Home away from home

Place of work and place of residence were in most cases one and the same, so much of what we said concerning trade premises applies to residence. It is only very late in the century that we start getting information concerning the rental and purchase of houses and even then this only refers to the minority who established themselves in Spain permanently. For most of the century, and for most of the Maltese, home during their stay in Spain was a room rented in someone else's house or in a casa de vecindad, a large house divided into many small units.

In Malaga in 1776 Joseph (senior), Joseph (junior) and Phelipe Abela and Andres, Joseph, Pedro and Francisco Farrugia lived at house nº 13 of block nº 20, in the home of Don Juan Hidalgo, his wife Doña Teresa de Arse and their two daughters Maria and Ana (86).

In 1786, in the village of Chiva, in the Kingdom of Valencia, Felix Fenech occupied one of the rooms in the hall of the house of the farmer Pedro Sachez while. Lorenzo Fenech, his brother ,had a similar arrangement with Manuel Miguel, another farmer.147 They also kept their wares there.

In Cadiz, on the other hand, where accommodation was at a premium, living in casas de vecindad was more common. 23 Maltese adults lived at nº 49 of Calle Nueva in what must have been fairly crowded conditions.148 There was a form of rent control in Cadiz but this did not apply to casas de vecindad, which De Retegui has defined as those individual rooms which were rented out to poor people and whose rent was subject to their owners' estimation of the solvency of the tenants and the cost of repairs. 149

The overall picture seems to indicate very little being spent on creature comforts. When referring to the accommodation occupied by the Maltese in Valencia in 1769, Vicente Pastor, on behalf of the Diputados del Gremio de Mercaderes de Vara, talks of, "houses which could more appropriately be described as huts".150

With the commencement of the process of settlement in the sixties we start encountering references to the renting of whole or "half" houses, as we saw earlier, but it is only in the last quarter that we start coming across the purchase of the occasional house.

The very first reference we have of the purchase of property in Spain by a Maltese merchant is in Barcelona where, on 14 April 1769, Felipe Camilleri purchased a farmhouse and its surrounding land for around 2,388 Catalan libras, a substantial amount.151 The property, situated close to the village of Vallcarcalla, was still in his possession in 1780 because he signed a contract for works to supply it with water.152

Towards the end of the century we encounter more and more cases of the acquisition of property, but the overall impression would seem to suggest a marked reluctance to make the sort of commitment that the ownership of immovable property normally entails.

Few descriptions of the houses occupied by the Maltese have been encountered. Joseph Grima's house in Valencia in 1783 consisted of a hall, a room to the right hand side of the hall, a kitchen, a pantry, a room for working silk and the main bedroom on the first floor.153 He apparently owned the house as well as some land in Alberique worth around 3,000 Valencian pounds.154

Francisco Amayra's house was more or less the same, having an entresuelo, an almacen, an abitacion, an armario, a cozina and the Pieza Principal or main room.155

The information we have concerning the type of accommodation habitually used by the Maltese confirms their lack of commitment to settlement and creature comforts but, perhaps more importantly, reflects their lowly socio-economic level. For the greater part of the second half of the eighteenth century the choice of living quarters seems to have been subordinated to a good business location where the shop doubled up as a home. For others, probably the majority, living quarters were crowded and unhealthy casas de vecindad, which Villar García has euphamistically termed "modest accomodation" and which are far removed from the sumptuous houses of wealthy foreign merchants in eighteenth century Malaga, such as that belonging to Tomás Quilty Valois or the lifestyle described by Solis for early xix century Cadiz.156

We are somewhat better informed concerning the contents of the houses occupied by the Maltese, but even so the number of inventories encountered is insufficient to enable us to really generalize and the few examples are exactly that.

