Genealogy Brick Walls – A Callus Family Tree Correction

©Janet Kelly - 2015

© Janet Kelly – 2015

I am taking down my post ‘Callus Family Trees – Malta 1686 – 1811’ due to an error I’ve made attaching the oldest parentage on the family tree. Happily this new post will provide an updated tree which I am  confident is correct.

From time to time every keen family historian will come up against a brick wall. How to get around it can be time consuming and frustrating. Sometimes it just means no more can be done until new records or leads become available and that may mean some time hence or even never. While it is essential to keep thinking laterally to try and find new connections, it is also tempting to sometimes make speculative leaps. The danger is in allowing these to be presented as certainties when they are anything but!

In my post ‘Callus Family Trees – Malta 1656 – 1811’, I fell into precisely this trap.  The oldest record found was a manuscript image of the marriage for Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Faruggia in 1688 in the parish of Zurrieq in Southern Malta (Archdiocese Malta Archives). Unfortunately the state of the manuscript, the illegible handwriting of the priest and the late medieval Latin abbreviations defeated me. I just could not decipher the names of the parents for Gregorio and Maruzza. Without these names, the ability to go back further generations was nigh on impossible. This was my brick wall!

So how did I then come to decide that Gregorio’s parents were Francesco Callus and Margarita Gristi? Well my “work around” the problem was to scan the baptism records for the parish of Zurrieq to identify any Gregorio Calluses between about 1640 – 70. I found only the one so made the leap of deciding that this must therefore be my man. The same logic could not work for Maruzza Farrugia, his bride. Both her first name and surname were SO common in the district, it was impossible to say which baptism might be hers.

Why then, you may ask, do I now think this approach was wrong?  Well, I had to return to the original marriage manuscript to see if the name of Francesco could be discerned in the record and at the time, thought that it could. On a later viewing though I detected a reference to a Joseph of Casal Crendi, (a little village on the outskirts of Zurrieq), and also the name Callus, which sowed a seed of doubt.  I think now the name I took to be Francesco was actually Farrugia!

I eventually decided I would have to try and get to grips with paleography techniques and archaic Latin terms (oh joy)! The National Archives website provides some useful tips on the paleography of different periods with lots of examples (The National Archives Paleography Tutorial).  I also used a couple of books for working through the Latin (Durie, 2009, and Stuart, 1995). These helped me to pick out a couple of possible leads for the parentage; Maruzza’s father appeared to be abbreviated to Gio Domencio Farrugia but her mother’s name remained undecipherable. Gregorio’s father did indeed appear to be Josephi Callus quondam of Crendi (now Qrendi). The Latin term quondam means the late or deceased.

Marriage 1688 of Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Farrugia, Zurrieq, Malta. With permission J. Massa.

Marriage 18 Sept 1688 of Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Farrugia, Zurrieq, Malta. Source: Josyanne Massa with permission.

My next source of help was a call-out to a French Yahoo Group – La Généalogie à Malte run by Josyanne Massa, to ask if anyone had access to any registers for the parish of Qrendi. Josyanne looked up Gregorio’s marriage from her own records first (i.e. the image reproduced above, which is clearer than the one at AMA), and then located him and his family in the census for Qrendi dating 1681. This showed Gregorio age 17 living with his father, Joseph, 69 and mother, Marietta, 58 in Qrendi. She also found a Will for Gregorio’s mother, Marietta, dated 1691 naming her children as heirs which then enabled me to spot one of Gregorio’s married sisters living next door to him in the census (Francesca)! This is genealogy at its best, being able to triangulate different pieces of evidence. The further back in time you go, the less likely such evidence survives.

Family of Gregorio Callus (Parents, siblings and children) 1690s.

Family of Gregorio Callus (Parents, siblings and children) 1690s.

A certain number of assumptions have had to be made in producing the chart above and there remain some queries to be reconciled with the records. These are outlined below.


Caterinella was the first child to be married (in 1660 to Lorenzo Gristi). Girls were married very young and as her own parents married in 1642, I have therefore assumed she was the first child born c. 1643 which would have made her about 17 when she married. However it appears her father Giuseppe, had a previous marriage to Catherina Bugeja in 1640, so although Caterinella’s marriage record states her parents were Giuseppe and Marietta, there remains a possibility that Marietta may have been her step-mother.

Bartolomea and Maltese Slavery Practices

There are some slight anomalies associated with another daughter, Bartolomea. In the 1691 will of Marietta, she is described as the widow of Battista Grech. However by 1691 she had already remarried Pietro Paolo Vella (in 1689). It may be that the Will was written before she remarried and the record date is the date of probate, I’m not sure.

An interesting note about her first husband is that on their marriage record he is recorded as being a baptised slave. The marriage (dated 18 Jan 1671) also records his name as Gio Battista Verrela not Grech. We do not know what his original religion was, but the likelihood is that he was a muslim as the Maltese were known to enslave any muslims they took captive on the high seas or during raids on the North African (Barbary) coast. However Jews were also taken into slavery and of course if Christians were captured by the Turks or North Africans, they could expect the same treatment!

The vast majority of slaves on Malta were male and were recruited to man the galleys of the Knights of St John. In 1632 there were 1284 galley slaves and 649 privately owned. Some slaves were employed as artisans in the manufacture of sail cloth, others to work as agricultural labourers. A survey commissioned by the Knights in 1645 found only 100 female slaves and these were mainly used for domestic service (P.Cassar, 1968).  The Knights were cautious to prevent insurrections so most slaves were locked up at night in one of a number of slave prisons. Private individuals were only allowed to keep one slave at home and these were not allowed out after sunset (G. Cini, 2002).

