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The Government of Malta Despatch Box, circa 1813
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The Government of Malta Despatch Box, circa 1813

circa 1813

Measurements: 28cm (11in) x 15cm (6in) x 11cm (4.25in)



Red brown leather over wood, the hinged lid embossed in gilt with the Royal coat of arms of George III used between 1801-1816 (ie with inescutcheon, ensigned by the Electoral Cap or bonnet), the chamfered leading edge inscribed ‘THE GOVERNMENT OF MALTA’. The outer ends applied with lion’s mask ring handles in the Regency taste. Fitted with a Bramah lock (one lug absent from top locking plate) and complete with working key. The interior lined with marbled end paper and period green silk velvet.

The present despatch box dates to the appointment of Sir Thomas Maitland as the first Governor of Malta in 1813 when the island became a Crown Colony rather than a British Protectorate. Malta came voluntarily under British control in 1800, following the ousting of the Knights of St John by Napoleon’s forces and the French occupation of 1798-1800. Britain was supposed to evacuate the island under the terms of 1802 Treaty of Amiens and sent Captain Sir Alexander Ball, R.N. - Nelson’s valued friend and comrade in the Battle of the Nile - back to Malta as the Plenipotentiary Minister of His British Majesty for the Order of Saint John to coordinate the departure of the British. However with the British withdrawal from Minorca and the loss of the long established Naval base at Port Mahon in accordance with the provisions of the same treaty, Malta assumed new strategic importance as the Royal Navy's principal Mediterranean base. Napoleon was anxious for the British to quit Grand Harbour, stating that he would prefer to see the them in possession of a Paris suburb than Malta.

Consequently Ball received instructions to delay the evacuation and in May 1803, Britain angered by Napoleon’s reordering of western Europe declared war once more. Sir Alexander Ball was possibly the British leader most loved by the Maltese population. Samuel Taylor Coleridge became an assistant to Ball in 1804 and later described his administration in The Friend, going as far as describing Ball as ‘a truly great man’. Ball died in the San Anton Palace in 1809 and was buried at Valletta. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 and the ratification of Treaty of Paris by the Congress of Vienna, Malta and all its dependencies passed under British jurisdiction until independence in 1964.