Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica : Journal of the Malta Historical Society. 1(1952)1(53)

Five Naval Journals 1789-1817, edited by rear-admiral H.G. Thursfield. Printed for the Navy Records Society, 1951, pp. xiii-389.

This book has been compiled from the Journals or rough diaries kept by the reverend Edward Mangin, Peter Cullen, Robert Mereer Wilson, Charles Abbot, and Captain W. Pryce Cumby. There are also the Letters from the Lower Deck, dated 1794-1811, an exhaustive appendix, and an index; six illustrations are also included.

In the navy of the early nineteenth century the seamen expressed no grievance at being turned out time after time to weigh anchor, after they had anchored only one hour or two earlier, when they knew that there was a prize money to be earned thereby. The distribution of prize money to the shipís company was fairly frequent, for there was a Prize Court at Malta ó that court of which Lord Cockrane fell foul. Proceeds, indeed, were often realized within a matter of weeks from the capture, and the adjudication was fairly rapid, as is evinced from the many documents in the Royal Malta Library.

Robert Wilsonís Journal is of special interest to Malta, and its finest monument in Valletta, St. Johnís Church, figures prominently. Wilson was promoted acting second master by order of rear-admiral Sir Alexander Ball, then senior naval officer at Malta, and from H.M.S. Alceste he moved to the gun-brig Confounder. During this time he compiled the journal under study. In the Public Records Office, in London, there is the Masterís log of the Confounder, from which we can glean a good deal of information on Malta and the British navy stationed here. Sub-Lieutenant John Richardson and Mr. Ralph Willoughby Cleghorn, assistant surgeon, both serving on the Confounder, were tried by court martial at Malta on March 4, 1810, on the charge of being drunk.

The following is an extract from the Journal: entry dated Tuesday 12th January, 1808 (p. 214).

ď...During the time I was on shore I visited the beautiful church of St. Johnís, and was struck with wonder and surprise at the noble and excellent scriptural paintings that adorned the church. The communion was grand beyond expression, the images both paintings and of marble were like life itself; you even walked on marble of a most beautiful colour. Under the church on the west side is a large vault, wherein are deposited several urns with the bodies of some great men, embalmed, such as the founder of the church; etc. You descend to this vault by a flight of strait steps, and on your entrance therein you are struck with a sudden awe, all is gloomy and silent. A wicket affords a little light to this dreary abode of the dead. On the east side inside the church is an altar of the Blessed Virginís where a lamp is always kept burning before her picture, which is a masterpiece. The railing around is all of silver but was blackened over to avoid being taken away by Buonaparte. On the south-east part of the church is a chapel, called St. Johnís chapel, which is adorned with beautiful pictures and has a most superb organ, which only is played on great occasions. In short St. Johnís is a church well worth a strangerís notice; it is a grand place, but like most of the churches up here has too much pageantry displayed.Ē

J.G.