Malta (2)

Arrive at Malta – Mr. Kirby & Greek Pilot leave us – Digression to the Language of Corfu

Tuesday 10th – wind still against us – heavy squalls occasionally – but by tacking & tacking about, we succeed in coming to an anchor at ½ 11 A. M. Immediately on our arrival, the Quarantine boat alongside, and we were placed under the same rigid surveillance as before. We remained at this place for three days, having been detained one day – and this time was felt by me to be the most tiresome and monotonous I have ever spent.

Our passengers from Corfu, a M.r W.m Kirby left us here to go to the lazaretto where he will be obliged to continue for ten days, before he is admitted to pratique. He was a very young man, very pleasant but shewed no particularity of character.

Along with him, we also brought from [Corfu] a Greek Pilot, a young man, who spoke English, Italian, French & Russian& Romaic with equal fluency and ease. A very necessary qualification, where ships of all these various nations are constantly requiring pilots, to secure them against the difficulties & dangers of the Grecian Archipelgo. By the bye I believe I forgot to mention that, at Corfu the Venetian dialect is in most common use in the city – but in the country, the Romaic is universally prevalent. Altho’ before I came to Corfu, I knew a little Greek (old Greek I mean) I found such a difference in the Sound and in the inflection of the words, that only in one or two exchanges of single words could the person I addressed, understand me, or I him. I saw however, several Greek signs and inscriptions, which, as the characters were the same as I had been accustomed to read were intelligible enough to me – and I remarked one in particular, which produced very curious train of feeling in my mind.

Impressions produced by Greek Sign

All the time my thoughts were running upon Greece in days of old, and my eyes were employed in endeavouring to catch every trace of antiquity which might heighten the illusion, which I wished to be produced, a sign caught my attention, almost irresistibly with these words on it in bright golden letters “KAFFENES THE METAAHE BPITANNIAE,” i.e. [which], as Jacob can inform you [means], ]Coffee House of Great Britain.] A British Coffee H/Room in the mus(es)ical Isles of Ionia – a nation, at the time, when Greece was at the height of her glory and civilization, then immersed in a state of the darkest ignorance & barbarism, now, giving laws to these very isles, and showing themselves far superior to them “in the march of intellect and improvement.” Such are the wayward fancies, which strike or seize the mind, that this slight circumstance impressed me more powerfully than either the dress or language of the inhabitants – which have both from their communicating with other nations been very much changed, for the worse

Great change of Language in Greece – Site of Aient Coreyra

What a strange mixture is observed in Corfu, of languages – houses – and articles for sale. I heard on all sides persons calling out to me “Signore Signior,” with an invitation in the Venetian dialect to purchase their wares. I heard countrymen conversing together in Barbarous Greek – but oh!!! How unlike that mellifluous and “ore rotiendo” language, which I had pictured to myself, and of which ancient authors spoke so much. Alas it must have been greatly deteriorated since the days of Demosthenes, Themphon &.c not only in richness, elegance, and variety, but also in sound – the delusion, under which I laboured so long, still to have continued than to have been thus so awfully undeceived. I would never advise Jacob, if he is anxious to remain in the high opinion, which he entertains of the dignity & beauty of the Greek, to pay a visit to the Ionian isles, even should the opportunity occur.
I was very sorry, that the badness of the weather, and the shortness of our stay, prevented me from paying a visit to the ancient site of Coreyra. I was told. however, by the Rev.d M.r Lowndes, that very few vestiges of it are now perceptible – nor are they at all valuable with the exception of a few coins and pieces of sculpture.

A Piratical Vessel brought to Malta

But to return from this digression on Corfu to Malta. On Thursday 12th February, [an] H.M. Brig of war, came this morning into Marda-musschelles Harbour, together with a Greek piratical vessel, which she had captured. Five men belonging to the Brig were wounded and one killed, by the fire of the rovers, as they were about to board them. Four only of the pirates have been made prisoners, and will shortly meet the fate they deserve, while unfortunately twenty made their escape by jumping over board, and a few received a more honourable death by the bullet, than if they had lived to be carried to Malta. This piratical vessel is supposed to be the last which was known to be prowling about the Grecian seas seeking whom they might devour.

Short Account of Malta. Soil – Harbours – Caves – & Stone Ornaments

Before quitting Malta I shall briefly mention a few other particulars, which I learned during our three days stay.

The island of Malta is composed of small valleys, defiles and hills. It was in its original state almost a naked rock – but now has been transformed by the hand of industry, into a place, where the labour of cultivation is abundantly rewarded. Indeed considering the nature of the soil the produce is most extraordinary in quantity and variety. With infinite trouble as you may suppose, the soil has been imported from Sicily – and it is said, that the earth requires to be removed once in ten years, in order to clear away from the rock underneath a thick crust which prevents the moisture of the rain and dew from sufficiently penetrating.

Malta has two harbours named the Coradina or Great Harbour and the Harbour of Marsamuschetto. In the former, by the regulations, kings ships only are permitted to perform quarantine while all merchant vessels must go thro’ their quarantine in the latter.

The island is full of caves or grottoes, and one of the most considerable of these, most usually visited, extends more than 200 paces under ground. Perhaps the great number of these natural excavations may be owing to the extreme softness of the stone, which in many parts is such that it can easily be cut with a knife – and thus the various causes, which occasion subterranean passages elsewhere, would act here with greater facility and to a greater extend. In consequence too, of these remarkable qualities of the stone, you may purchase stone vases of elegant designs and workmanship, and every other kind of ornament, at a less price than you would give for a Stucco one in Edinburgh. For instance, you may have a stone vase of considerable size, neat and elegant, for the sum of one Shilling Sterling, which, if I mistake not, would cost you at home 8 or 10/-.

Stone field-partitions &.c at Malta

So plentiful is the stone that the partitions, between each field and garden (and here they are more numerous than I have ever seen them) are all of them of this material – which practice, altho’ it imparts a very heavy look to the country, has the advantage of supporting the weight of the artificial soil.

After having been in sight of Malta now five days in all, I find that my sentiments are becoming more and more in favour of it – and my regret proportionally greater, that I cannot obtain access to its interior beauties and defects. But patience is a virtue, “and what canna be cured maun be endured,” and so I take my leave of Malta, without expecting ever to be allowed to go ashore, as it is understood, that no vessel, coming from certain parts (among which are Cadiz, Gibraltar and Corfu) Shall have free practique – else, if they had, no vessels coming from Malta, would have the same either in France, Sicily or Italy.

Leave Malta

At ½ past two oClock P.M. on Friday 13th Feb.ry – we gladly got under weigh, altho’ the wind was blowing half a gale and that too in a direction, quite in our teeth, as we were bound for Gibraltar. The captain, however, judged it to be better and more pleasant to be sailing about in any wind than lying in Quarantine at Malta. Our course, as we were allowed by the wind to make it, was in the direction of the island of Sicily.

Read on … 18 Days at Sea