French Creek as seen from St. Paul's Bastion


French Creek as seen from St. Paul's Bastion

The three bays between the peninsulas of the three cities are known as Kalkara Creek (between Kalkara and Vittoriosa), Dockyard Creek (between Vittoriosa and Senglea) and French Creek (between Cospicua and Corradino Heights). St. Paul's Bastion, which is part of the Cottonera Lines, is located right above the French Creek.

Malta's technological society was given birth around the ship building, repair and servicing industry. The shipyards in Malta began in the 1500s, perhaps with a simple slipway and arsenal. During the years it turned out to one of the finest shipyards in the Mediterranean, some say that was even better or at least as good as that of Venice.

When the British expelled the French they were uncertain about the value of the Maltese Islands. They were not sure whether or not it was worth retaining. Captain Ball was one of the first to produce a number of documents outlining the state of affairs in Malta. The advantage of retaining the island because of its harbours. The harbours in Malta could provide a secure base for naval operations.

The Malta Shipyards in the French Creek
The Malta Shipyards in the French Creek

The British inherited the Order's small shipyard. At a very early stage, the British Royal Navy laid plans to expand these facilities. In 1844 the foundation stone of the first dock was built. The Drydock was opened in 1848. Plans were immediately drawn up to build similar works to cope with the increased volume of naval repairs.

A great debate started as to whether the French Creek or the Marsa would be the best site. The choice of the latter site would have involved the movement of the entire naval dockyard but in compensation a large area of flat land would be available to allow all foreseeable expansions to develop unhindered. The French Creek site was hampered by lack of space. Against this the inner area of the Grand Harbour was shallow and would require considerable dredging.

In the end the debate was resolved in favour of French Creek and start was made on the then huge Somerset Dock which was opened in 1871. For a time this dock was larger than any available to the Royal Navy at Portsmouth.

In 1892 the Hamilton Dock was completed and in 1899 a start was made on two more dry docks. Development went on until the naval dockyard consisted of one dock in Galley Creek and four in French Creek. {see map} The docks were supported by extensive harbourside workshops and refit facilities. Naval repair establishments were developed in Marsamxett as well; a small boat yard was erected on Manoel Island and provision was also made to enable work to be undertaken on submarines and destroyers. During the First World War the Dockyard employed 10,000.

From 1859 onwards, at the innermost part of the Grand Harbour, new facilities for commercial vessels were constructed. After the opening of the Suez Canal the number of vessels calling at the islands rapidly increased and within a short time Malta was enjoying trade boom. By 1880 the Grand Harbour was firmly established as the chief coaling station for vessels plying between Britain, India and the East.