The People of Gibraltar
1800 - Rev. Cooper Willyams - Sadly Disfigured Church

Cooper Willyams was born in 1762 in Essex, the son of a commander of the Royal Navy. He was educated in Canterbury and was ordained as a priest in 1784. Perhaps influenced by his father, he loved the sea and in 1797 he became the domestic chaplain to the Earl St Vincent, a British admiral with strong connections with Gibraltar. A year later he was appointed Chaplain of the Swiftsure under Captain Hallowell, and found himself taking part in the Battle of the Nile.


Sir Benjamin Hallowell Carew in later life (John Hayter)

He wrote a book based on his experiences which he titled - A Voyage up the Mediterranean in His Majesty's Ship the Swiftsure - and which he published in 1802 liberally illustrated with engravings based on his drawings. Apart from being considered one of the best narratives of the Battle of the Nile ever written, it also contains a chapter on Gibraltar. The following is a selection of his more pertinent observations.


The Rev Cooper Willyams drawing St Michael's Cave, Gibraltar (Self portrait )

Arrival - On the 3rd of February (1800) we all got under weigh from the Tagus, and after a pleasant journey of eight days, anchored in the Bay of Gibraltar. 
As the Swiftsure had suffered a great deal in the late gales it was thought necessary to caulk and repair her, and she was Taken into the Mole for that purpose. I therefore took this opportunity of accepting the invitation of a friend, at whose house I took my abode, and was by those means enabled to make further investigations into the natural as well as the artificial curiosities of the rock, the result of which i shall now detail. 
The Town - The town is about a mile long, and has a narrow irregular street through the centre from north to south. In this street is the Governor's house, formally a religious building, and it still retains the name of the convent . . .  
The convent is well adapted for the residence of the governor, being a spacious building of four sides with cloisters round the quadrangle. The present governor has greatly improved it by adding a large saloon, in which during the winter a weekly ball is given to the garrison . . . 
Between this and the grand parade is the Spanish church; what remains of the ancient edifice is Gothic, and probably owed its origins to the Moors . . . . The drawing here given represents the entrance to it, or gateway, which, though a good deal decayed, and sadly disfigured by modern additions, is a good specimen of that ornamental style of building.

The entrance to the Spanish Church - Santa Maria la Coronada
General O'Hara, the governor, is at present adding much to the convenience and elegance of the town by paving the main street; and it is to be lamented, that in the case of another siege ( should the Spaniards be mad enough to commence one ) it must be again destroyed.
In the early 19th century, the Governor Boyd offered to repair the damage which had been caused to the Cathedral during the Great Siege in exchange for removing a section of it to straighten Main Street. General O'Hara is credited with moving the front of the church - as shown above - to where it is today.


General Charles O'Hara ( Unknown )  (See LINK)
There are many good houses in the town; among the best the residence of the chief engineer Colonel Fyers, bears a conspicuous appearance. It is pleasantly situated on the rising ground towards the north end of town and commands an extensive view of the bay.

The Rock looking towards the North  ( Late 18th century - Rev Cooper Willyams )

Main street had once been paved but General Eliott had ordered it to be returned to its original earthen pathway was because of the damage caused by the ricochet of cannon balls fired by the enemy during the Great Siege. Unpaved it must have been rather desert-like as the town was built on red sand. The Chief Engineer - Colonel Fyers (see LINK) had his official residence in Engineer House which continued in use for many years but now no longer exists.
The Galleries - But the most extraordinary work of art are the galleries, which are excavated from solid rock, having at certain distances port-holes that overlook the Spanish lines. The annexed view of part of the grand gallery leading to St. George's Hall will give some idea of them. St George's Hall is also an excavation of a similar nature. It is a cave of circular form, in a projecting part of the Rock, and is of great dimensions and considerable height. I should imagine, that in the case of a heavy cannonade, the concussion of the air in them would render the noise insupportable and endanger the falling in of the roof; but of this I do not portend to be a competent judge.


The Galleries    (See LINK)

This paragraph is perhaps one of the first recorded suggestions that the galleries - for all their magnificence - were a waste of time in so far as their purpose was concerned. His diffident ending, however, also insinuates that it was not a criticism taken kindly by those in authority in the Rock at the time. Certainly not by Governor O'Hara who seems to have spent an enormous amount of his time checking up on their progress as he attempted to make them even longer than they were when he inherited them.
The Neutral Ground - This plain, commonly called the Neutral Ground, is about a mile across at the narrowest place . . . On the Spanish side, at the distance of a mile from the Rock, a strong line of fortifications is carried across this plain, in length about seventeen hundred yards, reaching from the shore of the bay to the Mediterranean. At each end of this line is a strong fort. That at the east end is called the Fort Sta Barbara; the other, which commands the anchorage at the Old Mole, is named St. Philip. I have also added another small drawing on the map, of the northern face of the rock, which I took from the neutral ground near the Spanish lines.


