Medical Officers
Of the Malta Garrison
Gavino Patrizio
1795 – 1865

Assistant Surgeon Gavino Patrizio Portelli MRCS (1816)

16 Mar 1795 [Malta] – 7 Jan 1865 [Malta]

Service Record

Gavino P Portelli
Gavino Patrizio Portelli 1795-1865 (L'Arte 18655)

Son of Joseph Portelli, who died in 1834, aged 84 years, holding at the time the rank of assistant surgeon in the forces, of which life 32 years were devoted to the service of the ancient government of the Order of St John in a medical capacity, and the other 36 years, in a like capacity to the British government, a total service of 68 years.

Malta 1808 Completed an apprenticeship of four years with his father Mr Joseph Portelli, Apothecary to the General Hospital. In the year 1808-09, Gavino studied anatomy for 18 months with Mr Francesco Buttigieg, Surgeon Of Malta.

Malta 25 Mar 1809 Gavino was 15 years when he was first appointed by Warrant an Assistant Dispenser of Medicines at the General Military Hospital Valletta. Dispensers of Medicines were employed under the immediate supervision of the apothecary and were paid as purveyor's clerk. They had minimal professional qualifications.

Malta 1810 Dispenser of Medicines.

Malta June 1811 Assistant Dispenser.

Malta 2 July 1812 On six months leave in England. Gavino stated that as he was "desirous of availing of a more extended field than Malta presented for acquiring professional knowledge, I applied for leave of absence for six months, entering myself at the Westminster and St George's Hospitals London, where at considerable cost and expenditure to my father completed my studies".2 Over an 18 month period, between 1812 and 1813, Gavino enrolled in the private lectures on anatomy physiology, and surgery, given by Mr Joseph Constantine Carpue. He also attended four month courses of lectures on chemistry given by Dr Paris of London, on the theory and Practice of Physic by Dr Robert Hooper of London, and on Materia Medica and chemistry by Dr Joseph Ager. On 6 Sept 1813, he was on duty at the Duke of York Military Hospital Chelsea. (York Military hospital was the HQ to which medical officers were posted on first commissioning for instruction in army duties).

6 Sep 1813 Having passed an examination before the Army Medical Board composed of Drs Weir, Kerr, and Franklin and before the Royal College of Surgeons of London, Gavino was appointed Hospital Assistant Surgeon by commission dated 6 September 1813. He was afterwards employed at York Military Hospital Chelsea until his embarkation for Holland.

26 Nov 1813 Ordered to report to Ramsgate for foreign service.

Letter from the Army Medical Board to Inspector of Hospitals James Robert Grant dated 26 November 1813: The under mentioned gentlemen have been ordered to Ramsgate to report themselves to you for foreign service. The gentlemen may be allowed to draw bills upon the agent for Army Hospitals at 3 days sight for pay viz the hospital assistant and mates at 7s 6d a day, and the dispensers at 6s, from the dates of their respective appointment to the 24 February next, but you will deduce the pay of the hospital assistant £4-19s-6d for the fees of their commission which must be left in the hands of Mr Window.

Embarked at Ramsgate on Sir Thomas Graham's Expedition to Bergen–op–Zoom. The attempt on Bergen-op-Zoom on the night of 8 and the morning of 9 March 1814, ended in failure with severe loss to the First Division. Gavino was reported to have been slightly injured on this expedition6. On 19 March 1814, there were still 19 men in the hospital at Bergen-op-Zoom, whereas all the rest of the wounded had been moved out of the town. After the storming of Bergen–Op–Zoom, Gavino returned to York Hospital in medical charge of the wounded men of different regiments. He then joined the depot at the Isle of Wight, where he was ordered by the PMO to be on duty at Albany Hospital. He remained here until his passage to Malta.

Malta 26 May 1814 Commissioned, without purchase, assistant surgeon 2nd/10th (North Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot. Gavino first appears in the Muster Book 10th Foot on 25 September 1814. The "statement of the regimental stoppages for provisions for commissioned officers" serving with the battalion lists 60 days of stoppage from pay of 2 1/2d per day. His pay was 12s 6d a day.