Slaves could expect brutal punishments for transgressions but might get slightly better treatment if they converted to Christianity, which many of them did. ‘Battista’ of course means ‘baptised’ (Jean Baptiste  and Gio Battista being popular christian names after John the Baptist).  If they were freed (a process called manumission), then they were also allowed to marry. Many would then take the name of their former owner or their Godfather, adding the prefix ‘de’ or ‘di’ which their descendants then tended to drop (S. Vassalo, Malta Genealogy). The name Verrela may have been his slave owner’s surname. In the records, freed slaves are often referred to as manumesso (m) or manumessa (f) but this is not the case for Battista which begs the question of whether he was actually free at this point. Slaves required special permission to marry and it would have been quite unusual to have married a free person and potentially very stigmatising to be married to a slave. Another possibility is that Battista was the son of a slave, which might have given him some expectation of being released. The appearance of a different name seems to suggest this, the choice of Grech, meaning Greek, being a very common Maltese surname, akin to Smith or Jones in the UK.  However just to complicate things even further, on Bartolomea’s second marriage, she is recorded as the widow of Carlo Battandi. This is rather curious. Was she remarried and widowed again between Battista’s death and her marriage to Pietro Vella? I cannot find another marriage record. What is known from the first marriage record is that Battista’s father was called Carlo, so it is possible this may also have been his own original first name and Battandi his original surname.  All of this is, of course, speculation and must therefore be treated with caution.


Now some observations concerning Francesca. She was aged 25 on the 1681 census for Qrendi, while her husband was 32 and her children, Aloisa aged 3 and Joseph, a few months. Yet she married Antonio Tabone only in October 1681! It seems unlikely that she would have had two children by him out of wedlock, so once again, it is possible that there had been a previous marriage with Antonio’s first wife dying in childbirth (but no record found). In those circumstances, widowers were often quite keen to remarry quickly to provide a step-mother for their children. While this might seem quite a surprising and perhaps an unappealing prospect to young women today, to be unmarried at the grand old age of 25 in 1681 was to be considered ‘left on the shelf’. Marriage was essential for any woman without independent means because it provided financial security for her future and gave her status in the community. In such a tiny place as Qrendi, Francesca probably already knew her husband very well and was only too happy to be asked.  However, Francesca left a will in 1692 naming her cousins on her mother’s side as her main heirs. This suggests that the children on the census may have predeceased her and she may have had no further children of her own.

Facade of Hagar Qim by Hamelin de Guettelet

Facade of Hagar Qim by Hamelin de Guettelet (Own work)

The Parish of Qrendi or Crendi

Finally, a note about Qrendi. It was originally part of the parish of Zurrieq but was made a separate parish in 1618. It is a tiny village, very close to the ancient neolithic temples of Hager Qim, which date back to around 3000 BC, and the Blue Grotto, a famous beauty spot in Malta. It is also noted for having a number of defensive towers built to provide some protection against barbary pirate attacks which were not infrequent.


Revised Callus Family Tree c.1600

With the corrections made above, I can now provide a new family tree chart for the Callus descendants of Gregorio’s parents Giuseppe and Marietta born c. 1612. This particular chart starts from Giuseppe born c.1612 and shows all his (known) descendants up to Andrea born 1811.


Maltese Callus Family Tree c. 1600-1800 (All relatives) Click on image to enlarge (opens in new window). Click again to zoom in.

For more information on the descendants of Gregorio, please visit my previous post:

From the Blue Sea I Took my Name’

How far back can the family be traced now?

Incredibly, I have now been able to trace back the Callus family tree to the time parish records began in Malta – the mid 1500s! This does represent quite a breakthrough as it is a rare thing for non-nobles to be able to go back so far.  I will not share the details just now but will make them the subject of a future post.

Unfortunately I was not so lucky with Marruzza Farrugia. Her father’s name has yet to be located in the records and her mother’s name remains a mystery. Without this and with such a common surname it will be very hard to be absolutely certain as to her parentage. If anyone reading this can make out the names from the image above, do please get in touch.

I would like to acknowledge my sincere gratitude to Josyanne Massa for all her help with this research.

Further information

Yahoo Groups – Malte Genealogie

The National Archives – Guide to Paleography

Cini, G. (2002), Horrible Torture in the Streets of Valletta, Times of Malta 10-06-2002

Cassar, P. (1968), A Medical Service for Slaves in Malta During the Rule of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Med. Hist. 1968 July; 12 (3): 270-277.

Durie, B. (2009), Scottish Genealogy, The History Press, Stroud. (A useful general guide to genealogy not just Scottish).

Stuart, D. (1995), Latin for Local and Family Historians: a Beginner’s Guide, Phillimore, Chichester.

Malta Genealogy – Released Slaves in Malta and their Spouses, (6 Sept 2016).

Exodus – To The Levant And North Africa

Exodus – To The Levant And North Africa

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies – but in battalions!”

(Shakespeare, Hamlet Act IV, Sc. 5).

Between 1818 and the early 1830s people began emigrating from the Maltese islands at a rate of around 1 to 2000  per year, the rate doubling towards the mid 1830s and only abating after about 1842. By this time some 20,000 Maltese had left (approx 15% of the population).  My ancestors joined the exodus. In this article I will describe what drove people to leave and to the destinations they chose.

