Lord Palmerston to Sir T. Read.

Sir: Mr. Ancram, in his dispatch No. 14, of the 2d of June, 1838, reported the case of a young Maltese girl, Grazia Abela, the wife of a Maltese, who had been persuaded to embrace the Mahomedan religion, but who afterward desired to recant. Mr. Ancram, it appears, made thereupon an application to the bey that the girl should be restored to her husband, but the bey refused to restore her. Since that time I have heard nothing further from Mr. Ancram or from yourself on this subject; and I would hope that the bey, on further reflection, may have been induced to give up the girl. But if that should not have been the case, I have to instruct you to state, by a written note to the bey, that all the subjects of Her Majesty are free to change their religion, if they think fit to do so, and the British government never interferes with the conscience of British subjects; but that every person who is born a subject of the British Crown must, by the law of England, continue, during life, to owe allegiance to the sovereign of Great Britain; and, on the other hand, every such person is entitled, during life, to the protection of the British Crown.

“The woman in question, having been born in Malta, is a British subject; and, though she is at liberty to embrace the Mahomedan religion if she shall think fit to do so, she cannot thereby cease to be a British subject, and she is as much entitled to British protection as if she had remained a Christian. The law of Tunis may be different; but the British government has nothing to do with that law, and Great Britain never can permit the laws of any foreign state to interfere with the indissoluble connection which binds a British-born subject to the British Crown.

“Moreover, marriage is, by the law of England, a tie which can only be dissolved by an act of the British legislature, and Her Majesty’s government never can permit any foreign government to assume that a marriage legally contracted between two British subjects can be dissolved by the circumstance that one of these parties has changed their religion.

“Her Majesty’s government, therefore, expect that this Maltese woman shall be placed under your protection, in order that she may have an opportunity of freely choosing whether she will return to her husband and her country, or remain where she is.

“I am, &c.,


In 1865 Mr. Wood reported that he had sent to Malta a Maltese family consisting of a widow and minor children, who had been induced by distress to embrace the Mahomedan religion.

As the children of a Maltese father, during their minority, remained British subjects, and it was assumed that the application made for their removal to Malta had been at the instance of their next relation or friend, Mr. Wood’s proceedings were approved.3

  1. Queen’s advocate, January 13, 1865.