The People of Gibraltar
1713 - A Naturally Expensive Man

Stanhope Cotton and Admiral Cornwall - Isaac Cardozo and Moses Mocatta
Immanuel and Solomon Ben Amor - Joseph Bibas and Ben Suffat 
Jasper Clayton  and Francisco Garcia Caballero - William Hargrave  and Lord Portmore
Stanwix and Colonel Congreve - Francis Columbine and Isaac Cardozo Nuñez
Godbey and Kane - Joseph Corrons and William Hayles
William Jacks and John Baptista Sturla - Robert Robinson and Anthony Dudley
Thomas Cockayne and Gianbattista Gassa - Geronimo Role and Rosa Maria
Mr. Holroide and Samuel Levy Bensusan - Abraham Franco, Josep Marti and Diego de Moya
In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht was signed ( see LINK ) the War of Succession ended and the 12th Siege petered out. In its lengthy Article X the Catholic King of Spain gave up the ‘Town and Castle’ of Gibraltar ‘to be enjoyed’, by Britain, ‘absolutely with all manner of right forever.’ As George Hills points out in his Rock of Contention, it was a common formula for the surrender of a fortress where the word ‘forever’ actually meant ‘until such time as we can get it back.’
Generally it was a poorly drafted treaty with a whole raft of difficult to comply with clauses but in the long run it proved a good bargain for England. It also brought immediate fringe benefits. As somebody put it the British obtained ‘a monopoly of the slave trade to Spanish-America for at least thirty years.’ There were enormous political repercussions for everybody on the Rock. The most immediate was that the Dutch left for good – albeit reluctantly - and the place was well and truly confirmed as a British military fortress, with the emphasis on both ‘military’ and ‘fortress’.


The Treaty of Utrecht

In many ways there was very little else that Gibraltar at that time could have been other than a fortress given a perpetually hostile neighbour frustrated by its inability to recover what it considered to be – the Treaty of Utrecht notwithstanding - its very own property. It was also quite evident that as long as Britain retained a purely military interest in the place the residents would be tied to the whims of a garrison population overwhelmingly larger than theirs.

Article X of the Treaty had specified the expulsion and future exclusion of Jews from the Rock. ( see LINK ) To put this in context, a survey carried out by the Inspectors of the Army one year before Utrecht was signed, showed that Jews were paying rent for over a third of the properties in the town. Two years after this the number of Jews in Gibraltar had risen to 150 most of which were from Barbary. The records also show that most Moroccan Jews were trading with their own country – mostly Tetuan - on behalf of British, Christian and other Jewish merchants. In effect they had a monopoly for the supply of fresh food for the Garrison.

English ministers in London repeatedly ordered the military governors of the Rock to honour the Treaty and get rid of the Jews and they in turn assured them that they would. But they didn’t - other than partially and only during a very short period after the Treaty was signed. 

When the acting Governor Stanhope Cotton was instructed to get rid of them he procrastinated. When London insisted, he was economical with the truth. When he was told that there were 300 Jews still living on the Rock he replied that there were just ‘a few above one’. What he actually meant was that he had only expelled those Jews who were of no consequence to him; in other words, those that were not paying him any bribes. 


An incomprehensible allegory of the peace treaty of Utrecht  by an unknown artist

Meanwhile he tried to cover his tracks by sending London a rather inconsequential petition from a Jew living in Gibraltar who he claimed was ‘An Englishman and a Freeman of London’. The Government’s persistence, however, drove him to tell them that there was only one Jew left – a prisoner. Admiral Cornwall who happened to be visiting at the time put the figure rather higher than this. Cotton, he reported, had just received a gift of 2000 dollars from the Jewish community. They were bribing him so that he would allow them to stay.

Cotton retaliated by producing several affidavits refuting Cornwall’s accusations. These were signed by just about every Jewish merchant of any consequence including Isaac Cardozo, Moses Mocatta, and Immanuel Senior - who represented the European section of the community - and Solomon Ben Amor, Joseph Bibas and Ben Suffat who were descendants of Jews who came originally from Barbary. Ben Suffat - aka Samuel Alevy Ben Zephat - was in fact the agent of Moses ben Hattar ( see LINK ) who happened to be the treasurer of the Emperor of Morocco. Moses Mocatta, incidentally was Ben Suffat's London agent but preferred to spend most of his time in Gibraltar.

Moses Mocatta seems to have been quite a resourceful character. In 1718 he presented a petition to George I, asking for permission to break the Spanish blockade so as to continue his exports to Tetuan. He then rather impertinently requested that both the Governor of Gibraltar and the Commander of the Straits Squadron be instructed to allow him to do so. The British thinking quite rightly that his relationship with the influential Ben Hattar might come in useful in the future, agreed to everything.

And so it went on. To be fair, despite the undoubted ‘pocket lining’ of corrupt administrators the truth was that the Jews were essential to the good running of the Fortress. In fact a decade or so later when the Governor at the time Lieutenant General Jasper Clayton was also ordered to expel the lot he simply refused. ‘As regards the Jews here.’ he answered back, ‘I find it an old dispute’. 

If the British Government was worried about breaking the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, so be it. He, like all other previous Governors was simply not prepared to expel people who were his main source of income. In fact Clayton was usually prepared to go to any lengths to protect not just the Jews but the Barbary moors on whose goodwill he was dependent on for most of the Garrisons food supplies. When five Moorish ships, armed to the teeth, were pursued by a Spanish warship, Clayton allowed them to take refuge in Gibraltar. When they finally decided to leave he ordered an English warship to escort them back home. The fact that the Moorish ships were obviously corsairs made not the slightest difference to him.

In 1717 according to the Gibraltarian historian Tito Benady, a small lane in Gibraltar with the ridiculously long name of La Calle que va a la Plazuela de Juan Serrano – later shortened to Bomb House Lane – gained international notoriety when the Spanish authorities complained that the Jews had a synagogue there.

The source of the complaint was the newly appointed Spanish consul, Francisco Garcia Caballero, who visited the Rock accompanied by the Bishop of Cadiz, Don Lorenzo Armengual de la Mota together with a large retinue of stewards and secretaries. There were, he protested, more than 300 Jews on the Rock contrary to the requirements of Utrecht. 

