The People of Gibraltar
1890 - H.D. Triall - The Bilingual Boatman 

The Picturesque Mediterranean its Cities, Shores, and Islands, was published by Cassell of New York and although the date of publication is unknown its contents were almost certainly written in the late nineteenth century. 

The book contains a series of articles written by different authors of which only its first chapter - The Pillars of Hercules is of interest as it includes a description of the town of Gibraltar in the late 18th century. It was written by H.D. Triall and illustrated with woodcarvings by John O'Connor who seems to have accompanied the author during his trip to Gibraltar and Ceuta. 


It is hard to tell exactly who H.D.Triall was - or could it have been Traill? - but from the titles of his other publications it is likely that he earned his living as a travelogue writer - and that he was English. Triall travelled to Gibraltar by boat. He was impressed by his first glimpse of the Rock as it gradually came into view 'in all its Titanic majesty of outline; grand of course, with the grandeur of nature, and yet with a certain strange air of human menace.' 

All those literary descriptions of its resemblance to a 'couchant lion' he quite rightly considered as nonsense for the simple reason that the Rock assumes entirely different shapes as one looks at it from different points of view. The sea was absolutely calm as the steamer anchored in the Bay, his only fear as he descended the steep steps to the tender was that the 'bilingual boatman ' responsible for taking the passengers ashore was very likely to swindle him. 

In those days most steamers were required to anchor at a considerable distance from the shore and on a hot summer day one could be easily to be tempted to pay the man an 'excessive fee.'


 Landing in Gibraltar 

Landing on the Rock was a pleasure to be savoured - especially if one had just spent a few weeks in Spain.
To pass in a moment from Spanish speech, Spanish manners, Spanish food, and, above all Spanish customs houses to the language, the ways, the living, the fiscal freedom - for the English tourist at least - of this English settlement, is to most persons . . . a delightful experience.
Apparently the people in Gibraltar were always 'spoiling' for the sight of a new English civilian' and were always determined to make one feel at home. Officials greeted him with a smile while fellow French and Spanish travellers were strictly interrogated. He was, he felt, 'at home'.


 A view of the town, its fortifications and battlements from the Old Mole 

 The walk up Waterport Street towards his hotel was to experience sights as had 'few if any parallels in the world': It was he wrote: 
a conflux of nations, a mart of races, an Exchange for all the multitudinous varieties of the human product. Europe, Asia and Africa meet and jostle in this singular highway. Tall, stately, slow moving Moors from the north-west coast; white turbaned Turks from the eastern gate of the Mediterranean; thick-lipped, and woolly-headed negroids from the African interior; quick-eyed gesticulating Levantine Greeks; garbardined Jews, and black-wimpled Jewesses; Spanish smugglers and Spanish sailors; "rock-scorpions", and red-coated English soldiers - all these compose without completing, the motley moving crowd that throngs the main street of Gibraltar in the forenoon, and gathers densest of all in the market near commercial square.
Such was the impression made on him by this kaleidoscope of humanity that he thought that it was not as a much celebrated fortress that Gibraltar presented itself to the newly-landed visitor but as a grand 'entrepôt' of traffic'. Indeed he is forced to seek the outskirts of the town, be it by the race-course to the north or across the parade ground of the south, or even climb the Rock, if he wanted to explore the place properly.


 The Spanish Café - This might well depict a branch of H and G Simonds, Reading brewers who specialised in ale and were ubiquitously present wherever British garrisons were to be found. The veranda provided welcome shade.

The Spanish Café According to Triall the Coffe House in the picture shown above was to be found beneath a bold cliff which: 
descends in broken and irregular, but striking lines to the plain, and it is fringed luxuriantly from stair to stair with the vegetation of the South. Marching and counter-,arching under the shadow of this lofty wall, the soldiers show from a little distance like the tin toys of the nursery . . .
It is difficult to tell exactly where this café would have been found in modern Gibraltar but it was undoubtedly somewhere close to what was once the Alameda Parade ground.


Early 20th century postcard with a free advert for Simonds

 Civilian life, however, would never engage a visitor for long - he suggested - once he had inspected the town and its buildings. Gibraltar was definitely not famous for its shops or remarkable as a place to buy anything other than tobacco, which as he also suggests is both cheap and good, something that the 'Spanish Exchequer knows to its cost'.

Population numbers he puts at 18000 in addition to a Garrison of 6000 men but no visitor is ever allowed to forget that this is a military fortress - Bugles echo and re-echo, morning and evening guns are fired and everywhere ' an indefinable air of stern order, of rigid discipline, of authority whose word is law, pervading everything." 


 A Street in Gibraltar. Although not mentioned in the book the square at the end of the street is almost certainly Gunner's Parade. If so the Garrison Library would be to the left at the bottom of the road 

Triall also offers an unusual insight into the relationship between the civilians and the military. Under normal circumstances civilians are not permitted out-of-doors without a night pass. On New Year's Eve, on the other hand, 'a little extra indulgence is allowed'. A military band will play Auld Lang Syne and the people are a given an extra quarter of an hour to see the new year. A 'timid and respectful cheer is their sole contribution to the ceremony and they are then marched off again to bed. 

Generally the 'sights' are soon exhausted - the Cathedral, the Garrison Library, Government House, the Alameda Gardens and a drive to Europa Point and that is about it. The Gardens to come in for some fulsome praise but the monuments to 'Eliott and Wellington' are pronounced as 'not ideal - ' the mysterious curse pronounced upon English statuary appears to follow it even beyond the seas.' 

Nevertheless all is forgiven by the sight of an afternoon promenade in these gardens - English officers and their wives and daughters, English nursemaids and their charges, English tourists of both sexes and all ages and the whole surrounded by a polyglot and polychromatic crowd of oriental listeners to the military band.' 

A visit to El Hacho or Signal Hill, the Moorish Castle and a short description of the massive Line Wall fortifications - zigzagging along the indented coast' - from the Old Mole to King's Bastion, from Ragged Staff - a name which he attributes to the heraldic arms of Charles V - to Jumper's Battery in the south finalises the travelogue aspects of Triall's article. 


The Moorish Castle 

The name of 'Jumper' is the excuse needed for an introduction to the taking of Gibraltar by the Sir George Rooke - the Prince of Hesse and the Dutch are hardly given a mention. This in turn leads to a short historical survey of the Great Siege and the Sortie - all of it almost certainly lifted from John Drinkwater's History of the Great Siege which he probably read in the comfort of the Garrison library. 

Triall's account is both extraordinarily superficial and annoyingly trite. Whenever the obvious is available he never fails to tell us. The rigid formula which he uses to tell us what being British was all about and his descriptions of the local population echo those written by so many of his predecessors. Apart from the fact that he mentions having arrived on a 'steamer', the article could have been written in the early nineteenth rather than the end of the same century. 

Also in keeping with previous accounts of the Rock the only identifiable Gibraltarian mentioned in the article is a 'bilingual' swindler.


View of the Rock from the ruins of the Spanish fort of Santa Barbara.

Triall's travelogue was reprinted in 1902 in another compilation which included work by other authors. Its title was The Mediterranean: Its Storied Cities and Venerable Ruins. John O'Connor's woodcarvings of Gibraltar were replaced by a single photograph as shown below.