Historical documents on piracy and corsairs in 18th Century Malta are being restored through a sponsorship agreement signed by Salvo Grima Foundation with the Maltese Notarial Archives.

The Salvo Grima Foundation has adopted nine manuscripts that form part of the collection of Corsair documents held at the Notarial Archives in Valletta, Malta.

These documents, each pertaining to a specific vessel and a particular captain, include lists of provisions on board vessels, such as wine, coffee, butter, sugar, and ship-biscuit, and lists of vessel equipment and armaments such as cannoni, trombone a cavalletto, trombone a mano, pistole, and bandoliere. The documents also include Greek and Turkish letters recording goods being traded between Malta and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Salvo Grima Foundation is providing financial support for the conservation treatments required by these documents; including surface cleaning, paper repairs, ink consolidation and flattening, cover repairs, and other necessary interventions.

Navigational logbooks describing conditions out at sea are also found within these types of documents. Signs of scorch marks indicate that these corsair documents were fumigated before getting to harbour.

 

The captains mentioned in the sponsored documents

The captains mentioned in the sponsored manuscripts are Giorgio Mitrovich, Francesco German, Gaetano Cavasso, Michele Borg, Gaetano Cumbi, Simone Gavaso and Pietro Zelalich.

Pietro Zelalich was born in Kotor, Montenegro, sometime around 1731. Zelalich was an official on an English privateer when he was captured and enslaved by the Ottomans and put to work on board the Corona Ottomana. There were a number of Maltese slaves on board, who convinced Zelalich that the best place for them to escape to was Malta. Thus they mutinied and managed to capture the ship and sail it to Malta. As their ship entered the Grand Harbour, confusion was great with the onlookers. Grand Master Pinto sent four galleys of the Order to discover what the Corona Ottomana was doing in the Christian harbour. News of the successful mutiny astounded the Hospitaller crews and knowledge of this act of bravery soon spread around Malta, making Zelalich and the Maltese crew heroes. Zelalich eventually became a favourite with Grand Master Pinto and led a successful corsairing career thereafter.

Giorgio Mitrovich too originated from Kotor, Montenegro, and settled in Isla in the course of the 1760s. He started his corsairing career in the 1770s and his campaigns yielded great profits to the family. He eventually involved his older sons in corsairing and fathered a generation of corsair captains. He also was grandfather and godfather to the future Maltese patriot Giorgio Mitrovich. Born in 1795, the younger Giorgio Mitrovich was born at the height of his grandfather’s military career.

 

Information taken from: Liam Gauci, In the Name of the Prince: Maltese Corsairs 1760-1798 (Malta: Heritage Malta, 2016).