some disused building.

In 1800, when Sir Ralph Abercrombie arrived in Malta on his way to Egypt, he found such a large number of women with the 54th Foot, that he sent 300 of them back to England. They were unfortunately captured by the French who disembarked them at Minorca.

On 8 Dec 1827, Army General Order No 460 was issued by Horse Guards to curb the large number of women, beyond the regulated number, being present with most of the regiments on foreign service. The Commander-in-Chief reaffirmed that the proportion of soldier's wives to embark with regiments for foreign stations, India and New South Wales excepted, was limited to 6 to 100 men, and directed that the following rules be strictly observed:

1. When a regiment or detachment embarks, a nominal list of the women allowed to proceed with it, was to be furnished to the agent of transports or to the master of the vessel, signed by the commanding officer of the corps or detachment, and countersigned by the officer superintending the embarkation.

2. In making the selection of women to be allowed to proceed, care was to be always taken that those of the best character, and most likely useful to the troops, should be first chosen; and no greater proportion were to be selected of sergeant's wives than the sergeants bear to the whole number of the battalion, which according to the present establishment of the six service companies would be: Number of Sgts = 30 – Proportion of women to be allowed rations = 2;
Number of Cpls, Dmrs and Ptes = 514 – Proportion of women to be allowed rations = 31. Total 544 – Proportion of women to be allowed rations = 33.

3. Officers commanding regiments on foreign stations were to specify in their returns to the Depôt Companies at home, the vacancies which may occur from time to time in the regulated number of women, and the name of those proposed by them to be sent out with detachments to fill such vacancies.

4. It was to be considered a rule, in no case to be departed from, that women, who had already joined the regiment without authority, or who had found their way out to the regiment, or who had been taken out, or who had, by the Commander-in-Chief's permission obtained through the Military Secretary, accompanied officers as servants in their families, and afterwards quit such service, should they refuse to be sent home at the expense of the officer, in conformity to his engagement, when such permission was granted, were not to benefit thereby, by being allowed at any future time to fill the vacancies which arose in the regulated number for whom rations were allowed, and which had to be reserved for those who had waited at home for their turn to go out.

When Florence Nightingale and her first party of nurses arrived at Scutari on 4 Nov 1854, the eve of the battle of Inkerman, she found a large number of women occupying several rooms of the Barrack Hospital. More wives arrived daily till the end of Dec, when all the women left at Varna had arrived, and most of these had contrived to get into the Crimea. Some of the women had their husbands in the Depôt on duty or serving as orderlies in the hospital, or were among the sick and wounded. The greater number had their husbands on duty in the Crimea and having come out with leave had no intention of returning home, whatever the distress they might suffer.

By the end of December 1854, no less than 22 babies were found in the hospital all born since the army had left England. When nominally attached to the Depôt at Scutari they inhabited the married men's room of which the senior NCO was in charge. After a while sick families were allowed some hospital bedding and a medical officer was ordered to attend to them as required.

Once separated from their regiments many had to fend for themselves. Wives did the menial chores of the army gathering firewood, cooking the rations, and nursing their husbands, until death forced them to marry another soldier.