Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire as a protectorate. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the island became a military and navel fortress for the British Mediterranean fleet. Although initially the island was not given much importance, its excellent harbours became a prized asset for the British, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The island became a military and naval fortress, the headquarters of the British Mediterranean fleet.
This increased the attractiveness of Gibraltar, since controlling both Gibraltar and Malta would mean the effective mastery of the Mediterranean Sea by the Royal Navy.
Image: Ensign of Malta in the 19th Century