1856 – Sir Robert William Gardiner - The Report
General Sir Robert Gardiner was Governor of Gibraltar from 1848 to 1856. His salary - £5000 p.a - or about £ 350000 in today's money - was the highest for any colonial administrator other than that of the Governor of Hong Kong who earned £ 6000. He was nevertheless acknowledged as a man of great integrity who strongly believed - among other things - that the welfare of the men under his command was paramount. Unfortunately his duties in Gibraltar often clashed horribly with some of his principles.
One of them was defending British Government policy on what they thought was the extent of Gibraltar's territorial waters. This in turn put him on a collision course both with the Spanish authorities and his own values. Any encroachments by Spanish guardacostas were shot at, all smuggling vessels carrying the British flag were vigorously defended.
Sir Robert William Gardiner
To make matters worse, the ships carrying the contraband and those actually doing the dirty work were all either non-residents or the more disreputable residents of the Rock. According to the Marquis de Custin in his L'Espagne sous Ferdinand:
. . . the dregs of the Mediterranean make up the population of Gibraltar, riff-raff no state and no family would acknowledge as theirs, a gathering of bandits in consort with highwaymen and pirates. The officers of the Garrison warned me to tell no one, our innkeeper least of all when I would be leaving, or my route, or what weapons I would be carrying.
What the Marquis failed to mention was that at least 1200 of these 'dregs' were not of the Mediterranean. They were well-born and very well-off British-born individuals living very nicely off the trade in Gibraltar. Of the fourteen principal merchants making a living there at the time, half of them belonged to this group. When Sir Robert decided that enough was enough and took action against them, these merchants - with a little help from their non-British friends - responded by sending a delegation to London and Gardiner was recalled.
In 1856 Sir Robert - now ex-Governor of Gibraltar - sent a private report to Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister of the day. It dealt entirely with his misgivings not just about smuggling but also at recent political developments which he felt were interfering with Gibraltar's role as a military fortress. The following is a selection of quotes from Sir Robert's report.
The Report starts with the usual preamble and a diffidence not usually associated with Sir Robert.
Preliminary Observations: My Lord . . the following Report is to . . . induce your Lordship to retrace our steps before the Fortress of Gibraltar becomes irretrievably merged in the Colony of Gibraltar, or what is worse, a smuggling Colony of Spain. .
Traders from England were permitted to repair to the Rock on conditional sufferance, which is in force to the present day. . . In the year following its cession to England, Gibraltar became a Free Port, probably from the known flourishing state of commerce at Leghorn, the only Free Port at that time in the Mediterranean; but that Port, however free and open to the general purposes of lawful trade, was ever kept subjected to national dominion, and the control of a Police and Laws, instituted and enforced to secure protection to the fair Trader, and the Public interests of the State.
The Traders of Gibraltar, on the contrary, were apparently left to follow their own courses, unrestricted by the Imperial Government at home, and evading as they could the vigilance of the local authorities. So things went on, advancing in bolder smuggling, and Spain more incensed and irritated under its nationally-injurious consequences.. . .
Civil Agitation: The evil next in importance,. . . is a growing civil agitation in the Fortress for the political and municipal immunities conceded to chartered Civil Colonies of Her Majesty's dominions. This agitation is systematically pursued and persevered in by a self-constituted and self-elected body, calling themselves "The Exchange Committee, acting as a Chamber of Commerce."
In 1850 the Manchester Commercial Association identified themselves with this body in a question relating to the storing of wine and spirits in the Bay. They have, therefore, a voice in Parliament through the Manchester Commercial Association; and from 1850 may be considered virtually and effectually a Branch Committee of the Manchester Commercial Association, acting in the name of the inhabitants of Gibraltar.
The demand of the right of public meeting in a Fortress containing a population of a treble or quadruple numerical strength of the Garrison and of a free press, have thus been advocated in Parliament! . . .Gardiner then backs up his argument with a lengthy quote from his like minded predecessor :
As regards the demand for a free press, I cannot represent the dangers and evils of such a concession . .
Quote. . It would be most injurious to the internal social peace of this small city, a dangerous experiment on Military Discipline and the Fortress securities for the preservation of order and authority. It would become a religious firebrand, and in a short time, an insufferable pest to our neighbours, by being made the vehicle of party animosities and revolutionary excitements. In brief, an universal nuisance, involving the Gibraltar government in continued squabbles, whilst the British Government would also be harassed by incessant reclamations.. . Unquote
On the 18th October, 1821, a lease of a piece of ground in the Commercial Square was granted for 60 years, on which was erected a building, as an Exchange and Auction Mart. . . the number of electors has ever been extremely small, not to say ludicrously so; for although a General Meeting is annually convoked by advertisement in the 'Gibraltar Chronicle,' for the purpose of electing a new Committee, the matter is looked on with such perfect indifference, that, generally, the number of those that attend barely exceeds that of the members to be elected; and thus those who are actually present invariably elect themselves.
Such, my Lord, is the self-constituted, self elected body, who in the aspirations of Colonial Emancipation, without legislative, constitutional, or local delegation, without social prerogative or position, aim at and agitate for political and representative power, and shake the permanent safety of the Fortress at Gibraltar.