Economic Decline

In the early 1800s Malta had a successful if somewhat volatile economy. The majority of its industry centred on cotton production which gave employment to pretty much the majority of the population one way or another, but it also prospered from its position as a useful shipping stopover for the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and it did good business in smuggling.

The first blow came at the end of the Napoleonic Wars when new ports opened up for traders resulting in less shipping traffic coming into the Grand Harbour of the capital Valletta. Malta also became less important as a base for smuggling.

Quays of Grand Harbour Valletta wood engraved print 1891

Engraving of Valletta Grand Harbour 1891 c/o

The biggest catastrophe to the economy was the impact of the Plague of Malta in 1813. Quarantine restrictions across the island stopped the production of cotton spinning and export in its tracks as the congregation of people and movements between the villages, towns and ports were vetoed. Foreign ports also required shipping from Malta to be quarantined, so trade was all but extinguished for over a year. Some foreign ports insisted on keeping quarantine restrictions on Maltese shipping until as late as 1826 (perhaps not entirely for health reasons)! During this time, importers found new, cheaper producers from places like Syria, Egypt and India. New commercial treaties were negotiated to try and boost trade but only succeeded in further depressing the market and lowering wages for growers, spinners and weavers. Customs duties were also raised to try and generate revenues but just ended up further damaging trade. The Maltese economy started to spiral towards bankruptcy.

Some new enterprises were introduced to try and fill the gap, such as silk farming, which failed, and tobacco, which was the most successful. Cigar making employed 600 hands across the whole island at its height in 1842. Yet in 1813, my ancestor Joseph Callus, had employed 100 hands in a single cotton spinning mill which serves to illustrate the massive decline in employment across the islands (see Rise and Fall of the Callus Fortunes).

Another factor in the economic decline was the change of administration. The primary interest in Malta of its new colonial masters, the British, was its usefulness as a strategic naval base. Sciberras argues that it had less concern therefore, for developing the infrastructure of the interior or looking after the native population. Predictably the British expressed an imperialist attitude towards the native Maltese, treating them as inferiors and ousting them from governmental and administrative posts in favour of British employees. This was quite different to the administration of the Knights of St John who had subsidised the economy with income from their estates abroad and spent more on infrastructure and public works. While the Knights had been very paternalistic towards the Maltese, they had also been more inclusive, perhaps because the island was the principal dominion of their monastic order and where they lived out their lives.

The Battalions of Sorrows

A large population and high levels of unemployment led to a big increase in poverty and crime. Banditry and begging became prevalent. In the mid 1830s, there were an estimated 2500 adult beggars in the villages alone and many more in the towns. Children were of course also recruited by their families to beg as a matter of course.

The evils of rising poverty levels were more homelessness, poorer housing conditions, sanitation and nutrition and inevitably disease.  Infant mortality 1826-36 was around 30% (Cauchi, M, 1990).


“Poverty in short pressed heavily on the under-employed. Deriving sustenance from bean or millet, when obtainable, they frequently found themselves eating prickly pears, thistles and clover. During the day, some refused to leave their houses because of inadequate clothing. During the night, they covered themselves with sacks, rags and manure. Some had no place to sleep, save the streets. Deaths from hunger and exposure apparently did occur and numerous deaths resulted from weakened resistance to fevers, the death rate averaging 29% per 1000”. 

In 1830 an outbreak of smallpox on the island killed 756 of its inhabitants. Then in 1837 there was an outbreak of cholera throughout the Mediterranean. In Malta it killed almost as many people as the 1813 plague, some 4253 people! And in 1840-41 the islands were devastated by a severe drought which further exacerbated the shortage of food. The population level was predictably stagnant until after 1842.

Small wonder so many people wanted to leave!

Pastures New

"Mediterranean Relief". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Mediterranean Relief“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Most emigrants left for the North African coast, namely Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Egypt and in particular to the cities of Algiers, Constantine, Sousse and Tripoli. Significant numbers also went to the Levant, (or eastern Mediterranean), to port cities such as Beirut, Smyrna (Izmir) and Constantinople (Istanbul).  Sizeable Maltese communities became established in these places. Just a few hundred emigrated to the Greek islands, Sicily, southern Italy and France. My ancestor Andrea Callus (1810-98) left Malta for Constantinople in 1829. Other branches of my Maltese family tree (Griscti, Diacono) also left in the early 1830s and went to Smyrna in Turkey.

Considering the long history of Maltese conflict with the Ottoman Empire and their religious and cultural differences, emigration to North Africa and Turkey at first glance seems a strange choice. Why didn’t the migrants go to more culturally similar countries such as Italy? Surely it would have been easier to assimilate in those places?  Historical research into nineteenth century emigration from Malta is still in its infancy, so explanations are still very much up for debate. Two accounts, one by Fr Lawrence Attard and another by Joshua M Hayes provide some interesting and slightly conflicting observations and theories.

Hayes stated that the British Government preferred emigrants to travel to other British colonies in West Africa or places like Jamaica or India but most Maltese did not want to leave the Mediterranean. They preferred to keep their options open to return, a factor evidenced by the high numbers who did in fact return, even if only on a temporary basis. Attard states that the government did come up with a number of proposals to support emigration to places like Cephalonia and later, Cyprus, but they simply never got off the ground. So there was no formal help and those wanting to emigrate had to do so by their own means.  Places like Tunis, Tripoli and Sousse were only a couple of hundred miles away and were on regular trade routes, so passage was relatively cheap.

Other factors suggested by Hayes, are that the geography and climate of North Africa is similar and also the language. Algerian Arabic in particular, is linguistically quite close to Maltese.

