Dark Stories of Valletta

Start Date & Time: 27/10/2017 - 12:00 am

End Date & Time: 27/10/2017 - 12:00 am

Dark Stories of Valletta.

On Friday, 27th October 2017, 53 FAA members and guests enjoyed an evening guided tour of Valletta led by the very knowledgeable Vincent Zammit.  Mr. Zammit gave an introduction outside the Parliament building, during which he recounted some of the many stories about crimes, murders and lesser-known events associated with Valletta’s streets and historic buildings, not all of them enchanting, nostalgic or pleasant.  Mr. Zammit related a total of 20 stories at various localities on the walk through Valletta’s streets, summaries of which are found below:

 

 

 

 

Vincent related another story of some slaves who entered St. John’s Co-Cathedral to steal some silverware.  A captured slave denied he was the thief and accused a Knight, but eventually the slave confessed to the crime and said he would like to be a Christian.  Although hanged, he was given a decent burial in the Church of Our Lady of Victory.

 

 

Another story was about the artist Filippo Paladini who had a background of some criminal activity in Italy, was sent to Rome, then came to Malta.  In St. James Church, the titular painting was done by Filippo Paladini.  Grand Master Verdalle then asked him to decorate his Private Chapel, so he went to the Palace and painted eight scenes of the life of the Grand Master.

 

 

In 1749, slaves planned to kill the Grand Master but the plan was thwarted when the Maltese refused to help with access to the Palace.  The owner of a tavern told the Grand Master about the plan, resulting in the arrest and torture of more than 50 people.  Slaves were asked to kill each other in public and the last slave was hung.

 

One man wanted to get rid of his pregnant wife.  He was hung at the same site where his wife was killed.

 

During the British reign a religious procession from the Church of Dominicans (Porto Salvo) Holy Rosary confraternity led by people dressed in hoods would go through the Valletta streets to the place where the criminal would be hung, collecting money for the criminal’s family.

 

 

There was an occasion when a number of slaves who stole from the church escaped from Malta to Tunisia.  It wasn’t only the slaves who stole from the church, but also some very poor lower ranking Knights were caught committing the same crime.

 

 

After WW1, during the 7th June 1919 (Sette Giugno) streets riots, which stemmed from the unsatisfactory economic and political life, the Maltese met to ask the British for a better constitution with full political and administrative autonomy.  The uprising was against the British Colonial Government for failing to offer sufficient pay increases to keep up with the cost of living and provide an adequate supply of basic food provisions for the islands.  The Maltese organised a national strike from the dockyards.  However, some persons wanted to cause problems and attacked places where the Union Jack flag was flying and pulled down the flag.  Sadly, four Maltese rioters were killed during the uprising.  A few years later the Maltese were given the Constitution of Self Government.  All the first Prime Minister was given was an office, a chair, a desk and an extra chair for guests.

 

Mr. Zammit told three other stories from the time Malta was under the control of the British.  Malta had its first heroin addict; another a gambler, who was found in the Capuchin Friary in Kalkara protected by the ecclesiastical church.  Weeks later his body was found.  Also Malta had its first suicide when a man had a fight with his wife and then killed himself.

 

 

Vincent then told the story of a 41 year-old Maltese boatman who in 1856 stabbed Thomas Graves many times as he was leaving the Palace.  Thomas Graves was Superintendent of Ports as well as being responsible for giving licenses to boatmen.  He died from his wounds inflicted by the Maltese boatman.  The Maltese boatman was taken to court and tried for Graves’s murder.  In his defense he said that the man’s wounds were only superficial, therefore he died due to inefficiency of the doctors at the hospital.  As a result, the assailant ended up with a few years in prison instead of being hanged.

 

Another story was of the Slaves Prison located in Lower Barrakka Gardens, where slaves were locked up at night.  One night a few slaves bribed the Slave Prison guards to let them out after sunset.  The slaves stole a number of gold plates, exited through Victoria Gate leading to the harbour and made for a ‘Tartana’ sailing boat, which carried merchandise.  The order was given to capture the slaves and a fight ensued, whereby the leader of the Maltese was killed immediately.  Some slaves hid, others escaped and were left to go on their way by boat.  The owner of the boat was subsequently fined.  A few months later, the ‘Tartana’ boat entered the Grand Harbour and returned all the stolen money and merchandise.

 

Vincent’s last story related to the Museum of Archaeology (Auberge of Provence) which, in the 19th century, was used as a hotel and club.  An Italian man came out of the tavern drunk and argued with people.  The drunken person was brandishing his knife at anyone and sadly a 17 year-old passer-by got killed.  The courts decided that he be condemned to death by hanging.  In his defence, he said he was drunk and didn’t know what he was doing, so the courts imprisoned him instead.

 

In the 1850’s, the Crimea War brought the French to Malta on their way to Crimea.  Young sailors and soldiers got drunk and there were lots of murders.  In a fight with the Maltese, sailors attacked the police and the first Maltese policeman, a sergeant was killed on duty.  Soldiers involved in the fight escaped and crossed over to Manoel Island.  No one was identified.  The wife of the sergeant was given a large sum of money collected by a group of soldiers.

 

The event ended with the group thanking Vincent Zammit for yet another interesting tour full of mystery, intrigue and insight into the many stories throughout the history of Valletta.

 

Derek Moss

FAA Volunteer

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