The British Government invests a considerable sum of money to supply the Islands with grain. In a state of emergency the first grain supplies arrived from North Africa.
The public official, Emanuel Gellel, was arraigned in court for mishandling grain supplies and abuse from his rank of army lieutenant. Forty bakers from Casal Fornaro denounced the culprit who caused them a lot of grief as a result of the poor quality bread they were producing.
The plague epidemic spread like wild fire during this year. Special provisions were made for the distribution of bread for the infected populace that was often kept under house arrest.
The Royal Commission estimated the daily bread intake of a field labourer at two pounds. The daily bread intake increased to four to five pounds according to an 1877 report compiled by the British Commissioner Francis Rowsell.
The British government abolished any form of monopoly associated with windmills. Thereafter, animal-power took over grinding until the advent of industrial steam-powered milling machines in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
Years of hardship as grain shortages resulted in high prices of basic food stuffs especially bread with the local populace suffering hunger.
The British government published a census listing 486 kneaders, in their majority women and thirty-three bakers (19 males and 14 females) residing within the town of Qormi.
The Colonial Government and local health inspectors at loggerheads with in each other following the sale of inferior quality grain classified as a health hazard even for animals.
Samuel Plimsoll writes a letter to the Colonial Government describing the dire situation in Malta and advised on the need to abolish the bread tax.
Sir Temi Zammit published a short study on local bread in the journal Il-Malti. In the opening lines the author wrote:‘Ma hemmx haga li tit-tiekel actar mill-hobz… hua l’ewwel bzonn ta l-bniedem u minghajru ma nafx x’konna nghamlu’. [There is no other food that is consumed more than bread…..it is the prime need for humans and survival would have been made difficult without it’].
The importance of bread as a staple food within the local diet was remarked again by the concerned British Lieutenant Govenor of Malta William Robertson. The rise in the price of bread, coupled with other political and economic challenges, was recognized as a cause of possible anti-British agitation. By 1917, the price of bread per rotolo trebled contributing to the Sette Giugno (7 June) riots during which British troops opened fire on the several Maltese protesting in the capital city.
This decade sees the introduction of horse-driven bread boxes in the streets of Malta. An example was that of Gorg Sammut from Qormi, nicknamed Iz-Zoba. He distributed bread in his horse driven cart loaded with a wooden box that could hold nothing less than 735 loaves.
Malta was no exception to the general rule of food shortages as a consequence of the Second World War experience. Grain and any of its derivatives, especially bread, soon ended up as part of the black-market commerce.
Seven underground emergency flour mills were built by the Colonial Office during the early years of the Cold War. The mills were all located as far away from strategic locations. In all cases, the entrance faced north to minimize the effects of nuclear blast in case of an attack.
The Maltese defence of the islands against the French was aided by British assistance in 1800. Eventually, the Islands would gradually pass under total British control with Malta becoming an important island fortress in the Mediterranean.
Malta’s geostrategic position came to play an important part in Britain’s interest in the Mediterranean. Its natural harbours and docking services catered well for Britain’s Mediterranean Fleet. The islands were to play an important role in Mediterranean trade routes, especially those leading to India with the opening of the Suez Canal.
Amid such developments the British Government controlled local political and economic influences. This behaviour, however, did not happen unchecked.
The bread question remained a paramount political issue during the British period. Its importance orchestrated the debate around the price of bread in the early years of the nineteenth century. The British government was never supportive of the price regulators employed by the knights especially since Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776 was increasingly influencing contemporary economic thought with regards to free trade. The colonial office in London was also pressed by the complaints of a small number English businessmen operating from Malta who also disagreed with the inherited system which refrained them from earning a higher profit from their business at a time when 82% of all grain consumed in Malta was imported from abroad. By 1837 a tax of 25 percent on imported grain was implemented. This was a major setback to the lower strata whose low standard of living became a general feature of daily life until 1939.
One of the most important bread-related uprisings dates back to 1919. As the short lived economic boom months of the post-First World War faded away, the future of the local political and economic situation looked bleak. The culmination of a disgruntled populace came to life in the streets of Valletta on 7th June 1919. The demonstrators, coming from all walks of life, expressed their anti-British feelings. The disgruntled mob used force and resorted to violence in some cases, such as, the attack on the residence of the Cassar Torregiani family of millers in Old Bakery street. During this fervour four men were shot when police tried to suppress the rioters.
Following the important role of Malta in the Second World War, local politics developed in line with the decolonisation of the British Empire. In 1964, the island of Malta is granted its Independence.