History of the Malta Geographical Society
The Early Years of The Malta Geographical Society 1943-1961
(Edited by Timmy Zammit)
These notes were originally written on a typewriter and we think dated about 1962. Our thanks go to Timmy Zammit for copying them from the original files, the names and spelling are the original.
Part 1 1943- 1955
The beginning, 1943, was practically a war year, and very little could be done in the way of activities or membership. The activities consisted of a few travel talks and the membership numbered only about ten at the beginning and rose to 18 by the end of the session. This was the foundation year with many drawbacks, and inexperiences.
The committee for 1944-45 brought new life into the Society and the membership with money prizes grew to 80. There were three essay competitions with money prizes for children under 18. Also a broadcast entitled "The French Riviera before the War" by N. V. Libreri, two travel films at Palazzo Carafa by Major Cathcart Bruce, and three other travel films by Mr. G. Zarb. Two members from the committee were selected to represent the Society on the National Assembly for the drafting of a new constitution for Malta. These were Mr. N. S. Leopardi and Mr. C. J. Vella.
The following session (1945-46) was a successful one. There was an essay competition, two articles in "Iz-Zernieq", by Mr. R. Cachia, a film show by Mr. G. Zarb and a broadcast by Mr. V. Libreri. Also "Antarctic Expedition with Shackleton and Scott" by the explorer Dr. R. E. Priestly, vice chancellor of Birmingham University, and "South Africa" by the Vice President of the Union of South Africa, Mr. Schonegavel. A journal edited by Mr. R. Cachia was made available for that year and the statute was revised and printed. A Gozo branch of the Society was attempted, and its sub-committee consisted of Mr. R. Richings, Ass. Dir. Of Gozo, Chairman; Miss E. Florini Lowell, Secretary; Mr. S. Galea, Assistant Secretary; Mr. Frank Debono, Treasurer; and Mr. D. Garroni with Mr. A. Sultana, Propaganda Officers. But it appears that this sub-committee could not function properly due to the distance from the main body.
During the 1946-47 season there were no indoor activities, and only two excursions, to Gnejna-GhajnTuffieha, and by sea to Comino and Gozo. There was an essay competition, and the publication of the first real magazine called the "MAGEOS", as the official organ of the Society, edited by Mr. J. Burgess. Unfortunately this was to be the first and last issue, as costs and other factors were too much for the following committees.
In 1947-48 the only activity was a trip to Rabat to visit the Catacombs, the Roman Domus, and Mdina Cathedral.
For the 1948-49 and 1949-50 seasons, the Society went into hibernation with only the chairman keeping it in existence. No general meetings or elections were held for two consecutive years.
In 1951-52, two or three persons became aware of the Society's inactivity, and amongst them Mr. F. H. G. Ruoff, and Br. Leo Barrington wished to revive it. The former gave a broadcast talk, and the latter wrote an article, both appealing for a revival. A few of the former committee members were brought together, and a temporary committee was set up, until a regular one was formed by a general meeting in March 1952. Dr. H. P. T. Hyde, a geologist, gave two lectures for the new session, "African Complexities" and "Oil Exploration with special reference to Malta". There were also two excursions along the south west coast of Malta.
In 1953-54 the situation improved. There was a Brains trust on "The British Commonwealth" with Br. Leo Barrington, Mr. F. H. G. Ruoff, Dr. H. P. T. Hyde, Mr. R. Cachia and Mr. J. Zammit Mangion. There was an excursion from St. Paul's Bay to Comino, and the lectures were "Coastal Erosion" by Mr. F. H. G. Ruoff, "Ionian Islands and their Inhabitants" by Hon. Capt. W. Salamone, "Flora and Fauna of the Maltese Islands" by Mr. G. Lanfranco and "Geography at Ordinary Level of G. C. E." by Mr. Ruoff. During this year, the posts of secretary and treasurer were combined for convenience, and the membership fee was increased from 2 shillings to 4 shillings.
In 1954-55 the membership was again reduced to 2 shillings because of a meagre membership; but the committee members went on working, and presented the following lectures: "Valletta in the Past and Present" and "The Channel Islands with special Reference to Guernsey", both by Br. Leo Barrington, "Some Aspects in Teaching of Geography in Local Primary Schools" by Mr. J. Zammit Mangion, "The Charms of a Primitive People or the Santal Mission" by Rev. Fr. Scicluna, S. J., "Cyprus, another Island of the Mediterranean" by Mr. Bosustov, "Colonial Developments in N. E. Angola" by Dr. H. P. T. Hyde, and "Corfu" by Mr. E. Camilleri. There was also an excursion from Valletta and Sliema to Comino.
