The Fall of Fort St Elmo 1565 – 23rd June
Following the Ottoman armada’s landingd on Maltese shores on May 18, 1565, a month of long and ferocious fighting occurred between the Turks and , the small garrison inside Fort St Elmo at the tip of the peninsular Monte Sciberras. The fort was incessantly bombarded by some 24 Turkish cannons. Following a breach in the Western side of the fort, the Janissaries entered the fort with rapidity to beat the last score of defenders to a pulp. During the month long siege the assailing Ottomans had lost some 5,000 of their finest combatants. The fort’s defenders had lost some 1,500 men in all. In order to spite De Vallette, who stood defiant inside Fort St Angelo in Birgu, the conquerers disembowelled and decapitated the corpses, had them tied to logs and threw them into the sea to drift across the waters of the Grand Harbour. With their ensign now flying on the ruins of Fort St Elmo, the Ottomans had complete control of the two most strategic ports, that of Marsamxett and the Grand Harbour. Now the Turkish forces could now focus its attacks on Fort St Michael on the Senglea Peninsula and Fort St Angelo.
The Slaves’ Plot to kill Grand Master Pinto –29th June 1749
Throughout most of the years that the Order of St John ruled Malta, one could count at any one time an average of 1,500 slaves. Most of these slaves would be kept in the dungeons (known as the bagno) of the Order which were situated at Birgu, Senglea and Valletta. Some of the slaves were sold to individuals such as Knights of the Order, or to the richer Maltese families. These slaves were allowed to roam the streets during the day, doing odd jobs for their masters. At night most of them were then obliged to return to their prisons.
In 1749, since some months before the feast of St Peter and St Paul, (or l-Imnarja, as popularly known by the Maltese), a plot was being hatched by a certain Mustapha Pasha, a prominent Turkish slave. He had been once governor of Rhodes. During the course of his time in Malta, Mutapha Pasha approached a group of slaves to entice them into a plot to kill the Grand Master Manoel Pinto de Fonseca, in a bid to overthrow the Order of St John. The feast day of St Peter and St Paul was chosen, as it was known to all that most of the population, including many Knights of the Order, would, as usual, spend the afternoon at Imdina, to enjoy the festive celebrations. This meant that on that day, Valletta and many of the harbour towns would be practically devoid of their residents.
The plot was however given away by a certain Joseph Antonio Cohen a tavern tender who during a brawl that broke out between three slaves at his tavern he got wind of the secret dealings. Immediately the Grand Master was informed of this scheme, he gave orders to round up some 150 slaves who were mercilessly tortured to reveal those involved in the plot. Many slaves were horrendously tortured and put to a miserable death.
Being the prize slave that he was, Mutapha Pasha, the main perpetrator, was never indicted, as this would have caused trouble to the relationship between the Order and France, the latter at the time enjoying diplomatic and commerical relations with the Sultan.
Napoleon’s Troops Land in Malta 10th June – 1798
On June 9, while Napoleon was leading his fleet of some 400 vessels to reach Egypt, he stalled his vessels in Maltese waters, on the pretext of replenishing his fleet’s water supplies at Malta’s Grand Harbour. The Grand Master, Ferdinand von Hompesch, knowing fully well Napoleon’s intentions gave permission for only a couple of ships to enter harbour. This was regarded as an affront to General Bonaparte. Napoleon immediately took matters in his own hands and on June 10, thousands of French troops disembarked in four different locations to effect a rapid and complete control of the islands, with practically only a few angry shots being fired by the defenders. A total unconditional surrender was swiftly signed on Napoleon’s vessel the L’Orient, allowing the Order’s 400 Knights to leave the island immediately together with Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch.
On June 12, Napoleon himself disembarked from his ship and from his temporary offices and residence in Palazzo Parisio in Merchants Street, Valletta, he set forth to introduce new laws that befit the republican political ideals of France. Napoleon stayed in Malta for six days and once things were settled he left the administration of the island in the hands of General Vaubois and his troops. French civil rule did not last long however. On September 2, the Maltese led a rebellion that was to ensue into a two year long blockade against the French.
25th June 1905 – Discovery of the microbe of undulant fever.
