Early this year, an antique, oval, Georgian salver (Sheffield plate on copper) was placed on the market in England.

Details of the family crest, of a crested initial engraved in the centre of the tray and of a rather shallow inscription on the base were given, together with the salver's provenance.

As the inscription on the base was shallow, it did not penetrate through the silver plating. After years of polishing it has faded considerably; nevertheless, it can still be deciphered. It reads: "Lieut. Col. Count F Rivarola Com, Sicillian (sic) Regiment, Flociana (sic). 13th January 1812 from M. le. Brun and Leo. D. Christapol".

Considering its age and obvious regular use, the salver is in good condition. It had been bought from an auction house, which was selling various lots on behalf of the descendants of Lieutenant General The Most Noble Francesco, Count Rivarola, KCMG, KCH; to give him his full title. The salver was sold for £79.

Rivarola is an eminent, old Corsican family, which counts, among its past generations, senators, ambassadors, archbishops and cardinals.

Francis Rivarola had a most distinguished career in the British Army - a distinction in itself for a foreigner - during which he was actively involved in raising and commanding two Maltese regiments in the British Army, for service in Malta.

Commissioned Ensign in the Corsican Regiment on March 18, 1795, Rivarola reached the rank of Lieutenant General in the British Army on November 23, 1841, after a career spanning only (for those days) 46 years. As a leiutenant, he served in the 18th (Royal Irish) and the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiments of the Line, and was later Assistant Quartermaster General, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, under General Sir Ralph Abercrombie in 1800. In 1801 he raised the Malta Pioneers for non-combatant service in Abercrombie's Egyptian campaign and commanded them in action.

In 1804, Rivarola raised 300 Corsicans for active service in Italy; these he attached to a company of the Corsican Rangers and, with this mixed force, he embarked for Naples. In 1806 he raised The Royal Sicilian Regiment and, with a mixed force from this regiment and the Corsican Regiment, he captured the castle at Reggio, taking prisoner over 600 French soldiers of the 42nd Regiment of the Line. In 1807 he saw active service once again in Egypt, commanding the Royal Sicilian Regiment.

Maitland admired Count Rivarola and was impressed with his military prowess. In 1813, he appointed him Inspector-General of Police, with "dictatorial powers" for the express purpose of arresting the plague. The count claimed to have completely succeeded in this enterprise without losing a soldier and to have been equally successful in quelling the plague in Gozo. Lieutenant Colonel Rivarola was appointed, on April 27, 1815, Inspector of Maltese and foreign troops stationed in Malta.

Acting on Governor Maitland's plan to reorganise and strengthen Maltese regiments, Rivarola regrouped the Maltese Provincial Battalions (1802 to 1815) together with selected personnel from "The Maltese Militia" (1801-02) and the Coast Artillery (1803-15) into one regular regiment of infantry, designated The Royal Malta Fencible Regiment, which he personally commanded from 1815 to 1829, when he went abroad on active service, but he retained command until December 28, 1837.

Family legend has it that Colonel Rivarola commanded The Royal Sicilian Regiment at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but this is not, as far as I am aware, proved conclusively.

While commanding the Fencibles, the count was appointed Military and Civil Commandant of Zant, and later also of Cephalonia and Itchaca. In 1818, he returned to Malta, when the prestigious Order of St Michael and St George was founded. Governor Maitland, who had previously told Rivarola that his name would be on the first "Honours List" reluctantly decided to omit his name, because the Order's statutes specify that "only Ionians, Maltese and British subjects holding high and confidential situations in Malta and in The Ionian Islands, or in the Sovereign's service in the Mediterranean and other persons rendering important services in the Mediterranean" were eligible.

The last nomination to this distinguished Order during Bouverie's governorship was that of "Major General Francis, Count Rivarola, Colonel of The Royal Malta Fencible Regiment", who was appointed a Knight Commander (KCMG) on November 11, 1839 in recognition of his many years of service in Malta and The Ionian Islands. In 1832, he had also been created a Knight Commander of the (now defunct) Royal Order of the Guelphs of Hanover (KCH).

The General's last appointment was Lieutenant Governor of Zante. He died in Cephalonia on October 7, 1853, and was buried with full military honours.

In a letter to The Times, published on April 29, 2002, I had deplored the government's lack of initiative in failing to acquire the beautiful and historical Maltese silver salver which our grateful forefathers - from members of the nobility to the poverty-striken peasants - had jointly presented to Brigadier General Thomas Graham on his relinquishing command in Malta. The salver was duly sold at auction by Spink & Sons in London: an irreparable loss to this island!

Admittedly, Rivarola's salver is not in the same class as that of Graham. It was not presented by a grateful nation, but by two gentlemen whose association with the General is, to me at any rate, not at all clear. Perhaps a local historian can throw some light on this. Nevertheless, its acquisition for Malta would have enhanced the history of our early Maltese regiments, had the government seized this opportunity to purchase it.

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