Many Maltese chose Algeria as a preferred destination following the French conquest of Algeria in the early 1830s and the appointment of its first French governor in 1834. According to Attard, to secure the country, France needed colonists who would help develop the infrastructure and administration. France is a big country with a small population with low numbers of people wanting or needing to emigrate. The Maltese were seen as hard working and trust worthy, and even though they were now ruled by the British, the French governor did not think they were particularly loyal to the British or politically active. In fact, on the contrary, many Maltese were quite Francophile, despite Napoleon’s short interruption to relations! In Tunisia, Attard argues that the French welcomed the Maltese as a counter balance to an influx of Italians who were suspected of having their own designs upon the country.

Hayes, however, sets out a slightly different perspective. He argues that what the French wanted were agricultural labourers but emigration was beyond the means of Maltese subsistence farmers. What they probably got instead were dock workers from Valletta who earned a bit more and were familiar with the shipping trade, and displaced officials and professionals such as doctors. Although the French allowed the Maltese in, they regarded them with suspicion preferring Italian and Spanish immigrants. The Maltese were subsequently quite poorly treated and were at the bottom of the social pecking order amongst the ex patriot communities in French North Africa.

Vue de la Ville de Constantine by Theodore Frere, 1841

Vue de la Ville de Constantine by Theodore Frere, 1841

Social networking was another factor. During the rule of the Knights, the Maltese conducted annual assaults on the north Africa coast (known then as the Barbary Coast). During these raids, inevitably some Maltese were taken prisoner. They were then sold into slavery and moved into the interior. A large Maltese slave colony was established in Constantine and there were slaves living at other places. Trade links also meant that there were itinerant Maltese communities in most major ports. Immigrants homed in on these communities for support in getting established in their new countries.

It is not clear to me why more Maltese did not go to Italy and Sicily which would appear to have offered many of the same benefits as North Africa, i.e. close to the motherland, similar climate and geography, shared language of Italian which was widely spoken in Malta and perhaps of even greater significance, a shared religion. Malta has always been a strong and almost fanatical adherent to catholicism which one would have thought made Italy a better prospect than a muslim country. Certainly muslim countries at that time allowed religious freedom and with catholic France in control of North Africa, this may have provided further reassurance. The deciding factor must therefore have been the scope for economic opportunities both in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.

At its height, the Ottoman Empire extended over 1000 miles from its capital at Constantinople in Turkey. This meant that the Ottoman navy was essential for maintaining control, both militarily and administratively, e.g. for tax collection. The Empire had no merchant navy. Its majority religion, Islam, forbade profiteering from usury and regarded trading as an inferior and undesirable profession for devout muslims. Ottoman subjects were in any case conscripted for 7 years military service, which led to a preference for military and administrative roles. Jews and Christians living in the Ottoman Empire were subject to higher taxes than muslims but as minority groups, this did not make much in the way of revenues for the Ottoman administration.

Traders from Western Europe moved in to fill the vacuum and through a number of contracts drawn up between the Sultan and European powers, obtained a range of rights and privileges in favour of subjects residing and trading in the Ottoman dominions. These became known as the ‘Capitulations’. Subjects were exempted from local taxes, laws, house searches and conscription and were bound instead to the jurisdiction of their home countries.  The capitulations providing a virtual tax haven and the lack of existing port trade amongst the Ottomans, did much to encourage western entrepreneurs to set up new businesses all along the shores of the Ottoman Empire. These traders  became a distinctive sub culture and were known as ‘Levantines’.  They came from many of the major trading places around the Mediterranean; Genoa, Venice, France, Italy, Greece and of course Malta. There were also peoples from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.

The link below shows the modern sea route between Malta and Turkey, a distance of 1054 nautical miles.

By sea from Valletta, Malta to Istanbul, Turkey.

The history of the Levantines is an area of socio-economic history that has been little researched to date but is attracting growing interest in academia. I will be returning to this subject in future posts to describe the lives of my Maltese ancestors who became part of this unique and interesting culture in the nineteenth century.


Cauchi, Maurice N.  (1990) –

Hayes, Joshua M., (2010) – M’hemm l-ebda post iehor bhad-dar (There’s no place like home): Maltese Migration to French Algeria in the Nineteenth Century. Journal of Maltese History, Vol 2, No. 1, 2010

Sciberras, Sandro (2009) – Option Maltese History/3_Economic and social issues during the last two hundred years.pdf

Reasons for the Success of the Levantines: a subjective listing –

The Rise and Fall of the Callus Fortunes – Cotton (18th C)

The Rise and Fall of the Callus Fortunes – Cotton (18th C)

In the eighteenth century, my Callus ancestors lived in and around Żebbuġ, also known as Città Rohan, in the central part of Malta. It was an area dominated by the growing of cotton and its manufacture into cotton thread, sailcloth and household wares and clothing. In this article I will describe the development of this industry and how it contributed to the rising fortunes of the Callus family until the early part of the nineteenth century.

Move to Żebbuġ

Andrea Callus (b. 1736 Zurrieq) probably moved to Żebbuġ around 1775 when he married his second wife at the age of 39. She was Caterina Cauchi, the daughter of Alexander and Maria Cauchi of Żebbuġ. Andrea had at least 2 children that we know of with Caterina, born some years apart. Phillip Alexandre was born in 1779 and Joseph in 1787.

