The Malta Independent 1 October 2023, Sunday
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Sir Filippo Sceberras: The patriot from Floriana

Sunday, 17 September 2023, 08:05 Last update: about 15 days ago

Written by Jake Muscat

The involvement of Filippo Sceberras in Maltese politics was quite short and not so eventful. His extraordinary abilities came to the fore when he rose above partisan politics and managed to acquire and direct the general consensus of the various political factions towards one common goal - a constitution establishing an autonomous government.

Sceberras the doctor

Filippo Sceberras was born in Pieta on 18 September 1850 and was baptized on the same day. His father was Goffredo, son of the patriot Camillo Sceberras, and his mother Anna, both resident in Floriana. On 5 August 1874 Filippo Sceberras received a doctorate in Medicine from the University of Malta. After graduating, he went to Naples and Paris to continue his studies. When he came back to Malta, Sceberras entered private practice where he was highly respected by his colleagues as well as his patients. He never charged the poor and those in need of his services, on the contrary he often offered them financial assistance. On 12 November 1887, the Governor of Malta had formed the Central Cholera Committee because the disease was quite rampant. As a result of his reputation, Dr Sceberras had formed part of this committee. In May 1888, Sceberras was elected as a member of the Government Council. In June of the same year, he, together with other heads, among them the lawyer Fortunato Mizzi, was nominated by the Governor for the Health Board, a position he held until 1897. In 1900, Dr Sceberras was appointed for one year in the General Council of the University of Malta as a representative of the Medical Faculty. In that same year, he lost his father Goffredo who died of a heart disease in his home in Floriana. From 1906, Sceberras had taken the decision to dedicate himself to private practice only. Although from this year his political profession became more prominent than the medical one, he still continued to practice it until an advanced age.


Sceberras the politician

In the political scene at around the same time, a nationalist feeling was rising in the country. Due to this feeling that was in favour of an autonomous government and against the anglicization of the country, the Anti-Reformist Party was created by the lawyer Fortunato Mizzi, of which Dr Sceberras was quite in favour. Fortunato had been elected in the 1883 election but Sceberras had taken the decision not to contest. On 4 June 1884 there was a large demonstration by the Anti-Reformist Party in St Anne Square, Floriana. This demonstration included a number of bands from various towns and villages, and not only Filippo Sceberras but also his father Goffredo took part in it. In the elections of 1888, Filippo Sceberras contested as a representative of the graduates with the support of the Partito Anti-Reformista whose name had now been changed to Partito Nazionale. From the beginning, Sceberras already considered politics as a service to the people and not a tool for personal advancement. This was clear in the election appeal of 24 February of that year where, among other things, he said: "I promise you that my defeat will not be considered by me as a vote of no confidence but I will continue to cooperate with you for the complete victory of the Maltese." Sceberass had been elected in the 1888 election and had spoken during a victory demonstration with the Partito Nazionale in Piazza Sant Anna, Floriana. Although Filippo had the sympathy of the Partito Nazionale, in his political life he always had an independent mind which made his work within a political party quite difficult. Among these difficulties Sceberras had found it difficult to accept the fact that since he was now in politics he would have enemies even if he was an honest man. After 1888, Sceberras did not contest another election.


The 1903 Constitution

In 1901, Sceberras was elected as president of the Comitato Nazionale and on 7 April of the same year, he led a colossal demonstration outside Portes des Bombes. During this demonstration at the Floriana border, Sceberras spoke against the imposition of new taxes on the Maltese as well as condemning the substitution of the Italian language with English. According to Sceberras, if the English language was to replace Italian then the Maltese would become slaves in their own home. On 22 June 1903 the Knutsford Constitution had been revoked. The new constitution of 1903 was one that raised great controversies because of the considerable amount of power it gave to the governor and his officers and because the Colonial Government had assumed a permanent majority in the Council. Between 1903 and 1904 two elections were held where the elected candidates immediately resigned in protest. On 18 May 1905, the great friend and ally of Sceberras, Fortunato Mizzi died and Francesco Azzopardi took the reins of the Partito Nazionale in his hands.


The National Assembly and the Sette Giugno

On 25 February 1919, the National Assembly met for the first time at the Circolo la Giovane Malta. The secretary of the Assembly and president of the Circolo, Enrico Mizzi, son of Fortunato, proposed that Dr Sceberras becomes president of the Assembly. Sceberras was a great friend of Enrico and also supported his ideas of nationalism and Italianity. With the help of Sceberras, the Assembly formed a resolution in which there was the request for a constitution and for the right of the Maltese to govern themselves. The work of Sceberras had led the governor to inform the secretary of State Milner to call a representative meeting for the purpose of asking the Maltese for a new constitution from the British Government. On 7 June 1919, during a meeting of the Assembly led by Dr Sceberras himself, a young man entered injured by British troops who were controlling the riots that were happening at that time. Because Sceberras stayed in the Assembly room to maintain order, he did not see the action that was taking place outside. On 8 June 1919 the Comitato Nazionale pro Maltesi Morti e Feriti il 7 e 8 Giugno was formed and on 21 June Sceberras became honorary president. Sceberras himself personally contributed financial aid to those families of the victims of the day now known as the Sette Giugno.


The Autonomous Government of 1921

After the events of 7 Giugno 1919, Sceberras and the rest of the Assembly started plans to write a draft for a Maltese constitution. On 12 August of the same year, Sceberras sent three translations of the final draft of the constitution to Lord Plumer. On 16 January 1920, Sceberras was awarded an honoris causa Law Degree by the University of Malta. On 27 May 1921 the National Assembly met for the last time and after the meeting ended it declared itself closed because its work was finished. The Assembly, led by Sceberras, was instrumental so that Malta obtained the constitution of 1921 where it was given an autonomous government. On 1 November 1921 the Prince of Wales came to Malta and opened the first Maltese Parliament. That same day, the Prince gave Filippo Sceberras the honorary title of Sir, in recognition of his services to the homeland.

Towards the end

Sceberras had been suffering from a feverish illness and had completely retired from political life. At this time he received a number of honours such as being nominated for honorary president of the Vilhena Band of Floriana, as well as of the Msida Band and even an honorary member of the Maltese Casino. After his wife Teresa died in their home in Floriana in May 1928, Sir Sceberras fell into a deep depression. During this time he would leave the house only to go for a walk in the Maglio Garden of Floriana with his nephew Herbert Ganado and some personal friends.

On 28 August 1928, Sir Filippo Sciberras died after suffering a stroke. As a sign of respect for the man, most of the shops and establishments around Malta closed their shutters. The funeral of Sir Sceberras took place on 30 August when the cortege left his residence at 5.30 in the afternoon and proceeded to Portes des Bombes from Capuchins and St Anne streets. Sceberras was buried in the Addolorata cemetery. In the Legislative Assembly on 30 August the commemoration of Sir Sceberras was held where Dr Enrico Mizzi and Dr Paul Boffa spoke of his memory and achievements. After that, the hearing was adjourned as a sign of respect to the memory of Sceberras.

In 1948 the Vilhena Band of Floriana made a request to the government to erect a monument to Filippo Sceberras. In 1963, the government, together with a Floriana civic committee led by Sir Luigi Preziosi, a great friend of Sceberras, saw to it that this monument to Sceberras became a reality. In 1967 the monument was unveiled by Prime Minister Giorgio Borg Olivier and blessed by H. E. Archbishop Sir Mikiel Gonzi in the Maglio Garden.

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