Transport and Cash

In 1947 the Maltese authorities had a real problem because while they had thousands of migrants on their list they did not have the means of shipping them to their desired destinations. Passenger ships were few and the fares charged were often beyond the means of ordinary working class migrants. A few were able to pay their way. These do not figure in emigration statistics because since they asked no favours, their names were never registered. It is important to keep in mind that emigration statistics published in the yearly reports by the Department of Emigration include only those who received financial assistance from the government. Although those who were financially comfortable were not many, yet the Lieutenant Governor's Office did note that in 1946 a number of emigrants did leave on their own by paying their fares. At the same time the Office also said that 2,400 men with 2,800 dependents were registered as prospective emigrants. Friends and relatives had already nominated 800 of these, but few could leave because no transport was available. The Office mentioned the fact that an Italian company was approached but the money asked was prohibitive. The Office also said that Italian and other European migrants were willing to pay their full fare, which in most cases, was more than 200.

It was suggested that LST's (Landing Ships and Tanks) should ferry Maltese to Australia. The idea was rejected because such crafts were flat-bottomed and uncomfortable to travel long distance. (1) Many were quite critical of the Colonial Administration because of its failure to charter ships when the same Administration often said that emigration was the only means to solve Malta's pressing difficulties. It was said that by 1947 there were about 12,000 people waiting to emigrate with the Administration doing nothing to provide the means by which these people could leave the island. Comparisons with the Italians were embarrassing. The former enemies were emigrating in their thousands to the Dominions. Some said this was a curious situation where those who lost the war were in a better position than those who won it. (2)

With the coming of Self-Government more interest was shown by the Labour Government to remedy the situation, but even by the beginning of 1949 Mr Cole warned that while he had 20,000 registered on his list as prospective emigrants, "the shipping situation was so uncertain that I cannot give an approximate number of those who will leave this year" (3)

At least two members of the Legislative Assembly suggested that the Maltese Government should either buy or charter a ship. Dr Pace was of the opinion that the country should own a ship which would accommodate at least one thousand passengers on every trip and the same ship should be able to make three to four trips in one year. (4)

Reference was made to what was being done in Great Britain. There, the ship Aquitania was to be bought or chartered for the transport of migrants to Australia. It was intended that the ship would make at least four trips a year carrying on her about 3,000 passengers on every trip. (5)

The Colonial Administration had managed to obtain some berths on the occasional ship that entered Maltese harbours on the way to Australia. The Rangitiki was a case in point. On January IO, 1946, that ship left Grand Harbour taking with her sixty-four emigrants bound for Australia. This group was the first significant batch to leave for Australia since the end of the war. The emigrants consisted of twenty-two men, twenty-one women and twenty-one children. They arrived in Melbourne on February 12. They had been nominated by relatives who had been in Australia and on the ship they were accompanied by a Maltese chaplain, Fr Robert Cassar. Fr Cassar had been taken to Australia by his parents twenty years earlier. Also on the Rangitiki was Mr G. Lawson, ex-Minister for Transport in Australia, who had been on a tour to Europe to organise emigration to his country. Interviewed on board the ship Mr Lawson said Australia wanted millions of immigrants spread over a period of years. (6)

Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7

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