The People of Gibraltar
1841 - Francis Elizabeth Davies - An Overplus of Jews 

Mrs Francis Elizabeth Davies was probably born in Gibraltar. Her father, whom she describes as a soldier and a 'scarred old veteran', served his country for nearly fifty years, many of them possibly in Gibraltar. She was also married to somebody who was almost certainly a high ranking officer in the British army stationed on the Rock.

 That both she and her family were well connected to the military hierarchy on the Rock is confirmed by their relationship with an unnamed general who was in command of a regiment with soldiers stationed both in Gibraltar and Ceuta. During one of his visits to the Rock he invited Mrs Davis and her husband to to accompany him on his half-yearly inspection of his regiment in Ceuta.

In 1841 Francis Elizabeth wrote a series of five articles titled 'Memories of Gibraltar' for the Metropolitan Magazine of London and New York. She must have fancied herself as a writer not just of prose but also of poetry as here are several examples of the latter in her articles. What is absolutely certain is that she had a soft spot both for the place and for the British people who lived there - if rather less so for everybody else. This is how she introduces one of her chapters: 
Dear old Gib, the scene of my childhood sports, of my early shadowed girlhood'. A place that had long been celebrated for the strength of its fortifications, 'on every side the implements of war salute your eyes, and very frequently your ears.
It was also a place with some strange sounding names. So much so that . . . 
. . . his demonic majesty claims there so many extraordinary possessions, that he may justly be supposed to be Lord of the Manor. There are the Devil's Bowling Green, the Devil's Gully, the Devil's Bellows, the Devil's Battery, the Devil's Point and the Devil's Tongue, the formidable grinning of whose teeth (i.e. the cannon ) assure us that a most fiery member that tongue would prove . . . . Then for simply queer names, there are Blackstrap Hill, and Tumble-down Dick Hill, the Ragged Staff Pier, Beefsteak Cave and Jumper's Bastion . . . '
Some of these names have persisted to the present day. Others such as Tumble-down Dick Hill seem to have fallen into misuse. 

 The Devil's Tower just below the North Front - a surprising omission from her list. Today it no longer exists. 

There were many memories of clambering up rocky sides and watching the antics of the apes near Monkey's Cave. The laws protecting these 'rockites' she tells us, were 'exceedingly arbitrary, owing to the well-known fact that the rock is the only place in Europe where the race is found in its natural state.'

 She also remembered 'merry gypsy parties to the point', climbing Mediterranean Steps and looking down at the magnificent views of the Bay from O'Hara's folly. From there she often watched the 'pointed and tan-coloured sails of the Spanish feluccas,' and the 'sugar-cane and Indian corn waving their silver blossoms' in the fields of nearby Andalucía. 

A large frigate under full sail beating across the bay at Gibraltar, with Spanish feluccas inshore and the Rock receding astern ( 1830s - John Wall of Hull ) 

St Michael's cave was also a source of both memories and anecdotes. It was supposed to conceal among its many chambers a 'considerable treasure.' The brave old General O'Hara' had seemingly been an avid amateur potholer. His 'exploratory researches' apparently, far outstripped those of anybody else and he was given to leaving his 'valuable sword and watch' well inside the cave as a reward to 'any courageous adventurer who should dare the dangers that he had surmounted.' ( see LINK

 St Michael's Cave  (1846 J.M. Carter ) ( see LINK

O'Hara was also remembered as being responsible for a rather ambiguous instruction on the General Order book which read; 'His Excellency commands that in future no officer will cut capers on the line wall'.' The order alluded not any perceived 'jumping eccentricities' on the part of the soldiers guarding the batteries but a ban on the cutting of branches from trees in the area. 

 Not all her memories of the Rock were good ones. Few families survived the horrors of the yellow fever epidemics of 1813 and 1814 without being affected and neither was hers. ( see LINK ) She lost her father. When hundreds were being buried in mass and unidentified graves, he at least was given a proper burial. He must have been quite an important officer to warrant such special treatment. 