The British authorities closed the synagogue and threw out a few more Jews. But as always, the attempt to comply with the Treaty of Utrecht was short-lived. The Jews returned and the main synagogue in Gibraltar is still there today. In fact the Governor at the time - Major-General Sir William Hargrave ( see LINK ) - actually allowed the Jewish community to build a new synagogue where services were conducted in the traditional manner used by the Portuguese Jews in Holland. The entrance was in a lane that is now known as Serfaty’s Passage. This synagogue was later destroyed during a very heavy rainstorm in 1766.


Bomb House Lane viewed from the old Plazuela de Juan Serrano

Whatever the case, the immediate effect of the Treaty – right up to the late 1720s - was that ships of all nationalities, including those with which Britain was at war, were allowed to come and go as they pleased. In theory no duty was to be levied on goods sold or bought but of course in practice the Governors of Gibraltar continued to levy their illegal taxes. So much so that a few years after the signing of the treaty and despite the increase in the movement of ships and material in Gibraltar harbour the overall situation took a turn for the worst.

The Garrison was weak, many officers were absent on extended leave, and provisions were a perennial problem. In 1721 the Spanish commander, the Marques de Leda, assembled a large number of ships and troops in the Bay of Gibraltar. He intended using them to help the beleaguered Spanish Garrison in Ceuta but the Commanding officer in Gibraltar thought he might take advantage of the weak state of Gibraltar’s defences to attack the Rock. He therefore ordered that all the civilian inhabitants assemble in front of the Church of St. Francis. The muster roll taken shows that the number of civilians able to bear arms were 45 English, 96 Spanish and 169 Genoese.


Mid eighteenth century map of Ceuta (Gonzalez)    LINK

Lord Portmore, Stanwix successor as governor was sent over by London to reduce malpractice and improve the management of the fortress. He was a soldier who had fought with William of Orange in most of his Irish campaigns and had once been Governor of Limerick. One can only speculate as to his opinions on the Catholic population of the Rock. On his arrival he immediately appointed Stanwix as Lieutenant-Governor, returned to England and rarely set foot on the Rock again until he came over to give a hand during the 13th Siege of Gibraltar. Colonel Thomas James ( see LINK ) put it even more succinctly; 
. . . my lord Portmore arrived in Gibraltar Bay and having settled the garrison properly, returned to England.
To distinguish Portmore from the people who were actually running the town he was sometimes ironically referred to as the ‘Head Governor’.


David Colyear, The Earl of Portmore

John Macky, an important British Government spy of the early 18th century, wrote about Portmore in a biography which included many of the people he had once spied upon. Among other things he mentions that Portmore had married a woman who had once been the mistress of James II. 

Catherine Sedley was considered as one of the ugliest woman of the era – she was very thin, too old when she married and she had a squint. But she was also one of the wittiest. Commenting on her relationship with the King she once said that she couldn’t understand what he saw in her. It couldn’t have been her beauty because she didn’t have any and it couldn’t have been her wit for he had ‘not enough to know’.

When she met two other mistresses of various past King’s of England during the coronation of George I in Westminster Abbey she is reputed to have accosted them in a voice loud enough to have resonated throughout the church. ‘Who would have thought’, she cried, ‘that we three whores should have met here?’


Lord Portmore’s wife - Catherine Sedley. The portrait was painted by Sir Peter Lely. He ignored her squint, enlarged her bosom and generally took no notice of how ugly she was supposed to have been.

Business meant money and it was business as usual with Stanwix while Portmore received his percentage. Incredibly, less than one year after his appointment and for doing precisely nothing, Portmore was awarded a royal bounty worth £1000 for some ‘’extraordinary charges’ he had made when taking the trip to Gibraltar. He had certainly done nothing to deserve such generosity.


A 1720's Dutch map of Gibraltar dedicated to Lord Portmore


 Another early 18th century map this one by Jean Covens and Corneille Mortier. It is very similar to the Dutch version and one wonders who copied who

Shortly after he left for London his deputy - Stanwix - was presented with a major problem. The three regiments in the garrison were in a state of revolt and threatening to mutiny. New deductions were about to be made to their pay in order to cover for the provisions delivered to them. This had probably been decided as a consequence of the new victualling system. The matter was diplomatically solved by London - if rather unfairly - by the simple expedient of relieving the regiments and replacing them with a new lot who not knowing any better accepted the change in pay.

Several years after Utrecht a pamphleteer published a list of the Governor’s perquisites for a particular year. It gave details on the type of goods for which duty had to be paid as well who paid what and for what reason. Among the items which the Governor claimed as his personal right were duties on wines and spirits and permits for anchorage in the harbour. Licences to trade had to be purchased by porters - who were identified as being Jewish and Genoese - and passes were required from foreigners travelling anywhere out of Gibraltar. Permits to enter the town also had to be paid for. Even the humblest hawker and pedlar in Main Street had to fork out if they wanted to trade. The Governor also paid himself a salary as the principal goat-herd, cow-keeper, head butcher, poulterer, chief baker, head gardener, master fisherman, tallow chandler and coal merchant on the Rock.

The word 'Jews' also appears on the list without any further explanation. It seems that some of them had to pay simply for the honour of living on the Rock.  The Governor, with a somewhat unpleasant sense of humour,  also forced them to make their largest 'donations' on Christmas day. Ground rents, ‘wharfage’ and ‘occasional munerations and squeezings’ were also unavoidable extras that the population had to put up with.

The total yearly amount came to over fifty thousand Spanish dollars, an immense amount of money in those days without even taking into account that the total was probably underestimated. Corsairs, pirates and smugglers were almost certainly made to pay more than the three dollars shown on the list every time they called into Gibraltar. Nevertheless it was a paltry amount when compared with the sums that would one day be removed by the same methods from India, Africa and the West Indies. The British historian Ernle Bradford speculated on whether it was possible that some of those gracious English country houses that were built during the 18th century might have been paid for with money obtained in this way. There is little need for speculation. Quite a few of them were.

