The Malta Independent 8 May 2021, Saturday

The Maltese Postal Service – A Short Historical Sketch

Malta Independent Sunday, 22 August 2010, 00:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

The earliest examples of posts consisted of messages which date from before the birth of writing as in the unquestionable references in the Bible such as the Book of Nehemiah (II, 7):

“Moreover I said unto the king, if it please the king, let letters be given to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah. And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest ... Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king’s letters”.

The first well documented postal service was of the Roman period. Organized at the time of Augustus Caesar (62 BC–AD 14), it may also be the first true mail service. The service was called cursus publicus and was provided with light carriages called rhedæ with fast horses. Additionally, there was another slower service equipped with two-wheeled carts (birolæ) pulled by oxen. This service was reserved for government correspondence.

It would be presumptuous to summarise Malta’s rich postal history in one short feature, but its beginning goes back to the Knights of St John. The islands were ceded King Charles V. During the time of the Knights there was a remarkable rise in correspondence, official or otherwise. With the passage of time there was an appreciable increase not only in the quantity of mail but also its importance. One can mention the personal messenger of the Grandmaster, Toni Bajjada who used to pass correspondence under the cover of darkness from Mdina to Birgu during the Great Siege of Malta. Toni Bajjada is perhaps the epitomy of the heroic Maltese ‘postman’ in Malta’s chequered history!

After the French occupation (1798-1800), the first Governor of Malta Sir Alexander Ball had succeeded within a mere six months in setting the old administration of the Knights of St. John going again and among the first Departments was the post office.

A General Post Office was established in Valletta in January of 1885, and on that date postage stamps of Great Britain ceased to be valid for the prepayment of correspondence posted in Malta and Gozo.

In 1886, the newly appointed Postmaster General, Sir Ferdinand Inglott, who at the time was searching for a new site for the postal operations, persuaded the owners of Palazzo Parisio situated in Merchants Street (then known as Strada San Giacomo) to lease and then sell the property to the Government. Fully restored and refurbished, Palazzo Parisio formally opened its doors to the public on the 8th of May 1886, as Malta’s new General Post Office.

It was in 1931 that direct flights from Malta became possible and this enhanced the outward mail.

During wartime Malta (1940-1943) the headquarters of the General Post Office was situated at Palazzo Parisio which on, 24 April 1942 , was partly destroyed due to aerial bombardment and had to transfer its services to Ħamrun primary school at Villambrosa Street. Through the Information Service Daily Bulletin issued by the Information Office and other wartime newspapers, the public was urged not to send any views of the Maltese islands that could be of help to the enemy. The ‘Censor’ kept all those postcards that had such views without informing the addressor.

Postal Censorship is the inspection or examination of mail, most often by governments, that can include opening, reading or marking of covers, postcards, parcels and other postal packets. Postal censorship primarily takes place during war time or periods of unrest, though occasionally during other times, like periods of civil disorder or a state of emergency, as was the case of Malta during 1940-1945. Both covert and overt postal censorship have taken place.

Historically, postal censorship is a very old practice; it is usually linked to espionage and intelligence gathering. Mail subjected to postal censorship can be civilian mail, or military mail, and in most countries where postal censorship takes place, or has taken place, different organisations perform censorship of these types of mail. In 20th century wars the objectives of postal censorship encompass economic warfare, security and intelligence

On July 18 1940, the Times of Malta carried a notice that the weight of air mail letters could not exceed half an ounce and as no previous notice of dispatch of mails abroad could be given letters should be posted as soon as they were written. One concern of the public was that not even the ‘harmless’ information that a letter had reached England could be given to the public. The postal services both outgoing and incoming had been disrupted severely by war and as many people ended up as refugees in villages where the incidence of air attack was less. Due to these changes in residence many letters did not reach the addressee.

After the Second World War as life returned to normal, the Malta Post Office saw an increase in its work and its network to deal with the deluge of correspondence and the growing demand for its services. Branch post offices were opened permanently in various localities.

Malta postal services are now entrusted in the hands of a public company, Maltapost p.l.c and according to its mission statement the Company is in business to provide high quality, cost-effective, physical and electronic postal and other services and products to meet the legitimate demands of customers, while ensuring that shareholder wealth is enhanced and the aspirations of staff are realised.

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