1800 victory over the French - Albert Ganado
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1800 victory over the French - Albert Ganado

A re-enactment of the French period. Photo|: Mark Zammit Cordina

A re-enactment of the French period. Photo|: Mark Zammit Cordina

In a recent article written by Michael Falzon, titled ‘The forgotten 8th September anniversary’, he expressed his disappointment at the sad irony in our history that we celebrate the September victory against the Ottomans in 1565 and Italy’s surrender to the allies in 1943, while “we never hear anything about September 8, 1800”.

He added that during the last 2,000 years Malta fought all sorts of wars for foreign powers who colonised the Maltese islands, but the one and only exception was the two-year war against the French. Then the Maltese took up arms for what they, not their colonial masters, believed in, and losing 20,000 Maltese through war and famine between 1798 and 1800, when final victory was achieved on September 5.

The 150th anniversary of that achievement fell in the year 1950. The following year the Kumitat Nazzjonali Malti was formed to commemorate that patriotic event. The first meeting was held on August 17, 1951. Those present were Professor Can. Edward Coleiro, Notary Vincenzo Maria Pellegrini, Edgar G. Soler, Maria Pisani, J. A. dei Conti Manduca, and the writer, who was appointed secretary and who still holds the records of the committee. Pellegrini became the president and Soler the treasurer.

 At the next meeting (August 22) the following joined forces as founder members: Mgr Professor Arturo Bonnici (president of the Malta Historical Society), the Reverend Salvatore Laspina, Edoardo Romeo Leopardi, Professor Dr Gużè Aquilina, and Dr Joseph Desira. Sir Arturo Mercieca was appointed honorary president.

During the next 12 months various commemorative events were held and articles appeared in the local newspapers, including the Patria!, The Bulletin, Times of Malta, Il-Berqa, Is-Sebħ, and Leħen is-Sewwa, especially so when the Italian Il Tempo (September 17, 1951) announced the auction of Napoleon’s warships sunk at Abukir, including the Orient.

This first commemoration of the Maltese victory of 1800 was met with universal support. This notwithstanding, the foreign-controlled Rediffusion disallowed in September 1951 a commemorative broadcast to celebrate this national victory, bringing forward the ridiculous excuse that it might minimize the importance of the Great Siege of 1565. 

It was perhaps this pathetic refusal that inspired the Catholic Action official newspaper Leħen is-Sewwa to dedicate the full front page of the September 8, 1951 issue to the three memorable years ‘1565 – 1800 – 1943’.

As time went on new members officially joined the Maltese National Committee, namely the Reverend Fortunato Mizzi, George Vigo di Gallidoro, the Reverend Eddie Borg Olivier, the Dominican Reverend Paolo Galea, and Professor Dr Walter Ganado. On September 5, 1952, the committee organised a second commemoration of the 152nd anniversary, held at the Aula Magna of the Royal University, with three speakers, and the participation of the Strauss Amateur String Orchestra directed by Maestro A. C. Manchè, but no official collaboration was forthcoming.

As the committee’s initiative was not taken up officially, the committee could not proceed with its patriotic cause from its own private sources and unfortunately it had to stop functioning. 

I felt that the victory over the French was being unfairly ignored. So I decided to bring it to the notice of all

In 1927, when the September 8, 1565 monument was uncovered, Dun Karm delivered the very first address to commemorate the event of the Otto Settembre in which he proudly emphasised that on that day Malta covered itself with eternal glory. 

Every single year after 1927 this national feast was commemorated with a similar address at the foot of the monument right up to 1939 when WWII broke out. It happened again in 1945 and 1946.

However, a law promulgated on June 26, 1947 revoked the law that had set up September 8, 1565 as a national feast (chapter 80 of the Laws of Malta) and ordered that the commemoration was to include the siege of the years 1941-43 and that on public buildings the Union Jack was to be accompanied by the Maltese national flag. 

On September 8, 1947 the Rev. Professor S. M. Zarb was the first to conform with the new law. This went on until 1953 and it seems no one ever made the slightest reference to 1800.

In 1954, I was appointed by the committee of the national feast to deliver the commemorative address on September 8. I felt that the victory over the French was being unfairly ignored. So I decided to bring it to the notice of all.

 I referred to Napoleon Bonaparte who had brought to Malta from French waters the mightiest army of the 18th century. I added that, in the same way that in 1565 the Maltese had faithfully defended their religion against the Turks, so they demonstrated in two subsequent sieges, the first against the French in 1800, and the second one in 1943. 

I had then concluded that the faith had become weaker and our religion had been undermined by the anti-Christian spirit of materialism. It was imperative above all else to bring about a new revival of our national conscience. That was 64 years ago!

At this patriotic event Prime Minister George Borg Olivier was present, accompanied by the Minister of Education, Fortunato Mizzi. Besides, among those attending were the acting rector of the University, members of the clergy, the nobility, the professions and various trades. The Innu Malti was played by the orchestra to salute the Prime Minister.

All the speakers emphasised that the victory of 1800 was truly Maltese in which many thousands laid down their lives. A plea was made that September 5 should be officially commemorated as a national feast.

This commemoration was so successful that the committee decided to publish a pamphlet titled Malta Rebbieħa with an account and illustrations of both the first and second commemoration. The speeches of Notary Pellegrini, Edgar Soler and Professor Walter Ganado were reproduced in full.

The 36-page pamphlet with a decorative border consisting of the words 5 Settembre 1800 repeated around the whole border.

During his tenure of office as Prime Minister (1996-1998), Dr Alfred Sant had appointed a committee, of which I was a member, to organise a commemoration of the 1800 victory. The secretary was the late Frans Sammut.

Albert Ganado is a lawyer, former chairman, Malta National Archives Advisory Committee and past president, Malta Historical Society.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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