 Her description of the Rock - or more precisely the atmosphere of the place - when the epidemic was beginning to take hold is revealing; 
An awful rumour was in mysterious circulation. Men clustered together in corners and conversed in strange whispers . . . . Families were abruptly departing from the Rock, some for England, and - though it was by no means safe on account of the war - some into Spain . . . The doctors were observed to be stealthily alert . . . . looks were responded to by looks . . . 
Daily the parades grew less formal, and all duties not absolutely necessary to the good order of the Garrison were fast falling into disuse. The officers were no longer seen promenading in merry groups. Parties were abolished - the soldiers were kept to their barracks . . . . business was suspended - the shops were closed - the merchant's stores shut up - the streets became silent as a grave and desolation was fast spreading itself over the place of doom. 
Then came the appointment of the lazarettos to receive the sick . . . houses were placed under the surveillance of sentries; next whole streets were barricadoed . . . finally . . the port was closed, the yellow flag was hoisted, the dock became a place of quarantine and the presence of the plaque was speedily declared.'
One cannot tell whether Mrs. Davis remained in Gibraltar during the worst of the epidemic but her detailed account leads one to suspect that she was there during the worst of it. It must have been a lonely and a frightening experience. Letters to England were forbidden and the information in the Rock paper - The Gibraltar Chronicle - could no longer be relied upon.

A contemporary 'map' of the town during the yellow fever epidemic of 1804. The modern annotations are as follows; 1. Gunners' Parade; 2. Garrison Library; 3. Boyd's Building where the epidemic is supposed to have started; 4. Royal Artillery barracks; 5 and 6. Sheds where the poorest inhabitants lived. These were destroyed when the fever subsided; 

Soon people such as washerwomen and nurses abandoned their duties and could neither be bribed nor threatened back to work. 'Delicate hands' - her own included presumably - were forced to do the work of servants. The noise of carts carrying the sick to the lazarettos and the dead to be buried were the only sounds that interrupted the deadly silence of the place. 

She also commented on the speed with which people were buried once pronounced dead and was horrified by the fact that 'unceremoniously hustling the beloved departed' into some unmarked mass grave could easily result in people being buried alive - something which she was quite right to be worried about as there was plenty of evidence that it had happened more than once. The terror of living burial, she wrote was indigenous to the human mind and she even composed a poem to make her point. The following are the concluding lines. 

'Thou art gone! - thou art risen on high - 
To the throne of thy Father thou'rt sped! 
Thou'rt above! - wherefore, then, should I sigh? - 
Would to God I were sure thou wert dead! 

 But that was then. By the 1820s Gibraltar was characterised as 'Merry old Gib'. This she attributes to General Sir George Don and his lady ( see LINK ) who she believed had ' substituted gaiety throughout the garrison' for the 'leaden apathy' that weighed down the preceding regime - by which she must have been referring to that of the rather dour Lieutenant General Colin Campbell. Although she also placed the blame elsewhere with far less reluctance to name names. 
An overplus of Jewish population and uncleanliness, were the crying evils of the Garrison. . . . The place was infested by them; turn which way you would, you encountered them in their myriads, like the mosquitoes; and as they usurped the entire internal trade of the garrison they were scarcely less persecuting. 
No place was sacred from their attacks; for as they itinerated with every imaginable commodity, useful, wearable and eatable, from a Moorish al-haick down to a ripe Barbary orange, they esteemed themselves to be everywhere privileged intruders. They must not, however, be confounded with their diminutive, ugly, and most nasty Cockney brethren. At the period of which I write, there might be contemplated groups of Israelites assembled from every country ' 
This nasty diatribe was by no means unusual coming from British visitors from the Rock. The fact that it came from somebody who had spent most of her life there doesn't make it any better. The irony of this particular passage is that it comes from somebody who practically acknowledges that she and her family were dependent on these Jewish merchants for just about every conceivable commodity on the Rock. Those 'Cockney brethren' incidentally were British born Jews. 

But Mrs Davies was not yet done. When General Don - 'pure in his integrity and unblemished honour 'began all those much needed reforms. he soon made abundantly clear that whatever influence with the authorities the Jews might have had in the past it was now over. Not even the petition of 'King Cardoza' - a reference to Aaron Cardozo ( see LINK ) the Jewish leader at the time and a good friend of Horatio Nelson - would save them. When the Jewish community sent him a tribute pie of 'mammoth construction' and apparently stuffed with doubloons instead of birds, it was indignantly returned. 

