Tuesday, 16 September 2014

British Subject, of Maltese heritage originally from Spain, with a French education, who was born in Egypt.

In relation to a kind lady's response to my previous post, and the curiosity it created for her for more information on what probably seems a confusing history/identity at this end, I thought it was probably easier to explain it out (as I know it) in depth, and subsequently length. 

Granddad's heritage has always seemed to confuse people. And though the easiest way to describe him is as a British Subject, of Maltese heritage originally from Spain, with a French education, who was born in Egypt, that still seems to confuse people.

So here's hopefully a breakdown...

Sometime in the mid 19th century, when the Khedive of Egypt was in trouble with the French government regarding the construction of the Suez Canal, he asked the British government for protection. This the British were willing to provide, with certain conditions. 
  1. The British government would carry on the construction of the canal and run it for 99 years. 
  2. The British government would bring in the necessary skills to complete and run the canal (and all administration that could conceivably be connected to the canal). 
Even though the British did not have subjects that possessed all of the necessary skills, rather than curry favour with the local people (the Egyptians), they decided instead to ask Europe to supply people with the desired skills. This would then enable them to 'run' the various businesses associated with the protection of Egypt. 
What it also enabled, was the British to create a sizable social structure to superimpose on the one that had already existed in Egypt (probably since the time of the Pharaohs).

From Malta, Granddad's Armarego great grandfather was asked to provide his expertise in building wooden vessels held together with dowels instead of nails. Granddad's maternal grandfather also migrated across, working as a lithographer for an English newspaper. 

As incentive to leave their cultured homelands (the view of the time, not mine), each migrant was allowed to retain their old nationality for a number of generations, as opposed to becoming Egyptian. This meant that having originated from Malta, a British colony, the family maintained their nationality as British Subjects by birth even though successive generations were not born in a British colony. 
The horror of becoming Egyptian was also said to be part of the family's incentive to leave Egypt before the birth of my mother's generation.

Granddad was intensely emphatical of his right to a British passport, because it showed that he was not Egyptian as assumed from his place of birth, and that he was not Italian as assumed by ignorant Australians when they were confronted with his surname and foreign accent. 
Unfortunately because he was in no way connected to the mainland of the United Kingdom, having neither been born there, or lived there, his grandchildren are unable to claim any form of ancestry visa through him. 

The family considered themselves to be Maltese and though we hadn't lived there for generations they maintained this identity and elements of this cultural heritage. Maltese was spoken within the community, many of the recipes the family still know and love to this day are Maltese, though as my sister discovered on her recent trip to Malta, our versions are tastier (even when we don't tweak the recipes). There was also a Maltese club they frequented in Alexandria. 

To ensure their subjects in Egypt were able to receive an education equivalent to what they would have received had they remained in their homeland, and to ensure they could easily assimilate back into their homeland, the government/church of each of these European countries established schools in Egypt. These schools were not just restricted to those of the corresponding nationality, but were presumably open to whomever could afford that education. 

My grandfather followed the French education system while his younger brother received a British education. Granddad's French was impeccable, if becoming more dated with time, for I also believe it was his first language. Throughout his life, it was the language he counted in, the language he constructed sentences in before translating them to write them in English, and the language he used on his non-French speaking grandchildren to tell them to stop quarrelling when they visited him the day he died. 
However this in no way made Granddad French. 

In fact he spoke many languages; French, Italian (because his mother decided she liked speaking in that language), English (for work and when his daughters started school in Australia), Arabic (at work in Egypt translating textbooks for the Egyptians to be able to use), a bit of Greek (he and a neighbour in Alexandria taught each other a language). Though French was the one in which he was most fluent. 

In Australia they continued to speak French, Italian and Maltese amongst themselves but were forced to speak in English within the larger community and continually emphasis their nationality as British subjects. 

My mother - born a few years after their migration to Australia has a first language of French because her parents spoke that language within their home. Four years later she needed English to start school so the family made the switch to speaking English within the home. This meant that her younger sister born around the same time only learnt English. 

I don't know what languages Assunta had, though I presume she would have spoken English at some point as her grandchildren would have had few languages besides. However, depending on where she shopped, she may have been able to achieve a lot with her Italian. This is because there was a huge Italian community in Fremantle where the family settled. How much integration occurred between the two cultures I don't know. 

So soon after the war (when Italians in Australian had been viewed as the 'enemy within' and subsequently placed in internment camps) such an Italian sounding name was greeted with suspicion. Granddad was derided has having bought his passport illegally and was questioned by clients over his language. One client asked what language he wrote in as his language did not sound English, while in the early days, phone calls were a nightmare as the Australians spoke extremely fast English whereas Granddad didn't. 

Oh, and the link to Spain, another branch of the Armarego family has managed to trace the family tree back to Spain. 

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