The Governor in question was Clayton, the last of the Lieutenant-Governors of Portmore’s long reign, but the pamphleteer made sure that the dirt would be spread around further. ‘Colonel Congreve’ he wrote, 
 . . set most of the bad example which his successors have too well imitated. Cotton was a naturally expensive man. He improved on Congreve’s plans in every act of oppression. Godbey followed Cotton, but retired. His successor, Bowes, plundered merrily for some time as Cotton’s deputy, and shared the plunder with persons at home.’ (see LINK
This homebody was almost certainly the ever attentive Lord Portmore. The pamphleteer, however, did forget to mention General Francis Columbine who put his very own special duty on wine and in order to increase his takings prohibited the sale of beer. He was probably also unaware that in 1717 a number of Jewish merchants -  including Isaac Cardozo Nuñez, one of the richest - signed a testimonial saying that they had not bribed Colonel Cotton, a letter which appears to beg the very question it was presumably trying to answer.


Colonel Stanhope Cotton incidentally was a distant relation of General Stanhope, ex-Governor of Minorca and at the time Britain’s leading diplomat. Stanhope had been involved in a series of complex negotiations with Spain which among other thing involved swapping Gibraltar for Cuba. He was ridiculed at home by his political opponents with the following rather dreadful ditty:
Stanhope, that offspring of unlawful lust,
Begot with more than matrimonial gust,
Who thinks no pleasure like Italian joy,
And to a Venus arms prefers a pathetic boy.

Cotton had been well aware of his relative’s diplomatic preferences – if not necessarily his sexual ones - and indeed had been involved in some of the talks in Madrid before he took over as Governor. Without excusing him, it might explain why Cotton was so dismissive of any criticisms from London regarding his outrageous behaviour on the Rock. As far as he was concerned, he was just making hay while the sun shone.

The pamphlet goes on to explain exactly why nothing was ever done to stop these malpractices. 
The whole art of plundering is so magically conducted that it never comes to the ears of his Majesty, nor is it laid before legislature. If an officer complains, he is kicked out of town, if a housekeeper, he is dispossessed, if he is a foreigner, he is dungeoned and stript; if a Barbary Jew, he is transmitted to a brother bashaw at Tetuan where perhaps he is hanged outright.
The pamphlet was entitled Reasons for Giving up Gibraltar ( see LINK ) and its main thrust was to argue that the only thing Gibraltar was good for was to enrich the few and dishonour the many. The corruption was so great and the management of the fortress so poor that he was sure the local merchants, British or otherwise, were convinced that trade would improve immensely if the town were placed in Spanish hands. It was a curious twist when compared with the modern argument that the Rock should be returned to Spain on purely geographical or perhaps even moral grounds.

There was also the question of cost. Gibraltar was an expensive luxury; the cost of keeping Gibraltar was calculated as being over ninety thousand pounds per annum – an enormous figure that was completely out of proportion to the benefits derived from it. Where exactly the money was spent is another story. The Garrison had been reduced to about a thousand men and in any case their salaries were quite low. Nor was there all that much work carried out either on the fortifications or in repairing the damaged town. One can only assume that most of it was being siphoned into the pockets of a variety of Governors, victuallers, and merchant suppliers and that in the process some of it was trickling down to the ordinary residents. The non-British civilian population was still increasing.

Unfortunately for the pamphleteer a major political change had taken place in Britain; for the very first time the ordinary man in the street began to associate Gibraltar with British gallantry. The defence of Gibraltar during the Gunner’s War was perceived as a military achievement of great consequence and seemed to excite a lot of admiration from the hoi polloi. If their political leaders had ever entertained the idea of returning Gibraltar to Spain – and many of them had, including the King himself – the moment had passed.

On the whole modern British historians tend to dismiss or make light of the misdemeanours of these Governors and their minions arguing that they are blown out of proportion because it makes for good reading. The amounts shown as bribes are ‘no doubt an exaggeration’ and play is made by some modern authorities that the people in authority mentioned such as Colonel Godbey and Cotton were never Governors as such but military commanders. 

In point of fact Godbey - or Godby - and Cotton, as well as Kane and Clayton, were acting Lieutenant-Governors. They found themselves in this position because Lord Portmore, the official Governor, couldn’t be bothered to live in what he considered to be ‘a squalid rat-hole’ of a place. As already mentioned, all these people had full powers to do exactly as they pleased on the Rock; and they used these powers accordingly.

This is perhaps a good place to point out that the exact identity of Gibraltar’s earlier Governors is sometimes difficult to make out. In fact there is a tendency not to distinguish between Governors, absentee Governors, Lieutenant-Governors and senior regimental commanders - all of whom at one time or the other actually governed the Rock. The person who actually acted as governor depended on circumstances as well as the personalities and influence of the people involved – or whether somebody was away on holiday or not.

As an aside, the traditional and long-lasting problem of Gibraltar having to put up with military men as governors can be laid squarely at the door of John Methuen, the English envoy in Lisbon during the War of the Spanish Succession. It was he who insisted that an English officer be appointed to the post.

The critical pamphleteer was actually not the only witness to governmental malpractices. There are many recorded examples in the archives of both Gibraltar and London. One particular case epitomises Congreve’s carefree indifference to the idea of the free market: he sold the monopoly of the slaughter of cattle on the Rock to just four British born butchers who were also required to hand over the best cuts for his own use. 

This cosy arrangement lasted only hours after the traditional handshake. He had been offered an even more lucrative sole arrangement with a rich Spanish businessman. According to a local historian Dorothy Ellicott, when the four former butchers petitioned the Governor they and their wives and children were thrown out of the Garrison without any food or water. Luckily a ship master took pity on them and brought them back to England.

The actual slaughterhouse building, incidentally was situated near the north-eastern corner of the Parade Ground - today's John Mackintosh Square - and close to the Line Wall. It was known as the Zocky or the Zoco - from which that section of the Line Wall defences called Zoca Flank gets its name. Eventually it became a complete nuisance as the butcher tended to chuck all the unwanted offal over the Line Wall and into the sea. It would float there rotting away for months under the Governor’s protection and nothing was ever done about it.