Citta Rohan Gate, Zebbug By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (

Citta Rohan Gate, Zebbug
By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (

Joseph married Anna Galea in Valletta in July 1810. Her parents were Pascale Galea and Maria Gatt. There are a couple of references to a Pascale Galea in documents dating from 1778 and 1783, where he has the title of Captain of the Prisons of the Holy Office, in other words, working for the Inquisition (F. Ciappara, MHS 2005). Of course, one cannot be certain it is the same person as it was not uncommon for people on the island to share the same forenames and surnames. However the date and place is about right. If the Captain was Joseph’s father in law, then this may have been perceived as quite an important marriage.

Joseph and Anna had just one child, Andrea Pasqualis Annunziano in May 1811 in Żebbug, my Gt. Gt. Grandfather.

The Cotton Industry

Cotton plant (Gossypium barbadense) Source: Forest and Kim Starr

Cotton plant (Gossypium barbadense)
Source: Forest and Kim Starr

According to our family tradition, Joseph Callus owned a spinning mill “employing a hundred hands”. Recent research has found that his older brother’s occupation was a dyer and that he left Malta in the 1790s while Joseph was still a boy, (see previous post on Napoleon and Alexandre). This seems to suggest that the family could have been involved in the cotton industry long before Joseph became a mill owner.

According to  A.P. Vella, History of the Cotton Industry in Malta, cotton plants were brought to Malta in the 9th century by the arabs and by the 15th century cotton had developed into a flourishing export trade. When the Knights of St John took over the island in 1530, they recognised its importance to the island’s economy and established a number of laws to protect and regulate the industry. Their statutes as a religious order did not allow them to actively participate in commerce so the industry remained largely in the hands of the indigenous population where it employed a lot of people; growers, pickers, spinners, dyers and weavers as well as the merchants and exporters. The crop itself was also fully exploited, seed being fed to cattle, sheep and goats to whiten the meat and the leftover plant material used as fuel in stoves and ovens.

Until the advent of the industrial revolution, cotton spinning was mainly undertaken by women and girls as a cottage industry but there were also a few charitable institutions employing groups of hand spinners under one roof.

In 1770, the Spinning Jenny was patented by James Hargreaves in the UK. This device allowed up to 8 spindles of cotton to be spun at a time so greatly speeded up the process. A little later, Samuel Crompton invented the Spinning Mule. This machine could carry up to 1320 spindles. Whereas hand spinning was previously done by women and hand loom weaving by men, this machine led to the swapping of these roles. The mules required a lot of strength to operate so were manned in pairs by one male ‘minder’ and 2 boys, the ‘side piecer’ and the ‘little piecer’. The women then undertook the weaving, which also underwent development (e.g. flying shuttle).

Spinning mules - public domain

Spinning Mules – Source: Public Domain

By the 1790s, spinning mules had largely replaced the spinning jenny and hand spinning in the UK. A typical spinning mill towards the end of the nineteenth century would hold up to 60 mules. Whether this was the case in Malta as well is difficult to ascertain but the family tradition that Joseph had a “spinning mill employing a hundred hands” would seem to suggest so and must have been somewhere approaching this size of operation.

Turbulent Times – The Start of the Decline

It has to be said that Joseph’s family lived through a particularly turbulent time in the island’s history. In 1798 there was Napoleon’s invasion and the departure of the Knight’s of St John. There followed a 2 year siege of Valletta by the local Maltese supported by a blockade by the British who eventually ousted the French and took over the government of the island, firstly as a Protectorate, then following the Treaty of Paris, as a colonial possession.

The industrial revolution was also starting to gather pace, which led to the creation of new competitors in the cotton trade from Britain, India and Egypt among others. By 1813, the value of Maltese cotton had greatly depreciated but worse was to come when the island was hit by an outbreak of Bubonic Plague. Its effects were catastrophic and far reaching and touched the Callus fortunes in a very direct way. This will therefore be the subject of my next post!











Another Callus Revolutionary? Napoleon and Alexandre

Another Callus Revolutionary? Napoleon and Alexandre

Napoleon Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, c.1868 by Jean-Leon Gerome, Hearst Castle - Public domain.

Napoleon Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, c.1868
by Jean-Leon Gerome, Hearst Castle – Public domain.

In 1798 Malta was invaded by Napoleon on his way to his campaign in Egypt. According to our family tradition, Alexandre Callus, brother of my Gt Gt Gt Grandfather Joseph (c. 1788-1813) was a colonel in Napoleon’s army and ended up living in Corsica. Is this a myth or could it be true?

Napoleon’s Invasion of Malta

In the second half of the eighteenth century, there was growing unrest amongst the Maltese people with the rule of the Knights Hospitallers.   In 1775, there had been an unsuccessful insurrection by the Maltese, which included many priests. It had been put down and the ring leaders given life imprisonment or exile. Also, as a result of the support lent to the French Revolution by many of the French knights and Grand Master Ximenes, the island of Malta was in poor shape financially so taxes were raised to recover revenues which caused great hardship to the native population.

By 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte’s star was rising and he was busy hatching ambitious plans to invade Egypt and possibly even to extend to the Middle East. But France was broke and he did not have the resources to finance such an enterprise. As it happens Malta was en route and some Maltese had secretly made contact inviting him to come and relieve the Knights of their dominion!

Napoleon's Invasion of Malta 1798 Public Domain

Napoleon’s Invasion of Malta 1798
Public Domain

On 11 June 1798, Napoleon arrived at Malta with 30,000 troops and requested permission to harbour his ships at Valletta for supplies. The Grand Master, Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, replied that as Malta was a neutral territory, only 2 ships could enter at a time. Napoleon responded by bombarding the harbour and despatching thousands of troops to land at strategic points all around the island. The Maltese were overwhelmed. At the same time, a goodly proportion of the French contingent of Knights Hospitallers refused to take up arms against their countrymen. The Grand Master therefore had little choice but to surrender Malta to Napoleon in return for lands in France for himself and the Knights. They departed Malta immediately, never to return, signalling the end of the rule of the Knights.

