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Valletta – a multicultural community

The Dominican priests who carried baptismal duties at the time were parish priest J. A. Bonello and vice parish priest V. Cousin. From March 1872 these duties were carried out by parish priest T. P. Zarb and vice parish priest and prior G. T. Galea.

The Dominican priests who carried baptismal duties at the time were parish priest J. A. Bonello and vice parish priest V. Cousin. From March 1872 these duties were carried out by parish priest T. P. Zarb and vice parish priest and prior G. T. Galea.

In a recent study, I focused on the demographic characteristics of the parish of Porto Salvo in Valletta between 1870 and 1875. Due to the voluminous data found in the church archives, I had to narrow it down to five years. Nevertheless, it gives us a taste of the capital city’s human aspects: births, marriages and people’s movement.

Births under review (1870-1874) at Porto Salvo (St Dominic) parish church show that the year with the largest number of births was 1872... there were 519 births.Births under review (1870-1874) at Porto Salvo (St Dominic) parish church show that the year with the largest number of births was 1872... there were 519 births.

Around 2,432 births occurred in the parish of Porto Salvo between January 1870 and December 1874, an average of 486 each year, the research showed.

When one looks at the number of births that took place every year, one sees that in the first three years the number was practically the same. Nevertheless, in 1873 and 1874 there was a downfall, with the number of births going down from 519 to 458 in 1873 and increasing to 468 the following year.

The year with the largest number of births – 519 in total – was in 1872. In February of that year there were 53 births – 50 in May and 55 in November. However, the largest number was registered in February 1870 with 57 births, whereas the lowest number of births was registered in June 1873, at just 23.

In June and July of every year, the number of births never exceeded 40. Birth numbers in these two months vary between 23 to 38. From this data one concludes that Valletta residents were more sexually active in the summertime than in winter. Consequently, the highest numbers of births was recorded in winter.

In February of each year, under study, the number of births was 57, 41, 53, 38 and 36 respectively. In December, the numbers were 48, 52, 38, 44 and 37. Though the number dwindled in the last two years, it was never below 30 and was still high when compared with the other months.

The baptismal font at the parish church of Porto Salvo.The baptismal font at the parish church of Porto Salvo.

When one looks at the number of births by gender, one finds there are no patterns. Figures vary from one year to another. In 1870, the number of females outnumbered males. Subsequently, in the next three years, boys exceeded girls, while in the last year girls surpassed boys once again.

The least number of births by gender was eight boys in September 1873. The number of girls was the same. Only nine girls were born in July. The season registering the least number of births was summer of 1873.

Examining the number of baptism certificates recorded day by day, it becomes clear that the celebration of baptism at Porto Salvo church was held every day. Baptisms were even celebrated on important feasts like Christmas or the feast of Our Lady of Victories. The Dominican priests who carried baptismal duties at the time were parish priest J. A. Bonello and vice parish priest V. Cousin, while from March 1872 these duties were carried out by parish priest T. P. Zarb and vice parish priest and prior G. T. Galea.  

Younger families resided in Old Bakery and St Joseph streets (pictured) than in Kingsway Street due to the high number of births.Younger families resided in Old Bakery and St Joseph streets (pictured) than in Kingsway Street due to the high number of births.

The study also shows that there were months like December of 1870 during which baptisms took place over 24 days. During this month 48 babies were baptised. On December 4, six baptisms were celebrated in one day. There were times when even seven and eight newborns were baptised in one day.

On January 29, 1871, April 21, 1872 and March 2, 1873 there were seven baptisms, while on February 26, 1871 and May 26, 1872 eight babies were baptised. This shows the high rate of fertility among the families of Port Salvo parish. 

In many instances the same family had two or three babies during the five-year period. Moreover, there were exceptions too, as there were families who had three and even four in five years. Carmelo Bonello (Dnis, which means sir), who was born in Senglea, and Adelaida Laferla, from Valletta, had four children – Laura, Arthurus, Carolina and Carolous. The godfathers were Joannes and Guillielmo Bonello, while the godmothers were Virginia and Maria Anna Bonello. The latter two appeared to be unmarried and sisters of the children’s father.

The children were born on June 4, 1871, March 15, 1872, September 25, 1873 and on October 13, 1874 respectively – practically a newborn every year. The first baby was born at number 10, Strada Carri, while the others were born at number 31 in Strada Forni. This family appears to have been somewhat wealthy. This can be seen from the title before the breadwinner’s name. In fact, in March 1872, the family moved to a better abode in Strada Forni.

In another case Saverio Marchet and Carmela Schembri, both from Porto Salvo parish, also had four children – Xaverius, Raphel, Carolous and Emmanuel. The first three were born at numbers 14 and 18 in Strada Genio, while the fourth was born at number 162, Strada Zecca.

