The People of Gibraltar
1866 - The Relle Family - Schomberg Cottage

Moritz, Emily and John, - Mary, Herman and Lisa
Edwin and Maurice Wills - Maruja Chipulina and Mercedita Letts
Mercedes Letts and Maurice Wills Junior

Moritz Fredreick Relle offers a good example of the often commented cosmopolitan nature of the population of Gibraltar: a German who admired the British and their empire to such an extent, that he joined them.

Moritz was born somewhere in Germany in 1834. He must have been a gifted musician as he ended up as a professor of music at quite an early age. It is hard to tell exactly where he spent his youth or where he carried out his studies.

From a research point of view the family name of Relle is a nightmare. Spelling variations of the name apparently include: Real, Reael, Reaele, Reals, Riel, Rielle, Rill, Rille, Rile, Rele, Relle, Rels, Rhels, Rhelle, Rhel, Riels, Rhels, van Riel, van Rielle, Réal, Reau, Rheaume, Reaumur and many more.


The family has a coat of arms with three silver crowns on a blue background. Rhelle is shown but the one for the Relle's is the same.

Some authorities have suggested that the name originated in Forez, France where the family has been a prominent one for centuries, owning large tracts of land and imposing manor houses. Others suggest that Marne, the department in North-eastern France named after the River Marne is the real source. It lies close to Baalborn, a village outside Sembach in Germany. But none of these seem to fit the bill as regards where Moritz came from.

As regards  his career as a musician this seems to have taken a curious turn when he decided - sometime in 1860 - to join the British army. The move proved surprisingly successful and by 1866, still only in his late twenties, he was appointed bandmaster of the 1st Battalion of the 25th Regiment of the King’s Own Borderers. Shortly after his promotion his regiment was sent to Montreal.


The photo shows what Moritz would have looked like in Montreal around 1867 dressed as a sergeant in the uniform of the 1st Battalion taken 

Meanwhile Moritz seem to have spent much of his spare time composing music, some of it published in Germany probably before signing up as a soldier, the rest in both England and Canada. You can still buy the sheet music of at least three pieces of his military band composition.

In the 1860s he wrote the St Laurence Waltzes for Piano which he dedicated to Lt Col. P Robertson Ross – 1st Battalion of the King’s Own Borderers. The good colonel seems to have owned nearly half the entire Moidart peninsular in Scotland, which makes one wonder whether Moritz was Ross's friend or whether he was just sucking up to his boss.


The St Laurence Waltzes for Piano first published in Quebec.


The Valentine Gallop for Piano
Published in Montreal in the 1860s it is still available

Other music by Relle includes The Royal Mountain Waltzes, one of, if not the earliest known compositions about mountains. The waltzes were inspired by Mount Royal in Montreal. Another was the Farewell Waltzes.

He also wrote an article called The Spanish Beauty Quadrille Military Band Parts - in Boose’s Military Journal. This paper was founded by a bandmaster of the Scots Guards in the 1850s and became quite influential as regards military band arrangements. A direct descendant of Moritz - John Relle - owns a ceremonial conductor’s baton inscribed as follows:
Presented to Moritz Relle Esq. Bandmaster 25th Regt K.O.B as a Token of Esteem & Respect by the Professional and Amateur members of the ORCHESTRA and CHORUS of the Crystal Palace Concerts Montreal May 11 1866.
In 1860 the Crystal Palace was built as an exhibition hall for the Montreal Industrial Exhibition of that year. It was an important and imposing structure. The Exhibition displayed agricultural and industrial products from British North America. It was officially opened by the Prince of Wales. To have been involved in this project in any way suggests that Moritz was quite an important man – at least musically speaking.


The Crystal Palace - Montreal


This sketch is from the Canadian Archives and Library - It refers to the Montreal Exhibition.

Moritz came to Gibraltar in 1866 as a relatively young man of thirty two shortly after the publication of his Royal Mountain Waltzes. The ‘Token of Esteem’ baton must have been some sort of going away present. It is impossible to confirm whether he was posted to the Rock but it is very likely that he was.

Almost immediately he seems to have met and married a nineteen year old Gibraltar born girl called Emily Woods. Emily's father was a local Government man who worked in some capacity or other in the Port Office. He was born in Ireland but seems to have spent all his adult life on the Rock.

Relle and his young wife lived with Emily's parents. The place was somewhere on the northern isthmus, with a rather unusual address - House 0, Wood Yard, North Front. Although the specific location of the house is unknown the area has a chequered history. The sandy isthmus - later known locally as the Neutral Ground - is on average only about 3 meters above sea level with beaches toward the Bay on one side and the Mediterranean on the other.

During the 17th and 18th century it had always been considered as a particularly salubrious place to live in and by the early 19th a few hundred people had built themselves a collection of semi-permanent wooden huts. The temporary nature of these dwellings was the result of the usual military imperatives that always dominated civilian activities on the Rock right up to the late 20th century. The residents of these huts were only allowed there on sufferance. The Government - in the form of the Governor himself - proclaimed itself entitled to demand the removal of the huts - hopefully minus its inhabitants - within forty-eight hours - in other words whenever they felt like it. 

