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Malta

The appearance of the island of Malta is rocky and barren and even nearly as far as Valetta, the capital of Malta, which we came in view of at ½ past 2 oClock P.M. In the suburbs were several very fine houses, built with a beautiful stone, said to be the best to be found in all the countries around. The Side of the town which presents itself to us first, disappointed me sadly in respect of elegance and beauty, as I had been led to expect something very fine from the laudatory accounts, which I had received. To be sure the weather was not very clear, and I may have seen the place under great disadvantages. When, however, we turned round the Fort, and light house of S.t Elmo, which had concealed the principal portion of Valetta from our sight – and when we had anchored (as we did at ½ past 3 P.M.) in the Coradino or great Harbour, the spectacle, which thus burst all at once upon us was both fine and picturesque.

Opinion of Valetta – put into Quarantine

On all sides of us were to be seen fortifications of the best construction – houses of peculiar forms – churches – and all the usual objects, which present themselves in foreign Harbour. What I admired most was the extreme irregularity of the buildings – the mixture of different orders of architecture, and the incongruous ornaments of the houses. Here I for the first time remarkable that almost all the roofs of the houses were flat which would enable the inhabitants to dry their cloths there – to retire when they pleased to solitude and coolness – and moreover enjoy a fine prospect of the town and country.

The Town is built on very elevated ground and is consequently seen to great advantage from the Harbour, which is completely overlooked. From the place of our moorings we could also discover some very fine buildings quite a la mode Anglaise, by the help of a tolerable glass – by which also I may almost venture to say that Valetta is one of the most romantic and finest cities I have yet seen. I prefer it even to Cadiz, which as I have already mentioned, had pleased me so much. I have just said that I might form, this opinion of Valetta, by the assistance of a glass – and this was very true, for we were immediately upon our arrival, put into strict Quarantine. None of the Ships Company were permitted to land – and in order to insure the strict observance of this regulation two Quarantine officers came on board and one of them always accompanied our boat, when it was necessary to take the mail ashore, or bring it on board. The same precautions were taken to prevent the too close approach of boats from the shore – for a small boat, with a flag of a white colour, and having two men in her, took up her station close to our ship, and remained there night and day. In addition to all this, we were obliged to hoist a yellow flag at the foremast head, as a public signal that we were tabooed, as the Oteheitans call it, or in other words, as much as to say that we had the yellow fever on board.

Quarantine at Malta

How laughable was it to us, who were all in good health, and had touched at no place where any contagious disorder then raged, to witness the timidity, with which they held out to us the printed Quarantine Regulations, at the end of an immensely long cane, split at one extremity – and when they received the necessary papers from us, they would not venture to touch or smell them, but held up, at arms length, a Wood box to hold them – and doubtless they would undergo a thorough fumigation before they were read. And tho’ laughable – yet how provoking were these precautionary measures – and you may be sure, that we did not at all recognise the propriety - much less the necessity of them in our own individual case. Till now I had always thought it just and right to be rather over prudent in regard to contagious fevers – but the rigid surveillance, in which we were held, altered the character of my opinions not a little. And, yet, of what use was the clean Bill of health, which we brought with us from Gibraltar, and in which, it was expressly stated, that there was no fever, plague – or contagious disease prevalent there? Of none in the world – they did not even look at it, or ask to see it, and the Quarantine officer declared – in effect, that it was of no more consequence than a piece of wall paper.

All this I thought was strange – but I was told by our Captain that it was because we had touched at Cadiz that we were refused Product (pratique) at Malta – and that, if Cadiz would admit vessels coming from Malta at once, without putting them into quarantine, the Maltese would do the same to vessels arrived from Cadiz – but the matter has not been yet thus accommodated – and consequently we suffer thereby.

I am afraid too, that we shall have no chance of seeing more of Malta, during our 48 hours stay upon our return, as we shall not be permitted to have free intercourse with the shore (or Product as it is called pronounced) until – 10 days after returning from Corfu, a voyage which is generally performed in from three to four days. Had the fever been still raging at Gibraltar, while we were there, I would not have felt so severely the disappointment but, considering, that our clean bill of health as could be a sort of passport to enable us to enter the town and see the “uncos” of the place, all our bright prospects were damped at once by the treatment we experienced. Oh the vanity of human expectations. I had looked forward to enjoying a sight of the celebrated Church of S.t John, which contains the beloved disciples head, surrounded with jewels – the Grand Master’s palace, and all the other relicts, which still remain, of the ancient grandeur of Malta, while it was under the sway of its valorous Knights, who made Europe and Africa resound with their fame. The only place we were indulged with visiting was the Quarantine Office, and the Lazzaretto House – where every one ran from us, as if we really [had] been infected and infecting persons.

Palazzo of Napoleon at Malta

Thursday 29 Jan.ry  This is the dullest day which I have yet spent having nothing else to do, but pace the deck, and gaze, gaze eternally upon – the same objects, which yet are so curious and peculiar, as to excite in my mind a wish to see them more closely, great in proportion to the impossibility of gratifying it. I really consider Valetta, as one of the finest tho not the largest cities I have yet visited, out of Britain.

Almost behind us and close to the Water’s edge is a handsome but unfinished palace (called the Bighiparte) which Bonaparte had commenced, no doubt in the expectation, that he would have the power of inhabiting it. It is allowed to stand in the state in which he left it, and as far as I can learn there is no intention of completing it, altho’ nearly so already.

The Harbour, in which we are now lying is excellently adapted for its purpose. It is of no very considerable extent – but there is a sufficient depth of water, even for ships of the line, close to the houses, and in every part of it. However hard the wind may be blowing outside all is smooth and calm inside – so that you may ride in ease and safety, while, but a moment before, you were struggling with a heavy gale. Numerous small boats (these are said to be 15th C) of various colours, and rather handsomely built are seen gliding swiftly along from one point to another – and when any vessel enters, crowds of these boats hasten to tow her into her Moorings. This day was fine, sunny and warm.

Leave Malta – 4 Pirates in Chains

Friday 30th January - most beautiful day. Early this morning the following Vessels of war left the harbour. I believe for the purpose of exercising the seamen, viz. the Asia, Vice Admiral Sir Pultney Malcolm K.C.B., [1] Ocean, Revenge, Spartiate, Windsor Castle, Blonde, Infernal, Rattlesnake, Musquitto & Camelion[2] It was a beautiful sight to witness, so many ships of the line, frigates, brigs of war etc. All sailing majestically and yet regularly out of the harbour. It makes one’s passions warm with patriotism and national pride, when we have before us such specimens of the Wooden Walls of Old England, manned as they are, by the most gallant tars in the world. Besides our ships of war there were several belonging to Russia, France, etc. in the harbour.

At ½ past 1 of the Clock we gladly unfurled our sails to the wind, which, as if to favour us, blew strong and fresh.

One of the first objects which struck us on getting round a fort, opposite to S.t Elmo was four men, hanging in chains, who had, 7 years ago been executed for Piracy on the high seas. This is the first thing of the kind which I have ever seen – and I was proportionably shocked at the sight  for there they hung mere skeletons, dangling in the air, and shaking to and fro on the lofty gallows, at every gust of the wind – a dreadful memento of justice.

Saturday 31st Jan.ry - beautiful day - breeze fresh and still in our favour. Course N.49º E. Distance 176, Latitude 47º 48’N. Longitude 17º 16’E. Chronom 17º ,12’,45” E