The old Market Place. (Frederick Stephens)

Several years later somebody wrote a short article in the Gentleman’s Magazine. ‘His Excellency’s table,’ the author explained, 
. . . was furnished with meat gratis, while the officers could not obtain even a quarter of mutton without first offering its equivalent to the Governor. Nay, if by great favour he had given leave to any officer of the garrison to keep a cow, a goat, or a sow, he would forbid them to kill anything without first obtaining his permission for it, and threatened to break an officer or chaplain of the garrison for disobedience, because each of them had killed a sucking-pig without his knowledge or consent.
No names were mentioned but it was easy to guess who was was being criticised .

During the later part of his term in charge Congreve was involved in yet another contretemps with his bosses in London. It seems that the Bishop of Cadiz - a man who was once described by a British admiral as being ‘as arrant a priest as any’ of his ‘acquaintance at home or abroad’ - wanted to replace the aging Romero de Fiqueroa with one of his own men. Congreve, however, took it upon himself to refuse to allow this priest into the Rock claiming that the Spanish residents on Gibraltar had already chosen Romero’s successor. ( see LINK )  The Spanish response was predictable. Congreve’s priest was suspended, and the British Ambassador in Madrid received an angry protest in which he was advised that the Treaty of Utrecht, in so far as freedom of religion for Catholics was concerned, was not being fulfilled.

In the end George I intervened and the Bishop of Cadiz had his way. Congreve was absolutely furious and wrote an angry letter suggesting that it would be better if ‘trifling complaints relating to the affairs of this Garrison’ were dealt with internally and not by London. When the new parish priest finally set foot on the Rock he found out as others had before him that Congreve could make life quite difficult. No less than four Spanish appointees in succession left the town in despair.

In 1716 just before Congreve was finally summoned back to London to face multiple charges of misconduct, Colonel Cotton was appointed to succeed him. On his arrival and when he tried to meet him he found that ‘it was with some difficulty’ that ‘Mr. Congreve resigned his command’ to him. When Cotton finally took over one of his first acts was to try to persuade Protestant traders in Cadiz and in Malaga to transfer their businesses to Gibraltar in order to provide the Garrison with the provisions it required. He had very little success. The main reason was that - as previously mentioned -  the Treaty of Utrecht had allowed British merchants in Cadiz to monopolize the market of slaves to the Spanish West Indies. This kind of trade was worth millions whereas the provisioning of a small Garrison town offered very minor returns.


Cadiz in the 18th century

The other reason, of course, was that they were all well aware that whatever profits were forthcoming from supplying Gibraltar would be seriously reduced by whatever malpractices Cotton would have inherited from Congreve. They were sure to have heard the news that Cotton had picked a quarrel with the Captain of the Port – the Catalan Joseph Corrons who had been there from the beginning – in order to make life even easier for himself as regards movement of merchant ships coming into and out of the harbour.

The truth was that Cotton had made a serious political miscalculation. The British authorities at the time were very anxious that there should be no transgression in so far as Treaty of Utrecht was concerned. In fact George Bubb who was the Ambassador to Madrid at the time was given to dishing out severe reprimands to anybody who tried to use Gibraltar as a base for trade – whether legal or illegal. He told the Governor to desist in no uncertain terms. As a humerous aside, Bubb was reknown as a career office seeker and was made the subject of a series of satirical engravings by William Hogarth known as Chairing the Members.


Chairing the Members by William Hogarth. Chaotic scenes after the re-election of a Member of Parliament. The man in the chair is supposed to be Bubb.

Whatever the pros and cons, the fact is that these corrupt autocratic regimes must have done the locals very few favours but they do give us an insight into what civilian life was like in Gibraltar during the early part of the 18th century. And yet one has only to glance through the Governor’s perquisites to realise that from an economical point of view things can't have been all that bad for the locals.

Despite Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht the Jews were now well established in Gibraltar and wealthy enough to pay all those arbitrary taxes and levies. The fact that a local Spaniard was both influential and rich enough to afford to pay Congreve for the privilege of a monopoly suggests that there were already quite a few well off people on the Rock who were not British.

It was during Lord Portmore’s – or should one say Stanwix’s term of office - that we learn that two resident Protestant merchants called William Hayles and William Jacks, together with several of their British colleagues, formally requested the setting up of a Court of Justice to settle commercial disputes – especially those involving the collection of debts. The main reason for their request was that they were owed money by a local Genoese gentleman called John Baptista Stola.

Hayles had apparently entered into partnership with Stola trusting him with both money and goods and together they had financed a cargo of merchandise for England. Hayles had left Gibraltar before the vessel had set sail and when he returned he had found that the cargo had been sent elsewhere and that Stola had pocketed the proceeds. London agreed and the merchants got both their ‘court’ and a debtor’s prison. There is no record of Stola having had the honour of being the first to be imprisoned in it.

In effect this was Gibraltar’s first ‘Charter of Justice’, although the word ‘justice’ is probably the wrong one as there were issues that made the Charter less attractive than it might appear at first sight. For a start settlements were based on Spanish law and hardly anybody in authority knew it particularly well. The court was also headed by a military officer and the Governor himself was essentially the Court of Final Appeal. Also the commission that had looked into the matter had thought it appropriate to set up a separate Criminal Court for major crimes.

The man appointed as Chief Judge for the Criminal Court was a certain Robert Robinson of the Inner Temple who for some reason decided not to travel to Gibraltar with all the pomp and ceremony he would have been entitled to. Instead he carried out some prolonged preliminary work in London which eventually led to the appointment of several junior judges. In between appointments he had his Charter of Justice printed out in full. In it he included an introductory statement in which he refers to himself as a Chief Justice instead of his proper title of Chief Judge.

After several years of inactivity on the part of Robinson, the Treasury suddenly noted that they had been paying him his for a job he had never actually done. They stopped paying him. Robison was furious and tried to set the record right by publishing a small book called ‘The Case of the Chief Justice of Gibraltar, Truly and Impartially Stated’.

Robinson’s impartiality – and logic - was somewhat stretched when he argued that it wasn’t just his salary that he was owed in arrears. He estimated that if he had in fact travelled to the Rock, he would have been entitled to draw army rations for himself and his servants which he would then have been able to sell. This, he argued, would have increased his overall income. He magnanimously waived this perk and offered to travel to Gibraltar as soon as all arrears in salary were paid to him.

