Early Maltese Migration to Australia

Documents relating to Early Maltese Migration to Australia

Department of Immigration, Western Australian Branch, General Correspondence File, ‘Maltese Immigrants and Stowaways’ [8 pages, 1927–34]

This contains a circular from the Home and Territories Department to the Collector of Customs concerning information from the Director of Emigration, Malta, August 1927, about some Maltese, not passed as suitable immigrants, who had succeeded in obtaining passports elsewhere and were proceeding to Australia as stowaways. The conditions for Maltese immigration are set out with a request that all Maltese arriving are scrutinised, stowaways prohibited from landing, and information supplied to the Department. Other correspondence concerning Maltese immigration in 1934 is also included. PP6/1, 1927/H/427

Prime Minister’s department, ‘Immigration Policy. Admission of Maltese’ [75 pages, 1926–27]

This contains a letter of June 1926 to J T Barnes, Deputy Director, Migration and Settlement Office, London, from Henry Casolani, Superintendent of Emigration, Malta, suggesting that an arrangement be made between the Commonwealth and Maltese governments for the migration to Australia of Maltese youths. The proposal was put before the State Premiers who responded unfavourably. Further representations followed from Senator Samut, Maltese Representative, Empire Parliamentary Delegation in October 1926 to extend the nomination system to Maltese in Australia, from the Premier of Malta, Ugo Mifsud, for sympathetic treatment, and from Colonel L S Amery for a review of the quota of 100 a month then operating. The reply pointed out that despite the quota, Maltese were granted a concession of only £10 landing money rather than the £40 required of all other ‘aliens’; however, nominations as requested were agreed to. There was concern over unemployment levels however, and numbers were still limited to 20 per month per state. In 1927 the Maltese government called for the abolition of the quota since its existence classed the Maltese who were ‘British subjects of white race’ as ‘aliens’; an assurance was given that numbers permitted under the quota would not be exceeded as a result. This proposal was subsequently adopted. A memorandum on Maltese Migration, giving the history during the 1920s is included. A458, G156/2 part 3

Prime Minister’s Department, ‘Immigration Restrictions Policy. Admission of Maltese’ [5 cm, 1917–30]

This is a very large file on Maltese immigration from 1917 to 1930. One section contains correspondence dealing with the abolition in 1923 of the quota of 260 Maltese per annum and the requirements for Maltese immigration, copies of The Maltese Migrant in Australia reprinted from the Fortnightly Review of 1929, a booklet entitled Awake Malta or the Hard Lesson of Emigration, press extracts and a report on Emigration from Malta, 1922–23.

Another section covers repercussions of the detention of 214 Maltese who arrived in 1916 on the SS Gange, expenses incurred by the shipping company for losses, maintenance and return passages for 6 Maltese suffering from trachoma, and the exclusion of Maltese from August 1917 to 1920.

The file includes correspondence on the nature of and reasons for the restrictions, (with comparisons made with Italian immigration and much discussion over whether the restrictions were imposed because Maltese were regarded as ‘coloured’), the agreement with the Maltese government in 1920 to admit Maltese, provided numbers did not exceed 260 per annum (based on the average yearly numbers for 1912 to 1914). Questions arose in 1922 as to whether the concessions given to certain European nationalities in connection with nominated passages could be applied to Maltese, and in 1923 in regard to Maltese immigration into the Kimberley district of Western Australia.

The file also covers the modifications to the quota system in 1923, calls from the Premier of New South Wales to stop all Maltese migration and many letters and press reports on the subject expressing individual opinions. The file jumps from 1924 to 1928, the last sections focussing on unemployment and distress amongst Maltese immigrants in the late 1920s. A458, G156/2 part 1

Prime Minister’s Department, ‘Immigration. Maltese. Part 1’ [2 cm, 1931–44]

This contains correspondence relating to a census of the population of Malta and Maltese living abroad in April 1931, requesting numbers of Maltese living in the various states. Other correspondence in 1931 deals with the position of Maltese in North Queensland. At the time non-British canecutters were being excluded from selection for employment.

The Commissioner for Malta, F J Corder, visited North Queensland to obtain the recognition of Maltese as British, and requested assistance from the Commonwealth government. In 1934, a suggestion was made by Major Charles Mattei for a Maltese cotton-growing settlement in the Dawson Valley, near Rockhampton, Queensland. The following year, proposals for Maltese settlement in Australia came from Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The Commissioner for Malta set out some relevant facts on immigration from Malta in the form of a memorandum to the Prime Minister in 1936. He argued that Maltese ought not to be subjected to restrictions that were not imposed on other British subjects and that landing permits ought to be more freely granted to extended family members of those Maltese already in Australia. Some concessions were made as a result. Correspondence in 1937 relates to the 1928 Agreement between the South Johnstone Mill Suppliers and the Australian Workers’ Union which provided that not less than 70% (subsequently 75%) of employees in the area should be reserved for British cutters and the fact that the term ‘British’ was interpreted by some to exclude Maltese.

The High Commissioner requested that the Commonwealth Government recognise that, in terms of national status, there was no distinction between a British subject from Malta and a British subject from the United Kingdom or from any other part of His Majesty’s dominions. While the government recognised that a ‘natural-born British subject’ included any person born within His Majesty’s Dominions and allegiance, it did not concede that there were no distinctions between those subjects in relation to immigration restrictions.

In 1937, the Commissioner for Malta inquired whether the immigration of a limited number of children from Malta might be admitted on the same basis as Fairbridge children but this was refused on the grounds of the preference being given to migrants from the United Kingdom. In the same year, Charles Bonham Carter, Governor of Malta, urged that Maltese immigrants be received on the same terms as those from the United Kingdom.

As a result of these representations, a Department of the Interior Memorandum for Cabinet on Maltese Migration followed in 1938. Although conditions under which Maltese were able to enter Australia were modified, there was no press publicity given to the new arrangements in order to avoid political repercussions. Other contents of the file include letters in 1938 from Spiro Sceriha, of Kuttabul, via Mackay, on Maltese migration and the replies; letters in 1939 on the issue of the eligibility of British and ‘alien’ migrants for social welfare; and booklets entitled British Orphans Adoption Society and Orphans of the War by E D Darby. A461, K349/1/6 part 1

[Above information taken from:


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