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Queen Adelaide and the Extension of Anglicanism in Malta

  • Nicholas Dixon (a1)


On a visit to Malta in 1838, Queen Adelaide expressed severe disappointment that the British colony did not possess a purpose-built Anglican place of worship. She determined to fund the building of one at her personal expense and within six years the grandiose neoclassical church of St Paul's, Valletta, was completed. This imposing structure occupied an ambiguous position in a colony where the British government was pledged to maintain Roman Catholicism. St Paul's was ostensibly intended for the existing Anglican population in Malta. However, the church was perceived by both evangelicals and Roman Catholics as a potential instrument of propagating Protestantism. In examining the basis for these perceptions, this article suggests that St Paul's was part of a larger effort, driven by high church clergy connected with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), to influence the Maltese towards greater sympathy with the Anglican tradition, while avoiding overt proselytizing. The concomitant establishment of the diocese of Gibraltar in 1842 was, it is argued, key to this enterprise. The analysis advanced here has important implications for our understanding of Anglicanism in an imperial context, the contribution of royal patronage to this process and the conflict between religious and governmental imperatives.


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*Pembroke College, Cambridge, CB2 1RF. E-mail:


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1 Keighley, Alan, Queen Adelaide's Church (Trowbridge, 2000), 172; ‘National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands’, entries 552, 556, online at: <>, accessed 27 August 2017.

2 Bonnici, Arthur, ‘Thirty Years to Build a Protestant Church’, Melita Historica 6 (1973), 183–91; Keighley, Queen Adelaide's Church, 1–44.

3 Gill, Robin, Changing Worlds: Can the Church Respond? (Edinburgh, 2002), 109.

4 Malta Times, 31 December 1844, quoted in Gill, Changing Worlds, 109.

5 The Tablet, 24 February 1844, 115.

6 Bayly, Christopher, Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780–1830 (London, 1989), 136–7, 141–2; see also Ciappara, Frans, M. A. Vassalli: An Enlightened Maltese Reformer (Santa Venera, Malta, 2014), 115–38; Atkins, Gareth, ‘William Jowett's Christian Researches: British Protestants and Religious Plurality in the Mediterranean, Syria and the Holy Land, 1815–30’, in Methuen, Charlotte, Spicer, Andrew and Wolffe, John, eds, Christianity and Religious Pluralism, SCH 51 (Cambridge, 2015), 216–31.

7 Strong, Rowan, Anglicanism and the British Empire, c.1700–1850 (Oxford, 2007), especially 1040, 198–221.

8 Carey, Hilary, God's Empire: Religion and Colonialism in the British Empire, c.1801–1908 (Cambridge, 2011), 17, 65.

9 Hardwick, Joseph, An Anglican British World: The Church of England and the Expansion of the Settler Empire, c.1790–1860 (Manchester, 2014), 125.

10 See, for example, Barr, Colin and Carey, Hilary, eds, Religion and Greater Ireland: Christianity and Irish Global Networks (Montreal, QC, 2015).

11 Missionary enterprises are largely absent from the most comprehensive study of modern royal charitable activity: Prochaska, Frank, Royal Bounty: The Making of a Welfare Monarchy (New Haven, CT, 1995).

12 Relations between the British Government and the Roman Catholic Church in Malta during this period are described in Harrison Smith, Britain in Malta, 2 vols (Malta, 1953), 1: 73–100; Koster, Adrianus, Prelates and Politicians in Malta: Changing Power-Balances between Church and State in a Mediterranean Island Fortress (1800–1976) (Assen, 1984), 3551; Bezzina, Joseph, ‘Church and State in an Island Colony’, in Mallia-Milanes, Victor, ed., The British Colonial Experience, 1800–1964: The Impact on Maltese Society (Msida, Malta, 1988), 4778.

13 See Atchison, Thomas, Some Particulars relative to the Co-operation Required of the British Troops in Malta, in the Superstitious Ceremonies of the Romish Church (London, 1826); idem, The Idolatrous Ceremonies of the Roman Catholic and Greek Churches at Malta, Corfu, and Zante, in which the Officers, Civil and Military, and Troops of the British Army are Commanded to Join (London, 1830); London, LPL, Fulham Papers [hereafter: FP], Blomfield Papers 65, fols 182r–183r, John Le Mesurier to Charles Blomfield, 27 August 1829.

14 LPL, FP, Blomfield Papers 65, fol. 178r, John Le Mesurier to George Tomlinson, 24 June 1828. John Henry Newman lamented this state of affairs on a visit to Malta in 1833: Mozley, Anne, ed., Letters and Correspondence of John Henry Newman, 2 vols (London, 1891), 1: 31.