The Grand Master's Capitulation of Malta to Napoleon in 1798. Public Domain.

The Grand Master’s Capitulation of Malta to Napoleon in 1798.
Public Domain.

Napoleon’s troops were instructed to overrun the island, plundering the treasury, palaces, churches and the houses of the aristocracy. The financing of the Egypt campaign was effectively achieved through piracy! At this time, my Callus ancestors resided in Zebbug, near Mdina. When the villagers of Zebbug heard that the French troops were coming, they quickly descended on the parish church and hid its treasures. They then threw open all the doors to the church so that the soldiers would think that the church had already been looted and would pass by.  Ingenuous and it worked!

Napoleon himself only stayed 6 days and then departed for Egypt. During that time, he issued 10 Ordinances for the government of the island which included mandating use of the French language, the abolition of slavery, compulsory schooling, decreeing religious freedom for jews and Greek orthodox church and the recognition of civil marriage. Streets and squares were renamed.

The Maltese Response to French Rule

A garrison of around 4000 soldiers was left behind to maintain control of Malta. At first the local Maltese population welcomed them, seeing them as liberators, particularly as Napoleon had abolished the ancient feudal system that had kept them in thrall to the Knights.  However while they tolerated the policy of looting the aristocracy, they took great exception to the looting of their churches and the disrespectful attitudes of the French garrison to their clergy. This reached a head at a public auction of church property in Mdina which inflamed the crowds and caused a local riot. Soon after, on 2 September 1798 after an occupation of only 3 months, the Maltese rebelled and routed the French from Mdina and the island’s interior.

The French and about 100 Maltese supporters retreated to Valletta where they remained under siege for almost 2 years, with the British fleet under Nelson blockading the Grand Harbour and supplying arms to Maltese irregulars to starve and harry the troops inside the fortress. What was left of the garrison eventually surrendered to the British in September 1800. (The Maltese were not consulted on the terms)! Britain then held Malta as a British Protectorate until the 20th century, when Malta gained independence, becoming a republic in 1964.

An excellent and more detailed account can be found at Vassallo History – French Blockade.

The Search for Alexandre

How does our family tradition stack up against the historical facts of Napoleon’s invasion?

Alexandre was baptised Phillip Alexander Augustus Callus on 7 July 1779 in Zebbug. This meant he was 19 years old at the time of Napoleon’s invasion.

His parents were Andrea Callus and his second wife Caterina Cauchi, (Andrea’s first wife Rosa Cauchi having died many years earlier without issue). Alexandre was named after Caterina’s father Alexander Cauchi. He was about 9 years older than his brother Joseph, but it’s not known if there were other siblings.

We have to speculate under what circumstances Alexandre could have engaged with Napoleon’s forces. I think it unlikely that he would have enlisted after Sept 1798, as the Maltese of the interior, which included Zebbug, had by then become completely disenchanted with French rule. To enter at the rank of colonel seems doubtful, particularly for a young non career soldier in these circumstances, but there is the possibility that he bought a commission during the 3 month “honeymoon period” of Napoleon’s occupation. His family were probably sufficiently well off. If this were true, then he would most likely have been caught up in the siege at Valletta and been lucky to survive and escape!

It seems more probable that he had left Malta and joined the French army some time prior to the invasion as there were plenty of French sympathisers before this point. In a letter from Hortense Callus dated 1930 she states that Alexandre joined the army in Corsica and “passed through Malta before settling in France”. If correct he may then have been part of the force that captured Malta and then left for Egypt. By the time that campaign was over, a return to Malta would have been impossible due to the French reversal of fortune.

I do not know what would have been the earliest age for enlistment in the French army and have not been able to locate any French military records – where to start? Perhaps this is an avenue for future research.


With just a birth date and a viable timeline but little else to go on in terms of evidence, this seemed to be the end of the road for this story and then finally, I decided to see if it was possible to locate any Corsican records online. Lo and behold, I discovered one solitary Callus family in the records – a marriage in 1824. With some trepidation I clicked on the name to find out more and up came the results:

The bride was Marie Catherine Jéròme Callus born c. 1805 Ajaccio. She married Etienne Corticchiato (b. 1803) on 24 April 1824. But more significantly Marie’s parents were named as Alexandre Callus and Therésè Secondini of Ajaccio, Corsica!

There are also records for 2 other children:

Dominique Callus b. 1810 Ajaccio and

André Callus b. 1817 Ajaccio

Ajaccio, Corsica Photo by JeanBaptisteM. Some rights reserved.

Ajaccio, Corsica
Photo by JeanBaptisteM. Some rights reserved.

The dates align perfectly with our man. If we assume he married around 1804, he would have been aged 25. What is more his occupation is given as, not a colonel, but a teinturier=dyer. Alexandre’s brother Joseph, was the owner of a spinning mill back in Malta, so the occupation of dyer seems an appropriate skill for the main industry of his home town and the family business. It is not clear however what induced Alexandre to leave the island when his family seemed to have a thriving business. Perhaps therefore the spinning mill was not the product of his father’s fortunes but of his brother’s, either as a self made man or connected with his in-laws? (I will be returning to Joseph’s story in a future post).

