Strickland, Gerald Paul Joseph Cajetan Carmel Antony Martin, Baron Strickland (1861–1940), prime minister of Malta
by Joan Carnwath

Strickland, Gerald Paul Joseph Cajetan Carmel Antony Martin, Baron Strickland (1861–1940), prime minister of Malta, was born in Malta on 24 May 1861, the eldest son of Commander Walter Strickland (1824–1868), of the Royal Navy, and Donna Maria Aloysia Paula Bonici-Monpalao (1834–1907), daughter of Cavaliere Peter Paul Bonici of Malta, and niece and heir of Sir Nicholas Sceberras Bologna, fifth Count della Catena in Malta, whom Strickland succeeded as sixth count in 1875. He was educated away from Malta at St Mary's College, Oscott, near Birmingham, Warwickshire, and at the Jesuit College of Mondragone, outside Rome. He also became a law student at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was president of the union, graduating in 1887. In that year he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple. However, the island continued to exert a strong attraction on Strickland, and he influenced the Maltese political scene from 1886 to 1902, and again from 1918 until his death. The Maltese had sought protection from Napoleon's army in 1800 and in 1814 the Maltese islands came under the British crown.

At the age of twenty-one Strickland set out on a two-year tour around the world, and it was in Australia that he conceived the far-reaching idea of emigration to that country of Maltese nationals, to relieve the over-populated island of Malta. While still a student he was advising Fortunato Mizzi, the leader of the Partito Nazionale—who was married to an Italian wife, and consequently a supporter of the Italian language—on equality between the Maltese and British people. In 1886 he was elected a member of the Maltese council of government. The following year saw Strickland and Mizzi's collaboration in the framing of a new constitution, and both men gained seats in a new legislature. This constitution (known as the Strickland–Mizzi constitution) marked Malta's entry into the field of representative government after nearly a century of British rule. In 1888 Strickland acted as unpaid assistant secretary of Malta after relinquishing his seat in the council of government.

With his boundless energy and foresight Strickland became chief secretary in 1889, responsible for the civil administration of the Maltese government, lieutenant-governor in all but name. The same year he organized the committee which succeeded in stamping out a serious epidemic of cholera in Malta, introduced many reforms, created the Royal regiment of militia, initiated drainage and electricity works and the construction of the breakwater across the Grand Harbour at Valletta, and, always suspicious of the Italian connection, secured for parents the right of choice of English as a second language in the schools, of which he built twenty-six. In 1892 Strickland persuaded the government to take over the Malta Railway which was slowly deteriorating as a private enterprise. For another five years he struggled to obtain authority from the council for its expansion, including an underground tunnel into Valletta, which would have helped the defence of Malta in the Second World War. If all his improvements had been carried out the country villages would have advanced and developed. He was appointed CMG in 1889.

Though Strickland and Mizzi had waged their joint campaign in 1887 on the promise of never substituting English for Italian, Strickland felt no allegiance to this party by 1889 as chief secretary, and Mizzi's hopes of having a strong Italian-speaking Englishman on the electoral bench faded. No break between the two men happened immediately, but it laid the groundwork for a violent split when one favoured the English language and the other remained pro-Italian. By 1899 Strickland was pointing out to Mizzi that he was printing articles in his paper La Gazzetta di Malta calculated to excite disloyalty between various classes of her majesty's subjects, and as a member of the Maltese bar and an elected member of the council of government he had taken an oath of allegiance to the queen. By 1901 the co-founders of the constitution of 1887 were in a head-on struggle against each other's official existence.

In 1890 Strickland married Lady Edeline (1870–1918), eldest daughter of Reginald Windsor Sackville, seventh Earl De La Warr. This must have influenced his determination to become a servant of the crown, and his bias towards the English language. They had two sons who died in infancy, and six daughters. The fourth daughter died as an infant; five survived him. In 1896 he acquired Sizergh Castle in Westmorland as his English estate and thereafter divided his time between that and Villa Bologna in Malta.

In 1895 Joseph Chamberlain had become colonial secretary in Salisbury's tory government. Fearing that the language question in Malta might drive the Italians towards Germany, Strickland revoked the planned measures against Italian in the law courts which, combined with Mizzi's increasingly violent vendetta against him, made Strickland's position untenable. In 1902, therefore, he accepted the governorship of the Leeward Islands, where he revived the ailing economy by fostering co-operative sugar refineries and cotton growing.

