1841 - George Henry Borrow - Lynx-eyed Jews
Griffiths, Solomons and Woodford
Griffiths, Solomons and Woodford
George Henry Borrow was a well known English author who wrote several popular travelogues based on his own personal experiences abroad. He was said to be a man of striking appearance and deeply original character and was reputed to have shown a certain empathy with the indigenous people of the countries which he visited. He was also perhaps ahead of his time in that he objected to what he saw as a developing American cultural imperialism.
George Henry Borrow - ( Henry Wyndham Phillips )
One of his best known books is The Bible in Spain which he wrote as an agent of the Bible society. Out of the nearly sixty chapters in the book only two of them deal with Gibraltar. They are, nevertheless, well worth the read as it is quite obvious that Borrow was far more interested in the people who inhabited the Rock than in visiting its well-known sights. The following are extracts from these two chapters and my comments on them.
First Impressions of the Civilian PopulationI now proceeded up the principal street which runs with a gentle ascent along the base of the hill . . . . . It was Sunday night and of course no business going on, but there were throngs of people passing up and down. Here was a military guard proceeding along; here walked a group of officers, there a knot of soldiers stood talking and laughing. The greatest part of the population appeared to be Spaniards, but there was a large sprinkling of Jews in the dress of those of Barbary, and here and there a turbaned Moor.
There were gangs of sailors likewise, Genoese, judging from the patois which they were speaking, though I occasionally distinguished . . . Greeks at hand, and twice or thrice caught a glimpse of the red cap and blue silken petticoats of the mariner from Romaic isles.
Perhaps an understandable mistake in thinking that the majority of the population were Spanish. At least he gives them a mention. The 'patois' may have been a precursor of Llanito. ( see LINK )
Griffiths' HotelOn still I hurried until I arrived at a well known hostelry, close by a kind of square, in which stands the little exchange of Gibraltar. Into this I ran and demanded a lodgings, receiving a cheerful welcome from the genius of the place who stood behind the bar . . . . All the lower rooms were filled with men of the rock, burley men in general with swarthy complexions and English featurtes, with white hats, white jean jerkins, and white jean pantaloons. They were smoking pipes and cigars, and drinking porter, wine and various other fluids, and conversing in the rock Spanish, or Rock English, as the fit took them.
Griffith’s Hotel. The view is from Main Street towards the south, the Catholic Cathedral in the background. The building in front of the hotel and to the right was the Exchange Library ( Unknown )
Dense was the smoke of tobacco, and great the din of voices, and I was glad to hasten upstairs to an unoccupied apartment, where I was served with some refreshment . . . . I was soon disturbed by the sound of martial music. . . . A military band was marshalled upon the little square before the exchange. It was preparing to beat the retreat . . . . .
Perhaps it would have been impossible to have chosen a situation more adapted for studying at my ease Gibraltar and its inhabitants, that that which I found myself occupying about ten o'clock on the following morning.
Seated on a small bench just opposite the bar, just close by the door, in the passage of the hostelry at which I had taken up my temporary abode, I enjoyed a view of the square of the exchange and all that was going on there, and by merely raising my eyes, could gaze at my leisure on the stupendous hill which towers above the town to an altitude of some thousand feet.
I could likewise observe every person who entered and left the house, which is one of great resort, being situated in the most frequented place of the principle thoroughfare of the town. My eyes were busy and so were my ears. Close beside me stood my excellent friend Griffiths, the jolly hostler, of whom I take the present opportunity of saying a few words, though I dare say he has been frequently described before, and by far better pens.
Let those who know him not figure to themselves a man of about fifty, at least six foot in height, and weighing some eighteen stone, an exceedingly florid countenance and good features, eyes full of quickness and shrewdness , but at the same time beaming with good nature.
He wears white pantaloons, white frock, and a white hat, and is indeed, all white with the exception of his polished Wellingtons and rubicund face. He carries a whip beneath his arm, which adds wonderfully to the knowingness of his appearance, which is rather more that of a gentleman who keeps an inn on the Newmarket road, 'purely for the love of travellers, and the money which they carry about them,' than of a native of the Rock.
Nevertheless he will tell you himself that he is a 'rock lizard'; and you will scarcely doubt it when, besides his English, which is broad and vernacular, you hear him speak Spanish ay, and Genoese too when necessary, and it is no child's play to speak the later, which I myself could never master.
