RAMC

Medical Officers
Of the Malta Garrison – 1907

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Malta Garrison – 1907

Commander-in-Chief and High Commissioner Mediterranean

A War Office Order dated 31 Jan 1907 declared that the military commands of Malta and Gibraltar were no longer to exist as independent commands. Instead, they were to merge in a Mediterranean Command comprising Crete, Cyprus and Egypt with a HQ based at Malta. The post was later abolished in 1910.

The new commander was given the rank of Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief British Troops and High Commissioner in the Mediterranean. On 12 Dec 1907, HRH Arthur Duke of Connaught was appointed to the newly created post. He arrived in Malta on 4 Jan 1908.

Enteric Fever

In Malta, vegetable crops were nearly always watered with sewage from cesspits. Soldiers bought lettuce contaminated with pathogens from street hawkers, which were eaten unwashed or only lightly rinsed under a tap.

Cases of enteric fever fell sharply in 1906, following the introduction of lectures on sanitation to all officers, non-commissioned officers, and men by medical officers in charge of troops.

In 1907, a garrison order directed troops not to eat uncooked vegetables unless they were first thoroughly washed in water and then rinsed in a weak solution of vinegar. In 1907, there were 14 cases of enteric fever. Bacteriological investigation of cases assumed to be enteric fever showed them to be due to infection with the bacillus of the para typhoid group. The spread of enteric fever was thought to be facilitated by the use of dry earth latrines in the Malta Garrison. These were gradually replaced with latrines of the water carriage system.

Malta Fever

On 16 May 1907, the Committee of the Royal Society, which had been appointed in 1904 to superintend the investigation into Malta Fever, by a commission nominated by the Admiralty, the Colonial Office and the War Office, declared that the commission had completed its investigations. The number of military patients with Malta Fever between Aug 1905 and 1909 was:

  • 1905 – 643 (Strength 9587)
  • 1906 – 161 (Strength 8101)
  • 1907 – 11 (Strength 6525)
  • 1908 – 5 (Strength 6819)
  • 1909 – 1 (Strength 7122)

In spite of the conclusive report of the Malta Fever Commission, a section of the population still maintained that the infection came from bad drains and not from their goats. They consequently ignored government warnings to boil milk. The paper Malta e sue Dipendenze published the following:

We say the fever prevailing in Malta, without distinguishing it by the title of Malta Fever, is the fever which exists whenever there is a very bad system of drains like ours. If, therefore, it is desirable to eradicate the evil really and efficaciously, it is above all necessary to reform our whole system of drainage which is the prime cause of the evil.

In May 1906, the CGMO published a pamphlet in English, Italian, and Maltese on the Milch Goat as a factor in the propagation of remittent fever. Copies were sent to the Archbishop of Malta and his assistance was sought in making the contents known widely through parish priests. At the same time a subcommittee of the Executive Council consisting of the Crown Advocate, the Comptroller of Charitable Institutions and the CGMO was appointed to consider what steps should be taken for isolating and destroying infected goats and what compensation should be paid to their owners.

The memorandum of the Malta Fever Commission of the Royal Society found that there were about 2000 goats in Malta which were constantly passing the microbe in their milk. To slaughter them all would cost 2000 x 10s = £1000. In view of the expenditure involved it was decided to take no steps in isolating animals which merely gave a positive serum reaction. Only those goats secreting the micrococcus in their milk were to be slaughtered and compensation paid.

The Public Health Department did not have the resources to inspect all the goats. It therefore restricted itself to an examination of the goats in localities where Malta Fever had broken out. It was also proposed to exclude goats from Valletta and other towns. This was not enforced as there were few cows in Malta and the people depended on the goat for their milk.

Families Military Hospital Mtarfa

In 1907, the number of admissions for Malta Fever dropped to 11 cases, as compared to 161 in 1906, and 643 in 1905, when five days' work was lost for every man in the garrison. With the decline in the number of cases of Malta Fever, the Barrack Hospital at Mtarfa was used as a sanatorium.
In addition ten married quarters in Mtarfa had been set apart for families requiring a change of air.

Malta Centralisation Scheme

On 26 July 1907, the 17th meeting of The Army Medical Advisory Board (AMAB) recommended for the Valletta Hospital to be given up entirely. The hospital of the Royal Malta Artillery in the former Station Hospital Valletta was to be replaced by wards at Mtarfa or by wards in the proposed new Combined Service Hospital at St Julians.

The AMAB also proposed a new Families Hospital to be built in the new hospital at St Julians for not more than 32 beds . In addition a Reception Station of 10 beds was planned for Floriana for the sick of St Elmo and Floriana.

Public Health Department

The reorganisation of the sanitary branch of the PHD was completed in Aug 1907, when the distribution of districts came into operation. Malta was divided into 3 Sanitary Districts, with a Medical Officer of Health in charge of each district and a staff of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Class Sanitary Inspectors working under him. Each district was subdivided into three sections at the head of which was a first class sanitary inspector with a number of 2nd and 3rd Class Sanitary Inspectors distributed among the sections according to the needs of the locality.

The 1st Class Sanitary Inspector was trained in England and held the Diploma of Sanitation. His duties were the inspection of new buildings, drainage works, isolation and disinfection of infected persons and premises, the taking of samples and food and drink for analysis, general superintendence of food shops and all places where food and drinks were prepared, such as hotels common lodging houses, stables, places of amusements, private schools.

Mary Brown QAIMNS

Mary Brown QAIMNS was born on 7 Feb 1876. She was the fourth daughter of Donald Brown of Courock Scotland. She died at the Military Hospital Valletta on 29 July 1907, aged 31 years.

Inspector General Robert Bentham RN

Inspector General Robert Bentham RN was in charge of the Royal Naval Hospital Bighi from 1904 to 1907. He had received his medical education at University College, London, and took the diplomas of LRCP and LRCS Edin in 1868.

Bentham had joined the medical services of the Royal Navy and, in Sept 1901, had attained the rank of Deputy Inspector General. He served at Plymouth Hospital from 1902 to 1904. He retired in Mar 1907 with the rank of InspectorGeneral of Hospitals and Fleets. Inspector General Robert Bentham died at Ealing in June 1917, aged 70 years.

Bibliography

  • Drew R: Commissioned Officers in the Medical Services of the British Army Vol II. Roll of Officers in the Royal Army Medical Corps 1898–1960. London The Wellcome Historical Medical Library 1968.
  • Distribution of RAMC Officers. Corps News Vol VIII: 6; June 1907.
  • Daily Malta Chronicle March 1907.
  • The Annual Army List for 1907, corrected to 31 December 1906. London 1907.
  • The Army List June 1907. War Office 31 May 1907.
  • The Army List December 1907. War Office 30 November 1907.
  • Obituary R Bentham, Br Med J (1917), 1; 856 (Published 23 June 1917).
  • TNA:CO 158/356 (1907) Malta Fever.
  • Army Medical Department, Sanitary Report for the year 1907, Vol XLIX, London 1908.
  • Gray W. L., Outbreak of enteric fever in children and families at the new Verdala Married Quarters. Corps News, J Roy Army Med Corps (October 1907) Vol IX : 4.
  • No 16. Stations of units of the Regular, Militia, Yeomanry and Volunteer Forces - 1 January 1907. HM Stationery Office.
  • Samut R, Paratyphoid infection during the course of Mediterranean Fever. Case report from the Central Hospital Floriana. J R Army Med Corps. (Sep 1908), 11; 3. pp 302-4.