The godfathers were Thomas Balucci, Joanne Maria Attard and Salvatore and Carmelus Vassallo. This time, these were not related to Saverio Marchet’s family. This shows that probably those who were less affluent seemed to seek a more stable godfather to safeguard their loved ones in case of an early death.

Another detail that stands out in this study of baptismal records is the geographical street distribution of families. The bastions surrounding the city received official names before the streets were built. The streets which extended from one bastion to another were named after those fortifications they leaned on.

Other streets in the city were given names recalling old memories of the Order of St John. Nevertheless, during the British period many of these names were changed. On the other hand, unmindful of official names, Valletta residents were fond of designating most of the city quarters in their own way. For example, the part of Strada San Cristoforo lying between Strada Reale and Strada San Paolo was commonly called It-Triq tas-Siġġijiet (Chairs Street), owing to the number of chair factories that were found there.

Source: Battesimi di Porto Salvo 1870-1874.Source: Battesimi di Porto Salvo 1870-1874.

It becomes clear that the celebration of baptism at Porto Salvo church was held every day

Strada San Giuseppe was known as the street of the French – It-Triq tal-Francizi. The part of Strada San Nikola between Strada Reale and Strada San Paolo was known as Id-Due Balli (later corrupted in the Maltese version Diju Balli) after two large and ornate cannon balls found in the area.

The birth certificate registers are kept under lock and key at the convent of the Dominican Friars. Access to them is only given with the permission of the parish priest or his assistant.The birth certificate registers are kept under lock and key at the convent of the Dominican Friars. Access to them is only given with the permission of the parish priest or his assistant.

The eastern end of Strada Forni was known as Tal-Funtana, after an old water fountain erected in the 16th century. The upper part of Strada Zekka was known as Iz-Zenqa (The Lane). The eastern end of Strada Reale was known as Fuq l-Ixprun, named after the spur or outwork (sperone in Italian) that crosses the St Elmo rampart.

The fact that the entrance of the Court of Justice (Castelania) was in the sloping side of Strada San Giovanni caused this part of the street to be called In-Nizla tal-Calzrati (The Prisoners’ Slope) and the northern end of Strada Santa Lucia, close to the Manderaggio entrance, was called It-Tomba tal-Mandraġġ, most probably because of some ancient rock tomb found there when the first houses were built, or the name may have referred to the top of the Manderaggio. Some of these designated names given by the residents are still popular today, while others were lost over time.

The Porto Salvo parish had 50 streets under its jurisdiction. One has to bear in mind that not all offspring were born in the streets belonging to the parish. There were cases when babies born outside the boundaries of the parish were baptised at Porto Salvo church. Sometimes this even happened with babies born outside Valletta. In fact, two certificates reveal that the babies were born in the Government Palace.

Eighty-two children were born at Il-Kamerata in Merchants Street. These belonged mostly to British and Irish families. Il-Camerata was the Royal Navy barracks of the British garrison.Eighty-two children were born at Il-Kamerata in Merchants Street. These belonged mostly to British and Irish families. Il-Camerata was the Royal Navy barracks of the British garrison.

The highest number of births was registered in the Manderaggio – 291. Then came Strada Forni with 179, Strada Reale with 176 and Strada San Giuseppe having 169 births. According to the 1871 Census two of these areas, as in the case of the Manderaggio, were among the most inhabited. In the Manderaggio there were 1,591 people, while Strada Reale had 1,372 inhabitants. On the other hand, in Strada Forni there were 779 inhabitants, while 897 lived in Strada San Giuseppe. Most probably, younger families resided in Strada Forni and Strada San Giuseppe than in Strada Reale due to the high number of births.

There were no births recorded in 1871 in Strada Vittoria and Strada Biaggio. Only one family resided in Strada Vittoria and two in Strada Biaggio. There were a few streets in which the number of births was also small due to their size and the small number of inhabitants. These were Strada Cavaliere – two births; Strada Carri – three; Strada San Michele –four; and Strada Soccorso – two births.

There were children who were born outside Valletta but baptised at Porto Salvo parish. One was born in Cospicua, two in Sliema, two in St Julian’s and another two in Kalkara. One, born on the Kalkara shoreline on November 10, 1870, was named Vincentius Aloysio.

Six babies were born in forts – four at Fort St Elmo, one at Fort San Andrea and another at Fort Manoel. They all belonged to British families. Eighty-two children were born at Il-Kamerata in Strada Mercanti. These belonged mostly to British and Irish families who formed part of the British garrison.

Moreover, one girl – Anna Paulson, born on April 24, 1857 in England – was baptised at Porto Salvo church on April 24, 1870. Her father was Catholic, while her mother was Protestant. There was another case of a child born in Apulia, a region in southern Italy. He was the son of Federico Brant from Switzerland and Clementia Fragetti from Apulia. The child was also baptised at the parish church of Porto Salvo.             

(To be concluded)

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