Rinaldo Sceberras - Maltese Hero by Denis Darmanin
In a lonely corner of the Upper Barrakka Gardens stands a monument, its main feature being a sphynx. This commemorates a Maltese who served as an officer in the British Army and although his story might not be remembered by many today, he was a brave officer who died a hero's death.
Rinaldo Scibberras was the eldest son of the affluent politician Camillo Sceberras. Having been educated in France, Camillo had supported the French when they occupied Malta in 1798 and was elected a Member of the Municipality of the West. After the capitulation of the French in 1800, Camillo departed with the French troops to serve as a Captain in the Staff Corps to General Mayer in Northern Italy. While in this service he met Maddalena Ravanelli, the daughter of a rich Milanese family, whom he married. They had 12 children, Rinaldo having been born in Milan in 1808. The family then returned to Malta in 1817.
Following in his father's footsteps and due to his strong interest in the heavy military presence in Malta, young Rinaldo developed a special attraction towards the 80th Regiment of Foot, then part of the garrison troops in Malta. In March 16, 1826 at the age of 18, he enlisted as an Ensign by purchase as was the custom in those days. Following his appointment, in May 1828 the 80th Foot moved to Corfu in the Ionian Islands which belonged to Great Britain at the time. After Corfu, he served in Cephalonia and in 1830 the regiment was ordered to return to England. During the passage, the troopship called at Malta and this enabled Rinaldo to visit his family. Little did they realise that this was to be their last meeting.
During their six years of Home Service, the regiment was stationed in Boltan, Belfast, Manchester and Chatham. During this period Sceberras was promoted to Lieutenant on April 16, 1833 and Captain on March 17, 1843. In March 1837 the 80th Regiment was ordered to Australia which was a long voyage round the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean. On arrival at Sydney the regiment was assigned over convicts and was employed by detachments in New South Wales, Tasmania and the Norfolk Islands. In 1841 it was sent to New Zealand.
Although a number of companies remained in New Zealand, the Regiment returned to Sydney in 1842 with a strong contingent in Paramatta. Sceberras' own company was stationed in a settlement called West Maitland, on the banks of the Hunter River, some 110 miles from Sydney. It was while in Sydney that Rinaldo met and married Jane Platt, the daughter of the late Lieutenant John Platt, Superintendant of Ports. The couple did not have any children.
News came that the 80th Regiment was required for service in India and with great regret, the communities of West Maitland and Sydney prepared to say farewell to this popular officer. They presented him with a silver vase with an inscription engraved on a silver plate on its ebony base, recording the town's deep appreciation for the services given by him in both a military and a civil capacity while in service in the garrison. The vase later became a most cherished heirloom in the drawing room of his widow.
The Regiment arrived in India in November 1844. Captain Sceberras was attached to Regimental Headquarters, at Fort William, Calcutta but later moved with the regiment to the Upper Provinces, arriving at Agra in March 1845. The next move was to Ambala in November and later into the field with the Army of the Sutlej, which was under the command of General Sir Hugh Gough. Captain Sceberras was present at the Battle of Moodkee (Mudki) and survived unscathed. The retreating Sikh force was followed by General Gough towards Ferozepore which brought about the Battle of Ferozeshah which was fought three days later on December 21, 1845. The Sikhs held their position and the first British attack was repulsed with heavy losses. During the following morning, a second attack by the 62nd and 80th Regiments of Foot broke the Sikh lines with a furious bayonet charge which 'carried the day.'
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."
Captain Sceberras' name is recorded in various monuments although his surname is not always spelt right. In a memorial in St. Andrew's, Ferozeshah: 'Captain Rinaldo Scheberras, 80th Foot.' Another memorial is in Lichfield Cathedral in the North Midlands, in which he is listed as being killed 'with Captain Best and Corporal Browne ...' during the capture of the black Sikh flag. The monument erected in the Upper Barrakka Gardens in his memory was funded by his brother officers of the regiment.
Captain Sceberras was awarded the Sutlej Campaign Medal 1845-46 with the inscription "Moodkee 1845" and the bar "Ferozeshah".
Malta Mail and United
L'Unione, Gazetta di Malta, February 1846.
A Maltese Hero in India, Major A.G. Harfield, BEM, FRhisT, Fighting Forces, Vol.1, No.1. 1987.
Camillo Sceberras, His Life and Times by R. Farrugia Randon, Malta 1991.