The police in the
riots and their aftermath
By Eddie Attard
The Sunday Times – June 6, 1999
BRITISH TROOPS assembled in front of
the law courts on June 8, 1919
that Malta is today policed by an
inefficient Force, which, as recent events
have proved, is useless and expensive in
times of emergency," the Commissioner of
Police, Lt. Colonel Henry Bamford, stated in
his report to the Lieutenant Governor. The
report, dated August 28, 1919, was laid on
the Table of the Council of Government two
Bamford concluded that in those days the
wrong type of men were recruited in the
Police Force and that these men were
illiterate, without training and thus
inefficiency was the inevitable result.
In its report, the commission appointed to
inquire into the events of June 7 and 8,
1919, and into the circumstances which led
up to them, stated that "the fact that
nobody was prosecuted for the acts of
violence committed by the people in February
last on the occasion of the first meeting of
the National Assembly, naturally encouraged
the mob to greater violence on the 7th and
8th June. Further, the mob was certain that
it would not be interfered with by the
Police owing to the unrest in the Force and
their inclination to go on strike."
Dockyard workers, worker unrest, the high
cost of living, violent articles in the
press, University students’ protests, police
inaction and, above all, the constitutional
question, all contributed to the riots, the
only occasion that Maltese blood was shed at
Prior to the June 7 riots in Valletta a
demonstration was held on February 25 during a meeting of the National
Assembly. The crowd insisted on the closing of shops
and when the owner of the establishment, A La Ville
de Londres, refused to close, the crowd threw stones
and other missiles, damaging the shopfront. The
police, then led by Acting Commissioner James Frendo
Azopardi, did not arrest or prosecute those
responsible for these acts of violence.
Unrest in the police force
In 1919 police pay was inadequate and service
conditions were bad. Sergeants and constables were
on duty for 48 hours followed by 12 hours off duty.
Then another 48 hours duty followed by 24 hours off
duty. When on duty, the police worked in alternate
shifts of four hours with a rest interval of four
hours during which they had to stay at the police
station or police dormitories.
The police had been promised a salary revision since
January, 1905. This situation was also why an
alarming number of members of the force of all ranks
were in debt to tradesmen and others. Referring to
this serious problem in 1919, the Commissioner
stated that he was convinced that bribery and
corruption existed and that debt was the main cause.
Members of the police force had long been making
representations on their inadequate pay and the
government had only granted a war bonus. This bonus,
however, was not sufficient to meet the increased
cost of living and discontent in the force grew
The police at that time had neither a police union
nor an association. Thus, on May 14, 1919, some men
parading for duty demanded an interview with the
Acting Commissioner before going on duty. At the
time in England the police were also demanding
better conditions and a police union, and there is
no doubt that this news reached Malta.
In 1918 the London police marched on Downing Street
under the banners of their forbidden union. At
first, the outcome seemed successful as more pay was
granted arid the Prime Minister hinted that the
police union might be officially recognised after
the war, but it was not. A year later a Police Bill
outlawing the police union was debated and the
Police tried to organise a nationwide strike.
Events of June 7, 1919
In the afternoon of June 7, 1919, a large crowd
gathered in Valletta where delegates of the National
Assembly were to meet. This meeting had been
convened by the president of the Assembly, Dr
Filippo Sceberras, and was held at the Giovine Malta
The police were aware that a demonstration was being
held as the people were asked to attend and, two
days before, the Acting Commissioner informed the
General Staff Officer. But, as no serious
disturbances were expected, a party of just 25 men
were kept on stand-by in Castille.
The demonstrators walked down Strada Reale (Republic
Street) forcing shops to close. At the corner with
St John Street the Maltese flag with the Union Jack
was flying on the roof of A La Ville de Londres
insisted that the flag be lowered. A mirror
on the main door of this shop was broken.
The crowd then went near the Union Club and insisted
on having the doors of the club closed. Stones were
thrown at the windows of this, causing some damage.
Three policemen guarding the club were manhandled.
From the Union Club the demonstrators moved down
Strade Reale and, on reaching Queen's Square, the
windows of the Public Library were smashed. The
crowd also insisted that the Union Jack, at
half-mast for the death of the Chief Justice, be
lowered. A library employee eventually lowered the
flag. During this incident a police sergeant and a
constable who tried to prevent these disturbances
were severely beaten.