Angelo Hellul and Company, of San Felipe sold the goodwill of their house and shop to Salvador Caruana and Company on 3 May 1788. The contents of the premises, other than those exclusively related to the trade such as the stall frame, the weights, etc. were as follows; a large walnut table with a drawer, another two wooden dining tables , two benches, four chairs, a large kitchen cupboard, a writing desk and two beds, with a total value of around 25 Valencian libras as opposed to the 40 libras at which the stall frame is valued.157

This probably represents the sort of minimal commitment to comfort that Maltese traders coming to Spain for an 18 to 24 month "tour of duty" would typically have and probably represents the experience of the majority.

At the other end of the scale, and representing a definite commitment to settlement, we find Joseph Bertis, o Verti, habitual supplier of cotton to Jose Canaleta, pioneer in Barcelona of cotton spinning.158 Established in Barcelona sometime during the sixties, Bertis probably belonged to the first wave of Maltese merchants to establish themselves in Spain on a permanent basis. He was the father-in-law of Francisco Xavier Cini, a prominent figure in the second generation of Maltese merchants in Barcelona and who lived in Bertis's house after his death. When Bertis died in 1802, his estate was worth 107,202 Catalan libras in cash and other liquid assets. No valuation is given for the house or its contents, but they indicate a certain solidity, not unlike the middle levels of the merchant class which Villar Garcia describes for eighteenth century Malaga.159

The house, situated in Esgrima street in Barcelona, consisted of four rooms and a kitchen on the ground floor and an unspecified number of rooms on the first floor together with an enclosed balcony. It contained items of silver such as candle sticks, knives, forks, spoons, a coffeepot, a salt-cellar and a spitoon.160 He also had five gold watches. Other items of particular interest were two card tables, an ornate wall clock, a mahogany bureau, seven bird cages with canaries in them and a writing table. To remind him of the "old country", Bertis had five pictures depicting the Island of Malta and perhaps to remind his descendents of what he had looked like, a portrait of himself.161 It is the house of someone who had effected a definite shift in his centre of gravity.

There is no doubt that Hellul, rather than Bertis, is the best reflection of the experience of the majority of Maltese in Spain. In fact, in terms of Castaneda's proposed matrix for locating the material level of well-being according to house contents, some Maltese could, at best, just make it into his Nivel de Vida 2 (Modesto) though most would probably not even make it beyond Nivel de Vida 1 (pobre).162 Once again, and as always, the major problem at the moment of comparing is the fact that few have shifted their centre of gravity permanently and have homes and property elsewhere.

In fact there are plenty of indications that it is, a priori, impossible to locate the material well being of the Maltese, or forthat matter of any migrant group which is so clearly not committed to effecting a permanent shift in its centre of gravity, within the context of the host society.

Deputies attending the Cortes of Saragossa in 1684 declared that, "You will find no legacies or pious foundations made byFrenchmen or by their descendants… Recently when one died he showed how little he, like all of them, was attached to our land, since even the memorial masses were arranged to be said in France. They do not buy property… They have no fixed domicile… The young men trade, but marry in France, coming and going with complete liberty, living in this city in tiny rented houses with furniture not worth thirty reales. They live humbly while they are here, but put on fine and sumptuous clothes on returning to their own country…"163 The statement refers to the French but it fits Maltese and perhaps other migrant groups equally well.

The consuls of Marseille in 1623 said about the Armenians that "they have a way of life so swinish (si porque) that most of the time they eat only herbs"- that is vegetables.164 Similar disparaging remarks were made about the Maltese in the eighteenth century. The anonymous eighteenth century German gentleman, quoted by Von Den Driesch, talks about the Maltese leading an unhealthy life and eating little.165 The Customs official who, in 1761, was trying to explain the large quantities of silver taken out by the Maltese gave as one of the reasons the fact that as regards dress and diet they could be better described as miserable rather than poor.166

