A ceremony was held on 19th May at the Msida Garden of Rest in Floriana to celebrate the restoration and unveiling of a fine memorial to Captain Baron Egor Antonovich Schlippenbach, a Russian Naval hero of the early 19th century.
The restoration of this prestigious monument was commissioned by the Russian Government and the work was carried out by Agius Stoneworks and coordinated by Din l-Art Helwa, national trust of Malta. Din l-Art Helwa manages this old burial ground overlooking Marsamxett and was awarded a Silver Medal by Europa Nostra in 2001 for its sterling work in the rehabilitation of the site.
The ceremony was attended by H.E. Andrei Granovsky, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Malta, Eleonora Mitrofanova, head of the Russian Centre for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation, Vladimir Kozhin, Head of the Board of the Konstantinovsky International Charity Fund, Sergei Medvedev, Director of the Russian Cultural Centre, Martin Galea, Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa and other guests.
Captain Baron Schlippenbach died on Saturday 20th March 1830, aged 48 years, on board His Imperial Majesty’s Frigate, Alexandra, which he commanded.
Born in Livonia, Captain First Class in the Russian Navy, and was son-in -law of Vice Admiral (later Grand High Admiral) Count Heiden. By 1821 Schlippenbach was decorated with the Russian Order of St. George on the successful completion of 18 naval campaigns.
He was buried on 22nd March with full military honours including a major procession from Valletta to the Msida Bastion burial ground. The funeral party was provided by the 85th Light Infantry Regiment and included a large number of Russian and British Naval Officers. Present was Vice Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm and army officers from every regiment in the Maltese garrison. British and Russian ships of war in the harbour lowered their ensigns to half mast and the Frigate Alexandra fired minute guns.
The Russian squadron was welcome and well known in Malta – in 1827 at the battle of Navarino the British led by Admiral Codrington and the Russians by Count Heiden were victorious allies, and the damaged ships of both nations came to Malta for repairs, whilst the officers were feted onshore. The battle of Navarino, said to be the last major sea battle in which wooden ships were used, settled the Greek War of Independence, which started in 1821. The Turks were joined by Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, who landed in the Morea in 1825 and embarked on a brutal war of extermination and subjugation. In 1827 a treaty was signed in London by England, Russia and France which sought that Greece become a self-governing state. The Turks refused, and as a result their fleet was destroyed at the battle of Navarino.
The Russians marched on Constantinople the following year, and the French drove the Egyptians from Morea, and in 1829 the Treaty of Adrianople was signed making Greece an independent kingdom. These activities had a particular relevance in Malta, as there was widespread and damaging pirate activity in the Mediterranean. Schlippenbach was buried in the Msida bastion (so-called because it overlooks Msida) waste ground in the Floriani bastions where non-Catholics were interred at the time.
Local Maltese were buried under the church floor or parvis, a practice which continued during the first half of the century. The eastern end of the ground where Schlippenbach was buried became a consecrated cemetery in 1843 (it was never unconsecrated) and continued until 1856, when it was full, and burials then continued in the new cemetery of Ta’ Braxia. Other notable persons were buried there, such as Admiral Sir Henry Hotham, Commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, and Sir Henry Pottinger, first Governor of Hong Kong, and author of the Treaty of Nanking, John Locker, a close friend of Lord Nelson, and many persons in the armed services, government and commerce in those early days.
The cemetery was maintained by the British administration until 1964, though many of the monuments were in a poor state, and a World War Two bomb had destroyed most of the tombs in the upper portion. Subsequently it was allowed to deteriorate, and was extensively quarried. In the eighties Din l-Art Helwa, the National Trust of Malta, drew attention to its plight, and a restoration team under Reginald Kirkbride was formed in 1986 – sadly he died in the following year, but in 1993 a new team under recently retired Dr Andy Welsh started work, which is still continuing to this day, although the cemetery has been in a tidy state and open to the public for some years.
Adjoining it a small museum of Maltese burial practices through the ages has been established. The ground of the cemetery belongs to the Government of Malta, but it is managed by Din l-Art Helwa. The ownership of individual graves, insofar as they can be identified, would vest in the descendants or heirs of those buried there. About 800 people were buried, but less than half can be identified as there are no records left.
Schlippenbach’s grave was recorded by Captain Charles Zammit in 1929, during a survey for the Museums Department, but he left no details. His survey drawing shows a cruciform monument to the rear of Susannah Frere’s tomb. Two damaged panels from the tomb, one in Latin and one in English were recovered and have been repaired and remounted on the new monument, together with a memorial panel in Russian.
The proposal to honour Captain Baron Schlippenbach and to record for posterity this important chapter in the history of Europe, and of Russia in particular, has the full and enthusiastic support of the Council of Din l-Art Helwa.