23 July 2008

Some family history

My funny last name comes from Malta. It is pronounced ‘cow-key’.

Malta is a small group of islands in the middle of the Mediterranean. The best description I’ve heard is the population of Wellington in the area of Stewart Island. Malta has the oldest freestanding buildings in the world and seems to have been an important prehistoric cult centre.

It was first settled in 5200BC and has been colonised many times over the last two and a half thousand years: by the Ancient Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Knights of St John, the French (briefly), and the English. The Turks tried a couple of times, most notably during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. It gained its independence in 1964.

My grandfather Joseph Cauchi was born in Cospicua in 1897, when Cospicua had not yet been swallowed up by a spreading Valletta. He was the oldest of nine children. His father had been the CEO of the Bank of Malta. Most of my great-aunts and great-uncles who didn't emigrate lived in and around Sliema, which is a seaside suburb to the west of Valletta. One great-uncle, Johnny, went to live in Mdina and left his art collection to the nation: it's now open to the public. My dad remembers seeing some of his paintings when he was still alive. The walls of every room of his flat were full of pictures all the way up to the ceiling.

After the war in the late 1940s my grandfather served for a time as CGMO (Chief Government Medical Officer) in Malta. His name is engraved with those of other CGMOs on a marble plaque in the foyer of the Ministry of Health. My great-uncle Johnny qualified as a lawyer but for many years worked as curator of an art gallery – Dad thinks it might have been Malta's national gallery.

If you meet another Cauchi in New Zealand, they will be directly related to me.


stephen said...

Can you speak Maltese?

David Cauchi said...

Hell no! It's really hard – a Semitic language with lots of borrowings from Arabic.

I picked up a Teach yourself Maltese book when I was kid, full of good intentions, but ye gods.

Serra said...

Hi David

Just for precision's sake. Valletta did not grow and gobble up any other city or town. Valletta's boundaries lie within its fortifications which surround it since 1566 AD.

What really happened is an urban sprawl in the villages around Valletta and Floriana, namely Hamrun, Marsa and Msida.

Cospicua too is still enclosed within its walls.

Good day!
Stephen, Malta

Paul said...

Yeah! Everyone knows that!

David Cauchi said...

Cheers Stephen. Precision's important.

Simon Cauchi said...

There is, or at any rate there used to be, another family with the surname Cauchi in New Zealand. They lived in Papatoetoe, if I remember rightly. The mother wrote to Susan after we announced the birth of one of you boys in the newspaper. I think she said her husband's grandfather had emigrated to New Zealand from Gozo. That meant he was no relation. My cousins all live in Malta. Indeed, when my grandmother was once asked if she'd ever been to Gozo, she replied, "No, I've never been abroad."

David Cauchi said...

Oh yeah, you've mentioned them before. Nice grandmother quote.

visitors since 29 March 2004.