Dean Kalimniou

The whole thing, being based on false pretences was doomed from the start. In December 1803, Count Froberg lately of Germany, received authorisation from Britain’s Secretary at War to form a regiment in Germany for deployment in Malta, recently wrested from the French, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Except that Count Froberg was not a Count, nor was he German. Instead, he was Gustave de Montjoie, an impoverished supporter of the French Bourbon dynasty, looking to make a quick fortune. According to Adam Neale’s 1813 “Travels Through Some Parts of Germany, Poland, Moldavia and Turkey,” Froberg commenced recruiting for what he termed the Froberg Levy, his regiment, primarily in Epirus and Albania as well as the mountainous regions of Bulgaria. What he was looking for was men of exceptional hardiness, who could endure privation. Adam Neale describes Froberg’s approach to recruitment as being one of “unscrupulous deceit and falsehood.” A number of promises were made about pay and conditions that could not possibly have been met, such as that they would be all given an officer’s commission. Instead, they were all enlisted as privates on half-pay. By 1806, the multilingual and multiethnic regiment, consisting of approximately 500 soldiers, arrived in Malta.

Trouble began from the outset. Upon landing in Malta, the recruits could not understand why they had to go into quarantine and instead demanded that they be returned to Corfu. They only complied when their commanding officer, Lieutenant Schwartz, the oppressive officer who oversaw the contentious recruitment. Only after Schwartz threatened to withhold their food did they comply.

Upon their release from quarantine, the soldiers were not provided with uniforms, weapons or any training. Instead, they wandered the streets of Malta’s capital, Valletta, frequently fighting amongst themselves and with the Maltese who increasingly became fed up with their unruly and frustrated would be protectors. Fearing further unrest, Lieutenant-General William Villettes, the overall commander of British troops in Malta, ordered the Froberg Regiment to be confined at Fort Ricasoli. This however served only to inflame the soldiers even further.

Portrait of the Greco-Bulgarian Caro Mitro, leader of the mutiny, hanged on April 26, 1807. Courtesy of a private collector via Dean Kalymniou

Matters came to a head on 4 April 1807 when 200 Greeks and Albanians, led by a Greek from Bulgaria known as Caro Mitro intent on escaping back to Corfu, attacked their officers, killing Schwartz and severely injuring other officers. John Johnstone, a British artilleryman, was killed when he refused to hand over the keys to the armoury. The rebels pulled down the British flag and replaced it with the Russian ensign. They then forced twenty British soldiers in charge of the fort’s guns to train the guns on Valletta and sent a message to the town. They demanded an immediate discharge, free passage to Corfu, and a pardon. Otherwise, they would fire the fort’s guns on Valletta.

British authorities refused to treat with the rebels. Instead, the 39th regiment was instructed to advance on Fort Ricasoli, along with the Royal Maltese Regiment. There was only a few day’s supply of food in the fort and the rebels soon renewed their demands for a discharge, amnesty and food for eight hunred men. Villettes, resolving to starve them out, ordered their immediate surrender and began moving artillery around the fort. A factor informing Villettes’ cautious approach was the presence of hostages held by the mutineers, including regimental officers, their families, and British artillerymen, who faced the threat of slaughter in the event of an assault.

On 6 April, the mutineers sought to negotiate once more, dispatching one of their officers with a repeat of their earlier demands to Villettes. Although the demands were again dismissed, the officer was able to convey the dire conditions faced by himself and his fellow captives.

Soon after, signs of discord began to emerge among the rebels, who had begun to squabble among themselves. One faction raised a white flag in surrender, which was quickly taken down. The realisation that there existed among the rebels, a faction willing to capitulate, further emboldened Villetes. Accordingly, he dispatched a delegation, accompanied by Greek priests, to negotiate with the rebels and seek their surrender, relying on his leniency. However, the rebels persisted in their demands and threats to bombard Valletta.

On the fourth day, the authorities were astonished to witness the release of the wives and children of the regimental officers held hostage, highlighting the lack of food within the fort. Desperate, the mutineers issued an ultimatum, threatening to detonate the fort and everyone within, including themselves, unless provisions were delivered by a specified time. When this ultimatum expired without compliance, they issued another, vowing to massacre every officer and Englishman in the fort if their demands were not met.

Within the fort, the other European mutineers began to squabble with the more diehard Greeks and Albanians. Later that day, a group of disgruntled Germans and Poles overwhelmed the sentries and unbarred the fort’s gates, rushing out. Only the Greeks and Albanians remained.

Beseiged and hungry, on 10 March, the remaining group of rebels attempted to bolster their bargaining position by firing towards Valletta across the harbour. This action proved to be the final straw for Villettes, who determined that the fort should be stormed without further delay. Led by Lieutenant de Clermont of the Froberg Regiment, forty men attacked the fort under cover of darkness and gained control, without incurring any losses.

However, led by leader Caro Mitro, six rebels retreated into the magazine, threatening to detonate it if their demands were not met. Two days elapsed, and during the night of 12 March, they carried out their threat, causing an explosion that claimed the lives of three British sentries.

Although it was assumed that the six rebels perished in the blast, they managed to escape amidst the chaos and fled to the countryside. They were apprehended a few days later and placed under arrest.

A brief military trial was swiftly held, during which twenty four rebels were identified as the main instigators and received death sentences. In a letter, Villettes characterized them as “ferocious savages,” and the manner of their execution was far from civilized.

The execution took place on the Floriana Parade Ground, witnessed by the imprisoned remaining members of the Froberg Regiment, a significant portion of the island’s garrison, and a substantial gathering of Maltese civilians. The condemned were divided into three groups, with the first group hanging the second, who were then hanged by the third group.

Subsequently, the last group, along with the remaining individuals, were executed by firing squad, without being blindfolded. Surprisingly, not all were immediately killed by the initial shots, and some attempted to flee, though they were pursued and ultimately dispatched. Two of them met their demise when they attempted to escape over the

Soon after, a board of inquiry was established, whose investigations revealed the deficiencies in the recruitment process. As a result, the Froberg Regiment was promptly disbanded, and approximately three hundred individuals deemed eligible for discharge were sent back to Greece and Albania. Other soldiers not implicated in the mutiny, primarily Germans, Poles, and Russians, who opted to continue serving in the British forces, were reassigned to different regiments.

A few days later, Maltese soldiers apprehended the last two fugitives. Shortly thereafter, Caro Mitro and his friend Nicolas Anastasiou were executed by hanging and buried in an unmarked grave. However, one more violent death connected to this incident was yet to occur.

Count Froberg, the nefarious founder of the regiment, was in Constantinople when news of the mutiny reached him. Sensing danger, he fled the city, but rumours suggest that he was eventually hunted down and killed, possibly by some of his former soldiers seeking vengeance. According to another source, he was murdered by marauding Cossacks.

Whether victims of fraud or insubordinate traitors, the fighting mettle of the Greek and Albanian rebels at Fort Ricasoli both captivated and repelled the British. Seeking only dignity and decent treatment, the rebels were cornered into a situation not of their own making. It was the inflexibility of the British and their inability to comprehend the injustice served upon the mutineering troops that led to their calamitous demise, while their leader Caro Mitro, remains a romantic yet tragic figure to the present day.