Alexander Ball

Alexander Ball

Infobox Military Person
name=Sir Alexander John Ball, 1st Baronet
lived=22 July 1756 - 20 October 1809

caption="Admiral Sir Alexander John Ball, 1st Baronet"
placeofbirth=Stonehouse, Gloucestershire
placeofdeath=San Anton Palace, Malta
allegiance=Great Britain
branch=Royal Navy
battles=French Revolutionary Wars
laterwork=Governor of Malta

Sir Alexander John Ball, 1st Baronet (22 July 1756?—20 October 1809), was a British Admiral and governor of Malta. He was born in Ebworth Park, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. He was the fourth son of Robert and Mary (Dickinson) Ball.

Early naval experience

Ball entered the Royal Navy, and on 7 August 1778, was promoted lieutenant. Three years later he began a close association with Sir George Rodney. Ball was promoted commander on 14 April 1782, two days after his chief’s crowning victory, and on 20 March 1783 he became captain. At this time he spent a year in France with the double purpose of learning the language and living economically. Admiral Lord Nelson, then a captain, was at this time by no means favourably impressed by his future friend and comrade, and spoke of him as a "great coxcomb".

It was not until 1790 that Ball received a command. From that year onwards, however, he was continuously employed. Ball was one of the captains of the Royal Navy most esteemed by Admiral Nelson; In May 1798, Ball was stationed on the HMS|Alexander|1778|6 in the Mediterranean. Once when Nelson's HMS|Vanguard|1787|6 had lost her fore- and topmasts, Ball rendered assistance up until Nelson's ship arrived in England for repairs. [ Abela, A.E. "Governors of Malta", Malta, 1991 ISBN 9990930082 Pg. 2] Under Nelson’s command, Ball took part in the Battle of the Nile, and his ship, the "Alexander, was the particular opponent of the French Admiral's flagship, "L’Orient", which blew up during the encounter.

Alexander Ball and Malta

Alexander Ball is considered to be a very important player in the diplomatic and military events which were to bring Malta under British rule. Universally loved by the Maltese, Ball visited the islands for the first time on 12 October 1798. Whenever Ball appeared in public, the passers-by in the streets stood uncovered until he had passed; the clamours of the market-place were hushed at his entrance and then exchanged for shouts of joy and welcome. His mission was to sustain and continue the siege and blockade of the French forces in Malta, aided by certain Portuguese naval forces.

The Maltese leaders of the blockade were immediately attracted by Ball's charisma and sympathy. Moreover, they might have realised that after the eventual French surrender, their island would have to find another ruler, since no Maltese in the nineteenth-century considered independence. The fear of the return of the increasingly oppressive Order of St. John may have pushed Malta indirectly towards becoming a British protectorate. In a letter sent by one of the Maltese leaders to Ball, written by Vincenzo Borġ, the Maltese expressed the wish to Ball that "the vast majority of us wish to see the islands fall under English jurisdiction". [ Grech, Jesmond "Malta taħt l-Ingliżi", Malta, 1997 ISBN 9990975183, Chapter II Pg. 7]

The destiny of the Malta was to be decided by the events occurring in Europe during this period. Napoleon's troops succeeded in entering Naples itself, forcing King Ferdinand IV to flee the city with his family. For the Maltese this meant that only Britain could guarantee Malta's safety. It was at this stage that problems emerged between the supporters of the Neapolitans and those preferring the Royal Navy. Captain Alexander Ball succeeded in calming the situation, and this led to his eventual election as the President of the National Assembly that took place on 9 February 1799. According to Ball's wishes, the Assembly changed name to National Congress [ Galea, Michael "Sir Alexander John Ball and Malta: The Beginning of an Era", Malta, 1990 ISBN B0006F50NQ] in order to emphasise the need for a compromise. However, the increasingly precarious situation faced by King Ferdinand IV made Ball pass more powers to the British forces stationed in and around Malta. In fact, it was a this time that the Union Flag was flown for the first time alongside the Neapolitan flag.

Nelson wrote to Ball in January 1799:

"...Respecting the situation of Malta with the King of Naples, it is this – he is the legitimate Sovereign of the Island: therefore, I am of opinion his Flag should fly. At the same time, a Neapolitan garrison would betray it to the first man who would bribe him. I am sure the King would have no difficulty in giving his Sovereignty to England; and I have lately, with Sir William Hamilton, got a Note that Malta should never be given to any Power without the consent of England..."

