The People of Gibraltar
1874 - John Lawson Stoddard - A Flavour of the East

John Lawson Stoddard was born in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1850. He began travelling around the world in 1874 and eventually turned his experiences into a series of popular lectures delivered throughout North America. 

John Lawson Stoddard 

These lectures were published from 1897 to 1898 in book form as the John L. Stoddard Lectures and eventually numbered ten volumes and five supplements - one of which refers to Gibraltar. It was a place that must have impressed him as he also published this section on the Rock as a separate book in 1901.

All the lectures include numerous illustrations derived from an immense catalogue of photographs taken by Stoddard himself. A selection of quotes - and photographs - taken from the supplement are shown below.


'The Northern Pillar of Hercules'
Arrival It was about five o'clock in the morning, at the end of a transatlantic voyage, that I first saw Gibraltar. Called by the steward half an hour before, I hastened to the steamer's deck, to find the ocean covered with a tantalizing fog, beneath which only the edge of the Spanish coast was visible. But soon, as if by a magician's spell, the soft gray curtain which surrounded us rose gradually from the rim of the horizon, and a bright spot of gold upon the Mediterranean's eastern verge foretold the coming of the god of day.


'Landing in the Tender' - Not sure why hands and shoulders are being held and touched
The Rock The effect that followed will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it; for, as if that first sign of the approaching luminary were a preconcerted signal, the sombre drapery of clouds, which had till then enveloped the stupendous rock, was slowly rolled up like a scroll, revealing first the feet and left flank, then the side and shoulder, and finally the majestic head of a couchant monster, three miles long and fourteen hundred feet in height, turned by a fiat of the gods to stone . . . 


'Cliffs with rock-hewn galleries'
The Town Meantime, our steamer had dropped anchor in Gibraltar's pretty harbour, sheltered by its western side. Across this stretch of animated water, sparkling with the dawn, I could discern a group of stuccoed buildings, most of which were painted yellow. These proved the existence of a town; but, when compared with the great cliff to which they clung, they seemed as insignificant as barnacles upon a vessel's keel. 


'The Couchant Monster'
The People In fact, we do not think of this huge promontory as a residence, but as a fortress. True, it supports, besides the garrison of five thousand soldiers, a population of some twenty thousand souls; but these appear like supernumeraries on a stage, useful no doubt, but not essential to the performance of the play. 


'Soldiers of the King'


'Fruit Vendors in Gibraltar'
Nor is there any special evidence that civilians are desired here. No foreigner may reside at Gibraltar unless his consul or a householder becomes security for him, and even then permits for such a privilege are rarely granted for more than twenty days. Moreover, the rock is ruled by martial law.  
At sunset all the entrances are closed inexorably for the night, and even transient visitors from steamers halting a few hours in the harbour are not allowed to pass within the settlement until they have obtained at the Marine Gate tickets of admission, whose value ceases when the stern voice of the evening gun proclaims the passing of another day.


'Gibraltar's principal street'
The town presents a curious medley of Great Britain and the Orient. Over the doors of shops and on the corners of the streets are English names, and one hears everywhere the English tongue. Vehicles turn to the left, in meeting, as in England; and scores of British soldiers, dressed in khaki, stroll about the streets or march with swinging step from point to point.  
But the small shops, low doors, and walls of brightly coloured stucco, together with a large proportion of African, East Indian, and Moorish traders, as well as the presence of the patient donkey - all give to this peculiar corner of the world an unmistakable flavour of the East. 


'The Town'
The Alameda The prettiest portion of the settlement is undeniably the Alameda, a public garden tastefully designed and rich in semi-tropical vegetation. . . Here, at the close of the afternoon, the inhabitants love to assemble, to listen to the music of a military band; and as they stroll along the flower-bordered paths, their gaze is often drawn toward the enchanting prospect of the neighbouring Straits . . . 

'Under the Cliffs' - Casemates

What follows is a description of the Rock itself - he was particularly taken by its ' North Face' - and a journey through 'its labyrinth of galleries'. He also offers several arguments as to the pros and cons of Britain returning the Rock to Spain but comes to the conclusion that if she did so it would be 'disastrous to her power and prestige'. The Great Siege, of course, is also mentioned . 


'The Lions Face'

Generally it is the Rock itself that interests Stoddard both as a military fortress bristling with guns and as a geological curiosity. And yet his description of the local population as 'supernumeraries on a stage, useful no doubt, but not essential to the performance of the play', is extraordinarily perceptive. 


'Inside the Spanish Lines'