Following up on her obvious antipathy towards the Jews she offers the reader an absurd anecdote about two Jewish ladies who lived in a pretty cottage just below the brow of Windmill Hill 'covered with dolichos, clustering roses and clematis.' One was short and fat and reputed to be 130 years old. The other - her daughter - was tall and straight and a 'giddy young thing' of ninety. Their Jewish compatriots apparently allowed them a dollar a day but were required to walk into town to receive it. The inappropriate coquettishness shown by the 90 year old daughter towards any military man they happened to meet on the way - and the perceived disapproval of the mother - was apparently the source of much amusement to everybody in the Garrison. 
General Don and his lady were also responsible for converting the Spanish theatre - 'a dirty dingy place till then' into a 'newly decorated' place with 'inimitable taste', It was, she added; 
 . . a tiny dwelling of the muses, with its gilded pillars and its lightly elegant tracery, displaying to advantage the full dress of the ladies who thronged the balconies backed by the red and blue coated gallants who waited deferentially behind the seats of their lady-loves. The crimson velvet centre with its mimic thrones, fittingly and unfailingly occupied by the Governor and his lady; the trimly arranged seats of honour on either hand and surrounding - for the generals and favourites of the little court - and above, filled to the back, groups of military . . . '

 General George Don ( Unknown ) 

And there was more enjoyment to be had. 'The Governor's frequent dinners, the private concerts, impromptu balls, masquerades, sailing matches and riding parties, all contributed to render Gibraltar, at that time, a very gay and pleasant station. . . . But the pic-nic excursions into Spain were the crowning pearl of all these pleasures.' ( see LINK ) It goes without saying, of course, that it wasn't just the Jews who were excluded from all these enjoyable events. It was the entire non-British local population. 

 Unfortunately the bad old days were back and people writing about Gibraltar in the 1840s now referred to it as 'a most melancholy station' - for which the man responsible must have been Sir Alexander George Woodford, although she does not, of course, mention him by name. 

Sir Alexander George Woodford 

 Nevertheless, Gibraltar was the kind of place where 'the man of commerce finds the keystone of wealth . . the botanist and the mineralogist 'discover countless treasures', and to Britons generally 'presents an enduring monument of England's glory.' A trip to Algeciras is described in detail and gives us an idea of what the place looked like in the mid nineteenth century' 
Algeziras, for a Spanish town, is well built. The thickly-planted Alameda was ornamented by a very handsome stone fountain, which being destroyed by the French, was afterwards rebuilt in wood, the inhabitants having suffered so much by plunder that they were unable to afford the expense of restoring it to its original state. The convent was tenanted by a very limited sisterhood. The church is a remarkably fine one, and much more grand as well as ornate than that at Gibraltar. The handsome white aqueduct which raises behind the town forms a pleasing object when seen from the Bay . . . . 

 The principal church of Algeciras - La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Palma ( 1800s - William Lee Hankey)
Algeziras owes a greater notoriety to the numerous to the numerous little white crosses nailed up in the streets as well as fixed on the hillocks, exterior to the town, each commemorative of assassination, a crime it is believed, more common in Algeciras than in any other town in the Spanish dominions, a man's life after dark not being worth more than a couple of dollars purchase . . . . '

Contemporary map of Gibraltar showing a view of the Rock from Algeciras. The church tower and the aqueduct can be clearly seen on the picture ( 1851 - John Tallis - detail )

 On another trip to Spain - this one to the Cork Woods with her father- they stayed in an hotel near San Roque. Relaxing on a balcony that overlooked the main square her attention was drawn towards a striking individual 'wrapped in an ample coat, and with his deep sombrero carelessly discovering his lofty brow.' 

The fellow, she later found out, was a local smuggler of some notoriety. Her completely over-the-top description of this man is worth quoting in full as it is demonstrates that the stereotypical Spanish smuggler was usually considered as the most romantic of all the exotic personalities found wandering around Gibraltar and its hinterland. 
It was impossible to picture anything more strikingly more perfect than the formation of his features, the intense expression of his coal black eyes, the sunburnt tint of the complexion or the flexible turn of the tall muscular figure, embellished by the unconscious yet majestic grace of his deportment. He was the identical impersonation of a hero of romance - a bandit chief - a mountain king - a Coriolanus - of every wild, or picturesque, or magnificent ideality, which have ever floated over a poet's dream. 

A pensive Spanish smuggler ( 1856 - Richard Ansdell - detail ) ( see LINK

The rest of Mrs Davis' articles are given over to trivial - and rather tedious - stories of various conversations with friends and of a stay in a haunted house. Overall, however, I think that her musings are worth preserving as they give us an insight of what Gibraltar was like in the mid nineteenth century as viewed through the eyes of a British female resident who obviously knew the place well. 

 No doubt to modern ears her writing appears chauvinistic, racist and overly romantic. But she was of course a woman of her time and as such probably very representative of others like her on the Rock. As usual - with the notable exception of the Jews, washerwomen and nurses - the locals hardly warrant a mention. To repeat the obvious, she confirms what so many other commentators had written before her and would continue to do so afterwards. She lived in an incestuous society, full of its own worth and dismissive of those they couldn't understand - unless, of course, they happened to be good looking smugglers.