15 Rabat, National Archives of Malta, CSG03/1048, John Cleugh to Frederick Bouverie, 9 January 1826.

16 LPL, FP, Howley Papers 4, p. 522, Lord Hastings to William Howley, 13 February 1826.

17 LPL, FP, Blomfield Papers 65, fol. 180, Le Mesurier to Blomfield, 12 March 1829.

18 On this Mediterranean empire, see Bayly, Imperial Meridian, 102–4, 196–202; Holland, Robert, Blue-Water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean since 1800 (London, 2012).

19 On Nott, see Villani, Stefano, George Frederick Nott (1768–1841). Un ecclesiastico Anglicano, tra teologica, letteratura, arte, archeologica, bibliofilia e collezionismo (Rome, 2012).

20 [George Frederick Nott], General Statement respecting the Facility of Building a Church for the English at Malta (Winchester, n.d.), 7. This pamphlet was printed with another entitled General Statement of the Quantity of Ecclesiastical Duty to be Performed by the Two Chaplains at Malta (Winchester, n.d.). On the rationale for dating these pamphlets to c.1835 and attributing them to Nott, see Villani, Nott, 869.

21 [Nott], General Statement respecting the Facility, 8–11.

22 Ibid. 12.

23 Ibid. 13.

24 Ibid. 13–15. A secondary concern of Nott's was to prevent a growth in Dissent: ibid. 14. A Methodist chapel was built in Valletta c.1824 but closed in 1843, its premises being taken over by the nascent Free Church of Scotland: Sim, G. A., ‘Religious Liberty in Malta’, in Maintaining the Unity: Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference and Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the Evangelical Alliance held in London, July 1907 (London, 1907), 205–16, at 208–9.

25 [Nott], General Statement respecting the Facility, 15–16.

26 Ibid. 16.

27 Villani, Nott, 870–1.

28 [Nott], General Statement respecting the Facility, 20.

29 CUL, SPCK MS A16/1, 68, SPCK Foreign Translation Committee [hereafter: FTC] Minutes, 11 July 1836. SPCK material is cited by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

30 Prochaska, Royal Bounty, 55–60; Thomas, Marilyn, ‘Royal Charity and Queen Adelaide in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in Button, Marilyn and Sheetz-Nguyen, Jessica, eds, Victorians and the Case for Charity: Essays on Responses to English Poverty by the State, the Church and the Literati (Jefferson, NC, 2014), 4257.

31 Pereiro, James, ‘Ethos’ and the Oxford Movement: At the Heart of Tractarianism (Oxford, 2007), 1725; Hardwick, Anglican British World, 110–14. ‘High church’ in this context does not generally denote Tractarianism, but rather an older high churchmanship of the kind described in Nockles, Peter, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760–1857 (Cambridge, 1994).

32 Jacob, W. M., The Making of the Anglican Church Worldwide (London, 1997), 118; I am grateful to Dr Jacob for drawing this episode to my attention.

33 Gray, Charles N., ed., Life of Robert Gray, Bishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of Africa (London, 1883), 49. Adelaide also donated high church furnishings to St Michael's Church, Lewes: Goring, Jeremy, Burn Holy Fire: Religion in Lewes since the Reformation (Cambridge, 2003), 124.

34 Benson, Arthur and Esher, Viscount [Brett, Reginald], eds, The Letters of Queen Victoria: A Selection from Her Majesty's Correspondence between the Years 1837 and 1861, 3 vols (London, 1908), 1: 138, Queen Adelaide to Queen Victoria, 13 December 1839. Adelaide expended around £20,000 on the church: Keighley, Queen Adelaide's Church, 25.

35 Kew, TNA, CO 158/106, Bouverie to Lord Glenelg, 6 January 1839; Bouverie to Glenelg, 20 March 1839. For an account of the laying of the foundation stone, see Morning Post, 9 April 1839, 5.

36 LPL, MS 1754, fols 5r–6r, Adelaide to Howley, 1 November 1840.

37 See above, 286.

38 LPL, MS 2185, fol. 145r, Earl Howe to Howley, 5 January 1839. Adelaide, in advocating a bishopric, went one stage further than Le Mesurier and Nott, who had only envisaged a ‘superintending Minister’.

39 Bonnici, ‘Protestant Church’, 187.

40 TNA, CO 158/95, Bouverie to Glenelg, 16 March 1837.

41 Morning Post, 4 December 1844, 5.

42 On the dominance of the Gothic style in Anglican church architecture within the British Empire during the mid-nineteenth century, see Bremner, G. A., Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire, c.1840–1870 (New Haven, CT, 2013). On the architecture of St Paul's, see Borg, Malcolm, British Colonial Architecture: Malta (1800–1900) (Malta, 2001), 44–9; Thake, Conrad, ‘William Scamp: An Appraisal of his Architectural Drawings and Writings on St Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Valletta’, Treasures of Malta 23 (2017), 1224.