Close-by was the frontier with Spain - an ideal place for British tourists to have a field day insulting the dilapidated state of the Spanish side of the isthmus as they viewed the slovenly appearance of the troops -  'ill-clad and noisy' - and the decaying ruins of the fortresses of Sta Barbara and San Felipe which had been destroyed supposedly by the mutual consent of the British and Spanish authorities during the Napoleonic wars. (See LINK

However . . . by the time Mortitz Relle had landed on the Rock the North Front had ceased to be an attractive place to live in. It had become Gibraltar's dumping ground. The Eastern Beach side was particularly repellent. The nearby slaughterhouse (see LINK) with its huge heaps of offal and other unpleasant residues associated with such places contributed to the generally disagreeable smells and sights that assaulted people's senses.

Butcher's houses, mule stables, and sheds for large numbers of cattle contributed to the generally unattractive environment as did the presence of a neglected cemetery, the Calpe Hunt foxhound kennels (see LINK) and the huts for the washing of hospital bedding.


1874 Map of the Neutral Ground, showing gardens, Cemetery, slaughterhouse, temporary huts and other features (Muller)

It was a state of affairs that led commentators such as the American writer Andrew Biglow (see LINK) to wonder as to how anybody would ever choose to live in Gibraltar - and not just in the North Front area - year in year out. Very few of them, he believed, could possibly be content. It was, he thought, a spot virtually as ‘remote as the Pitcairn Islands’,

This then was the place that Relle came to and settled down for the rest of his life. Why on earth his father-in-law - a relatively well off middle-class bureaucrat decided to live in North Front is hard to understand. Perhaps the house came with the job. Why Relle compounded the problem by choosing to live with his in-laws is easier to grasp - It was and has always been hard for any newcomer to obtain any sort of living accommodation on the Rock. He probably couldn't find any place suitable enough for his large family either in town or in the south.

And large his family certainly was as he seems to have lost no time in producing six children – Moritz, Emily, John, Mary, Herman and Luisa each arriving at at what appears to have been carefully calculated two year intervals. Curiously, according to the 1878 census at least two of his children were not born in Gibraltar. Herman, who was three at the time is registered as having been born in Spain. Mary was born in Malta; perhaps he was still travelling about Europe in his capacity as band master. 

Eventually the house on North Front must have proved inadequate and some members of the family moved to Schomberg cottage. This was a a place which Relle may have either bought or built after his retirement from the army in the early 1880s. What is certain is that his daughter Mary and her husband Dudley Wills were already living there in the early 20th century.

The origins of the name are unknown to me although local historian Richard Garcia has suggested that the name may come from Schönberg - the German for beautiful mountain. It was once - Garcia suggests - the home or property of the Schott family (see LINK) who were also German. Fernando Schott in fact became the German consul in the late 19th century.

What is certain is that it became one of the few really attractive cottages in Gibraltar. I personally remember more than once being taken there to visit his grandchildren who were my cousins. Among its many attractions was a large, wild and unkempt garden running up the slope of the Rock with wonderful views over the Bay. It's spaciousness and relative isolation made it an unusual home for any civilian at the time. He must have been making quite a bit of money as a music teacher. Schomberg will not have been a cheap purchase.

Moritz died in 1888 at the relatively young age of 54 and received a fulsome obituary in the Gibraltar Chronicle. His wife Emily survived him. He may have been yet another military man although unusually a German in this case, but his legacy - however slight - remains part of the cosmopolitan make-up of the civilian population of the Rock.


The Gibraltar Chronicle Obituary reads as follows:
It is with great pain that we record the death of Mr Relle, teacher of music who died at North Front after an illness of two or three weeks. Mr Relle, who was formerly Band Master of the 3rd Regiment, has for many years lived at the North Front during which time he has been employed in giving lessons in music, and in the course of which he has won the respect and esteem of all with whom he came into contact besides the grief it will be to his family and friends the death of Mr Relle will be the cause of a serious public loss for it will be impossible to find in Gibraltar anyone gifted with the knowledge and love of music which he possessed. Mr Relle leaves a widow (the daughter of Mr Woods of the Port Office) and his children to mourn the loss of a loved husband and affectionate father.
The fact that he died in North Front suggests that our family tradition may have got it wrong and that it was one of his children - or one of their spouses - who was actually responsible for buying Schomberg house. I simply don't know.



This Photograph was taken in the 1920s in Schomberg Cottage. Moritz had long gone but his wife Emily sits third from left on the back row. His daughter Mary Relle sits to her right. Two of her children, Edwin and Maurice sit on the left in front of her - The others are friends of the family


From the left - my sister Maruja Chipulina, my aunt Mercedita Letts, her mother Mercedes Letts, Moritz Relle's daughter Mary Wills and her grandson Maurice Wills