King's College London
Online Exhibitions
West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

An early 19th century account of the island

Hand-coloured plate showing a Maltese carriage and costumes encountered by a British traveller, pictured with his groupHand-coloured plate showing a Maltese carriage and costumes encountered by a British travellerMalta officially became part of the British Empire in 1814, ceded to Britain from France under the terms of the Treaty of Paris – though it had been under British control since 1800. It remained part of the British Empire until gaining independence in 1964 and its position in the centre of the Mediterranean gave it importance as both a military base and, following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, a stopping-off point on the trade route to India and the East.

The hand-coloured plate reproduced here beautifully illustrates the carriage and costumes encountered by Captain Thomas Walsh, an officer in the 93rd Regiment of Foot as he travels via Malta as part of an expeditionary force to Egypt, to counter the actions of the French in their Egypt and Syria Campaign of 1798-1801.

In his observations of the island and its archipelago, Walsh remarks on the ‘extremely spacious’ harbour of Valletta and on the church of St John, which is ‘far superior to the rest … beautifully sculptured and adorned with some good paintings’.

The Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, or the Knights Hospitallier were a religious order which ruled the island from 1530 to 1798, building fortifications and undertaking extensive infrastructure projects.

Travel narratives such as this fulfilled a growing public desire among a British readership for accounts of interesting and exotic places abroad. As is the case with other examples in this exhibition, they were often written by military officers and thus included military content; the appendix in this work details the Battle of Alexandria, with information on casualties of battle and disease, letters sent by officers, plans of battlefields and sizes of regiments and corps.

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