However, the fact that the nub of this story came down to us as oral history does indicate that Alexandre must have remained in contact with his family in Malta. If there was a family falling out, his travels would not have been considered worthy of passing on to future generations.


The lack of evidence for a military role remains a mystery. It is interesting to speculate that following Joseph’s death in 1813, Alexandre may have had an opportunity to return to Malta to take over the spinning business. However if Alexandre had indeed had a military career in Napoleon’s army then Malta’s new colonial regime under the British may well have considered this a treacherous association, making it impossible for him to return. It’s becoming a recurring theme!

Harbour of Ajaccio, Corsica by Paul Arps, 2014. Some rights reserved.

Harbour of Ajaccio, Corsica
by Paul Arps, 2014. Some rights reserved.

From the Blue Sea I Took my Name

From the Blue Sea I Took my Name

Blue Grotto, Wied ir-Zurrieq Photo by L. Joonas

Blue Grotto, Wied iz-Zurrieq
Photo by L. Joonas. License.

My direct line of Callus descent can be traced all the way back to Gregorij Callus and Maruzza Farrugia who married 18 September 1688 in the village of Zurrieq, in Southern Malta. This article is about the people descended from that first family in the 18th century and the places where they lived.

Location of Zurrieq, Malta Image by W. Shewring, 2007

Location of Zurrieq, Malta
Image by W. Shewring, 2007. License.


Zurrieq (pronounced Zoo-ree-ah) is about 7km South of Valletta on the South coast. It’s a village/small town of around 12,000 inhabitants. The administrative boundaries includes the tiny island of Filfla and the tourist hotspot ‘The Blue Grotto’. Zurrieq is derived from the Maltese Zoroq which means ‘cyan’ or blue and the town’s motto is “Sic a cyaneo aequore vocor”, which translates as “From the blue sea I took my name”. The town’s flag and Coat of Arms reflects this continuing theme of the blue sea and white and blue for the sky.

Zurrieq Coat of Arms Image by Inkwina

Zurrieq Coat of Arms
Image by Inkwina. License.

It is quite possible that my Callus antecedents in Zurrieq go back all the way to the Byzantine period. Zurrieq is one of the oldest continuous settlements in Malta. Archeological finds there have been dated to the Bronze Age (the ancient temple of Hagar Qim is just outside the town), but also Punic, Roman and Byzantine Greek. As I mentioned in my introductory page on Callus, it is thought that the surname is of Byzantine Greek origin, although surnames did not really come into standard use until the Norman period.

First Generation

Parish records in Malta start from the early 1500s. Until recently many have only been accessible from the originating parish church and sadly a lot were lost in the blitz of Malta in WWII. Our first family tree was compiled by Moira McGrother and went back as far as the marriage of Alberto Callus in 1720, which named Gregorij and Maruzza (AKA Maria) as his parents. However, a large number of records have now been digitised and published on the ADAMI Collection website. This has enabled me to go back just a little bit further and pinpoint the 1688 marriage. A number of other Calluses married at the same church around the same time. These included:

  • Gio Maria Callus married  Margarita Darmanin 11 Oct 1687
  • Giuseppe Callus married Paoline Camilleri 16 Apr 1690
  • Maria Callus married Angelo Psaila 16 Jan 1693

It is quite possible these are all siblings of Gregorij. All these records are taken from an index file so unfortunately we do not have the names of each spouse’s parents which would prove one way or another whether they are indeed related and might also enable us to track back to even earlier generations. The detailed entries may yet be available from the original full marriage register but will require a direct enquiry at the parish church of St Catherine of Alexandria in Zurrieq. (Hint – if anyone is planning a visit to Malta, perhaps they might like to follow this up)!


St Catherine's of Alexandria, Zurrieq, Malta

Parish Church St Catherine’s of Alexandria, Zurrieq, Malta

St Catherine’s was built around 1634-59. It has paintings by the italian artist Mattia Preti who is buried in the church. He also executed the ceiling painting of St John the Baptist in St John’s Co-cathedral in Valletta.

Second and Third Generations – The Windmill Community

It is difficult to imagine what the lives of our early forebears were like from just a few dates on a register, but luckily, the Adami collection has more records to help us flesh out the details. This includes baptisms, marriages and burial registers for a limited number of towns and villages and a number of census rolls taken in 1747, 1758, 1764 and 1776.

So what can we glean from these?

Well first of all, we already knew that our branch of Callus was descended from Gregorij’s son, Alberto, who married Magdalena/Maddalena DeBrincat in 1720 in Zurrieq and that they had a number of children (Nicolo, Vittoria, Giovanni, Maria and Andrea). The new records reveal that Alberto had 2 more children than was previously known (Teresa and Anna). He also had a brother, Giuseppe (Joseph). Giuseppe married Grazia Bonnici  in 1715 and had a daughter, Orsola. Their father Gregorij, was already dead by the time of this marriage.

Then comes the 1758 census of Zurrieq and suddenly we can see a large number of Callus families all living together cheek by jowl in a small community or district of Zurrieq recorded as Sarolla, now known as Ta Xarolla. The likelihood of course is that they are all related in some way. Some of the relationships can be worked out, others are more opaque, so for instance:

Family no. 113 – Alberto and Maddalena (Gen 2) were living with their children – Teresa, Anna and Andrea (Gen 3 ancestor).

No. 114 – Andrea Callus, a widower, with his children Rosa and Giuseppe – (relationship to our ancestors not known, perhaps a brother or cousin of Alberto)?

No. 116 – Giovanni and Clara Callus and their children – Gio Battista and Catarina (Giovanni was one of Alberto’s sons).