The Treasury understandably declined to do any such thing and suggested that the first thing he had to do was to get himself to Gibraltar. Robinson refused point blank. He was by now heavily in debt and his creditors wanted to see the colour of his money before he made any attempt to leave London. He issued an open letter in which among other things he stated that his office had ‘the very same root, derivation, object, extent, dignity, jurisdiction, and denomination as those of Chief Judges at Westminster.’

The net result of this prolonged farce was that the new Charter of Justice was not implemented, no criminal court was established and the Governor effectively occupied the post of Chief Judge. Robinson never made it to Gibraltar but he never went without either. Twenty three years later he was still collecting his considerable salary. Perhaps it is worth pointing out here that it took nearly three hundred years before a Gibraltar born judge - Anthony Dudley - was finally appointed as Chief Justice of Gibraltar.

While the Robinson fiasco slowly played itself out judicial matters on the Rock  kept going from bad to worse. A temporary officer in command at a time when the Governor was away on leave was scathing in his comments on what went on under the name of justice in Gibraltar. According to him ‘the greatest and most enormous crimes’ committed by the local inhabitants went unpunished as a matter of routine. On those rare occasions that they were punished all that happened was that they were thrown out of town. It is a moot point but the evidence suggests that these ‘local inhabitants’ were actually of British origin. Non-British residents who committed any crime always ran the risk of being hanged.

One of the more remarkable thing about this story, however, is the identity of William Hayles erstwhile partner - Mr. John Baptista Stola. The government papers which deal with the appeal describe him a ‘Consul at Gibraltar’. They do not specify who he was a consul for but he must have been a person of some consequence. Hayles comments on the fact that the houses in Gibraltar at the time were ‘few and poor’ and that whenever merchants made a request to the Governor for a place to live in or conduct business from, he would invariably send word to the ‘Consul’ so that he might examine the affair and make a decision.

A short while later an unconnected incidence sheds some light on Mr. Stola’s identity. Apparently a certain Captain Paddon was instructed by the authorities to go to Morocco to offer the Alcaide of Alcázar ‘a present of 2000 dollars and even a little further, rather than not procure the liberty of her Majesty’s subjects.’ Paddon’s job had not been made easy by the arrival in 1716 of Admiral Cornwall as Commander of the Strait’s Squadron. London had warned Cornwall to take it easy when dealing with anything that had to do with the Moors. 

They were worried ‘least the garrison and inhabitants of Gibraltar should suffer by any such suspension or prohibition of commerce’. Cornwall, not the kind of man to take kindly to orders which he disapproved of immediately commenced a blockade of the Moroccan ports, confiscated quantities of war supplies meant for the Emperor and caused such a disruption of trade that it produced a break in the relations between Britain and Morocco.

When Cornwall tried to rectify the situation he simply made matters even worse. ( see LINK ) According to a bitter complaint made to London by several British merchants trading in Barbary they believed that 
. . . the gentleman whom Admiral Cornwall sent to the Emperor was unacquainted with the language and customs of the Country and knowing not the Court had the misfortune not to place his presents right.
Underlying all these difficulties were the Barbary pirates that roamed the Mediterranean with a penchant for kidnapping people either to hold to ransom or sell as slaves. These Corsairs were Berber Muslim pirates and privateers based in various North African ports. Their predation began in the eleventh century and continued right up to the nineteenth. They destroyed thousands of European ships of all nationalities and captured more than a million people. For some reason the European powers were loath to take them on and tried to keep the problem at a tolerable level by either bribing the appropriate Barbary Coast Pasha or simply paying the required ransoms to release people who had been kidnapped.


Even as late as 1800, Captain Bainbridge - a U.S. Naval officer - was given the ignominious task of carrying tribute to the Dey of Algiers in order to secure exemption from capture for U.S. merchant ships in the Mediterranean.
One hundred years later it was still a matter of astonishment that while the leading powers of Europe were so unceremoniously busy in helping themselves to territorial slices, Barbary never excited their appetite. As the author of Letters from Gibraltar put it:
England, France, Russia, Austria, and Spain, had stretched their arms far and wide to grasp possessions less desirable; fleets and armies have been sent to the most remote parts of the globe in pursuit of conquest; while this state, rich in produce, infamous in government, and sunk far below the level of humanity, was not only left unmolested, but suffered to lay all under contribution: a horde of pirates, who for centuries have set at nought national compact, insulted all the flags of Europe, plundered promiscuously every ship that came in their way, and chained down their mariners to the most degrading slavery.


Corsairs chasing a galleon (Unknown artist)

All of which meant that the authorities in Gibraltar at the time and for many years afterwards were in the unenviable position of having to try to maintain a friendly relationship with the Pashas and Alcaides who financed these pirates as they desperately needed to trade with Barbary.

Despite the somewhat exotic fame attained by some of the more famous Corsairs such as Barbarossa and Reis, their methods were anything but romantic. According to Budgett Meakin who wrote about life in Morocco at the turn of the 20th century 
. . . there was not at the best of time much of the noble or heroic in their raids, which generally took the nature of lying in wait with well-armed many-oared vessels for unarmed, unwieldy merchantmen which were becalmed, or were outpaced by oar and sail together.
The Corsairs, incidentally also supplemented their earnings with a nice little trade in slaves from Guinea and the Sahara. These apparently were not just ‘hawked around the markets of Marakesh and Fez’ but were also actually landed in Gibraltar on the pretext that they were members of the resident dealer’s family

Meakin is of the opinion that the only reason why Gibraltar was made a free port was because Muley Ishmael – who was Pasha of Morocco at the time – simply refused to supply the British with building materials to build their defences unless full liberty to trade there was granted to his subjects. Apparently the Jews on the Rock were beginning to find it hard to comply with Elliott’s demands for bribes and kickbacks. 