"P.S. – In case of the Surrender of Malta, I beg you will not do anything which can hurt the feelings of their Majesties. Unite their Flag with England’s, if it cannot, from the disposition of the Islanders, fly alone." [ cite web | title=Sir Alexander Ball | url=| accessdate=May 22 | accessyear=2007]

The situation for the besieged French forces was worsening as time passed by, forcing the besieged to prey on strays and rats to stave off surrender. In these circumstances, however, capitulation was the only way out, and the leader of the French forces, General Vaubois surrendered to the British forces, represented by Captain George Martin and Major General Henry Pigot. As a representative of the Maltese people, Ball was not allowed to take part in the negotiations, while the Neapolitans were excluded for diplomatic reasons. The French were allowed to leave with full military honours, and after a few days Ball and the Maltese could enter the liberated capital.

In February 1801 Ball was called to serve elsewhere, becoming commissioner of the navy at Gibraltar and he had to leave the islands, leaving them under the administration of Major General Henry Pigot. The tyrannical Pigot administration was not taken well by the Maltese, a fact noted in another letter written by Ball to Nelson in June of the same year. Ball notes that the Maltese would have rebelled against Pigot had he not promised them that he would convey their grievances to the authorities.

Nelson himself wrote back to Ball from the Baltic on 4 June 1801:

"My dear, invaluable friend, ...believe me, my heart entertains the very warmest affection for you, and it has been no fault of mine, and not a little mortification, that you have not the red ribbon and other rewards that would have kept you afloat; but as I trust the war is at an end, you must take your flag when it comes to you, for who is to command our fleets in a future war?...I pity the poor Maltese; they have sustained an irreparable loss in your friendly counsel and an able director in their public concerns; you were truly their father, and, I agree with you, they may not like stepfathers.... Believe me at all times and places, for ever your sincere, affectionate, and faithful friend." [ cite web | title=Sir Alexander Ball | url=| accessdate=May 22 | accessyear=2007]

Up till now, the British were uncertain of their stay in Malta, since with Napoleon on the rise they could not suffer further problems with their allies. The choice of Charles Cameron as Civil Commissioner in May 1801 did not remove these uncertainties, even if with his presence the Maltese felt themselves to be under the protection of the Empire. With the provisions of the Treaty of Amiens that placed Malta again under the rule of the Knights of St. John, these hopes were irrevocably dashed.

After being made a Baronet on the 24 June 1801, Ball was sent back to Malta, so as to coordinate the evacuation of the islands, as provided in the Treaty of Amiens. In this second visit, Alexander Ball was the Plenipotentiary Minister of His British Majesty for the Order of Saint John. The situation was, however, quick to change. War was again probable between Napoleonic France and the United Kingdom, and Ball received instructions to slow down the evacuation of British troops from the island. On his part, Napoleon was anxious for the moment to see the British out of the Grand Harbour. Napoleon himself stated that he would prefer to see the British in possession of a Parisian suburb than of Malta. In May 1803 war was rejoined because of the British refusal to evacuate the islands. After the Napoleonic Wars, through the Treaty of Paris of 1814, as ratified by the Congress of Vienna, Malta and all its dependencies passed under the jurisdiction of the British. [ cite web | title=Sir Alexander Ball | url=| accessdate=May 22 | accessyear=2007]

Sir Alexander Ball was, possibly the British leader most loved by the Maltese population. Samuel Taylor Coleridge became an assistant to Ball in 1804 and later described his administration in "The Friend", going as far as describing him as "a truly great man". In the Lower Barrakka Gardens in Valletta there is a monument built in memory of Alexander Ball by the Maltese. This Neo-Classical monument, paid for by the people in 1810 and restored in 1884, remains to this day testimony to the love and respect given to Ball by the Maltese. Ball died in the San Anton Palace on 25 October 1809. Ball's friendship with Lord Nelson, whose letters prove his high regard for him, was only broken by death. Ball never left Malta and is buried there.




NAME = Ball, Alexander John
SHORT DESCRIPTION = British admiral and Governor of Malta
DATE OF BIRTH = 22 July 1756
PLACE OF BIRTH = Stonehouse, Gloucestershire
DATE OF DEATH = 20 October 1909
PLACE OF DEATH = San Anton Palace, Malta

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