And yet the scant information we possess indicates the making of what we would nowadays consider a not unbalanced diet. Before they set out for Cadiz in 1789, Nicola de Martinez and his two partners spent a total of 97 scudi and 10 grani stocking up on food for the journey.167 The largest item of expenditure was ship's biscuit, of which they bought 175 rotoli for 31 scudi and 6 tari. Next came 12 scudi 4 tari for fresh bread, meat, vegetables and fresh and dried fruit, 8 scudi 10 tari for 2 rotoli of coffee. 2 1/2 rotoli of sugar, 4 hens etc. and 8 scudi 2 tari for 6 cheeses of different qualities. The rest was spent on a wide range of other foodstuffs, which included, in descending order of amount spent, pasta, wine, oil, pork, sausage, liquor, butter, cod, lard, five dozen eggs, sardines, spirits and olives. They also bought 9 taris worth of coal.168 Similar items were purchased in the ports of call of Naples, Leghorn and Genoa.

Earlier in the century, in 1759, skipper Francesco Cassar, whose trip we looked at in detail earlier, had not loaded a similarly wide variety of food stuffs when leaving Almeria for Malta. The major item had, once again, been ship's biscuit, but there was also wine, spirits, oil, nuts, fresh bread, vegetables, meat and fish.

Juan Plaza Prieto has calculated, citing Alvarez Guerra, a consumption per capita in eighteenth century Spain of 3 reales per day.169 This is the sort of figure put forward for Murcia and Alicante, for the early 1760s, by Maltese merchants testifying in a lawsuit, but other witnesses at the same lawsuit suggested twice as much would be more reasonable.170

The cost of living in Cadiz must have been higher because Nicola de Martinez budgeted 5 reales per person per day for maintenance whilst living there from 1October 1789 to 4 August 1792.171

From 23 March to 19 May 1786 Angelo Seychel spent 202 reales 17 maravedis, mostly on meat, namely chicken, mutton and veal but including small amounts spent on chocolate and coal.172 Though this was Cadiz it still works out at over 3 reales per day just for meat in an age when expenditure on bread would be expected to be the major item on the food bill. Seychell was undergoing medical treatment so the inordinate amount being spent on meat, particularly chicken, were perhaps due to a special diet prescibed by a Maltese doctor, Vincenzo Lagusi whose father had been Giovanni Domenico Lagusi from Senglea and who is described as Professore privileggiato nel Regno delle Spagna.173

Round about the same time Emanuele Di Nicola spent just over 6 reales per day during the 16 months he spent in Barcelona from 1 July 1786 to 24 November 1787, but this included rent.174

Most Maltese traders probably did their own cooking but this could be a source of conflict. As we saw above, Alesandro Romano was not happy with the cooking of Giusseppe Desala, his junior partner.175 Eating out or cooking by outsiders was probably reserved for special occasions. On 16 May 1759 Captain Francesco Cassar paid 4 reales 17 maravedis to a woman who cooked fish for them. It was probably a special treat to the crew before leaving Spain.176

As far as clothing is concerned, most would seem to have had more than the bare minimum we would expect. Luis Dalli had taken goods on credit from Severo Dimech in Valencia to resell, but he was caught up in the economic depression at the end of the war and could not repay the debt, so he was sent to debtor's prison by Dimech and had his few possessions seized.177 He lived in a rented room, where his furniture consisted of two pine tables; seven very old French chairs; a small pine chest; another chest, painted blue; a pillow; a napkin; a bed made of two benches and four boards; a pailasse; a wool- filled mattress in blue and white; a linen and cotton bed cover; a small barrel; a picture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel; a saddle and some other items.178 Items of clothing, mostly contained in the blue chest, consisted of ; several jackets; a dress coat; a printed lined waistcoat; several pairs of breeches; an old cape; a pointed hat etc.179 Dalli, who was 26 years old, was eventually released and had his possessions returned, after appointment of a third party whom he was to accompany to collect money owned to him from fiados, or credits, outstanding. Dalli does not appear as a Mercader de Vara in this period. This fact, together with the presence of a saddle and the fiados would seem to indicate he is a travelling salesman or peddler, that is the lowest in the professional hierarchy and yet the inventory indicates a range of clothing. There are nevertheless items missing from the inventory, such as shirts and shoes, which would indicate it is incomplete.