Undulant fever or as it is also known Brucellosis is an illness that attacks various human organs such as the spleen. In olden times, many used to be taken down by this illness. It was generally known as id-deni rqiq, as if it was a slight but persistent fever. To the British military stationed in Malta who were severely afflicted by this disease it became known as the Maltese Fever, later acknowledged to be also a ‘Mediterranean Fever’. No one knew the source of the microbe. Eventually, in 1886, an English doctor, David Bruce discovered the microbe in the human body. Hence the name of this was named as brucellosis. However, no one new where the microbe originated from and how it was transmitted into the human body.
It was in June of 1905 that the erudite Maltese scholar Dr. Themistocle Zammit established through his experiments that the microbe was present in the milk of goats and cows milk. Milk was sold each day to thousands of Maltese families and to British servicemen. At that time, goatherds would drive their cattle to the towns and villages to sell milk directly from door to door. Of course this milk was not pasteurised. In spite of this discovery, it was only in 1938 that the Health Authorities strove to have milk sanitised. It is here worth noting that Louis Pasteur had discovered the benefit of pasteurisation (sanitisation by bringing milk to a boiling point) as far back as back 1802).
7th June – THE SETTE GUGNO RIOTS
The Great War of 1914-1918 affected the Maltese economy at first in a beneficial way, by providing thousands of jobs to many in the ancillary military services. Then, once the war was over, these same employees were being layed off. It was also evident that there was a great sense of desparities in the salaries earned by the British and the Maltese workers doing the same job in the dockyards.
Following the end of the war many Maltese politicians voiced their desire to take local administrative powers in their own hands. Thus a national assembly of politically prominent persons and others who represented the various social strata started to meet to discuss ways to improve the situation. One way to do this was to improve and set in motion plans for a new constitution which would replace the 1886, which since 1903 was in suspension.
Following initial meetings throughout the first few months of 1919, the National Assembly met again in Valletta on 7th June. As a way of supporting this meeting and to vent their frustrations over various matters, hundreds of Maltese turned up on that day in Valletta’s main streets. Most of them were protesting about their low wages and the high price of bread. Others were seriously concerned about their future in becoming redundant from the services.There were also University students who were dissatisfied with their thwarted rights.
At a certain moment during demonstration many turned riotous and groups of men started to taunt the police while others attacked and ransacked various buildings. Eventually British soldiers were called in to assist the police as the latter were unable to quell the threatening crowds. At certain instances these small pockets of soldiers felt threatened by the violent components of the masses. At some point soldiers fired onto the protesting crowds. On that day, three persons were killed and some fifty others were wounded. On the morrow other riots occurred and another person was bayonetted and soon succumbed to his wounds.
Subsequent to these events, a British Commission was sent over to Malta to investigate the economic and political situation. After much haggling, the Maltese were granted a new constitution that came into force in 1921. This constitution provided for an autonomous government, that is a local government that could vote for funds for all sorts of projects, barring any that would come into conflict with the interests of the British military base. The British Governor of Malta however, held the right to veto any such laws that were not approved by him.
First Air Raids on Malta – June 11, 1942
On Monday, at 6 p.m. of June 10, 1940, Benito Mussolini, Italy’s dictator, addressed a vast crowd from his balcony in Palazzo Venezia in Rome to declare war on France and Britain. Mussolini had on that day taken a decisive step to initiate the conquest of what he claimed was his mare nostrum, that is the Mediterranean Basin both on land and sea. This was a life long ambition to reclaim the military glory for Italy that harked back to the days of Imperial Rome. The Maltese Islands, then under British rule, he considered to be part of his claim that was to be redeemed back to Rome.
The next morning, on June 11 at about around 6.15 a.m. an air squadron of 10 Savoia Marchetti SM79, escorted by Macchi MC200s, took off from Sicily to reach Malta by 6.55 to start the first of several air raids that were meant to destroy British military assets, especially those based inside the Grand Harbour, Kalafrana and Ħal Far.
During the first air raid, Fort St Elmo was hit and five soldiers and a boy were killed. Malta’s anti-aircraft guns were used for the first time to repulse these very first attacks which were to be followed by thousands others throughout the war. In all, seven air raid bombings occurred throughout the day during which property was damaged in Valletta, Floriana, Bormla, Tarxien, Żabbar, Tarxien, Pieta, Msida, Marsa, Gżira, and Sliema. Apart from the soldiers killed in Fort St Elmo there were 11 civilian casualties, while some 130 were injured.
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