Original documents providing new details on the Sette Giugno disturbances are being published for the first time in a revised second edition of a book being launched on the 100th anniversary of that fateful day.
On June 7, 1919, three Maltese protesters, Manwel Attard, Ġużeppi Bajada and Lorenzo Dyer, died when British troops fired at a rioting crowd in front of leading grain importer Anthony Cassar Torreggiani’s house in Strada Forni (Old Bakery Street), Valletta, and those attacking The Daily Malta Chronicle offices in Strada Teatro (Old Theatre Street). Another protester, Carmelo Abela, was stabbed at the palace of Colonel John Louis Francia (Palazzo Ferreria) the following day and succumbed to his injuries a few days later.
However, Sette Giugno is not only about these tragic deaths but revolves around a whole series of circumstances and events that led to and followed the uprisings.
Various factors were at play, especially unemployment, hunger and misery under British rule, newly-introduced taxes, which mostly affected merchants and the nobility, irate university students opposed to the introduction of a British education system, and various political developments including a widespread call among the Maltese for self-government.
Besides detailing the historical facts, the revised edition of X’kien ġara sew fis-Sette Giugno (What truly happened on June 7), first published 40 years ago, includes a new chapter that analyses a number of issues related to the events.
Among other matters, author Paul Bartolo discusses the rise in the cost of living, including the threefold increase in the price of bread, and the number of injured, dead and arrests made after the shootings. He delves into the subsequent British government’s strategy to control and calm down the crowds, how the decision to carry out a military inquiry was made and why the soldiers who shot at the Maltese were not punished.
He tackles the Maltese people’s request for self-government and asks whether the events of Sette Giugno amounted to a riot, a rebellion or a revolution. He chronicles how the happenings were reported by the Italian and British press and, in conclusion, goes into how all these events contributed to the development of democracy in Malta.
The over-500-page publication also includes copies of various original documents, which the author found at the national archives both in Malta and the UK while doing research for his Master’s dissertation on the effects of World War I.
“The book mainly focuses on the evidence of the Sette Giugno inquiry. The aim is, however, not only to explain history but to give readers the possibility to see the original documents… as if they visited the archives themselves,” Prof. Bartolo said.
The publication includes chronological lists of those injured during the shootings, those who were court-martialled in England and relevant excerpts of the evidence tendered to the Commission of Inquiry, which heard the testimony of about 150 Maltese and English witnesses.
The commission’s report is found in the appendix together with letters by social reformer Manwel Dimech and politician Nerik Mizzi, among other documents.
The book is complemented by various visuals, including photographs from the private archive of Giovanni Bonello, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, that were never published before. These include images of life in Malta in the early 20th century, the first National Assembly meeting on February 25, 1919, and politicians and protagonists connected to the Sette Giugno events, including Dr Mizzi and Lord Plumer, the governor who assumed office on June 10, 1919, and recommended liberal concessions to the Maltese.
Every fact is documented
There are also pictures of thevictims’ funeral cortège from Floriana, where Mass was held, to the Addolorata Cemetery on June 9.
Also included are maps highlighting the venues in Valletta where the salient events happened, such as the Circolo La Giovine Malta premises where the National Assembly was sitting (St Lucy Street corner with Republic Street), Mr Cassar Torregiani’s home in Strada Forni, the offices of The Daily Malta Chronicle in Strada Teatro and the Union Club, the Britons’ hang-out in Strada Reale (now the Archaeology Museum, in Republic Street). The spots where the victims were wounded are also marked.
In the book’s foreword, Dr Bonello praises Prof. Bartolo’s meticulous and methodological approach to bring to light the “true facts”.
“Paul Bartolo provides a fundamental contribution so that the story of Sette Giugno is neither forgotten nor woven into fantasy and fairy tales, which, unfortunately, often happens in Malta. Every fact is documented, every opinion is anchored by evidence, with results nothing short of impressive,” he writes.
The hardback book is published by Klabb Kotba Maltin, the Maltese publishing arm of Midsea Books. It is available at all leading bookstores or from www.midseabooks.com.
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