The People of Gibraltar
1711 - Juan Baptista Gaza - Hombre Honrado

Sturla, Hesse and de la Capela

Born somewhere in Genoa in the late seventeenth century Juan Baptista Gaza was a contemporary of Juan Battista Sturla. ( see LINK ) He was also a resident of Gibraltar having lived there 'continuously' since 1703, at least a year before the Anglo-Dutch attack.

Although he is often referred to in various documents by the Spanish sounding name of de Gassa he was unmistakably Genoese and does not appear on any of the various lists of those few Spanish families that remained on the Rock after the takeover.



The Spanish Governor Don Diego de Salinas and residents leaving the Rock after the takeover. Juan Baptista Gaza was not among them ( Oilette )

In 1711 Alonso de la Capela, a resident of Gibraltar who had been appointed in 1705 as 'Juez de Gibraltar' by the pretender to the Spanish throne, Charles III, certified that he had known Juan for six years and that in all that time the Genoese had proved himself, un hombre honrado, quieto y pacifico, muy afecto a su Mag.d'

He had, continued de la Capela, 'laboured in the royal service' in Gibraltar by helping to strengthen its fortifications and repairing public works and that he had complied diligently with everything that he had been ordered to do.

In 1705 a month or so before he left the Rock for good, Prince George Hesse-Darmstadt, with the approval of Charles III, issued grants of properties to a few select residents of the Rock. The properties in question were buildings and houses confiscated from Spaniards who had left the town after its surrender.



A slightly supercilious looking Prince George ( Unknown )

The actual grant - which is in the possession of the Bentata family in Gibraltar - is a curious document . Here is a translation.

George, by the grace of God Landgrave of Hesse, Prince of Armstadt, Knight of the famous order of the Golden Fleece, Gentleman of the Bedchamber to his Catholik Majesty and His Vicar General of the Crown of Aragon:

Whereas the King our Lord, whom God preserve, was pleased to order us to Appropriate to the Royal Revenues, the houses and effects of the Inhabitants of this city of Gibraltar, who wanting in their due obedience to their lawful King, abandoned the said houses and effects to adhere to the party of the Usurper of his crown of Spain, at the time, that the just arms of His majesty took possession.

It is a statement that immediately makes one ponder - what would have happened if the Anglo-Dutch alliance had actually won the war, if Charles III had become King of Spain and Gibraltar had once again become Spanish territory. One or two present day Gibraltarians might shiver at the thought.

The document continues:

And his Austrian bounty, desiring to reward his faithful Vassals & Subjects, who complying with their duty, remaining in the city, as also to recompense the damages, prejudices and loses which they have suffered in the conjunction of a long Siege.

In other words people like Gaza were being rewarded not just for staying put but also for their contributions to the war effort during the siege that took place immediately after the taking of the Rock.

We, in the execution of the Royal Orders, and regarding the representations of Juan Bauptista Gaza which he hath made to us, of having served his Majesty on all occasions with the zeal proper to his obligations, and executed all that was ordered him for that effect, and that as he is a poor and has to maintain a wife and three children, we grant him the house that was of Juan Bravo. Which adjoins on the upper part of the house of Simon Navarro and on the lower part with that of Juan Diez de la Palma;

Which confirms that the issuing of the grant was not a spontaneous affair on the part of Hesse or Charle III but that people had to make their respective claims. Gaza's professed poverty does not ring true.

after the manner that he in virtue of this our donation may possess, inhabit, or sell it, without being molested by anybody at any time, or by any pretentions, reserving only the taxes, and rights to which shall appear the Churches have in it, as also the rights which belong to His majesty;

In witness whereof we have signed the present despatch sealed with the seal of our arms in Gibraltar the ninth of June 1705 - George Landgrave of Hesse.

 
The Rock shortly before Prince George and Admiral Rooke turned up in the Bay of Gibraltar and changed the lives of its citizens forever ( Unknown )

There was very little chance of Gaza not being 'molested' after Hesse had left the Rock and Charles III lost his pretentions to the throne of Spain. Subsequent British appointed Governors of Gibraltar found it easy to make themselves believe that freehold on the Rock was their very own personal property. The pocketing of hefty rents on houses - regardless of proof of ownership - made up an important part of their personal income.

Nevertheless , the fact that we hear no more of Gaza after he obtained his grant is probably good news - he paid his dues however illegal, kept his head down and hopefully lived happily ever after. The fact that family name no longer appears on any census after 1777 - is slightly disheartening.