The Casolani Mission to London

A significant event in the history of Maltese emigration, particularly to Australia, took place in the Spring of 1922. On May 10 of that same year, Henry Casolani, the Superintendent of emigration, was commissioned by the Government of Malta, to go to London in order to establish official contacts with the representatives of Australia, Canada, and the U.S.A. The scope of the visit was to help ease the flow of migration to those countries and try to remove some of the obstacles which impeded that flow. Casolani was especially briefed by his minister, William Savona, to do all he could to establish emigration to Australia on a satisfactory basis.

The day after he arrived in London, Casolani went to Australia House where he had a conference with Mr. L. Shepherd who was the Official Secretary and with Mr. Percy Hunter who was the Director of Migration and Settlement. During the conference Casolani insisted on the complete abolition of the quota system which he condemned as discriminatory against the Maltese. As British subjects the Maltese expected to enter Australia by right. Casolani also claimed for the Maltese the right to share in the benefits normally allotted to emigrants who hailed from the United Kingdom. These benefits included financial assistance for travelling purposes and also the eligibility for any future Land Settlement schemes in Australia. Casolani also wanted the right for the Maltese Government to use, for the benefit of Malta's intending migrants, the unexpended balances of the quota in respect of the year 1920 and 192 1.

This final request about the unused quotas met with no unsurmountable objections from the Australians. By April 18, 1922, the yearly quota of 260 was already exhausted. On May 13, one day after the conference at Australia House had ended, Mr. Casolani was told that the yearly quota could be extended to 393 persons. This figure included the places which had been left vacant during the previous two years.

The conference of May 11 had one lasting achievement for Malta. Casolani's mission to London made Mr. Percy Hunter realise how just the representations of the Maltese were and he promised to pursue the Maltese case with the Australian Federal Government on his return to Australia. Mr. Hunter knew that the power of decision making was in Australia.

On June 2, 1922, Mr. Hunter wrote to Mr. Casolani a memorandum in which it was stated:

  1. That Australia House now had a clear picture of how the Emigration Office in Valletta functioned and in what manner prospective emigrants were examined and selected.
  2. That the Australians were satisfied that the Maltese who had settled in Australia were successful immigrants.
  3. That the scheme for assisted passages would work very well.
  4. That the Migration and Settlement Office in London was not in a position to take final decisions regarding the unrestricted entry of Maltese into Australia. However Mr. Hunter promised to make the wishes of the Maltese known in Australia.

The fact that now the Director of the Australian Office of Migration and Settlement in London was won over to the Maltese side was a great achievement for Mr. Casolani. It is understandable that Malta 5 s Superintendent of Emigration was proud of this when he wrote: "I am glad to be in a position to state positively that Mr. Hunter's views are very favourable to our migrants and this, coupled with his undisputed and instinctive knowledge of migration problems and his personal influence with the authorities, will doubtless go a long way towards the attainment of the object we have in view".

During his short stay in London Mr. Casolani contacted a number of influential people, among whom Sir James Mitchell who in 1922 was the Premier of Western Australia. Sir James said that his vast State was very thinly populated an large areas had no permanent inhabitants. If the warning to "populate or perish" was valid for Australia as a whole it was doubly so for the western section of the Commonwealth. The Premier told Mr. Casolani that Western Australia needed immediately 100,000 white workers tohelp the economic development of his State.

Casolani wrote about his meeting with Sir james as "most pleasant and interesting". The meeting took place at the Hotel Victoria in London on May 18. The man who made this meeting possible was Sir James Connolly, a prominent politician from Western Australia who was a personal friend of Sir Gerald Strickland and who had visited Malta in 1913. Since the time of his visit Sir James Connolly had advocated Maltese emigration to Western Australia.

Connolly had briefed his Premier about Malta's pressing need to find outlets for its overpopulation. Casolani suggested sending navvies to work on Western Australia's new roads and railroads. Maltese had already been successful in Queensland and in New South Wales. Casolani saw no reason why they should not be also successful in Western Australia. Casolani dwelt on the good qualities of the Maltese worker - a hardy, frugal and industrious man, imbued with a deep love for his family. His numerous family left him no time to take part in any industrial unrest.

The poor education of the Maltese migrant was an obstacle which even an optimist like Casolani could not ignore. He admitted this to Sir James Mitchell, but he assured the Premier of Western Australia that although most Maltese only spoke their own language they were able to pick up English when they settled in a country where that language was universally spoken. In spite of the language handicap, the Maltese shared with their brothers and sisters in England, Scotland and Wales, their love for King and Empire.

Sir James must have been impressed with such an outburst of loyalty, but he wanted more practical information. He wanted to know the average height and size of the men from Malta. Casolani reassured Sir James that the men who were selected as migrants to Australia were stalwart workers comparable in physique to the average Englishman or Scandinavian. As for the physical fitness of the Maltese Sir James could ask for the opinion of his friend Connolly who had been to Malta in 1913 and was able to see for himself.

The Premier of Western Australia was also told that the Maltese villagers were born and bred on the land and all of them had a working knowledge of agriculture. They were also the only peasants of White stock who were expert in the cultivation of cotton. Casolani thought that the Maltese experience could be a valuable asset to a future cotton industry in Australia.

Sir James was also told that the Maltese had a good reputation for cultivating potatoes and their product was exported to various countries in Europe. It was also discreetly suggested to the representatives of Western Australia that they should encourage the immigration of Maltese girls. That part of Australia needed young women of child-bearing age. In Malta women outnumbered men, and besides the project of encouraging procreation Maltese females could be employed as governesses, housekeepers, cooks, maids and nurses.

The Western Australians also enquired about the possibility of sending Maltese fishermen to their State to help develop the fishing industry. Casolani thought that that was a distinct possibility and he promised to contact the Department of Fisheries in Malta to find out how many fishermen were willing to emigrate.

Casolani made a positive impact on Sir james Mitchell. The premier expressed himself favourable to Maltese emigration to his State. However Sirjames did sound a note of caution when he said that the subject of immigration was a Federal matter but he promised to use his influence with the Federal Prime Minister.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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