The Army Medical Department
And the Malta Garrison

The Malta Garrison – 1866

Malta Garrison

Cole E
Ellen Cole wife of QM Sgt John Cole Commissariat Staff Corps died 27 June 1866 aged 35 yrs (Ta Braxia Cemetery).

The average strength of the garrison was 5,202 men, exclusive of the colonial troops. There were 4,798 admissions into hospital (922 admissions/1000 mean strength), with 67 deaths (12.88 deaths/1000 mean strength), of which 50 occurred in hospital, 11 out of hospital and 6 among the invalids on their passage home and at the Invalid Depôt at Netley.

The sickness was considerably in excess in the 1st/8th and the 60th Regiments, both of which had arrived from England in mid March. The mortality was highest in the Royal Artillery, the 84th and 29th Regiments. The increased ratio of admissions into hospital was caused by miasmatic diseases; the excess of deaths was principally from tubercular diseases and those of the circulatory system.

In 1866, the average number constantly non-effective through sickness (mean daily sick), excluding the Royal Malta Fencible Artillery, was 254 men. The ratio per 1000 mean strength constantly sick was 48.83; the average sick time to each soldier was 17.82 days; the average duration of each case was 19.36 days.

During the year, miasmatic diseases from infections accounted for 2,249 admissions into hospital (432.3/1000 mean strength) with 22 deaths (4.22/1000 mean strength). Admissions were for:

  • 40 admissions for parasitic conditions
  • 61 for tubercular diseases with 14 deaths
  • 265 for respiratory conditions with 3 deaths
  • 270 for digestive diseases with 3 deaths
  • 112 for nervous system diseases with 1 death
  • 75 for circulatory diseases with 12 deaths
  • 16 for urinary problems with 1 death
  • 310 for venereal diseases
  • 447 for accidents with 8 deaths

Eight soldiers were admitted to hospital after receiving corporal punishment. There was 2 suicides, both by firearms. An unsuccessful attempt was made by a sergeant of the Royal Artillery by a corrosive sublimate. The 8 accidental deaths included four deaths from fracture skull caused by falls from the fortifications while the men were inebriated; three deaths were from drowning when a boat capsized. The remaining death was in an intoxicated private soldier of the 60th Regiment, who was run over by a car.

There were 73 admissions for paroxysmal fevers (14.2/1000 mean strength) with 1 death (0.19/1000 strength), 1,031 for continued fevers (198.1/1000 strength) with 19 deaths (3.64/1000 strength), 319 for dysentery and diarrhoea (61.3/1000 strength), 266 for ophthalmia (51.0/1000 strength), and 387 for rheumatism (74.4/1000 strength). There were 4 admissions (0.8/1000 strength) for eruptive fevers. Rheumatism was in many instances the sequel of an attack of fever.

The highest ratio of admissions for continued fevers occurred in the 1st/8th, 60th and the Royal Engineers, which had arrived in Malta in March. The 100th Regiment at Fort Verdala had a high incidence of what the regimental surgeon described as Verdala endemic fever a type of gastric remittent fever. The fever was characterised by tedious convalescence and by the frequent occurrence of orchitis and rheumatism, symptoms consistent with an infection with Brucella melitensis.


Marsamxetto Barracks
Marsamxetto Barracks

In 1866, troops occupied buildings at St Elmo and Marsamxetto Barracks.

Married detachments were placed at San Salvatore Counter guard, Floriana.

Dress Regulations – Army Medical Staff Officers

Staff Surgeon 1866 by E. V. Howell Nov 1927.
(Courtesy AMS archives).

On 15 Dec 1862, Queen Victoria approved the wearing of black cock feathers to the cocked hats of surgeons and medical officers in the Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards. Veterinary surgeons wore red cock feathers. Dress Regulations dated 1863 specified a:

  • Scarlet tunic, single breasted, with black velvet collar, cuffs and sleeve flaps. The collar rounded off in front, cuff 10 and a half inches round, two inches and three quarters deep.
  • Slashed flap on the sleeve 6 inches long and 2 inches and a quarter wide, with 3 loops of half inch lace and uniform buttons.
  • Eight buttons down the front.
  • The skirt 10 and a half inches deep, with a scarlet flap 10 inches deep, two buttons on flap and one on waist, with 3 loops of half inch lace.
  • The coat, collar, cuffs and flaps edged with white cloth a quarter of an inch broad and the skirts lined with white.
  • Gilt buttons with the crown and letters VR with the words Medical Staff within a star raised thereon.
  • Cocked black hat with black cock's feathers drooping from a feathered stem three inches in length.
  • Blue trousers with gold lace an inch and three quarters wide down outward seam.
  • Wellington Boots.
  • Black morocco belt with 2 rows of gold embroidery for Inspectors and Deputy Inspectors of Hospital. The central plate with a round gilt clasp with VR surmounted by a crown and Medical Staff with a laurel branch on the outer circle.
  • Black morocco shoulder belt with a small case of surgical instruments.
  • Rank was worn on the collars: Inspector General of Hospitals (Brigadier General) – a crown and star embroidered in silver at each end
  • Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals (Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel after 5 years service) – crown or crown and star embroidered in silver at each end
  • Surgeon Major (Major) – star in silver at each end
  • Assistant staff surgeon (Lieutenant and Captain after 6 years service) – a crown at each end.

Naval Dock

Grand Harbour
Map of the Grand Harbour showing the Three Cities, Corradino and creeks (TNA:MFQ 1/220).

The medical officer of the 3rd Brigade Royal Artillery drew attention to the sanitary improvements accomplished by the construction of a new dock at the head of the harbour, which had replaced an unhealthy marsh. In 1850, the Admiralty decided to expand the dockyard facilities at Malta. In 1857, Dock No 1 was extended and divided into two sections.

In 1864, the Admiralty took over the Senglea water front at French Creek, (between Senglea and Corradino) since Dockyard Creek, (between Vittoriosa and Senglea), could not be expanded further. The construction of the new dock was started in 1865, under Lt Col Andrew Clarke RE. It involved the demolition of large parts of the Senglea fortifications, and the removal of the Maltese Commercial shipyards from French Creek. The dock was completed in 1871. It was designated No 3 Dock, or Somerset Dock, in honour of the Duke of Somerset, First Lord of the Admiralty.