The Jews complained to the Emperor urging him to retaliate with a partial blockade of Gibraltar which would only cease when ‘the Queen made it a free port as well for Moors as for Jews.’ Muley Ishmael would have been encouraged by Moses Ben Hattar, ( see LINK ) his Jewish treasurer and advisor who as already mentioned, had substantial business interests in Gibraltar. Most of the Emperor’s purchases were already being carried out by Ben Hatar’s agents on the Rock.


Muley Ishmael Ibn Sharif - Pasha of Morocco


Even while he was virtually holding the British to ransom, Ishmael was also taking on the Spaniards. His forces besieged the town of Ceuta from 1694 right up to 1720

Captain Paddon’s main mission may have been to obtain the release of those ‘prominent individuals’ who had been ‘caught up in the trade’ so to speak. But he was also there as ‘Her Majesty’s plenipotentiary’ with authority to smooth the heavy work of making peace with the Emperor of Morocco. It was during these discussions that he was obliged to ‘facilitate the peace’ by buying three Moorish slaves for the Genoese Consul at Gibraltar.

There are several conjectures that can be made from these rather odd revelations. For a start the Stola mentioned by Hayles was in fact Giambattista Sturla  ( see LINK ) who was the real thing; a proper Genoese Consul rather than just a governmental appointee with a fancy title. Sturla was an interesting character who – to quote Tito Benady – seems to have been a ‘forceful and interesting character who had an unbelievable propensity for attracting trouble.’ 

In 1721, for example he was at the center of an official complaint by the Spanish authorities. He was holding goods in Gibraltar that were the property of a French merchant who was already in prison in Cadiz for smuggling merchandise into Spain. Sturla defended himself during this convoluted affair by stating that he was holding the goods for Lord Portmore. It seems unlikely that this particular Governor of Gibraltar would have soiled his hands on something as petty as this; he had bigger fish to fry. Whether his secretary, Lieutenant Thomas Cockayne may have been involved is another matter.


The Rock in 1721 (Willem van der Hagan)

Sturla was a resident of Gibraltar before it was captured by the Anglo-Dutch forces and he seems to have made himself useful to them as in 1705 Hesse granted him a property on the Rock for much the same reasons as he did so for Sturla’s compatriot Gianbattista Gassa. When Hesse left the Rock, Sturla ingratiated himself with Elliott. In fact he seems to have spent much of his time acting as an intermediary for many of the Governor’s more shady activities. When Elliott instituted a special tax on foreign boats attempting to land their goods in Gibraltar it was Sturla who was made responsible for obtaining signed declarations from the Genoese captains and boat owners. The affidavits affirmed that the illegal taxes they were being forced to pay had nothing to do with the Governor.

In 1707 the Genoese government had appointed Geronimo Role – a newly arrived merchant - as consul in Gibraltar. Role soon found himself in trouble with the authorities. Elliott, who treated him with contempt, had listed him as a Jew. It meant that he had to pay more than he would have for the privilege of being a resident on the Rock. Worse still, he soon discovered that Genoese ships were refusing to pay him his consular fee which made up an important part of his official income. Role complained and in 1708 the Genoese Ambassador to London took up the matter with the British Government.

When Elliott received a letter from London asking him to improve his relationship with Role in particular and with the Genoese inhabitant in general he was absolutely furious. He immediately summoned the poor consul and demanded to know the reason for his disgraceful denunciation. Was he not aware that those malpractices that he had tittle-tattled to his ambassador were attributable to his secretary and had nothing to do with him?

Role then became embroiled in a dispute with a Genoese Captain called Grecco, a privateer who was plundering Spanish ships for miles around Gibraltar despite the fact that Genoa was not at war with Spain. The fact that Sturla went out of his way to interfere at every turn eventually took its toll. Role continued to live in Gibraltar for another ten years but no longer did so in an official capacity. In 1711 Giambattista Sturla was officially appointed Genoese consol to Gibraltar.

Little wonder then that a British negotiator should be making deals on behalf of a foreign consul. It wasn’t just that Sturla was Elliott’s hatchet-man - the authorities considered him a useful person to have on their side. The number of Genoese people living in Gibraltar was already considerable. This incidentally makes it clear why Hayles and his friends took the matter up with London. It was customary at the time to refer civil disputes to the appropriate consul in Gibraltar, something that was impossible to do when one of the parties involved was himself a consul. Nor was there much to be gained in making a complaint to the Governor. Sturla was no ordinary consul.

His request for slaves, for example, can hardly have been a surprise to the British authorities. The Genoese consul was known to have already owned at least one black slave girl. Her name was Rosa Maria and he eventually had her baptised in the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. Pretty female slaves were the ultimate fashion accessory of the period.


Certificate of Baptism of Rosa Maria, Sturla’s young black slave.
The Abolition of the Slave Trade act was still about a hundred years in the future and there was nothing odd about slaves being bought or sold in Gibraltar. What is surprising is that in the entire historical literature of Gibraltar slaves are rarely if ever mentioned other than as transmitters of the various plagues that visited the Rock from time to time. After all they would have come in handy to do all the dirty work during the first few decades after the takeover.

The Barbary Negro slave trade

Despite his shortcomings, Sturla seems to have been a man of some substance. For a start most Spanish records – including the archives of the Catholic Church – refer to him as Don Juan Baptista. The use of the honorific title of ‘Don’ is a commonplace nowadays but in the 18th century it was used to denote either nobility or - at the very least – a person of great importance.  
Another indication of Sturla’s status in Gibraltar was that Hesse referred to him as a ‘vassal of the King’ in the documents granting him his properties in Gibraltar. Vasallo del Rey was a formal title which was only given to those noblemen who provided military service to their King during war time. It was by no means an easily obtainable honour.
Nor were the properties given to the Genoese consul anything to be sneezed at; they stretched from 142 Main Street to 91 Irish Town, an extensive piece of real estate by any yardstick. Then in 1725 - squeezing some extra time from his many other legitimate and illegitimate affairs – he accepted yet another lucrative sinecure. He was appointed French Consul in Gibraltar.
The net result of all those diplomatic shenanigans in Morocco was a treaty of Peace and Commerce which was signed at Fez in 1721. It was a matter of mutual convenience. The Sultan wanted English help against the Spanish, and the English needed Morocco to supply the Garrison of Gibraltar.

