Being a self proclaimed history buff and someone who has spent the better part of my educational career seated in front of a computer referencing obscure facts, or sitting in a University classroom on any given night, I felt this particular story was a good one to share with those who might not be clear on the intriguing and twisted path that brought Malta into the British Empire.
Most of you know about the history of Malta. Many of you are aware of the “Who’s Who” of people and kingdoms that have inhabited or controlled our islands, however I stumbled across a bit of information which to this point I was unaware of. For anyone who may have heard or studied the European superpowers of the 19th Century and their quest for colonialism, the result of their insatiable hunger for more lands was often wars and resulting treaties. However, one particular treaty, the Treaty of Amiens, and it’s accompanying terms struck me by surprise.
The Treaty of Amiens, which was signed in 1802 by the French and British, for all intents and purposes
split up most of their colonial possessions as well as fixed borders and the like (the terms of the actual treaty are quite intense and lengthy, so I will focus on only the important parts. But a cartoon of the time, pictured below shows the contemporary feelings about the treaty). One of the interesting and most contested terms of the treaty was the evacuation of Britain’s newest possession, Malta, which was wrested from French control by combined British, Russian, and Neapolitan troops. It required that the British forces leave and for the Islands to be returned to the Knights who would then remain Neutral (even though they were to remain in the British Empire). However, it was never that clear-cut and simple.
If we think about the global powers of the 19th century, there were many considerations to be made. First, the Order of St. John's was widely hated by the populace at the time. Their poor rule, heavy taxes, and increasing ineffectiveness to bring jobs to Malta meant that the Maltese citizenry demanded the British NOT return the islands to the Knights. Of course, the British never intended to do that anyway. But at first, the British themselves did not find the islands that appealing. Ideas circled about the islands being handed over to Tsar Alexander of Russia. The Russians would not control the islands per say, but rather protect the Maltese freedom to exist as their own country.
The British did not trust the Russians to do that job however, fearing either they would control Malta or simply sell it back to the French. Control of the islands was critical for any of the emerging European Powers if they wanted to control the whole of the Mediterranean. Although Britain already had better, more developed and modern, ports in Southern Europe, they eventually accepted that only British control of the islands would keep it from Napoleon's grasp. And so, by 1815, international powers official settled on Britain controlling our islands.
What was of interest to me was the thought of what could have been if the terms of the treaty were actually followed and the Order of St. John's was actually restored in Malta? I am certain that some of the families that settled in Malta would have not done so, and much of the British influence we all see in Malta may have never occurred. Without British influence, our own migration experience may have been vastly different. Maltese communities in the English speaking world may have been much smaller, or may have never existed at all! In addition to this, what would Malta look like had the Knights returned to power and what would be there role be now? These are all questions we could ask, but nobody knows the answers to any of them. Sometimes though history makes it fun to wonder…what if?
Marc Trzeciak is in his 18th year working at Plymouth-Canton Community Schools. Mark formerly worked as an Adjunct Professor in Education at Eastern Michigan University as well. He is a familiar face around the Maltese American Benevolent Society, having spent the last ten years in various administrative roles. Mark is a current MABSI Trustee.