Regulated stoppages for commissioned officers: G. P. Portelli
Stoppage from/to No of days Rate/day Total
26 Oct 1814 - 24 Dec 1814 60 2 1/2d 12s 6d
25 Dec 1814 - 24 Mar 1815 90 2 1/2d 18s 9d
25 Mar - 24 June 1815 92 2 1/2d 19s 2d
25 Dec 1815 - 24 Mar 1816 91 2 1/2d 18s 11 1/2d
Regulated stoppages for commissioned officers.

20 Sep 1814 Embarked at Portsmouth on the transport Dartmouth. Disembarked at Malta on 25 Oct 1814, and reported for duty to the Commanding Officer 2nd/10th Regiment. The sea voyage took 36 days.

Malta Dec 1815 Reduced to half-pay 2nd/10th Regiment.

Malta Feb 1816 While on half-pay 2nd/10th Foot, he returned to England, where he attended a three month course of lectures on midwifery given by Dr Samuel Merriman, one of the busiest of the London Obstetricians.

3 May 1816 Qualified Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS).

8 Aug 1816 Appointed in England Assistant Surgeon 1st/10th Foot, and proceeded to the Isle of Wight where he superintended the surgical division, under Staff Surgeon Ware.

Oct 1816 Embarked for Malta, where he received orders to join the 1st/10th Regiment at Corfu. Arrived in Corfu in December.

30 Aug 1817 Detached with the Flank Companies 10th Foot to Zante, where he took charge of the hospital.

Zante 28 Nov 1818 Ordered by the Commander of the Forces Sir Thomas Maitland, Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands and Governor of Malta, to proceed to Cephalonia for embarkation for Malta on 29 November 1818.

22 Dec 1818 Arrived at Malta.

1 Jan 1819 Gavino was appointed First Surgeon at the Civil Hospital Valletta by Sir Thomas Maitland, on the recommendation of Inspector of Hospitals Robert Grieves. This was consequently to Maitland's reforms of the Charitable Institutions, who wanted "to introduce into the Civil Hospital the improved system of those of the mother country". His annual salary was £123 9s. Gavino gave the following reasons for his appointment: "my knowledge of the English language and my professional studies acquired under the best practitioners in England rendered my services desirable in an establishment not confined to the inhabitants of Malta, but in which men of all countries and especially of foreigners, merchant seamen are continually received".1

24 Mar 1819 Reduced to half-pay as assistant surgeon 10th Foot, on 4 shillings a day.

23 Apr 1821 Married Vincenza Monreal in Malta.

1 Jan 1821 Gavino Patrizio Portelli was on the establishment of the Civil Hospital for Men Valletta as First Surgeon. His salary was 120 scudi a month. (The scudo was equivalent to 1 shilling and 8 pence). A clerk at the Civil Hospital, Edward Jefferson, was taking in 130 scudi a month whereas Purveyor Richard Cleave, was paid 172 scudi a month. Both had retired from the army medical services at Malta.

28 Nov 1822 Professor of Surgery and Anatomy on a salary of £25 15s.

1824–1838 Occupied the Chair of Anatomy and Surgery at the University of Malta. Established an anatomical theatre at the Central Civil Hospital, where he demonstrated anatomy on the cadaver to the medical students.

July 1825 Recalled from half-pay by the Army Medical Department to serve as the second assistant surgeon 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot in the Ionian Islands.

24 July 1825 Representation made by G. Portelli, first surgeon in the Male Civil Hospital, supported by the colonial government. Gavino had been in charge of the surgical division of the Civil Hospital for six and a half years, during which time he had performed a number of successful capital operations, and had materially aided the professional studies of the native students. "when I hold the appointment conferred on me by the late Governor as extremely flattering I am led from the results to hope that the advantage to the government of the island and the inhabitants have been equally beneficial and that as a native Maltese in whom are blended from a residence in England and a connection with its military establishment, the disposition and habits of a British subject, a connecting link was given to the object of my pursuits which I may confidentially assert would not have existed under the charge of a foreigner. Viewing my own situation as it is affected by this appointment as 2nd Assistant surgeon of the 28th Regiment it will not be deemed indecorous when I aver that the appointment is humiliating. It is almost the first step taken in the army by the very junior branches of the medical service. It is the first appointment a Hospital Assistant expects and has been very frequently conferred after only a few months service, and to this I am about to be recalled from the surgency of one of the first government establishments perhaps in Europe".1