Article VII gave English merchants the right to settle in and trade with Morocco – especially in Tangier - and the quid pro quo was that ‘the subjects of the Emperor of Morocco, whether Moors or Jews, residing in the dominions of the King of Great Britain, shall entirely enjoy the same privileges that are granted to the English residing in Barbary.’


In a sense this neat arrangement contradicted Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht without ever mentioning Gibraltar. For the Jews this was the final piece of the jigsaw. The success of the Jewish community in Gibraltar was guaranteed. As already pointed out elsewhere, they spoke the language of the local community as well as the hinterland. They were hard working good businessmen with a useful trading link with Barbary. And now as Moroccan subjects they were also legally entitled to settle on the Rock.

By now the British government was beginning to think that the effort and cost of keeping Gibraltar outweighed whatever its perceived advantages. George I entered the fray by making Philip V a promise he would be unable to keep. As a personal aside after a bewildering exchange of treaties between the two countries he promised the Spanish King that he would return Gibraltar back to Spain unconditionally.

Unfortunately the change of Government mentioned previously and British public opinion made it impossible for this to happen. A good example of the mood of the day is encapsulated in ‘Cato’s Letters’, a series of articles written by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, two English pamphleteers who were required reading by the intelligentsia of the day. According to these two there were three ‘unanswerable reasons’ why Gibraltar could neither be given up nor taken.

The first was because secretary Grimaldo said so, the second because it would make the South-Sea stocks fall and the third because Gibraltar had wise and honest Governors. The first is presumably an ironic reference to Jose de Grimaldo - the Spanish Minister of War during the Spanish succession - who was obsessed with recovering the Rock for Spain. The second was a meaningless reason as the South Sea Bubble had already burst by the time the pamphlet was published. As for the final reason one can only assume that the authors were completely in the dark as to what the Governors of Gibraltar were up to at the time.


José de Grimaldo – the Spanish Minister of War

It was during Portmore’s tenure that we also get an inkling as to the battle royals that were going on among the British merchants on the Rock as each sought to gain some sort of advantage over his rivals. A certain Mr. Holroide, resident in Gibraltar applied to the Board of Trade and Plantations for a licence that would allow him to send over any vessel to Barbary with goods from Gibraltar and bring back other merchandise to Gibraltar. Holroide’s agents argued that he was the only trader in Gibraltar at the time doing business with Morocco and without further ado he was granted his licence. 

All of which suggests that the laws of perjury didn’t apply in such cases and that the Board of Trade and Foreign Plantations may have been quite knowledgeable as regards plantations but didn’t have a clue as regards trade. The chances of Mr. Holroide being the only person on the Rock to trade with Morocco were not high. The Governor would never have put up with it,

Holroide incidentally was definitely a man of some prominence in Gibraltar. In 1728 He was suggested to the Lords Commissioners in London as a possible candidate for Mayor of Gibraltar. Originally from Yorkshire, his family actually boasted a coat of arms.

The stories of Hayles and Holroide and their dealings with the Board of Trade in London may appear at first sight to be relatively inconsequential. But both cases – and in fact both men - were interesting historical pointers as to the kind of civilians who populated the Rock at the time. In the first place there is what appears to be an obvious point. If the authorities had instigated a proper method for dealing with civil disputes, Hayles would have had no need to involve London. It could also be surmised that if the Charter of Justice of 1720 had been set up in time it would have been able to handle the problem. The sad truth is it would probably not have been able to do so. To understand the Byzantine ins and outs of civil disputes at the time requires a separate story.

In 1732 Britain sent a consul to Morocco in order to carry out the usual - not to say routine - negotiations; the release of several ships and passengers captured by Barbary privateers. He took with him as interpreter, Solomon Namias, a Moroccan Jew who lived in London at the time. Unfortunately Candil, the leader of the privateers recognised Namias and told the Sultan that he was not an Englishman. He was, he said, a Jew who had broken the laws of Morocco. The Sultan immediately ordered Namias to be taken away and burned to death.

Namias, who apart from his brief employment as interpreter had also hoped to act as a factor for a number of London merchants, had deposited a valuable consignment of goods in Gibraltar. The man he left in charge, Samuel Levy Bensusan, took the matter up with the Gibraltar court on behalf of the London owners. Having heard what had happened to Namias, they were anxious to get their goods back as quickly as possible. The court agreed. The goods belonged to them.

However another Gibraltar merchant, Abraham Franco, refused to accept the court’s decision. He had lent Namias some money and he hadn’t been paid. The goods should be turned over to him as payment. He took his case to the wonderfully named Prerogative Court of Canterbury, an ecclesiastical court that dealt with disputes concerning wills and estates. They agreed with Franco. The goods belonged to him.

There were now two different orders by two different courts. The powers that be eventually decided that as Spanish Law still applied in Gibraltar, the Canterbury court had no jurisdiction. One can almost hear the sighs of relief from London. The final outcome is neither here nor there. The point is that Gibraltar desperately needed a better way to solve these matters.

The second point arising from these disputes is less easy to deduce from a simple reading of the various official documents and that is that neither Hayles nor Holroide – nor the majority of their colleagues and friends – were merchants as such. They were owners or part owners of privateer vessels. The dispute with Sturla had actually arisen because the Genoese consul had made use of no less than two privateer boats as if he was the sole owner whereas in fact Hayles and his friends also had shares in them. In fact it seems that these joint ventures were the source of many disputes of a similar nature. Holroide himself was later involved in one against another British ‘merchant’ called Edward Pearson about the ownership or otherwise of a ship named ‘Pearl’.


Letter of Marque issued on behalf of George III

Another point of interest is that the ships in question all had licences know as ‘letters of marque’. These documents were originally issued by the Admiralty in London but as soon as Gibraltar became a British possession arrangements were made for the Governors to be able to authorise these documents as well. For many years every Governor of Gibraltar issued them with few questions asked and at great profit to themselves.

A letter of marque authorised ship owners to use their boats to attack and capture enemy vessels which they then brought back to Gibraltar. The Admiralty Courts then made the arrangement for their sale and disposal. As Britain was inevitably at war with somebody or other almost throughout the 18th century a well handled boat could prove a lucrative business.