In 1904 Strickland was promoted to Tasmania, and in 1909 he became governor of Western Australia, followed by further promotion in 1913 as governor of the state of New South Wales, though the Orange faction were fiercely against his Catholic religion, which Strickland discreetly observed all his life. He was appointed GCMG the same year. Inevitably a clash came with Holman's Labor Party and Strickland was recalled. In 1917 Strickland, and a mortally ill Lady Edeline, returned with their family to Malta. Lady Edeline died the following year.

Strickland was now a mature and experienced politician and when his daughter, Mabel, appealed to him to concentrate on Malta's political destiny, and anticipating a growing danger from Italy, he launched a powerful journalistic campaign in the Malta Herald. In 1921 he founded Il-Progress and, with Mabel's assistance, an English supplement in February 1922; these were merged into the Times of Malta Weekly in English, with Il-Progress in Maltese. In September 1928 Ix-Xemz (‘The Sun’) and Id-Dehen (‘The Understanding’) were founded and in May 1930 Il-Berqa (‘The Lightning’) appeared. The first two were terminated during a religious strife.

In 1921 Strickland formed his Anglo-Maltese Party, which shortly afterwards merged with Augustus Bartolo's Maltese Constitutional Party to form the Constitutional Party. During two legislatures from 1921 to 1927 he was leader of the opposition, and in 1927 he assumed office as prime minister, and minister of justice. In 1924 in England he was returned as Conservative member of parliament for the Lancaster division where he used his platform in Westminster to speak almost exclusively for Malta. Possibly for this reason in 1928 he was created Baron Strickland of Sizergh Castle.

In 1926 Strickland married for the second time; his wife was Margaret (1867–1949), fourth daughter of Edward Hulton (1838–1904), of Ashton-on-Mersey, Cheshire, the owner of vast newspaper interests. Her brother was Sir Edward Hulton. Lady Strickland founded St Edward's College in January 1929 for Catholic boys, and settled £5000 a year on her husband. She recreated the garden at Villa Bologna and was known for her many charitable works. She was created DBE in 1937, and was also dame of grace of the order of St John of Jerusalem.

In Malta the priest–politicians and pro-Nationalist clergy vilified Strickland, exerting a strong political influence against him. Strickland, often with immoderate language, fought against them with all the aggression at his command and in 1930 narrowly escaped assassination. When Strickland failed to get approval for his first budget he had to get an amendment of the Amery–Milner constitution (set up in 1921) to gain his majority.

Strickland's war with the church came to its climax in 1930 when there were imminent elections. The Maltese and Gozitan bishops intervened in the electoral process with a notorious ‘Mortal Sin’ pastoral letter refusing absolution to anyone who voted for Strickland. A royal commission was set up in 1932 and recommended a return to the Amery–Milner constitution, in spite of which the pastoral letter was reimposed. Strickland, at his most patriotic, made a public apology, but even so the Nationalist Party had a resounding victory.

With Malta reverting to crown colony rule Strickland strove for a restoration of representative government, and fought a long series of ultra vires legal battles for the restoration of the peoples' liberties, which were partially obtained in 1936 and 1939.

As the Second World War threatened, Strickland, with his unflagging vision, designed undercliff hangers and submarine pens, but to Malta's cost was ignored by the country's defenders. He had been among the first to raise the alarm to the threat of fascism, and he helped to defend Malta and its people when the island became the last bastion of freedom.

Dominating, aggressive, and a pugnacious fighter in public, in his private life he was charming, genial, and excellent company. Inventor, politician, loyal husband, a strict, high-principled, but caring father, a true patriot both to the British empire and above all to Malta, he was a man before his time. Strickland died in Malta at the Villa Bologna on 22 August 1940, and was buried the following day at the cathedral, Mdina.

JOAN CARNWATH

Sources  

J. Alexander, Mabel Strickland (1996) · DNB · private information (2004) · H. Smith and A. Koster, Lord Strickland: servant of the crown (1983) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1941)

Archives  

Bodl. RH, corresp. and papers relating to Malta · Sizergh Castle, Westmorland |  Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lewis Harcourt · NL Aus., corresp. with Viscount Novar · U. Southampton, Mountbatten MSS


Likenesses  

E. Caruana, oils, Villa Parisio, Malta · Hay, lithograph, NPG; repro. in VF (4 May 1893) · A. Sciortino, statue, Upper Barracoa Gardens, Valletta, Malta · C. Thorp, oils, Sizergh Castle, Kendal, Cumbria

Wealth at death  

£15,516 16s. 11d. — effects in England: administration with will, 21 Jan 1941, CGPLA Eng. & Wales


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Gerald Paul Joseph Cajetan Carmel Antony Martin Strickland (1861–1940): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36350