The Royal Army Medical Corps
And the Malta Garrison

The Malta Garrison – 1900

Malta Garrison

Tigne Barracks
Tigne Barracks

The strength of the Malta Command was 9546 men. There were 253 officers, 414 females and 709 children. The command consisted of Malta and Gozo 8140 men, Crete Detachment 592 men, RMA 814 men.

In 1900, the old huts in Tigne were replaced by a permanent stone barracks which was occupied in 1901.

In 1900, Fort Manoel had only a few married quarters. The majority of the married men lived in hired lodgings in Sliema.

590 patients were treated at the Citta Vecchia Sanatorium in 1900. Of these, 231 patients were direct admissions from Mtarfa and Mellieha Camp; the rest were transfers from various stations.

Baptisms in 1900:

  • 10 Feb Walter Ramsay born 31 December 1899, son of Eliza and Barrack Warden William Ramsay of Verdala Barracks.
  • 18 Apr Victor Robert Gordon Chandler born 26 March 1900, son of Annie and Gymnasium SSgt Joseph Chandler, of Valletta.

Burials in Pietà Military Cemetery in 1900:

  • 26 May Infant George White Hampton aged 5 months, son of School Master Hampton.
  • 2 Oct Child James Arthur Herne Hill aged 1 year 1 month.
  • 14 Nov Pte Herbert Pursall aged 23 years 2nd/Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Bighi Naval Hospital

Bighi Hospital
In 1675, Fra Giovanni Bighi built a villa on the promontory overlooking Kalkara and Rinella Creeks. In 1829, the site was handed over to the Royal Navy and the villa was transformed into a naval hospital. It remained in use as a Royal Naval Hospital until 1960.
Bighi Hospital Staff
Medical Staff Bighi Naval Hospital circa 1900 (Maritime Museum Vittoriosa).
Bighi Hospital Staff
Sick Bay Attendants and staff Bighi Naval hospital c. 1900.

In 1830, a villa on the San Salvatore promontory, overlooking the Grand Harbour, was converted into a naval hospital. The hospital was designed by Col George Whitmore RE and built by Architect Gaetano Xerri. The foundation stone was laid by Vice Admiral Sir Pultney Malcolm on 23 March 1830. The hospital was opened on 24 Sep 1832. It had beds for 250 patients. Each pavilion had two large and four small wards, and rooms for officers. A corridor 10 foot wide and 160 feet long ran through the centre of each wing.

Bighi received about 8% of the ship's companies of the fleet per year, which, for a fleet of 10,000 sailors, amounted to an admission rate of about 800 patients a year.

On 27 June 1832, the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty directed Rear Admiral Superintendent Briggs to deliver the old Naval Hospital (Armeria) to the Civil Government, which housed the regimental hospitals of the corps in the Cottonera area.

Mediterranean Fever

The PMO, Surgeon General O'Farrell Thomas stated that during the summer months a good deal of Mediterranean Fever prevailed in both the civilian and military populations. How it entered the body had not yet been discovered and the aetiology of the disease was still obscure. The PMO asserted that, as a rule, it could not be distinguished from enteric fever during the first three or four weeks of its course with any degree of accuracy.

A similar opinion was held by Surg–Capt Robert Samut 1st/KOMRM who in a lecture delivered in the University Hall on 16 July 1909, stated that the clinical picture of Paratyphoid Fever may so closely resemble that of Mediterranean Fever, as to be identical with it in some cases.

Council of Health

The Council of Health, which replaced the Board of Health, was created by Ordinance No XIV of 1900. The Council of Health was consulted by Government when it wished to implement precautionary and other sanitary measures in response to infectious and contagious diseases.

Its members consisted of: the Lt Governor, the Crown Advocate, the Collector of Customs, the Superintendent of the Public Works, 8 members of the medical profession, the Veterinary Surgeon, the Government Chemist, 3 members of the Commercial Class including the President of the Chamber of Commerce, the Sanitary Engineer.

In 1900, the First and Second Sanitary Ordnances were passed to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the organisation of the Public Health Department in the Maltese Islands.

The First Sanitary Ordnance (Jan 1900) dealt with the establishment of the Public Health Department and Council of Health, and the duties of District Medical Officers.

The Second Sanitary Ordnance (6 July 1900) dealt with the Sanitary and the Kindred Professions.