In many ways the term is rather unfortunate. In French a Letter of Marque was called Lettre de Course which in turn gave rise to the word Corsair which will forever be associated with the Barbary pirates. It means that it is sometimes quite difficult to tell the difference between the master of a privateer holding a Letter of Marque and a plain old pirate. Captain Fagg with his 24 gun Buck who is consistently described in British literature as a noble privateer was almost certainly a pirate in all but name.

Hiram Breakes, a famous Dutch privateer was definitely one. This notoriously violent man has been attributed the saying ‘dead men tell no tales.’ Working for a Dutch trading company he stole his employer’s ship, used it to take a Chilean vessel carrying a cargo of gold bars and then systematically murdered the crew. He then took over the captured ship and had it fitted for piracy in Gibraltar. A letter of marque purchased from the Governor allowed him to spent much of the rest of his life pillaging and plundering the Mediterranean for six days of the week. On Sundays he held services on board ship in order to ask for God’s forgiveness.

Another set of privateers who were most certainly pirates were the Columbian Corsairs. Despite their name these people had little use for Letters of Marque and were probably unaware that such niceties existed. Their ships caused havoc along the coasts of Andalucía for several decades and they had a nasty habit of burning captured boats that they were unable to sell. They often choose the Bay of Gibraltar and in full view of the town as the preferred place to do so.

That these letters of marque could easily prove a double-edged sword is well illustrated by an imaginative free-lance scheme hatched by a couple of Valencianos. Josep Marti and Diego de Moya had fought for the Archduke during the War of Succession. They now found themselves living as refugees in Portugal. They applied and obtained from Britain letters of marque for two galiots as well as a letter addressed to Governor Cotton to allow them to use Gibraltar as a base for their raids. 

Their real plan was to capture a few Spanish ships and give a fifth of the proceeds to Cotton. The idea was to ‘gain his confidence’ for the next step. This entailed seizing a cargo of wine and giving it all to the officers and soldiers of the Garrison who they assumed would soon get thoroughly drunk. Taking advantage of this, they would then ‘seize the principal gates and make themselves masters of the place.’ The plan, however, was soon discovered. Cotton was forewarned, and it all came to nothing - but it was a close call.

In 1733 as a direct response to the havoc created to their shipping by British letters of Marque, the Spaniards began to issue a few of their own. For several years it became extremely difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Nevertheless, the British merchants in Gibraltar always felt safe in the knowledge that owning a boat that cruised for prizes with a letter of Marque would always be considered an honorable calling. It combined patriotism and profit, unlike piracy which being unlicensed was universally reviled.


The column on the left is a record of consignments of wheat, tobacco, barley and flour etc. for the years 1737 and 1738  by a London merchants - Solomon Merrett and Co. - to Messrs Holroide and Pearson of Gibraltar. They must have been doing quite well as the total value is nearly £6000. The smaller list on the right is a similar record of consignments to another Gibraltar merchant  -  Messrs William Grove and Co.

Another maritime document of the era that rivalled the letter of marque in usefulness was the British Mediterranean Pass. This piece of paper allowed its possessor to travel throughout the Mediterranean without fear of being molested by a Barbary Corsair. That was of course the theory. The practice gave rise to a whole series of problems especially in so far as Gibraltar was concerned. It was the word ‘British’ that caused most of the difficulty. By law passes could only be issued to ships that were British built and it was also a requirement that the masters and most of the crews had to be either British or Protestant.

Like with most laws that interfered with the making of money on the Rock, the rules were quickly either changed or circumvented. In 1722 special arrangements were made for Gibraltar. Anybody who was considered an inhabitant of Gibraltar, ‘of what religion soever they be,’ would be allowed to apply for a Mediterranean Pass as long as the owners and masters of the vessels ‘took the oath and enter into bond, that no indirect use shall be made of them.’ 

It was not the most carefully worded law ever to have been drafted but it served its purpose. Gibraltar residents of Genoese, Jewish, Spanish and other origin were now eligible to apply. The small residual problem of dealing with non-British built ships was deftly swept out of court by slightly changing the rules. Any ship that belonged ‘to his Majesty’s Town of Gibraltar’ would do.

The rather arbitrary issuing of Passes by the Governors of Gibraltar nevertheless led to other relatively minor problems. Barbary pirates capturing boats and crews who they easily recognised as their traditional enemies were now confronted with what was tantamount to a British passport. They were rightly confused. In an attempt to solve the problem - although it is hard to understand how the system worked - vessels from Gibraltar were issued with Passes that were different to the normal ones. They were known originally as the ‘Settee Cut Pass’ but this was later amended to the more prosaic ‘Form C’

Yet another problem that had to be faced was that most of the Corsairs were completely illiterate. Waving a piece of paper in front of them was hardly likely to prove a deterrent. In an attempt to solve this, the British authorities hit on the idea of issuing documents with heavily decorated headings. The tops of the Pass were then cut off using a wavy pattern and these were then sent to the appropriate consuls in Morocco who would in turn pass them on to the Barbary ship captains. Any wrongly captured captain would now be able to offer his half of the Pass to any illiterate corsair who could now check the validity of the Pass by making his bit of paper fit that of the one on offer.


Mediterranean Pass issued by the British Government. Note heavily decorated heading and cut off wavy pattern.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of these Mediterranean passes was the enormous effect they would have on the social history of Gibraltar. Trading in the Mediterranean free from the attentions of the Barbary pirates and under the under the protection of the British Navy became such an attractive proposition that many Genoese ship owners and captains settled in Gibraltar for no other reason than to be able to become eligible to obtain them. And with them came the Genoese sailors they needed to crew their ships. It was the beginning of a trend that would eventually make the Genoese the largest ethnic community on the Rock.

More than half a century later many of these ship owners, sea captains and sailors would repay their debt to the British. They would do their bit to help supply the Garrison with supplies when these were at a premium. Their activities during the Great Siege, for example, are well documented although one would never believe this from reading any of the available histories of Gibraltar.


Plan of the Spanish lines in fron of Gibraltar from a 1720's print by an unknown Spanish artist.