Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Curmi, Henry Felix Vincent Casimir Creni (1890–1967)

by Barry York

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Henry Felix Vincent Casimir Creni Curmi (1890-1967), by unknown photographer

Henry Felix Vincent Casimir Creni Curmi (1890-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 140981

Henry Felix Vincent Casimir Creni Curmi (1890-1967), diplomat, was born on 2 October 1890 at Sliema, Malta, eldest of eight children of Giorgio Curmi, civil servant, and his wife Paolina, née Decelis. Educated at the Royal University of Malta, Henry served in various civil service departments, among them the lieutenant-governor's office, before taking up a commission in the King's Own Malta Regiment of Militia in 1910. After being mobilized in the Royal Malta Artillery in 1915, he served from 8 September at Gallipoli where he was mentioned in dispatches. He was also stationed on Lemnos, in Egypt and in Palestine, and was promoted lieutenant in 1917. During the war he met Bessie Evelyn Simmonds, an English nurse stationed in Malta. She converted to Catholicism and they were married on 23 April 1919 at St Polycarp's Church, Farnham, England.

Captain Curmi's interest in Maltese emigration was stimulated by his successive appointments as secretary (1921) to the minister for labour, posts and agriculture (who had responsibility for migration) and as secretary (1922) of Malta's emigration committee. In 1928 he was made commissioner for labour and in 1929 was appointed to Australia as Malta's first commissioner for migration. His arrival coincided with the Depression which provoked intense anti-immigrant feeling. Having undertaken gruelling trips from Perth to Cairns (Queensland) and Melbourne, in 1930 he returned in ill health to Malta. He was replaced by H. W. Potts and then by the Melbourne solicitor Frank Corder.

In June 1936 Curmi came back to Australia as commissioner for Malta. Next year he was appointed O.B.E. His office at 108 Queen Street, Melbourne, became a focal point for Maltese settlers throughout the country, as well as a base for the Malta Relief Fund, which raised money and food for the besieged Mediterranean island during World War II. A central and recurring issue for Curmi was the Federal government's refusal to recognize the Maltese as 'white British subjects'. He worked patiently to alter Australian policy and attained formal success in 1944. In addition, he played a key role in negotiations which led to the Malta-Australia Assisted Passage Agreement in 1948. During Curmi's second period as commissioner, the Maltese in Australia increased from some 3000 to about 10,000. He retired in 1952 and was appointed C.B.E. that year.

Curmi's strong and charming personality was born of a sense of personal worth which carried over into his dignified representation of Malta. While fully Maltese, he was very aware of things British. In Malta he had been general secretary of the Boy Scouts' Association. He was an avid reader of European and Church history; in his retirement, he indulged his interest in wood, leather and ivory work, and was secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria. Predeceased by his wife, and survived by their three daughters and two sons, he died on 5 March 1967 at Kew and was buried in Springvale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. York, Empire and Race (Syd, 1990)
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 9 Mar 1967
  • Maltese Herald (Sydney), 19 Apr 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

Barry York, 'Curmi, Henry Felix Vincent Casimir Creni (1890–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/curmi-henry-felix-vincent-casimir-creni-9881/text17487, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Henry Felix Vincent Casimir Creni Curmi (1890-1967), by unknown photographer

Henry Felix Vincent Casimir Creni Curmi (1890-1967), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 140981