Over-population, unemployment and political unrest made life for the Maltese very uneasy. The Maltese lived on a small island and their livelihood depended, almost entirely, on the jobs created by the presence of the British Forces. Since the Armistice jobs had become very scarce and Maltese society was just beginning to experience the beginnings of those fundamental social upheavals which had become so endemic on the European mainland. The clash between the overriding needs of the Empire and those of the civil population was inevitable.
There was one solution to the problems of the Maltese on which there seemed to have been a consensus between the British and the Maltese sides. That solution was emigration. The British favoured fewer civilians on the island because that would make the strategic position of Malta secure from political agitation. Maltese political leaders saw emigration as the only practical solution to unemployment
Although many were in favour of emigration few dared to suggest ways and means of helping those who intended to seek a better future in foreign lands. Political leaders felt that the best way of dealing with intending emigrants was to leave every initiative to the spontaneous urge to seek foreign lands. Emigration was to be left to the emigrants with little or no intervention from official quarters.
However, some steps had to be taken in order to keep the flow of emigration under some control even if that control had to be a remote one. On January 21, 1919, the Colonial Administration allowed an Emigration Committee to be set up. The specific aim of this body was to provide reliable information to those people who asked about conditions prevailing in the lands in which they were interested. In 1907, Sir Harry Barron, then Acting Governor of Malta, had created the Malta Emigration Committee. The members of this Committee were influential men who kept in touch with representatives of various countries to explain to the Maltese the prevailing economic and political situation in those countries to which Maltese were more likely to emigrate. Although Barron's Committee was purely consultative, it was then the only semi-official body which directly interested itself in bringing some organisation into the migratory flow from the Maltese Islands.
The Malta Emigration Committee functioned till the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. It then became dormant because emigration came to a practical standstill while Europe was at war.
The new Emigration Committee of 1919 was in fact very much like its predecessor of 1907. The new Governor of Malta, Field Marshal Lord Plumer, wished the new Committee a successful start in its merely consultative capacity. He had arrived in Malta after the chaos brought about by the riots of June 7, 1919. He saw his mission as one of pacification and he did manage to bring a measure of reconciliation between the British and the Maltese.
On November 3, 1919, the new Governor ad-dressed the Senate. In his speech he referred specifically to emigration. He said: "As regards emigration a Committee was formed in 1919, under the chairmanship of Mr. Joseph Howard, to deal with the question and to advise the Government on all matters connected with it. The work of the Committee has been of great value and their efforts to place the Maltese in suitable spheres of employment in other countries have been very successful in face of difficulties which the congested state of labour markets all over the world has presented. The congestion of labour markets still obtains and it would be foolish to anticipate any immediate general improvement in this respect.
Emigration from Malta, in small but gradually increasing numbers, can be anticipated and while skilled artizans can be certain of obtaining employment anywhere, there is no country where climatic and other conditions are suitable, which is ready to receive unskilled labourers of inferior education in any considerable numbers, and it follows that any scheme of emigration on a large scale is only practicable on the lines of the establishment of a colony with the large capital expenditure which such a plan involves.
Such a plan is by no means impracticable or beyond the resources of Malta to carry out, but it obviously cannot be undertaken without a considerable amount of forethought and preliminary investigation".
The idea of establishing a Maltese Colony somewhere had long been canvassed. Sir Adrian Dingli had suggested Cyprus. Others had thought that Cyrenaica was suitable for the Maltese to colonise. In 1912 a number of Maltese arrived in Brazil with the hope of establishing a colony on a fazenda. On January 12, 1922, Colonel A. Samut suggested to the Senate that that body should present a petition to the King for a Royal Charter to obtain a grant of land somewhere in the British Empire. Samut thought that Jubaland was a place worthy of consideration.
Even as late as February 1928, Lord Strickland still had hopes of establishing a Maltese Colony in Australia. On the 22nd of that month Lord Strickland informed the Legislative Assembly that his Australian friend, Sirjames D. Connolly had written to him to let him know that the Australian Government was ... "strongly disposed to encourage Maltese migration to the Berkley tableland, a portion of Australia with a climate very similar to that of Malta, with an assured rainfall and a very fertile soil". Strickland and Connolly were of the opinion that a Maltese Settlement could be established in that part of Western Australia.
Maltese official sources felt that to overcome the difficulty of illiterate migrants, the only plausible solution was group settlement. A group settlement would overcome the difficulty of individual migrants having to grapple with a foreign language. Also, the Maltese Government would ensure that within a Maltese settlement there would be a priest of Maltese nationality, and preferably also, a doctor. In a report published by the Government on the question of organised emigration it was noted that ... "it seems certain that in any event, facilities must be found for the foundation of an agricultural settlement of Maltese on a large scale in some other country. Australia presents the greatest attractions and should present the least difficulty".
Fortunately for the Maltese emigratory movement Senator Joseph Howard was in a position to understand very well what Lord Plumer was implying in his speech. Mr. Howard had been a prominent member of the Emigration Committee and he was, in 1921, the Head of the newly formed Ministry. Mr. Howard knew that the basic problems of most emigrants fell into one or more of the following categories:
- There were too many emigrants from Malta and from the Continent who were flocking to the same cities in the New World and in Australia. These were creating congestion and local opinion was becoming hostile to them.
- Too many immigrants, Maltese and foreign, had no money, skill or education. Most of them knew no English. Their style of life was completely different from that of the receiving country. They gravitated to the same areas and created ghettoes.
- Some ethnic groups overcame such handicaps by creating their own colonies. For a time the Maltese nurtured the thought of founding a Maltese Colony, preferably in Australia. Such a scheme needed serious planning and hard cash which only a Government could provide. The Colonial Administration never offered any financial assistance and public opinion in Australia was not enthusiastic about nursing a colony peopled by foreigners.
Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.