North Front and Devil's Tower

The observation that the Fort of St Philip commanded the anchorage at the Old Mole is interesting as it acknowledges that it would have still caused endless trouble to the British if the Spaniards had so wished. As it so happened neither fort was ever used again in anger and both were destroyed by the British - with the reluctant consent of the Spanish - during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Apes - The eastern side, which faces the Mediterranean, is almost perpendicular from the sea . . . . . on which are found a multitude of wild apes, which are said to be peculiar to the rock, and of a different species to those found in Spain, but similar to those that inhabit Mons Abyla or Apes Hill, on the opposite coast of Africa.
As far as I can make out there were no apes of any sort found in Spain at the time.
Pocoroca Cave - The rock of Gibraltar has several caverns of great depth and extent; one of them, called Pocoroca, is near the summit of the hill directly under the centre of the town and under Middle Hill Battery.
The annexed view represents the entrance of this cavern from within, with the curious pillars that seem that seem to support the roof. These pillars, as well as the pendent rocks from the roof, are formed by the constant dripping of water, which petrifies in its descent, taking the most fantastic shapes. Several of these pillars have been cut down in order to make tables and slabs, as they are capable of receiving a high polish. 
This cave, during the last siege, was intended for the residence of thegovernor, and partly fitted for that purpose, but the design was dropped, and it served as a powder magazine for the batteries on the heights. 
St. Michael's Cave - Near this latter road is the entrance to st. Michael's Cave the largest and most extraordinary cavern on the Rock. Being anxious to investigate this wonderful cave, I proceeded thither in the company of Captain Brenton of the navy and Captain Whitmore of the royal engineers . . . . . The annexed view represents the sketch I took, but neither pen nor pencil can give an adequate idea of the sublime and terrific appearance of this work of nature.

St Michael's Cave

Willyams was evidently thoroughly impressed with St. Michael's Cave as he continue on the same theme for several pages as he describes his efforts to explore the more dangerous corners of the cave. One of his guides was Jahleel Brenton was a well known character in Gibraltar at the time. A friend as well as a subordinate of Admiral James de Saumarez, he was captain of the ship HMS Speedy, a 14 gun brig that spent most of its time in Gibraltar during the Peninsular Wars. He was also a consummate amateur artist.


Captain Jahleel Brenton  (See LINK)
O'Hara's Tower - The present governor, General O'Hara, has caused another signal tower to be errected on the southern point of the rock, which, besides being the heighest part of it, commands a more extensive view of the Straits to the westward; and when completed, it will be both an ornament, and highly beneficial in conveying much earlier information to the garrison below.
In the end O'Hara's tower was neither one thing nor the other. O'Hara had supposed that it would be able to warn the fortress of any ships setting outt from Cadiz toward the Straits. Unfortunately he forgot about the intervening mountains. The tower soon fell into disrepair from lack of use and was later demolished in the mid nineteenth century.
Catalan Bay and Devil's Tower - Catalan Bay (see LINK) is a romantic spot to which the Spanish smugglers resort and deposit their contraband goods, which are afterwards conveyed in small quantities around the town. There is a cavern in the bottom of this bay that has been inhabited for more than forty years. He and his son and daughter have made a little garden near it, where they produce plenty of vegetables, which they carry to market at Gibraltar; and they also possess an herd of goats, whose milk they also turn to good account. 
In your road to this bay you pass the Devil's Tower, which is situated at the base of the rock at the north-eastern extremity. . . . It is situate on a single rock, and has no doorway, which I suppose has caused it to have the name it bears; it appears to have been a work of the Moors.
Houses and Gardens - There are several gardens on the Rock; the governor has a handsome one at the convent, in which are several fine palms, and other natives of the more southern climes.
Mount Pleasant, the residence of Commissioner Inglefield, is by far the most picturesque place on the Rock. The gardens are laid out with great taste; the trees which consist of the various productions of warm climates have a reached a height that could hardly have been expected from the scanty soil. The orange and lemon trees, the stately cypress and the locust trees, form a delightful retreat from the extreme heat which prevails during the greater part of the year. The house though small, commands an extensive view of the bay and of the town of Algeciras.

The Rock looking South  ( Late 18th century - Rev Cooper Willyams )

Inglefield had only recently been installed as Commissioner. He proved himself to be a rather uncomfortable eager beaver who seemed to be always rubbing up people the wrong way. According to Admiral St Vincent he was an honest and reasonably intelligent man but had an unfortunate tendency towards pomposity.
Spanish Gun-boats . . . to the left of it is seen Cabritta Point, over which a signal tower gives intelligence to the Spanish gun-boats at Algeciras of the approach of our ships, when they generally row to a sandy bay near the point. As the ships approach the bay . . they are frequently becalmed . . . The gun-boats then securely attack them taking their stations with every advantage and as they carry very heavy guns, they are able to batter their ships from a distance, which renders them so small a mark that they seldom receive any damage in return.
. . . they have frequently done much mischief, even to our line of battleships when becalmed, which they have attacked with considerable advantage . . . without being in much danger themselves.
In 1800, Britain's prowess at sea was practically unchallenged in the Mediterranean. She controlled not just Gibraltar but both Malta and Mahon - which was considered as the best port in the world. Sir John Jervis had won his Battle of Cape St. Vincent, and Nelson had just defeated the French in the Battle of the Nile. In less than a year Admiral Saumarez would destroy the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Algeciras - Part II and Nelson would soon become a household name after the Battle of Trafalgar.

And yet here were these tiny gun-boats causing the British all sorts of problems. Willyam's insinuations that the Spaniards were using underhand methods underlines an important point; these gun-boats were more than just an irritant and there was precious little that the might of the British Nay could do about it.

Generally, Willyams account is almost unique in that he hardly to make any mention of either the locals or indeed the Garrison - no Jews, Moors or swarthy Spaniards. One would almost believe that Gibraltar was a ghost town inhabited by sea captains, an officer of the Royal Engineers, and a rather eccentric Governor. In actual fact the population of Gibraltar was made up of about 6000 people and probably half this number again for the Garrison.