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Porto Salvo parishioners were ‘mix of different people’

A bozzetto of the Mandaraggio (known today as Il-Mandraġġ) in the lower part of Valletta. The model is currently on show at the St Dominic Priory as part of an exhibition tracing the Dominicans’ history in the capital.

A bozzetto of the Mandaraggio (known today as Il-Mandraġġ) in the lower part of Valletta. The model is currently on show at the St Dominic Priory as part of an exhibition tracing the Dominicans’ history in the capital.

An interesting aspect emerging from the birth certificates study, between 1870 and 1875, at Porto Salvo parish church is that all the details of the children being baptised were recorded, even in cases of unknown fathers or illegitimate children.

From the five-year review, there were 58 such cases out of 2,432 births – 2.34 per cent of children born of an unknown father or out of wedlock; 54 had an unknown father, two were illegitimate and two were cases of adultery. Of these, only 15 girls were born in the parish of Porto Salvo. All other girls – 19 in all – came from other villages. The casals single mothers came from were Żurrieq, Naxxar, Senglea, Floriana, Qormi, Zejtun, Balzan, Cospicua, Tarxien, Birkirkara, Lija, Żabbar, Żebbuġ and Gozo.

A Dominican friar going through a baptismal register.A Dominican friar going through a baptismal register.

Records also show five foreign women giving birth to children with unknown fathers, whereas 18 other women did not give details about their place of origin. This was probably due to the fact that as the villagers were more ‘conservative’ than the town people, unmarried pregnant women were not accepted in the community of that particular village. Most of these foreign women used to spend the major part of their pregnancy in another town – in this case Valletta. After they gave birth, they returned to their home town. These women came from Corfu in Greece, Carmone in Spain, Messina in Sicily and Montellimart in France.

From these birth certificates, 31 of the women did not state what their status was. The others included 14 unmarried women, seven widows and five married women. From the five married women, three recorded their husband’s name. In a particular case, Rosaria Tanti appears to have given birth twice, in April 1872 and in December 1874, both babies being born in the Mandaraggio area and both were not fathered by her husband Nicolaii Bonanno. None of the seven widows who gave birth mentioned the father’s name except one; his name was Pauli. This was a case of adultery, as Pauli was married. All the seven deceased husbands were registered by their name.

There were two cases of children born out of wedlock. The first was Michaelangelo Bordiera, born on April 25, 1870. He was the son of Michaelangelo from Sicily and Vincentia Magro. The couple were not married. The second case was the daughter of Salvatore Busuttil and Anna Zammit of Cospicua, a case of adultery as both parents were married.

There were two other cases of babies born out of adultery. On December 1, 1874, Paolo Bajada (married to Maria Muscat) had a baby from Maria D’amato, an unmarried woman from Żabbar, while on September 6, 1874, Paolo Camilleri had a baby from Graziella Caruana, a widow from Zabbar. The fact that these few cases resulted from more than a total of 2,400 births in Porto Salvo shows that one cannot say that illegitimate babies or babies born out of wedlock were in any way a common occurrence in Porto Salvo parish.

The study throws light on the solid family structure and legitimate births in the parish. However, this does not imply that there were no marriages between men and women born in different towns or of people from Valletta marrying foreigners. The fact that the capital city was the hub of commercial activity attracted many people from the countryside to settle there.

A female attendee who helps with the running of the baptismal registry, a font of valuable information for historians. At the registry one finds the baptismal certificate of St Ġorġ Preca, who was baptised at St Dominic parish church.A female attendee who helps with the running of the baptismal registry, a font of valuable information for historians. At the registry one finds the baptismal certificate of St Ġorġ Preca, who was baptised at St Dominic parish church.

Most of the foreign settlers were British who formed part of the garrisons. There was also a good number of Italian families most of whom were refugees because of the 1848 revolution. During the days of the Italian Risorgimento, in Malta there was an ebb and flow of Italian and Sicilian refugees. Among these were the poet Gabriele Rossetti, father of Dante Gabriele Rossetti, the Prince of Capua, brother of King Ferdinand II of Naples and Francesco Crispi, later Italian Prime Minister.

From the analyses of the 2,432 birth certificates it resulted that 1,729 were from mixed marriages. A number of these families had more than one baby, while others did not give details of where they came from. The highest number of marriages of both couples coming from Porto Salvo parish was 556, while 238 marriages consisted of couples coming from St Paul’s parish, Valletta, and from Porto Salvo parish. Another 38 marriages were couples coming from St Paul’s parish church.

The Valletta community was a multicultural one due to the many foreigners and intermarriages recorded in the city

Forty-nine per cent of the families (832) under review were all people from the Porto Salvo parish, while 573 family members came from Porto Salvo and St Paul parishes and from other towns and villages. After getting married, the majority of families stayed in Valletta. The number of families that were not from Valletta but came to settle in the city was 56 or 3.23 per cent of all families. The number of men who married women from Valletta and started a new life in the city was 335. This study highlights the trend that men who were earning their living in city mixed with Valletta girls.