He is a good judge of horse-flesh, and occasionally sells 'a bit of blood' or a Barbary steed, to a young hand, though he has no objection to doing business with an old one; for there is not a thin, crouching, livid faced, lynx-eyed Jew of Fez capable of outwitting him in a bargain, or cheating him out of one single pound of the fifty thousand sterling which he possesses; and yet ever bear in mind that he is a good natured fellow to those who are disposed to behave honourably to him, and know likewise that he will lend you money, if you are a gentleman, and are in need of it; but depend upon it, if he refuse you, there is something not altogether right about you, for Griffiths knows his world, and is not to be made a fool of.
There was a prodigious quantity of porter consumed in my presence during the short hour that I sat on the bench of that hostelry of the Rock. The passage before the bar was frequently filled with officers who lounged in for a refreshment which the sultry heat of the weather rendered necessary, or at least inviting; while not a few came galloping up to the door on small Barbary horses , which are to be found in great abundance in Gibraltar.
All seemed to be on the best terms with the host, with which they occasionally discussed the merits of particular steeds, and whose jokes they invariably received with unbounded approbation. There was much in the demeanor and appearance of these young men, for the greater part were quite young, which was highly interesting and agreeable.
Indeed, I believe it can be said of English officers in general, that in personal appearance and in polished manners, they bear the palm from those of the same class the world over. . .
British Officers in Casemates exhibiting their 'polished manners' ( Unknown )
Borrow was obviously quite taken by his ‘jolly hostler’ and his hotel but not quite as much as by the British officers who frequented it. The other people in the hotel whom he described as ‘men of the Rock’ are slightly harder to place. Were they 'rock lizards ' like Griffith - or perhaps the children of British soldiers and local women? Their conversations in ‘in Rock Spanish or Rock English as the fit took them,’ is undoubtedly yet another early reference to ‘Llanito’.
As regards the Jews, his comments on ‘a thin, crouching, livid-faced, lynx-eyed Jew of Fez’, is not quite in keeping with his many other references to Jewish people in these Chapters and elsewhere in the book.
The GovernorWho is he who now stops before the door without entering, and addresses a question to my host, who advances with a respectful salute? He is no common man, or his appearance belies him strangely. His dress is simple enough; a Spanish hat, with a peaked crown and broad shadowy brim - the veritable sombrero . . . I gazed upon him with strange respect and admiration as he stood benignantly smiling and joking in good Spanish with an impudent rock rascal who held in his hand a huge bogamante, or coarse carrion lobster, which he would fain have persuaded him to purchase.
He was almost gigantically tall towering over the burly host himself, yet athletically symmetrical, and straight as a pine tree . . . his hair was black as the plume of the Norwegian raven, and so was the moustache which curled above his well formed lip . . . . . 'Is that man a general?' said I to a short queer looking personage who sat by my side, intently studying a newspaper. 'That gentleman', he whispered in a lisping accent, 'is the Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar.
Although not mentioned by name the towering giant is almost certainly General Sir Alexander George Woodford who was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar in 1835, succeeded Lord Chatham as Governor in 1836 and remained in command until 1842. Both his dress, his appearance at what was essentially a pub without any retinue and his ability to speak the local patois to a 'rascal' trying to sell him a lobster - is hard to believe.
General Sir Alexander George Woodford
The Moorish PortersOn either side outside the door, or leaning indolently against the walls, were half dozen men of very singular appearance. Their principle garment was a kind of blue gown, something resembling the gown worn by the peasants of the north of France, but not so long; it was compressed around their waists by a leathern girdle, and depended about half way down their thighs. Their legs were bare, so that I had opportunity of observing the calves, which appear unnaturally large. Upon the head they wore small skull caps of black wool.
I asked the most athletic of these men, a dark-visaged fellow of forty who they were. He answered 'Hamalos'. This word I knew to be Arabic, in which tongue it signifies porter; and indeed the next moment, I saw a similar fellow staggering across the square under an immense burden, almost sufficient to have broken the back of a camel.
On again addressing my swarthy friend . . . . he was born at Mogadore in Barbary, but had passed the greatest part of his life in Gibraltar. He added that he was the 'capataz' or head man of the 'hamalos' next the door.
Borrow leads us to believe that these 'hamalos' were all Moors. They may well have been but many other commentators seem to have been convinced that most porters in Gibraltar were Jewish. The problem is one of perception - just about every Moor and quite a few of the working class Jews came from Barbary. To the uninitiated they would have been difficult to tell apart.