Part 2 1955- 1961
In 1955-56 there were only three activities: an "At Home" was held for a group from Durham University College who came to Malta for a practical course, and there were two lectures; "Plants and Animals as Geological Agents" by Mr. G. Lanfranco, and "The New Commercial Port Development Scheme" by Mr. A. Allnutt. The Secretary/Treasurer resigned for personal reasons, and Mr. G. Lanfranco replaced him in the middle of the session.
The year 1956-57 showed more energy and enterprise. The name of the Society was temporarily modified into "The Malta Geographical and Natural History Society" as an experiment to attract more members; the latter were not realised, but the number of activities was a record one:- Farwell "At Home" for the Durham Students; "Journey in Jamaica" a film by H. H. The Lieut. Governor, Mr. Trafford Smith who later showed another film of his, "The South Seas"'; "Artificial Harbours" by Mr. R. W. Bishop; "Journey in America" by Mr. R. K. Pilsbury, a film; "The Question of Animal Migration" by Mr. G. Lanfranco, "Examples of Coastal Erosion in Malta" by Mr. F. H. G. Ruoff; "Seek and Hide" a film on bird observation my Mr. A. E. Michaels, "Chalk and Limes Country" by Mr. G. Lanfranco, who also gave another filmstrip on "Some Butterflies of Victoria, Australia"; "Soils" by Mr. D. M. Lang. Excursion were held to Ghammieri Government Experimental Farm, Bahrija; Fomm ir-Rih, Imtahleb, Marfa Ridge, and by boat from Sliema and Valletta to Ghar Lapsi. There was also a "Wild-Flower Hunt" organised by Mrs M. P. Michaels, and judged by Mr. A. Valletta, Mr. G. Lanfranco and Mr. M. A. Delia.
Year 1957-58 was also successful, but things started to deteriorate in the Committee. Capt. W. Salamone resigned his chairmanship due to personal reasons after long service, but was not replaced; Mr. G. Lanfranco, also resigned his Secretary/Treasurer posts because of pressure of work and was replaced by Miss C. Cilia, and four others of the committee gave notice of resignation as they were going to leave the island. However, there were a number of activities: "Malta Views" by Mr. Cake; "The Maltese Farm" by Mr. R. K. Mitchell; Filmshow "The Peak District" and "An East Anglian Holiday"; "Mediterranean France" by Mr. F. H. G. Ruoff; "Weather Forecasting" by Mr. J. Pilsbury; "The Sound Barrier" at the B. I. a film. There were excursions to Fomm ir-Rih and Kuncizzjoni, Hagar Qim and Ghar Lapsi, Victoria Lines, Buskett and Girgenti, a trip to Gozo, and a Flower Hunt as that of the previous year, organised by Mrs. Michaels, judged by Mr. G. Lanfanco. The General Meeting due to be held on 22nd August 1958 at the B. I. had to be cancelled because of political disturbances, and as Valletta was out of bounds for British visitors, no meeting could take place. Following this, former committee members who had given notice of resignations left the island, and only three remained to hold things together. However, that did not prevent two activities from taking place; one was a visit to the Argotti Botanic Gardens at Floriana, and the other was a talk by Mr. G. Lanfranco on "The Evolution of the Maltese Islands" at the Annual General Meeting, at which, the Secretary/Treasurer read the report for the period 1957-1959, in place of the chairman who had not been elected.
