1749 - Reasons for Giving up Gibraltar
Congreve, Cotton and Portmore - Godbey, Bowes and Bentham
In 1749 an unknown pamphleteer took it upon himself to denounce the government of Gibraltar in that peculiarly satirical style that was so common in the 18th century. The pamphlet - Reasons for Giving up Gibraltar - begins unceremoniously with a previous Governor of Gibraltar - Colonel Ralph Congreve;
This gentleman set most of the bad examples which his successors have too well imitated. He forced some people out of their houses, others, on various pretences, out of the garrison, and then disposed of their possessions.
Seventeen officers exhibited their complaints to the Secretary of War, and were all suspended ; but the Governor was displaced, and was succeeded by Col. Cotton, a deputy of Lord Portmore.
Earl of Portmore
It may not be amiss to observe, in defence of these gentlemen, that military governments at a distance from the seat of empire are much worse executed by the subject of a free state, than by those under absolute monarchies.
Mr. Cotton was an expensive man. He improved upon Congreve's plans in every act of oppression, and had, like the tyrants of old, his dungeons and other apparatus to drain the purses of the poor foreign inhabitants; but began too early with the English, he having taken it for granted that every person in the garrison was his slave, and every house his estate; but raising his demands too high, a spirit of rebellion broke out at last which had nearly dethroned him.
The English who are not military are few, and those not submissive enough to suffer themselves to be spunged out of what they get, and are therefore properly discountenanced, and in their place Irish Papists and such kinds of itinerary riff-raff find cordial favour.
What the place costs us, in point of reputation, is hardly seen, as it appears what bad masters we Britons make, when we come to govern, though as subjects we reason for liberty.
In short, a poor sutling woman who was possessed of a house in right of her husband in the original constitution, being turned out for refusing to answer Mr. Cotton's extraordinary demands, took shipping to England, where she prosecuted her claim, upon which he was obliged to follow her ladyship home, and make it up with her the best way he could, which being done, she returned again in triumph to Gibraltar.
During Mr. Cotton's absence, the command was supplied by Lt Colonel Godbey, and on his return he did not find the people so complaisant as formerly; the affair of the old woman had given them other spirits and Mr. Godbey had not played the governor in his absence; besides this the fear of the old woman was constantly in his eyes and therefore he though it better to throw the burden on a deputy which accordingly did and retired.
For this he pitched on one Bowes, a very fit man and his own Lieutenant-colonel who plundered merrily for some time, but wanting health he embarked for England and died in the channel; the command for the present devolved on Major Ethrington of Pierce's Regiment.
Mr Cotton found a person in England who had a Brevet as Colonel, and got him made his Lieutenant Colonel who in course was to have the command of the Garrison during the absence of my Lord Portmore and Mr. Cotton, the last of whom had no relish to the acting in person anymore; therefore he made an agreement with his lieutenant to share the perquisites but he, being established in the post finding the sweets of so lucrative a government, there being no law to oblige him to account for legal projects and having secured his interest at home by sharing with people who could best support him in his unjustifiable measures, he gave himself no further concern about his contract, but played as good a game upon his colonel as the Colonel formerly had done upon the garrison and poor inhabitants.
The Rock of Gibraltar ( 1744 - R.Erskine and G. Knowles - Detail )
. . . the whole art of plundering is so magically conducted, that it never comes to the ear of His Majesty, nor is laid before the Legislature. If an officer complains, he is broke; if a merchant, he is kicked out of the town if a housekeeper, he is dispossessed ; if a foreigner, he is dungeoned and stript ; and if a Barbary Jew, he is transmitted to a brother Bashaw at Tetuan, where, perhaps, he is hanged outright. So that these poor creatures, that are endeavouring to encourage commerce, are crucified between two Thieves.
Whatever may be the prejudices of mankind in other respects as regards the Jews, it is well known that trade flourishes wherever they resort, and I think our merchants are not behind them, in either spirit or industry.. .
What horrid outrages have been there acted! The least crime hurries a Wretch out of the gates, where he has often been exposed to the inclemency of' the elements for months, till he can find a proper sum of money to expiate his crime. This is so frequent with the foreigners who reside there, that we see them hurried away with hardly any emotions of pity. What scenes of misery have poor people been drove to by the inhuman barbarity of a merciless and unrelenting tyrant !