The next target of the demonstrators was the
Lyceum in Merchants Street. Access was
gained by breaking the front window near the
main door. The place was wrecked since no
police were guarding it. Moreover,
the crowd insisted that
FRENDO AZOPARDI, Acting commissioner
of Police during the June 7 riots
British flag on the Meteorological Station be
towered. The flag however was thrown down into the
street by some individuals who went on the roof. The
flag was burned together with other articles and
From Merchants Street the crowd moved to Palace
Square where the soldiers at the Main Guard were
insulted and the sergeant on duty closed the door.
The police closed the Palace doors but some window
panes were smashed.
A section of the crowd then attacked the Daily Malta
Chronicle offices in Old Theatre Street. When news
of this attack reached the police, two inspectors
and 30 constables were sent to protect the printing
press. But only the inspectors and six constables
succeeded to get through the crowd in Strada Reale.
When the police arrived, missiles were thrown at
them and the police abandoned the site.
Meanwhile, another section of the crowd was wrecking
the house of the politician Francesco Azzopardi in
St Lucia Street, which was guarded by a single
The crowd then proceeded to wreck the residence of
the Cassar Torreggiani family of millers in Old
Bakery Street and although there were some police in
the vicinity some men broke into the house and
started destroying and throwing the furniture out of
the balcony. Later 30 more policemen were sent on
the spot but most of them returned to the police
station on the pretext that they were unarmed.
At about 4.45 p.m. the Acting Commissioner informed
the General Staff Officer that the police were
overpowered and that troops were required to
suppress the riots. The police had sought refuge at
the Central Police Office and refused to go back out
into the streets because, they complained, they were
not armed. They had no weapons, not even truncheons.
Some time later, the Officer Administering the
Government and Acting Commander-in-Chief ordered
that the Acting Commissioner's request be complied
with. At about 5.30 p.m. a detachment of 64 men of
the Malta Composite Battalion arrived from Floriana
barracks at the central police office in the court
Some moments later, six men under Captain
Ferguson accompanied by the General Staff Officer,
Major Ritchie, and Police Superintendent Antonio
Busuttil, went to Old Bakery Street to protect Cassar Torreggiani's property. The crowd in Old Bakery
Street was 2,000 strong. As this contingent was too
small to suppress the disturbance, Captain Ferguson
was sent to get reinforcements.
On his way to the central police office, he was
attacked by a section of the crowd and, according to
the report of the commission of inquiry, his
revolver and ammunition were taken from him. Later
he returned to Old Bakery Street with these
reinforcements. The demonstrators threw missiles at
In Old Bakery Street, near Cassar Torreggiani's
house, the troops were lined up across the street in
two ranks facing up and down the road and they were
warned that there was to be no firing without
orders. Some time later, the soldiers were ordered
to kneel and assume the firing position and this
move caused the crowd to fall back. But one or two
demonstrators defied the soldiers and Major Ritchie
ordered his men to charge the crowd facing downhill.
At the same time, some soldiers facing uphill fired
about five or six rounds, killing two men and
wounding several more. It was said that these
soldiers fired their rifle without orders from their
officer. Manwel Attard from Sliema who was in front
of Cassar Torreggiani's house, was hit in the head
and died instantly. The other victim was Ġużi Bajada
from Xagħra, Gozo, who at the time of the shooting
was near Old Theatre Street.
At about 6 p.m. a party of ten soldiers under
Lieutenant Shields was sent to protect the Daily
Malta Chronicle offices, where a crowd of about 400
was watching the wrecking of the place. It was said
that there was a strong smell of gas and they feared
an explosion since burning missiles were being
thrown at the premises. The lieutenant ordered one
of his men to fire a round into the burning debris
to disperse the crowd.
A shot was fired and a man who was near the fountain
opposite the Chronicle door was hit and died shortly
afterwards. This third victim was Lorenzo Dyer from
While these events were happening in Valletta, a
wounded man was carried into the Giovine Malta
premises, where the National Assembly was still
meeting. Meanwhile the crowd wanted to enter the
court building where the soldiers had returned.
After the adjournment of the Assembly some members
volunteered to go outside to calm the crowd, while
others met the Lieutenant-Governor and asked him to
withdraw the troops, guaranteeing that there will be
no further disturbances. The Lieutenant-Governor
agreed and no further disturbances occurred that
The day after
On Sunday, June 8, another crowd formed in Valletta
and the Acting Governor gave orders for 600 seamen
and soldiers to be kept on standby in Valletta and
Sliema. They included 300 men from the Royal Malta
Artillery. These reinforcements outnumbered the
total strength of the police force, then consisting
of about 500 men.
