Face of a liar: Terinu, author of the freemasonry slur against Gerald Strickland

Ettore Bono, who gave Maltese politics the word ‘terinata’

Here’s the face of Terinu, author of the freemasonry slur the PN used against Strickland in the 1927 election
Here’s the face of Terinu, author of the freemasonry slur the PN used against Strickland in the 1927 election

In Maltese history, the name of ‘Terinu’ occupies a place both in political lore as well as for the origin of the neologism of deviousness that is the ‘terinata’.

In what is an exceptional treatment of the history of Maltese politics in the 1920s, Victor Aquilina unveils the face of Ettore Bono, the waiter who falsely claimed in a sworn affidavit of having seen prime minister Gerald Strickland wearing the masonic apron.

Doing the bidding of the staunchly anti-British, anti-Protestant and anti-masonic Nationalist Party, Bono’s affidavit was meant to undermine Lord Strickland, a Catholic and the leader of the Constitutional Party, by indelibly associating him with ‘blasphemous’ freemasonry.

The photo of Bono is found in the National Archives’ collection of passports from 1915, whose details are listed as the following on the full passport: born on 25 June, 1867, he lived at 42, St Alphonse Street, Sliema. At age 48 he applied for a passport to travel to Egypt. He was described as being 5 foot 2 inches tall, of ‘medium, wrinkled’ forehead, brown eyes, broad nose, ‘wide’ mouth (sic), regular chin, greyish hair, a reddish complexion and oval face with a scar under his lower lip.

The passport comes with a sworn declaration from Bono himself saying: “I, Ettore Bono, do hereby declare that I am a British subject and that I have never sworn allegiance to any other King.”

Ettore’s diminutive became employed in politics when politicians are hounded by false allegations, giving rise to the back-formed noun ‘terinata’.

“A terinata in Maltese political language means the spreading of a false story against a rival in a last-minute attempt to influence voters,” Aquilina writes in Lord Strickland: Plots and Intrigue in Colonial Malta. “It is a neologism derived from Terinu, the nickname of Ettore Bono, the man who made political history just before the 1928 general election when he swore to afars restatement that he had seen Strickland wearing Masonic regalia at a dinner some 30 years back.”

Strickland, a member of the House of Lords and leader of the CP, was embroiled in a tussle against the Italophile PN and its clerical allies for most of the 1920s, spuriously accused of favouring British rule through the spread of protestantism and masonic subterfuge.

“The plot against Strickland, or what his party deputy Augustus Bartolo described as ‘the most damning plot that had ever disgraced the country’s history’”  – (now where have we heard this one before…?) - was hatched by PN activists in a last-minute attempt to sway voters from the Constitutional Party in the 1927 election. There could have hardly been a more damaging accusation at the time than calling someone a Freemason,” Aquilina writes.

Freemasonry then, as is now, was considered to be anti-clerical and anti-Catholic. And Strickland had long been branded part of the British colonial establishment and therefore held in suspicion.

The statement was signed inside the PN’s propaganda office at the Prime Minister’s official residence  – the Auberge d’Aragon – where Terinu’s statement was sworn before the public prosecutor, as well as Ugo Mifsud, the co-leader of the PN, education minister Mgr Enrico Dandria, treasury minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici ‘il-Gross’, and justice minister Carlo Mallia. 20,000 copies of the affidavit were printed and distributed across Malta and especially in Gozo, in some places at the door of parish churches or in the church seats.

The inflammatory accusation was that while working as a waiter, Bono had witnessed Strickland in full masonic regalia at the lodge on 27, Strait Street, Valletta, on Maundy Thursday. Terinu was then taken away into a safe house on St Ursula Street, Valletta, to protect him from reprisals.

Terinu had been convicted at least 50 times already for drunkenness, described by Strickland’s ally Augustus Bartolo as a pimp who had put his own wife and daughters on the street. Indeed, in the case filed against the printers, a former freemason who denied Strickland having ever been a registered mason presented crucial evidence that Terinu’s story was a hoax. Terinu was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour for perjury, reduced to 20 days on appeal.

Lord Strickland: Plots And Intrigue In Colonial Malta by Victor Aquilina is published by Kite.