Now a new Committee was formed, and started work right away. The excursions were: Mtahleb Area; Victoria Lines, North Sector; Fossil Hunting expedition to Qammieh organised by Mr. G. Lanfranco; Excursion to Ghajn Tuffieha/Mgarr organised by Mr. Ruoff; Trip to Gozo organised by Mr. W. C. Todd; A trip to Gozo organised by Mr. W. C. Todd; A trip to St. Paul's Islands to conform with the Pauline 19th Centenary Celebrations; A trip by sea with 160 persons around Malta and Comino organised by Mr. W. C. Todd, and a Wild Flower Survey, by means of individual cars, all over Malta, collecting wild flowers, meeting at Melita Hotel, consigning the hundreds of specimens to Mr. G. Lanfranco, who reported on the results in a lecture "Wild Flowers of Malta". Other talks were part of a Maltese Geography Course coupled with the conducted excursions by Mr. F. H. G. Ruoff and Mr. G. Lanfranco; the lectures were: "Elementary Physical Geology" by Mr. F. H. G. Ruoff, "The Beginning of the Maltese Islands" by Mr. G. Lanfranco, and "The Population of the Maltese Islands" by Mr. J. Zammit Mangion. At the Annual General Meeting there were some 8mm films of the year's excursions, by Mr. W. C. Todd and Mr. Finch. The statute was also revised and reprinted. A new Committee for 1960-61 was elected, and this also started work in earnest.
For the 1960-61 season, the indoor activities consisted of "Past Present and Future Excursions of the Society" colour slides by Messrs Callagin, Scougall and Probst; "Jordan and Jerusalem" by Miss E. McMeeking; "Visit to Ancient Egypt" by Miss T. M. DeGiorgis; "Collecting Maltese Wild Flowers" by Mr. G. Lanfranco, "Growth of Maltese Villages" by Chev. J. Galea; "Journey in the U.S.A." by Mr. A. Valletta; "The Marvels of Cacti and Succulents" by Mr. G. Lanfranco, at the Annual General Meeting. The Excursions consisted of trips to Mistra-Selmum Coast organised by Miss T. M. DeGiorgis; Mtahleb-Dingli organised by Mr. G. Lanfranco; Wied Zurrieq-Ghar Lapsi organised by Mr. G. Lanfranco; Mellieha-Anchor Bay-Ghajn Tuffieha organised by Mr. Scougall; Ghar Dalam organised by Mr. G. Lanfrnaco; Ghar Hassan and Blue Grotto by boat; Siggiewi-Buskett for Wild Flowers organised by Mr. A. Valletta and Mr. G. Lanfranco; Tour of Gozo, and another to Comino. All the excursions were attended by close to, or over a hundred members and guests, involving the hire of, at times, four buses for the trip, and two boats, to Comino.
In conclusion, the Society started slowly, met with many difficulties but the Committee members persisted. We owe much to the pioneers who stood it on its feet, weak it might have been, but it grew stronger with the passing of time and the 18 sessions through which it has passed show that although there might have been low periods of activity, the ideals of the members were still realised, and we only hope that a bright future exists for the Malta Geographical Society.
Part 3 1980-1990
Adapted from notes sent by Dr Andy Welsh, Former Chairman and now a Vice President of the Malta Geographical Society.
In the 1980's the Malta Geographical Society was spearheaded by two fine gentlemen, Tom Cottrell, a retired dairy farmer in Singapore and Mr Gerry Ferro, who had been Director of Civil Aviation. The Society was rather different than it is today, with a tight committee which had been influenced by Mr. Guido Lanfranco. Each member of the committee developed and ‘owned’ walks, produced the walk notes and led the walk - more emphasis was laid on botanical, historical and topographic details. Lectures on relevant subjects were held on a bimonthly basis at the British Legion premises in Valletta and were well attended. The Society grew with walks attracting over 100 members on a regular basis. For the Saturday walks, members were picked up by three coaches running different routes. In due course Tom Cottrell and Gerry Ferro developed seventeen walks in Malta and two in Gozo. The Society wanted to have the footpaths protected as they are in the UK and elsewhere but unfortunately this fell on deaf ears. Walks were on alternate Saturdays with the intervening Saturdays given to the Harrison Lewis walk group. The HLG had been formed by Harrison Lewis who had been American Consul in the early seventies and had written two books which are out of date as the Maltese countryside is now quite different! By the early 1990, 'Tom and Gerry' were both in their 80's so as they declined, Mr Andy Welsh took over as walks leader and developed many new walks. Timmy Zammit, initially helped by Mary Aldred, started to prepare maps and detailed walk leaders' notes of the walks - no mean task. This was probably the high point of the Society, with 800-900 members, before the Ramblers and other organisations ran walks in direct competition to the Society. Lectures no longer appealed and were discontinued and even our excellent meal venues faced competition from the wave of new restaurants which started up to meet Malta new prosperity.