Meanwhile, in Valletta and in several other
localities, posters calling for national mourning
were put up. Wreaths were also placed in the middle
of Palace Square and in Old Bakery Street where the
three men were killed the previous day.
At first the situation seemed calm but some time
after 9.30 a.m. a soldier of the Malta Composite
Battalion was assaulted, knocked down and left
unconscious in Old Theatre Street corner with Strait
Street. Luckily PC Francis Said, who was guarding
the Daily Malta Chronicle building, ran up to rescue
the soldier from the crowd.
Some civilians tried to help the policeman to carry
the soldier to the government dispensary but they
were hindered and attacked by the crowd and the
policeman was also slightly injured. Some time later
more policemen arrived and the soldier was carried
to the dispensary. In the meantime some of the
rioters entered the Chronicle and continued wrecking
The Lieutenant-Governor, fearing more riots, called
Dr Sceberras, Dr Enrico Mizzi and other politicians
to the Palace in Valletta and asked them to use
their influence to prevent further disturbances.
During the meeting, Major General Hunter Blair said
that, should the police prove unable to maintain
order, he would be obliged to use all the forces at
his disposal'. He added that if troops were called
out he would not be responsible for the
The deputation promised to do their utmost to calm
the people, however, they requested a full inquiry
into the events of the previous day and that no
person concerned should be allowed to leave the
island until it had been completed. Moreover, the
delegation also requested that should the use of
soldiers be necessary, only local troops should be
used. General Hunter Blair promised this would be
done. He also agreed to the inquiry.
The incidents of the morning of June 8 were trivial
compared to what happened the previous day but in
the afternoon the situation worsened. At about
4.30 p.m.a crowd gathered in front of the Main Guard and
the men of the Guard were asked to give up their
arms by a person haranguing the crowd. The officer
in command however, managed to calm the
demonstrators, and they moved on.
The crowd then went near the Union Club since it was
being rumoured that soldiers were throwing coins at
the crowd. This provoked the crowd to break the
windows of the club and a party of marines was
called as back-up but they were soon withdrawn at
the request of a police inspector.
During the Sunday demonstration, it was common talk
that the millers would be attacked that day and when
the people began gathering in front Colonel
Francia's house in Strada Reale he immediately
sought police and military protection. At about 6
p.m. the rioters attacked Francia's house and
although a 100-strong detachment from the RMA was
present, Francia's house was wrecked. The Maltese
soldiers took little or no action to stop them.
Another detachment was sent to protect Francia's
property but the wrecking and looting continued.
During the inquiry, Major Dunbar Vella stated that
he received orders to protect Francia's house and to
arrest the people who might come out of the house.
At 7.30 p.m. 140 marines and seamen were sent to
Francia's house with instructions to clear Strada
Reale. Captain Trewby, RN, instructed his men not to
fire without orders. But when the seamen arrived
near Francia's residence, Carmelo Abela of Valletta
was calling his son to get out of the house. Abela
was ordered to move on by one of the seamen but the
former did not move. When he was being arrested by
two marines, Abela resisted the arrest and he was
stabbed in the belly with a bayonet. He was taken to
the Central Hospital, where he died on June 16.
In a few minutes Colonel Francia's house and Strada
Reale were cleared and there were no further
disturbances in Valletta. But the rioters were far
from finished and at about 8.30 p.m. about 700
people gathered near the Hamrun parish church and
proceeded to attack the house of another miller,
Luigi Farrugia. About 15 policemen from Valletta
were sent to guard Farrugia's residence and mill,
but they did not arrive and the rioters were
dispersed when Royal Air Force personnel armed with
machine-guns were on their way to protect the
Lieutenant-Governor's house in Hamrun.
The rioters, mostly from Qormi, however later
returned near Farrugia's residence and ransacked the
place. Wholesale looting was also carried out but
when it was rumoured that marines were about to
search premises in Hamrun for stolen cereals, most
of the looters threw away the loot in the field
known as Tal-Fatati (where the Lyceum now stands).