Malta Medical Degrees

On 8 Aug 1900, the UK Government issued an Order in Council which rendered Part II of the Medical Act of the United Kingdom applicable to Italy. Medical degrees granted by colonial universities were recognised and registrable in England. However, those conferred by the University of Malta were not recognised in the UK, as the Government did not consider the Maltese Medical degree as colonial. This placed Maltese students at a disadvantage. Their local diploma restricted their practice exclusively to the Maltese Islands. Those who had financial resources pursued their studies and obtained their diploma at an Italian University, so as to be on an equal footing with the holders of an English degree.

The Governor requested the Order in Council to apply to Malta. Maltese Medical Degrees were granted by the Malta University under Article 17 of the Medicine Act 1886 C 48. They were not of an inferior standard to those conferred by Italian Universities, and were of a similar level to those of the United Kingdom. Indeed the course of medical studies at the University of Malta was approved, and the graduates of the Malta University were admitted for the final examination of the Conjoint Board of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and of the Apothecaries Hall.

The Government pointed out that: If the degrees conferred by our university were officially recognised, a new opening would be obtained for our young medical practitioners who would be able to compete, with probable success abroad, for commissions in the army and navy. Lately, during the South African War, several gentlemen volunteered for service as doctors. Only one was accepted as he held an English qualification, the others were told that their degrees were not registrable. It is strange, that while the Imperial Government locally employs such gentlemen as supplementary medical officers in the army in Malta, and while the services of local practitioners are always sought by English residents and visitors, the same gentlemen should be debarred from serving anywhere else.

Mtarfa Cemetery

Mtarfa Cemetery was consecrated by the Rt Rev the Bishop of Gibraltar on Tuesday 2 January 1900. HE the Governor General Sir Francis Grenfell and Maj Gen Lord Congleton commanding Infantry Brigade were present. Also attending were the following service chaplains: the Revs Alfred Malim MA Senior Chaplain, D Nickerson MA, W C Parr MA, in charge of Imtarfa, M W Churchward MA and M Jones BA. The band of the 2nd/Derbyshire Regiment under the direction of bandmaster Mr Howarth was in attendance.

Civilian Medical Practitioners

In 1898, during the Egyptian Campaign, Surgeon Major General Thomas Maunsell appointed Dr P P Agius in medical charge of troops at Fort Manoel and Fort Tigne. Agius also attended the married families at Sliema as a private practitioner.

In Dec 1899, military doctors were ordered out to South Africa. In addition, the large number of troops at Pembroke Barracks and Musketry Camp, required an additional resident assistant to Major A. Kennedy RAMC. Agius applied to the PMO, Surgeon General Thomas O'Farrell to be appointed as an assistant medical officer. On 14 Mar 1900, the PMO rejected his application and chose Dr E Ferro instead.

Dr Agius felt rebuffed and protested that he had served most carefully and faithfully the troops stationed at Pembroke for the last eight or nine years, by day or by night, in spring, summer, or winter, and at all hours. In cases of wounding, in cases of confinement, (I had some of the most difficult cases of confinement), when the epidemic of measles was hanging furiously among the married quarters of the Lincolnshire I was always on the spot at Pembroke to keep the troops and their families.

The PMO, however, required a civilian medical practitioner to reside at Pembroke or wherever his services were required, and to devote his entire time to his military duties. Agius was not prepared to give up his house and extensive practice and live in a tent. He was therefore not considered a suitable candidate for the job.

South African War

On the outbreak of war in South Africa, army medical officers in Ireland, Malta, Gibraltar, Bermuda and Egypt were withdrawn from their commands. They served instead with either the South African Field Force or at the Cambridge Military Hospital Aldershot, where a large number of sick and wounded arrived from the theatre of war.

On 5 March 1900, following the relief of Ladysmith, the Governor General Sir Francis Wallace Grenfell, sent a telegram to Prime Minister Chamberlain, conveying to him the outburst of loyal and general festive demonstrations of the most spontaneous and enthusiastic character, initiated and sustained by the Maltese.


Prostitute's tags
Prostitutes' licences, Malta Police with the number of the registered prostitute. (Maritime Museum Vittoriosa)

On 11 Oct 1900, the navy had 198 cases of venereal diseases. Fleet Surgeon Howard Todd said that out of the 198 cases, 79 had been infected at Malta between July to September. In 1897, there were 190 registered prostitutes; in 1898 there were 184; in 1899 there were 122; and in 1900 there were 112.

Sicilian prostitutes constituted the bulk of the scheduled prostitutes. They moved between Malta and the neighbouring ports plying their trade. Prostitutes adopted ingenious ways to evade being medically examined as prescribed by law. Those who left Malta had their name removed from the register and were not allowed to work on their return.