43 William Scamp, Report and plans of St Paul's Anglican Cathedral, 28 March 1844, quoted in Thake, ‘William Scamp’, 20.

44 Gentleman's Magazine, December 1844, 632.

45 Morning Post, 28 April 1841, 3.

46 Knight, Henry J. C., The Diocese of Gibraltar: A Sketch of its History, Work and Tasks (London, 1917), 41–2, 54–6. May Tomlinson, daughter of the first bishop of Gibraltar, referred to him as ‘1st. Bishop of Gibraltar & Malta’: Cambridge, St John's College Biographical Archive, entry for George Tomlinson, May Tomlinson to Robert Forsyth-Scott, 25 November 1925. Cited by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge.

47 On Tomlinson, see Allen, Peter, The Cambridge Apostles: The Early Years (Cambridge, 1978), 22–4. His role in the SPCK is recorded in Tomlinson, George, Report of a Journey to the Levant, addressed to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, President of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London, 1841), and throughout the FTC Minutes: CUL, SPCK MS A16/1–2. See also Tomlinson, George, A Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Approaching Tercentenary of the English Prayer Book, and of the Establishment of the Reformation in England (London, 1848).

48 Tomlinson, George, A Charge Delivered to the Clergy of the Diocese and Jurisdiction of Gibraltar, at the Visitation, held in the English Collegiate Church of St.Paul, Malta, December 28, 1844 (London, 1845), 33.

49 CUL, SPCK MS A16/1, 220, FTC Minutes, 24 October 1842.

50 Morning Post, 13 February 1845, 5.

51 David Dandria, ‘A 19th-Century Apostate Priest and Cause Célèbre’, Times of Malta, 11 October 2015.

52 CUL, SPCK MS A16/1, 299–300, 318–19, FTC Minutes, 11 March, 28 June 1844.

53 CUL, SPCK MS A16/2, 152, FTC Minutes, 3 July 1847. Tomlinson overlooked the earlier efforts of the Maltese professor Mikiel Anton Vassalli, who translated parts of the New Testament into Maltese for the CMS during the 1820s: Ciappara, Vassalli, 122–34.

54 Malta Times, 6 April 1852, quoted in Mallia, S., ‘The Malta Protestant College’, Melita Historica 10 (1990), 257–82, at 260. Despite this episcopal sanction, the college was initially viewed with suspicion on account of its evangelical founders’ failure to inform Tomlinson of their plans. See Blomfield's letters to Tomlinson from August 1844: LPL, FP, Blomfield Papers 41, fols 134–6, 156–8.

55 Wilson, S. S., A Narrative of the Greek Mission, or, Sixteen Years in Malta and Greece (London, 1839), ii.

56 Burton, H. E., ‘Lines presented to Her Majesty the Queen Dowager on her return from Malta, May, 1839’, in Linda, or, the Festival: A Metrical Romance of Ancient Scinde, with Minor Poems (London, 1845), 51–2. This collection was dedicated with permission to Queen Adelaide; cf. ‘Sonnet: On Founding the First Protestant Church in the Island of Malta, by the Dowager Queen, Adelaide’, The Churchman, June 1839, 200. On William IV's deathbed prayer, see [Wood, John Ryle], Some Recollections of the Last Days of His Late Majesty King William the Fourth (London, 1837).

57 The Harlequin, 21 March 1839, quoted in Badger, G. P., Trial of J. Richardson, for an Alleged Libel against the Roman Catholic Religion (Valletta, 1839), 8.

58 Church of England Magazine, 3 January 1852, 6.

59 Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, October 1847, 126.

60 Smith, Britain in Malta, 1: 86–7.

61 Galea, Joseph, ‘An Unpublished Diary of Queen Adelaide's Visit to Malta in 1838’, Scientia 29 (1963), 99116, at 107–8.

62 Floriana, Archdiocese of Malta Archives, Corrispondenza 1838/40, fol. 842, Cardinal Lambruschini to Archbishop Caruana, 12 February 1839; I am grateful to Fr Nicholas Doublet for supplying me with a copy of this letter.

63 Roberts, Emma, Notes of an Overland Journey through France and Egypt to Bombay (London, 1841), 65; The Harlequin, 27 June 1839, quoted in The Era, 21 July 1839, 513.

64 Winchester, Hampshire Record Office, DC/M5/5/1 part 2, ‘Recollections of Louisianna Gibson, 1817–1899’, 18.

65 Seddall, Henry, Malta: Past and Present (London, 1870), 240–4.

66 National Archives of Malta, CSG03/1068, Cleugh et al. to William Sim, 19 October 1848.

67 Laferla, A. V., British Malta, 2 vols (Malta, 1938–47), 1: 211.

68 Keighley, Queen Adelaide's Church, 37–8.



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