On June 10 Lord Plumer, the new Governor, arrived in
Malta. It was said that he had waited two days
within sight of Malta and had not landed because of
the riots. On his way to the Palace he saw troops
still patrolling the city and 300 soldiers guarding
the Palace. But on arriving at his office he
immediately summoned a delegation to meet and inform
him about the situation. Later arrests were made and
some of the rioters were taken before a
court-martial while others appeared in the criminal
Meanwhile, on June 13, Governor Plumer issued a
proclamation stating he was deeply concerned to find
on his arrival that a serious state of disorder had
existed for some days. He reminded all citizens that
it was their duty to assist him and the authorities
to protect life and property and maintain order.
The court-martial met at the Valletta Gymnasium on
July 2 and 32 men were charged with tumultuous
assembly and 14 of them also with wilful damages and
other charges. After the inquiry, eight were
acquitted and the others received prison sentences
varying from nine months to 20 years. A certain
Ġanni Miller (Il-Ħembet) from Senglea was sentenced
to 15 months and Salvu Bartolo (Il-Bosju) from
Cospicua to 20 years. Those charged with theft
before the criminal court were also given prison
sentences. These, however, were later remitted by
After these convictions the Governor set up a
commission chaired by Judge Alfred Parnis and
including two senior military officers who came from
England and two leading citizens. The commission had
to examine the circumstances in which military
forces were employed to assist the police to
maintain order during the June riots.
On August 18 the Commission held its first meeting
and a notice was also published inviting the public
to help collect evidence. The commission held 26
sittings and heard 150 witnesses in all.
On September 18 the commission's report was
published. It stated that "evidently the Police did
not appreciate the gravity of the situation and that
with the exception of a few individuals, officers,
noncommissioned officers and one constable, the
Police Force proved to be a complete failure, the
men being apparently in sympathy with the mob".
Moreover, the reasons given by the Acting
Commissioner for not making use at the outset of
mounted police appear to be unacceptable. At that
time the police only had seven horses and six of
them were very old. Since there is no reference to
this unacceptable reason, it is assumed that the
Acting Commissioner gave this reason for not using
the Mounted Section.
LT COL. HENRY BAMFORD, who was
brought in for a three-year period
in 1919 to reorganise the police
On July 4, 1919, Harly William Bamford was appointed
Commissioner of Police for three years, having
previously served as lieutenant-colonel in the South
In his first report to the Lieutenant-Governor, he
referred to the riots of June 7: "The Police Service
of the Island was practically paralysed by the
withdrawal from duty or neglect of duty of the bulk
of the Force."
But prior to Bamford's appointment the Governor
appointed a committee to consider police conditions
and pay and on July 24, 1919, the committee, in its
first report, concluded that the police claim for
more pay deserved consideration, and recommended a
supplement of sixpence (2c5) a day to the pay of all
ranks from sergeant major down.
On August 13 a further report was submitted to the
Lieutenant Governor and the issuing of rations, as
an alternative to the pay increase, was proposed.
But the police preferred the daily sixpence
On October 30, 1919, it was announced that the
Secretary of State had approved a new rate of pay
for all members of the police with effect from June
1, 1919. Moreover, an allowance in lieu of quarters
was introduced with effect from November, 1919.
Colonel Bamford left an indelible mark on the
organisation of the Police Force.
During his three-year term he established a Police
Headquarters, introduced a better occurrence book,
police gratuities commonly known as extra duty on
payment and, above all, reinstated discipline.
Bamford also issued truncheons to all ranks and a
written order on their use. Since Bamford's time
this order has not been revised. New police officers
were also appointed, mostly military officers and
some officers were forced to retire on pension.
On May 16, 1921, the new Constitution came into
force and Malta was granted self-government.
Meanwhile Colonel Bamford's contract ran out and the
Maltese government preferred a Maltese Commissioner.
On July 28, 1922, Bamford took up duties in the Gold
Coast as Commandant of the Northern Territories
Constabulary. He had left Malta in April, and before
leaving he issued this special order:
"On the occasion of my leaving Malta and the Malta
Police, I wish to express my vast appreciation of
the loyal help that all Officers, Sergeants and
Constables have given me during my period of office
as Commissioner of Police.
"As a stranger I came to you in July 1919 and my
keen desire to effect changes to better conditions
of service was given every chance of success by the
prompt manner in which you all carried out my
orders. You may have been ready at all times to do
your duty and I can say that you have proved worthy
of any small privileges I have been able to secure
"I wish you good-bye and success whilst you remain
in the Police and the best of fortune in after life
in whatever you may take."