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West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Sir Thomas Maitland and the British aegis

Manuscript rendering of a speech by Sir Thomas Maitland to the Ionian Legislative Assembly on the subject of how the Ionian Islands remain safe under British controlSpeech by Sir Thomas Maitland to the Ionian Legislative AssemblyThe Ionian Islands re-entered the Mediterranean theatre of Anglo-French conflict when they were re-ceded to France by the Treaty of Tilsit (1807). Beginning in 1809, the islands were progressively occupied by British forces, until at the conclusion of the war in 1814 Corfu alone remained in French hands.

The Congress of Vienna (1815) granted independence to the ‘United States of the Ionian Islands’ but placed them under the ‘amical protection’ of the United Kingdom.

Thomas Maitland (1760-1824), a Scottish army officer who was already governor of Malta, was appointed the first Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. At the request of the British government, Maitland drafted a constitution which was ratified in 1817.

The constitution gave his position of office significant powers. Maitland improved the administration on the islands and oversaw improvements to transport links, public buildings and health. A new system of taxation, however, was considered oppressive by the local population.

The image of manuscript text shown here comes from a collection of Maitland’s speeches to the Ionian Legislative Assembly from 1820 to 1823.

This address from 1821, the year of revolutions in Italy and Greece, demonstrates a characteristic mixture of condescension and good will. He reminds the Assembly how ‘safe under the protection of the British aegis’ they are fortunate to live undisturbed by the ‘civil broils and sanguinary contests’ then afflicting their neighbours. 

In the text he announces the need to place more restrictions on foreigners arriving on the islands. What follows this has, significantly, been crossed through: ‘at the same time publicly proscribing the formation of associations or clubs destructive alike of all general and individual security.’

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