Porters at Water Port. It would be hard to tell whether these men were Jewish or Moorish ( Unknown )
The Jews'Allow me to offer you a glass of bitters, sir' said the queer looking personage before mentioned; he was a corpulent man, very short, and his legs particularly so. His dress consisted of a greasy snuff coloured coat, dirty white trousers, and dirtier stockings. On his head he wore a rusty silk hat, the eaves of which had a tendency to turn up before and behind . . .
'Anything I can do for you at Gibraltar sir? Any commission I will execute it as reasonably and more expeditiously than anyone else. My name is Solomons. I am tolerably well known in Gibraltar.'
. . . in the evening I was visited by a Jew, a native of Barbary, who informed me that he was secretary to the master of a small Genoese bark which plied between Tangier and Gibraltar . . . I agreed with him for my passage . . .
Being desirous now of disposing to the most advantage of the small time which I expected to remain in Gibraltar, I determined upon visiting the excavations which I had as yet never seen, on the following morning, and accordingly sent for and easily obtained the necessary permission. About six on Tuesday morning I started on this expedition, attended by a very intelligent good-looking lad of Jewish persuasion, one of two brothers who officiated at the inn in the capacity of 'valets de place'. . . .
I now roamed about the streets until night was beginning to set in. and . . . was just about to direct my steps to the inn when I felt myself gently pulled by the skirt . . . . I looked round and lo! a tall figure stood between me and gazed in my face with anxious inquiring eyes. On its head was the kauk or furred cap of Jerusalem; depending from its shoulders, and almost trailing on the ground, was a broad blue mantle, whilst kandrisa or Turkish trousers enveloped its nether limbs. . . .
. . I was about to exclaim I know you not when one or two lineaments struck me, and I cried though somewhat hesitantly, 'Surely this is Judah Lib'. . . By his countenance I knew him to be one of the Hebrew race, nevertheless there was something very singular in his appearance, which is rarely found among that people, a certain air of nobleness which highly interested me . . . He spoke Polish and Jewish German indiscriminately . . .
. . . he pulled me out of the crowd and led me into a shop where, squatted on the floor, sat six or seven Jews cutting leather; he said something to them which i did not understand, whereupon they bowed their heads and followed their occupation without taking any notice of us.
A singular figure had followed us to the door; it was a man dressed in exceedingly shabby European garments, which nevertheless exhibited the cut of a fashionable tailor. He seemed about fifty. his face, which was very broad, was of a deep bronze colour, the features were rugged but exceedingly manly and non-withstanding they were those of a Jew, exhibited no marks of cunning, but on the contrary, much simplicity and good nature. His form was above the middle height and tremendously athletic, the arms and back were literally those of a Hercules squeezed into a modern surtout; the lower part of his face was covered with a bushy beard, which depended half way down his breast.
These descriptions of Jews in Gibraltar are unusual in the literature of the day. Although Borrow peppers his accounts with several 'neverthelesses' and 'non-withstandings', he does not dismiss them as beyond the pale but depicts them generally as decent human beings. The account also highlights the variety of Jews living on the Rock at the time. The 'singular figure' by the door later turns out to be a Portuguese Jew.
A Jewish Woman of Gibraltar. Borrow mentions a fair selection of Gibraltar stereotypes but fails to acknowledge the presence of any females anywhere in town ( 1830s - John Frederick Lewis ) ( see LINK )
The census of 1844 shows that there were 1690 Jewish people living on the Rock of which 1385 had been born either in Britain or in Gibraltar itself. They made up well over 10% of the population but probably appeared to visitors as making up a larger proportion as they were so visible in such a wide range of activities and occupations - especially in those concerned with either trade or services either of which the visitor would almost certainly be forced to come into contact with.
The Moorish CastleWe ascended a precipitous street and proceeding in an easterly direction arrived in a vicinity known by the name of the Moorish Castle, a large tower, but so battered by the cannon balls discharged against it in the famous siege that it is at present no better than a ruin; hundreds of round holes are to be seen in its sides, in which as it is said, the shots are still embedded; here at a species of hut, we are joined by an artillery sergeant who was to be our guide.
Of all the typical Gibraltar tourist sites the Moorish Castle seems to have been by far the least popular with most visitors. Even here, Borrow only saw the place at close quarters because he had to pass it by on his way to the galleries.