As to marriages between Maltese and foreigners, one finds that Maltese men were not likely to marry foreign girls; there were only two cases, while the number of foreign men who married Maltese girls was higher – 92.

One of the baptismal registers under review.One of the baptismal registers under review.

These foreigners came from Mediterranean countries and the British Isles. The biggest number was between Italians and Maltese girls – 31. One marriage was between a Swedish, Olof Frederick Gollcher and Vincenza Bruno Olivier from Porto Salvo parish. The marriage took place at the St Dominic church. The Gollcher family is today a leading shipping and air freight company in Malta.          

Another 108 foreign couples lived in the Porto Salvo area. The most numerous were 44 Irish couples. There was also a number of foreign intermarriages or cohabitations, such as Petro Adolpho Abonnat from Paris, who was married to Theresia Barthet from New Orleans. They were married in the church dedicated to St Michael in Paris. Dominicus Tanti, born in Corfu cohabitated with Sophia Solani from Cuba and resided in Valletta. There were five Irish married to American women, 11 Italian couples and 23 intermarriages between English and Irish, Spaniards, French and Swedes.

Portraits of Vincenza Bruno Olivier and Olof Frederick Gollcher who were married at the Porto Salvo (St Dominic) parish church, Valletta. Photos courtesy of Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum CollectionPortraits of Vincenza Bruno Olivier and Olof Frederick Gollcher who were married at the Porto Salvo (St Dominic) parish church, Valletta. Photos courtesy of Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum Collection

Maltese surnames can be divided into three groups: surnames belonging to the Semitic stock; surnames belonging to the Romance stock, including those that originated in the late Middle Ages and modern times; and British, Irish, German and other European family names.

The study reveals that there were 547 surnames; 194 or 35.5 per cent were of foreign origin. This shows that the community of Porto Salvo was intermingled with different races, mainly from the British Isles and Mediterranean ports.   

According to the period under review, there were 353 surnames, the most common of which was Borg – 84; Camilleri – 73; and Zammit – 68. By and large, these findings resemble those given by Mario Cassar in his book Surnames of the Maltese Islands, which show that Camilleri is the most common, followed by Borg. However, Zammit ranked fifth in Cassar’s table. In Valletta (Porto Salvo area), it was the third most common surname. Apparently, the majority of this group of surnames belonged to people coming to Valletta from other villages, such as the Baldacchinos who came from Qormi, Luqa and Għaxaq, as well as from Algeria.

The four men by the surname of Degiovanni were all from Cospicua, while the Saccos were from Għaxaq, Gozo and Zante, a Greek island. Although there were other instances, these cases were rare and few in number. Then there were surnames of families who resided in Valletta. Some of these surnames were Anastasi, Arrigo, Bonett, Cacciatolo, Casolani, Ciancio, Costa and Felice – 159 surnames in all.

According to Cassar’s book, it is interesting to note that most of these surnames, those coming only from Valletta were of Italian origin, like Degabriele, Demarco, Depares Conti, Felice, Galizia, Gasan and Ganado. Others were of French origin, like Critien, Marchet and Monseinguer, probably going back to the French occupation of 1798-1800.

We also come across exclusive surnames pertaining to the nobility, who had titles before their surnames, such as Perillibus, Dnis, Marchesse and Barone.

Apparently, there was a tendency that these were not likely to intermingle with the common families. In the parish of Porto Salvo one finds two families – Rocco Peralta (the two brothers Alphonso and Joseph) and Petro Paulo Testaferatta Abela Moroni (son of Joseph, a baron who was married to Baroness Maria Angela Testaferatta Viani, daughter of Marquis Giliberti from Notabile). The biggest number of foreign surnames was of Irish origin – 58. One also comes across 54 Italian surnames and 41 of English origin, most of which still exist today, such as Dowling, Harrison, Holland, Jones, Curran, O’Brien, Brigulio, Cassola, Grasso, D’Agostino and Massa. There were even surnames of French fathers like Barthet, Camoin and Lowell.

The baptismal registry found at the convent of the Dominican community adjacent to the church.The baptismal registry found at the convent of the Dominican community adjacent to the church.

Another aspect regarding foreign surnames is the fact that apart from the soldiers and sailors coming from different cities of the British Isles, including London, Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin, Glasgow and Cork, others came from ports around the Mediterranean, such as Marseille, Marsala, Syracuse, Constantinople, Naples, Gallico and Corfu. One case, already mentioned, was of Olof Frederick Gollcher from Sweden, who married Vincenza Bruno Olivier, daughter of Jacobus, a lawyer from Valletta. They had three children in five years and used to live at 30, Zachary Street. Another case was of Edward Bronktorff, who was born in Constantinople. He used to live with his family in 80, Old Mint Street between 1870 and 1874.

In the late 19th century, activities in the Valletta harbour were in full swing because of the opening of the Suez Canal. The Valletta community was a multicultural one due to the many foreigners and intermarriages recorded in the city. Porto Salvo parishioners were a mixture of different people coming from different parts of the world.

This is the conclusion of an article, the first part of which was published last Sunday.

agiuscarlo@gmail.com

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