When Felix Mannarino died in 1763 his inventory included; six used shirts, six used kerchiefs, eleven caps, two pairs of used shoes, a used wig and an old wig, in addition to the same sort of items encountered in Dalli's inventory.180 The more personal items of clothing would apparently be excluded from seizures arising out of commercial cases. Apart from some pairs of stockings and cotton caps, which were sold, Mannarino's personal effects were sent to his brother Joseph in Malta.181

Being in the textile business meant, as we saw above, that merchants had to be up to date on the latest fashions. In fact Cavaliero, citing a eighteenth-century manuscript by I.S. Mifsud, notes how "the wives of the merchants in the Three Cities with business interests in Spain and Portugal sported richer and more sumptuous costumes than the ladies of rank".182 But this awareness of fashion must have also had some effect on the men themselves.

In 1782 Andrea Camilleri of Cadiz had shirts made for himself in Mahon, had a hat sent by Giuseppe Angellotti, a Maltese merchant resident in Marseille, had 2 pairs of velvet breeches, made by Maestro Lorenzo in Cadiz, which, together with other items of personal expenditure, he tried to charge to the company's account.183

Similar behaviour is noted for Giuseppe Zammit of Valencia, who in the late eighties had got for his own use and had charged to the company; a dress made in Madrid which cost L11.13s, five pairs of shoes costing L5.13s4d, a pair of boots made in Barcelona costing 11 sueldos, a pair of breeches which he bought in Madrid from Filippo Butigiec for L2 and other items.184

These and other similar examples seem to indicate a keen dress sense which would probably also translate into good business for merchants whose customers more often than not were women.

The Maltese traders probably did not have much time for leisure during their stay in Spain. In 1751 in Granada, Alexandro Romano put the afternoon to good use, declaring that during the siesta he had gone out to collect monies due to him.185 The time-consuming task of calling on the hundreds of customers which the Maltese typically had, was reserved for when most people would be having their afternoon nap and when the shop had least custom.

But there must have been periods of enforced idleness, particularly after closing- up time and even here there were codes of acceptable conduct. Giovanni Arpa was accused by Pietro Bergansone, his partner, of excessive expenditure of company funds.186 Arpa was apparently spending a real daily on coffee, liquor, milk and biscuits at the local tavern. Witnesses Rafaele Farrugia and Francesco Balzan, who had shops close to the one run by Arpa and Bergansone in Cadiz, declared that it was habitual to frequent wineshops and say a few words, but the wine or any other item consumed there, which they considered un capriccio, was not payable out of company funds. Wine consumed during the meals in the boddega was, on the other hand, payable by the company.187 They also make reference to the chewing or smoking of tobacco, but it is unclear who paid for that.

The separate accounts for personal expenses kept by the firm of Caruana and Ciappino in Valencia indicate the frequenting of barbers, the regular playing at lotteries and the buying of a guitar.188 Francesco Bertis, in Barcelona, had two tables for the playing of cards, but as we noted earlier Bertis, a man who had effected a definite move in his centre of gravity, was the exception rather than the rule.

In overall terms, the network of trading colonies established in Spain by the Maltese after the abandonment of the brigantie, was a short lived phenomenon.189 Our analysis of the human components has shown that the vast majority of the Maltese retained alive what Villar García has referred to as el espíritu de regreso.190 For most of them the desire to return to their land of origin became a reality.

Source: Corsairing to Commerce: Maltese Merchants in XVIII Century Spain by Carmel Vassallo (Malta University Publishers, 1997. ISBN: 99909-45-04-7). They are for private study and reference only. Reproduction and distribution are prohibited. Copies of this book may be purchased from the Mediterranean Institute, University of Malta, Msida, Malta.

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