No. 119 – Arcangelo and Anna Callus and their children – Giuseppe and Lorenzo (relationship not known).

No. 128 – Grazia Callus (widow of Alberto’s brother Giuseppe) and her daughter Orsola.

No. 40 – Imperiuzza Signora Callus and Orsola Callus (relationship not known – what does the title Signora signify)?

No. ? – Giuseppe and Maria Callus (relationship not known).

No. 70 – Arcangelo and Evangelista Callus and their children – Giuseppe, Maria and Catarina (I think Arcangelo might be another son of Andrea Callus of no. 114).

These records suggest another point of detail that we did not know before. Andrea Callus, shown above in family no. 113, the “child” of Alberto, is thought to have been born about 1737 in Siggiewi, which is where his wife came from.  In 1757, Andrea married Rosa Cauchi, who died without issue. The census of 1758 shows him living with his parents with no sign of Rosa. I think this might therefore indicate that Andrea was widowed within a year of his marriage and returned to his family. Perhaps she died in childbirth as many women did. He was aged about 21 although I have no baptism record for him as yet.

I intend to publish an updated family tree chart for this Callus line in a future post.

Tax Xarolla Windmill, Zurrieq Photo by Wayne77, 2014

Tax Xarolla Windmill, Zurrieq
Photo by Wayne77, 2014. License.

Now the principle feature of Xarolla was that it had a windmill, one of several in this area. It was built by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena in 1724. The windmill at Xarolla has been restored to full working order and is now open to the public as a cultural centre. Next door to the windmill are some early christian catacombs dating from the 3rd and 4th century.

In the 1764 and 1776 censuses, Giovanni Callus, Alberto’s son, is shown living with his now extended family, at Nigret, where more of these windmills were located. The first windmill, Tal-Qaret, was built as one of five by Grand Master Nicholas Cottoner at Nigret in 1674. Vilhena built another next door to it in 1724 which was named after its first miller, Luret Marmara. There were also windmills at Siggiewi and Zebbug, both villages where later family members moved to. It is not unreasonable to suppose therefore, that the Callus families of this period may have had occupations associated with the mills, e.g. wheat growers, millers, or merchants. (The digitised census records are incomplete and none of the other families identified above can be found in the later censuses).

Visit this link for an interesting article about the Windmills in Malta. Most were built and owned by the Knights of St John but in later years many seemed to be owned by members of the Zammit family. Note above therefore that Giovanni Callus was married to a Zammit (Clara). I wonder if this is significant?

More information about the village of Zurrieq can be found at Zurrieq local council website .

There are photos and more information about Zurrieq at






Hyeronimus Callus the Apothecary (fl. 1491-1519)

Hyeronimus Callus the Apothecary (fl. 1491-1519)

An Apothecary of 15 Century.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

An Apothecary of 15 Century. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The first detailed records of any Callus persons appear in Malta towards the end of the 15th century. Hyeronimus Callus, was an apothecary (an early type of pharmacist), who had a shop in the capital of Mdina around 1491. Another account refers to someone called Glormu Callus but this appears to be the same person.

Interior of a 15th Century Apothecary's Shop. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Interior of a 15th Century Apothecary’s Shop. Source: Wikimedia Commons









Hyeronimus had 3 sons:-

  • Antonio – also an apothecary, who succeeded his father’s practice in 1519.
  • James (Giacomo)
  • Joseph (Giuseppe) – born c. 1505 in Zurrieq. Became a physician. (He will be the topic of my next post).

The Universitá Notabile

It is interesting to note that Hyeronimus worked for, or was a member of, the Universitá Notabile in Mdina. This was a form of local government, whose role needs some describing.

From the end of the Norman period until the coming of the Knights of St John in 1530, Malta and its islands were ruled as part of the Kingdom of Sicily. During this period Malta was handed out as a fiefdom to various Sicilian nobles and barons in return for services rendered to the crown.  These nobles had little interest in governing other than as a means of raising taxation on the population to serve their own interest. The day to day running of the island, which included its economic administration and the judiciary, was delegated by the Capitano della Verga (governor) to the Maltese nobility. They formed a governing body called the Universitá, which was based in Mdina and was made up of electors chosen from amongst the nobility, honoured citizens and professional classes. The Capitano did not interfere with this administration, having more of an ambassadorial role.

However in 1530, the emperor Charles V agreed to give the Maltese islands to the Knights of the Order of St John. The Order had been expelled from their base on the island of Rhodes by the Turks in 1522. The Knights displaced the universitá by making the  Capitano della Verga the Lieutenant Governor over the whole island, with his own court and jurisdiction over all criminal and civil proceedings. So although the general population accepted the rule of the Knights, it did not go down so well with the Maltese nobility! Even so, the universitá as a form of civic administration was not dismantled and persisted in Malta until the 19th century. However its wings were certainly clipped.





Welcome to my first post on this new website about my family history. For information about the aim of this site and the families I am researching, please see the ‘About’ page. I am currently building introductory pages for the surname strands I plan to write about, but it will be a little while before these are all ready to go, so if the surname you are interested in is looking a little thin, please be patient but watch this space.

My first posts however, are going to be on the CALLUS family from Malta, starting from all the way back in the 15th century! Look out for a piece on Dr Joseph Callus (aka Matteo), one of Malta’s national heroes and a post about some of the places where we came from.

I hope you find some things to interest you. Please contact me using the form below if there are any topics you would particularly like me to cover, or if you have any information to add to this research. I would also welcome any comments or suggestions about the site.