The tone of sheer exasperation - and impotence - shines through the entire report. Gardiner had been out manoeuvred by the merchants. As mentioned elsewhere, the Exchange and Commercial Library - inaugurated in 1817 - had originally been meant as a repost by the residents to the exclusively military membership of the Garrison Library (see LINK ).
Over the years, however, it had developed into a sort of meeting place for the so-called Catholic 'Elders of the Church, the Protestant 'Grand Jury and Merchant's Society' and the leaders of the Jewish community, all of them almost to a man dependent on smuggling and its side-effects for their undoubted wealth.
The report continues;
Influence of Quarantine and Smuggling . . .On the occasion of landing Troops from the 'Leopold' into the Garrison . . I at once declared to the Governor of the Campo de San Roque, my intention . . .Because of the quarantine regulations in place at the time the Spaniards immediately closed the frontier and imposed what was essentially a three month blockade. The locals were up in arms.
Great stress is laid . . on the commercial loss attending the land blockade which followed the landing of the troops from the 'Leopold'. Doubtless there was loss, but the . . amount is known to be grossly exaggerated . . . In the first instance no change occurred in the expenses and accustomed luxuries and manner of life among the civil population. The usual number of houses were kept open for reception. The theatre was opened by amateur civilians of the place. Private balls and all the socialities of life went on in the face of asserted distress; public balls the same. I remember five being held on one night . . .
The pretence of overwhelming distress, and cry for placing England in quarantine, was not, in fact, made by the poor classes, but by the rich and the self-interested. The crisis throughout can only be regarded as a passing agitation to hasten the resumption of colonial intercourse and smuggling with Spain.
Quarantine, as it regards Gibraltar, ought to be considered no less as a question influencing military and political considerations, than in its sanitary purposes. . . . we receive the worst characters of Spain in the Port and Fortress of Gibraltar; that we make the Fortress a mart and depot for Spanish contraband; that we make the Port a haven of refuge and port of piracy for the resort of Spanish outlaws who live by running contraband into Spain; and finally, that the protection of the British flag is conceded to Gibraltar vessels employed in this trade under the hand and seal of the Governor. . .
We have no right to harbour outlawed ruffians of Spain of every shade of crime and villainy, and grant passports to such characters to trade in contraband under the British Flag; rendering the English dominion of Gibraltar a very curse to Spain.. . . A smuggler, the 'Dolores,' . . had succeeded in landing her cargo near Tarifa, but was seen and chased by a Guarda Costa to the African Coast, and being pressed off Tangier, hoisted English colours, and entered the Port, where she remained watched and shut in by the Guarda Costa of Algeciras.
The Traders of Gibraltar, as soon as they received intelligence of her situation, applied to the Commanding Officer of Her Majesty's Navy on the Station, who, under the instructions held by the Commanding Officers of the Navy on the Gibraltar Station, from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, hastened to rescue the smuggler, which was done, and in the face of the two Garrisons she was towed across the Straits, and brought under the guns of the Fortress!
Yet there was not an Englishman on board this vessel. Every plank and spar of her was Spanish property. Nothing English on board save the flag! I suppose there never was such an exhibition before. It could only have happened in the Bay of Gibraltar.
Gardiner's Battery - always ready to defend the flag (1860s George Washington Wilson )
Gardiner follows this with a long list of examples of other smuggling vessels flaunting the British flag in front of the Spanish Authorities. The report continues;
Assuredly it may be said that the . . . influence of the smuggling trade of Gibraltar is its demoralization of the troops employed in the extramural duties of the Fortress, which leads them finally to accept a bribe on the abandonment of their duty. . . . till very recently there existed even an Order of long standing, "not to interfere with that class of "persons known as smugglers!"
The excess of population has its rise in the increase of smuggling; aliens having knocked to the Fortress in vast. numbers, to pursue that trade, since it was made a Colony. The excess of population will gradually diminish on the Colony being again made a Fortress; and will eventually retire, whenever the Governor of Gibraltar may be invested with power to suppress smuggling.
The report continues at length and Gardiner begins to repeat himself. Inevitably he returns again and again to his bête noir - the smuggling trade, a topic that had already written at length in his 1850 Report on the Military Defences, Government and Trade of Gibraltar . ( see LINK ) We will never know if Gardiner's predictions would have come to pass as Gibraltar remained a Colony and did not revert to its status as a military fortress.
Gardiner's report was promptly leaked and an anonymous author, probably a lawyer - and most certainly at the behest of a number of British and non-British Gibraltar merchants - wrote a virulently phrased reply attacking Gardiner' report from every possible angle - including a section which was excluded from the final publication due to its sensitivity as it dealt with Gardiner's perceptions of Gibraltar's defensive deficiencies and a suggestion of at least one way in which it might be taken by the enemy. The reply to the Governor's report is covered elsewhere in another chapter. ( See LINK )
Gardiner's report was supposed to have been a vindication; instead it left his Gibraltarian reputation in tatters. Other Governors of Gibraltar would also try to take on the merchants - but they, like him, would all fail.