Gavino appealed to be left in possession of the retired half pay to which he had been reduced six years previously. Since then he had "sedulously and exclusively occupied in performing a duty connected with the true interests of the island. The governor pointed out that it would be difficult to replace him. He hoped that Earl Bathurst would use his influence on the Medical Board, for Portelli to be allowed to remain in the civil service of Malta, with out forfeiting his right to half-pay of his military rank.

1828 Held the appointment of Surgeon to the Civil Hospital and Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the University of Malta, the emoluments of which did not exceed £145 per annum. Both official appointments were held by the government to be of sufficient importance to the interest of the colony for Gavino Patrizio Portelli to turn down a return to military service. Held half-pay by the reduction of the assistant surgeon 1st/10th Foot.

1829 Examined by the University of Malta and was granted the degree of Doctor of Medicine.6

1830 Birth of a son, Joseph.

1831 Birth of a son, Vittorio.

13 Mar 1832 Recalled to re-enter the medical service from half-pay.

A statement of your health and services having been submitted to the Secretary-at-War, I have now to acquaint you that Sir John Hobhouse does not see any reason to excuse you from the liabilities which attach to a military commission, and you must prepare to resume service or concede your half-pay for the sum of £213.

28 Apr 1832 The Chief Secretary to the Malta Colonial Government wrote to R Hay, Secretary of State in London in an attempt to revoke Portelli's attachment Order.

"The Lieutenant Governor desires me to send you the enclosed copy of the Army Medical Department to Mr Gavino Portelli Surgeon of the Civil Hospital, in which he is informed that he must prepare to resume service in consequent his half-pay, he being as assistant surgeon in the half-pay of the 10 Foot. This notification to Mr Portelli is of one of the same notice which was sent to him in 1825 on which occasion I wrote to Mr Wilmot Horton. The Lieutenant Governor hopes you will arrange for Mr Portelli to be allowed to remain here and continue with receipt of his half-pay as in 1825".

1833 Birth of a daughter, Maria Teresa.

1 Apr 1833 Commuted his half-pay for the sum of £213.
In August 1833, HM Treasury approved an increase in his salary as Surgeon of the Civil Hospital from £175 to £200 a year.

1835 Birth of a daughter, Agnese.

1837 During the cholera of 1837, volunteered and took charge of the temporary hospital at Fort Ricasoli.

1838 Forced to relinquish the Chair of Anatomy by HE The Governor, Major General Sir Henry Frederick Bouverie (1836-1843), who objected to one person holding both the academic and clinical posts.

3 July 1839 The petition of Dr Portelli, Late Professor of Anatomy at the University of Malta for a pension for loss of that situation was rejected. The governor said that no pension was granted for loss of position as he was still principal surgeon to the Civil Hospital on a salary of £175. Bouverie held that the situation of professor of anatomy and that of principal surgeon of the Civil Hospital should not be continued to be held by the same person. It was his opinion that there was ample occupation for Dr Portelli as surgeon to the Civil Hospital without having to attend to the duties of any other situation.

Malta 1842 Member of the Board of Health.

19 July 1847 Petitioned the Rt Hon The Earl Grey for his eldest son Joseph, "aged 18 years who had the advantage of a good education, is well conversant in English and Italian, and in other respects qualified for joining the service to which he aspires, for one of the first ensign commissions in the Royal Malta Fencibles". On 1 November 1847, Earl Grey replied to the Officer administering the Government of Malta, stating that "it would be premature to recommend any candidate for a commission in this corps, until a vacancy shall actually have occurred and you will acquaint Dr Portelli that such is my opinion".

Feb 1858–Dec 1858 Inspector of the Charitable Institutions, until his retirement in December 1858.

7 Jan 1865 Died at Malta aged 70 years after a long illness. Interred in the crypt of the Capuchin's Church Floriana, which was subsequently extensively damaged by enemy action in the Second World War.