The Governor's Annual Perquisites
Duty 5000 Butts of Wine $10,000
Duty 1000 Ditto Brandy and Rum 9,765
1200 Ships' anchorage, at $3 3,600
60 Jews and Genoese Porters, at S3 per month 2,160
Christmas-boxes from Jews, &c. 1,000
Permits for entering the Town 1,000
Jews, Hawkers, and Pedlars 500
Wine Licenses 600
Mediterranean Passes to Foreigners 1,000
Occasional Munerations and Squeezings 2,000
Cow keeper and Milk-herd 500
Head Butcher 4,000
Chief Baker 1,000
Head Gardener, besides tythes in kind 500
Master Fisherman 500
Public Jobs, Wharfage, etc 2,000
Tallow-chandler and Coal-merchant 2,000
Hospital Supplies 400
Watering of Merchant Ships for the Levant
for provisioning Master and Boat's Crew 200
Total $53, 725
In 1755, the message was still ripe in the minds of those with any interest in Gibraltar. One such was Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James (see LINK) who wrote the voluminous History of the Herculean Straits. In it he refers to other sections of the article as follows:
When (he) took the reins of government, his first step was to destroy the free market, and to establish contractors, who made two thirds clear profit, and of course the contract was proportional; the next step was a dollar per butt of wine; and to make the sell the better, beer, the produce of our isle, was prohibited. This was however the least part of the profit of this article, for the retailers paid much more for leave to sell it. . . No provisions admitted within the gates but with special licence. Part of the tenth article of the treaty of Utrecht was broken by permitting Moors and Jews to reside in the garrison. . .Perhaps one last quote from the pamphlet would be appropriate;
Amongst other witty inventions to get money, the church wanted to be repaired, and that a key was necessary to land goods at the waterside. for the latter subscriptions were raised among the inhabitants; and for the former a dollar per butt extraordinary was laid on wine. To repair the church one half of it was pulled down, and, with the materials, storehouses were built on the esplanade which were sold to the inhabitants; the sum that was to repair what was pulled down was pocketed; and to save expense, all soldiers who swore . . were obliged to work one or more days.
For forty years a good governor has not been found in Gibraltar, and most likely never will.By today's standards this pamphlet would not have passed muster against the laws of libel, but there is an element of wit about the piece which suggests that - although obviously no friend of the establishment - the writer had a point. So much so that most historian find it hard to resist quoting large chunks of it.
Some such as Sir William Jackson - who was himself a governor in the 1970s and 80s - obviously found it irksome reading. He thought the criticisms were 'exaggerated because they made good reading'.
There is nevertheless evidence that the writer did have considerable inside knowledge of Gibraltar and its commercial affairs. As such it is a pretty good guide to the kind of corruption - and the system of government that allowed it - that went on and continued to go on in Gibraltar for quite a while. $53, 725 per annum at the contemporary rate of exchange amounted to £20 000 - this over and above the Governor's official salary. It was by any standards a stupendous amount of money.
General David Colyear, The Earl of Portmore - Governor - 1713 - 1720
Colonel Ralph Congreve - Lieutenant Governor - 1713 to 1716
Colonel Stanhope Cotton - Lieutenant Governor - 1716 to 1725
Lieutenant-Colonel Godbey - In charge while Cotton was away in England
Lieutenant-Colonel Bowes - put in charge by Godbey
Major Ethrington of Pierce's regiment - proved too junior to be put in charge. Cotton had him replaced.
Some forty or so years later, Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher, jurist and social reformist was also of the opinion that the British should give up Gibraltar.
Jeremy Bentham ( Henry Williams Pickersgill )
The following appears as a footnote in his Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace ;
Reasons for giving up Gibraltar
1. The expense of the military establishment, viz. fortifications, garrisons, ordnance, recruiting, service, victualling.
2. The means of corruption resulting from the patronage.
3. The saving the danger of war with Spain to which the possession of the place is a perpetual provocation.
4.The price that might be obtained from Spain for the purchase of it.
5. Saving the occasional expense of defending it and victualling it in war.
6. The possession of it is useless. It is said to be useful only on account of the Levant trade - but,
a. We could carry on that trade equally well without Gibraltar.
b. If we could not, we should suffer no loss The capital employed in that trade would be equally productive if employed in any other
c. supposing this the most productive of all trades, yet what we lost by losing Gibraltar would only be equal to the difference between the percentage gained in that trade and the percentage gained in the next most productive trade.
d. For, We could still do as the Swedes, Danes, Dutch, etc and as we did before we had possession of Gibraltar.