"Maltese People: Maltese in India: Rinaldo Sceberras(-Testaferrata): 80th Regiment of Foot: South Staffordshire: Battle of Ferozashah: Second Sikh War: Lichfield Cathedral"
The Upper Barracca is the best known of the public gardens of Valletta. It is situated on a lofty part of the fortifications, commanding spectacular views of the Grand Harbour which is also where a great sea battle was fought in 1283 which resulted in Aragon taking over Malta.
The city of Valletta was built after the Order of Saint John defeated the Ottoman invasion in 1565 with a special attention to ramparts and fortifications against future aggressions. As the danger receded, these posts became recreational rather than military, and the Knights of the Italian Langue used the bastion nearest their Auberge for a garden and fashionable lounge. In 1661 one of their number, Fra Flaminio Balbiano, Prior of Messina, had the arcades built and roofed at his own expense. Because this area was associated with the Italian rather than the other langues, it was known for a time as “Porta d’Italia”.
It is said that one time a pipe-smoking sentry once let a spark fall into the arsenal below, causing a serious explosion. In 1775 a revolt against the Grand Master was plotted. The revolt failed, but as it was believed the conspirators met under the arcades of the same garden, the roofing was removed to make clandestine meetings more difficult. This story has been countered by the suggestion that the roofs were taken for firewood by the French during the Siege of 1798-1800.
The British brought about a new use for these gardens by the erection of monuments to Lt. Col. Edwards (1816) and Sir Giuseppe Zammit (1824). Writing in 1899, T. Mac-Gill in his “A handbook, or guide, for strangers visiting Malta”, (page 47) observed “Since the English became masters, the proud bastions of Valletta have become sepulchral.”
Sir Thomas Maitland or “King Tom” was buried in the centre of the gardens, and from time to time other memorials have been erected.
One such memorial, now overshadowed by Sciortino’s “Les Gavaroches” (a bequest by the Conte Gerald Strickland Bologna) is that erected in the Upper Baracca, funded by the brother officers of Rinaldo Sceberras, a captain in H.M. 80th Regiment of Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers), killed on the 21st Dec 1845 in the battle of Ferozeshah India.
Rinaldo was a Maltese nobleman by birth. Descended from the landed and titled families of Sceberras and Testaferrata, he counted amongst his close uncles and aunts the Cardinal Fabrizio, the Baron Antonio of Castel Cicciano and Montagna di Marzo, the Marchioness Ursula Testaferrata Olivier, and as first cousins (through his predeceased brother Paolo who also happened to be the testamentary heir of the Baron Dorell Falzon of Marsa) the Count Nicola Sceberras Bologna of Catena, Donna Maria Teresa Bonnici Mompalao (grandmother to the Conte Gerald Strickland), the Marchioness Aloisea Testaferrata Viani, Baroness of Tabria and the Marchioness Maria Apap of Gnien Is-Sultan. The siting of the Les Gavaroches may have been inspired by this relationship.
But Rinaldo was neither Maltese-born or bred. Rinaldo spent most of his life abroad. In fact his Francophile father Camillo had served as Captain in the Staff Corps to General Mayer in Northern Italy. He settled in there having married the Milanese Maddalena Ravanelli. Rinaldo was their eldest child, born in 1808. He was 9 years old when Camillo brought his litter of twelve children to Malta. After joining the army, he only returned once in 1830, and this whilst in transit.
At age 18 Rinaldo was enlisted and soon dispatched to Corfu, Cephalonia, Britain, New South Wales, Tasmania, the Norfolk Islands and New Zealand. Finally, in 1844 his regiment was moved to Calcutta, then Agra, followed by Ambala and – fatefully – to Ferozepore. There he fought his last battle. An eyewitness report recalls the charge which led to the death of Captain Rinaldo Sceberras as follows: "I saw with surprise a large body of Sikhs all clad in chain armour, rise from the ground and attack our people hand to hand. Captain Sceberras seized the (Sikh) Standard and immediately fell. Captain Best next rushed to it, but was also cut down. Sergeant Browne, a young married man next took it and shared a similar fate. The touch of that standard seemed fatal but no sooner was it down, that another seized it. Finally, Sergeant Kirkland of the Grenadier Company got it and kept it, although severely wounded."
Rinaldo’s last thoughts might have been a tangle of his wife Ann Platt, his eleven siblings, his friends in West Maitland and Sydney who had presented him with a silver vase, his ancestors or whether that flag was worth the trouble.
Rinaldo was buried at Ferozesbah Cemetery, India. The dearly-won Black Standard now hangs over the Regimental Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral. The 80th Regiment of Foot has been succeeded by the Staffordshire Regiment (the “Blue Berets”). Unfortunately the regiment appears to downplay Rinaldo’s role by giving more importance instead to Kirkland.
Each year the Regiment celebrates Ferozashah Day, with the Colours being ceremoniously handed into the care of the Warrant Officers’, Colour Sergeants’ and Sergeants’ Mess. They are returned to the Officers’ Mess after the Ferozashah dinner in the evening. Little is mentioned of Captain the Noble Rinaldo Sceberras, other than mis-spelling his surname as Scheberras. Nothing is said of the one memorial in Malta that bears the regiment’s numerals and its sphinx.