The Moorish Castle ( 1834 - Frederick Leeds Edridge)
The Artillery Sergeant
The soldier, perfectly well acquainted with the locality, stalked along with measured steps, his eyes turned to the ground. I looked fully as much at that man as at the strange place where we now were, and which was every moment becoming stranger.
He was a fine specimen of the yeomen turned soldier; indeed, the corps to which he belonged consists almost entirely of that class. There he paces along, tall, strong, ruddy, and chest-nut haired, an Englishman every inch; behold him pacing along, sober, silent, and civil, a genuine English soldier. I prize the sturdy Scot; I love the daring impetuous Irishman; I admire all the various races which constitute the population of the British Isle; yet I must say that, upon the whole, none are so well adapted to ply the soldier's hardy trade as the rural sons of England, so strong, so cool, yet, at the same time, animated with so much hidden fire. . .
After our exercises, which lasted at least two hours, I made him a small present, and took leave with a hearty shake of the hand.
'So strong, so cool', . . . . so over-the-top. This panegyric to English manhood continues for several lengthy sentences until Borrow finally returns to the matter at hand - the galleries. These - reading between the lines - left him relatively cold - 'there is not much variety in these places' he wrote, 'one cavern and one gun resembling the other.'
The GenoeseWe formed part of a small flotilla of barks, the crews of which seemed in their leisure moments to have no better means of amusing themselves than the exchange of abusive language; a furious fusillade of this kind presently commenced, in which the mate of our vessel particularly distinguished himself; he was a grey-haired Genoese of about sixty.
Though not able to speak their patois, I understood much of what was said; it was truly shocking, and as they shouted it forth, judging from their violent gestures and distorted features you would have concluded them to be bitter enemies; they were, however, nothing of the kind, but excellent friends all the time, and indeed very good humoured fellows at bottom . . . .
I am upon the whole very fond of the Genoese; they have, it is true, much ribaldry and many vices, but they are a brave and chivalrous people, and have ever been so, and from them I have never experienced aught but kindness and hospitality.
These Genoese sailors were almost certainly Gibraltar residents - a rare and welcome reference. Little wonder he couldn't understand their 'patois' which must have been an extreme version of Llanito.
I now strolled towards Saint Michael's cave in company with the Jewish lad whom I have mentioned before. . . . We passed by the public walks, where there are noble trees, and also by many small houses, situated delightfully in gardens, and occupied by the officers of the Garrison. It is wrong to suppose Gibraltar a barren rock; it is not without its beautiful spots - spots such as these looking cool and refreshing, with bright green foliage . . . . at length we arrived at the cavern . . .
A view looking South ( 1825 John Varley)
The public walks must have been the Alameda parade and gardens. Borrow then rambles on about the dangers of cave exploration and about the 'many valuable lives' that had been 'lost every year in those horrible places.'
When he returned home he was invited to dine in the company of an American from South Carolina. Several locals were also present. Borrow's account of the dinner table conversation is disturbing.
Diner with an American TouristA man of the rock asked him how he had liked the excavations. 'Liked them', said he, 'you might as well ask a person who has just seen the Niagara falls how he liked them - like is not the word, mister.'
The heat was suffocating . . . This led another individual to inquire of him whether he did not think it exceedingly hot. 'Hot sir', he replied, 'not at all; fine cotton gathering weather as a man would wish for. We couldn't beat it in South Carolina.'. . .
'I hope, sir, you are not a slave proprietor', said the short fat Jewish personage in the snuff-coloured coat . . . . ' it is a terrible thing to make slaves of poor people, simply because they happen to be black; don't you think so, sir?
Think so, sir, no sir, I don't think so - I glory in being a slave proprietor; have four hundred black niggers . . . . flog half a dozen of them before breakfast for exercise . . . Niggers only made to be flogged.' It was easy to perceive that there was more of fun than malice in this eccentric fellow . . . .
This is an odd and out-of-keeping passage. One would have expected Borrow to have agreed whole-heartedly with the Jewish 'personage'. One explanation is that he rather liked the American and was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact reading between the lines, Borrow seems to have enjoyed the company and appearance of men rather more than he did that of women.
Nevertheless, Borrow's account of Gibraltar is - despite his infatuation with Americans and English military men - relatively free of prejudice and rarely grates. His reputation as somebody capable of empathising with foreigners with very different cultures to his own is enhanced by his descriptions of, and his dealings with, the Moorish, Jewish, and Genoese inhabitants of the Rock.
Contemporary engraving of the Rock from the Queen of Spain's Chair ( 1841 - H.E.Allen )