The People of Gibraltar
1827 - Andrew Bigelow – A Lilliputian Curiosity

Andrew Bigelow was a peripatetic American minister. He was born in Groton, Massachusetts in 1795, graduated from Harvard College in 1814 and studied law before turning to divinity. He graduated in 1817 and spent some time in Edinburgh, Scotland.

He was ordained as an Evangelist in 1820 and subsequently ministered in in America for a while. He married Amelia Sargent Stanwood  in 1824. Two years later he resigned his post at Pitts Street Chapel to become a minister at large.

From that time until his death in 1877 he was known for his work among the poor. During his lifetime he published two books. One of them was Travels in Malta and Sicily with sketches of Gibraltar in 1827. The chapter on the Rock  offers interesting insights into life on the Rock during the early 19th century. His first impressions, however, were not a good ones.

Relations with Spain
Gibraltar constitutes a little nation or principality by itself. The inhabitants have scarce any personal intercourse with neighboring Spaniards, except when they come to the Garrison. . . Algeciras, the venerable ruins of Cartheya, Gaucin . . .and other interesting spots  . . . are seldom visited by them. If a merchant . . . plans a visit to Cadiz, Seville or Malaga, he goes by boat. It is rarely safe . . Most of the inhabitants who are not Spanish spend whole years here without stirring outside the Garrison.

From the beginning of the 19th century right up to the Carlist Wars which ended roughly in 1843, Spain was a country in turmoil. One civil war followed another as conservative, Royalist elements fought against liberals and Republicans for power. The loss of most of her South American colonies didn't help either. The locals obviously thought it best to stay at home.

However, the phrase 'except when they come to the Garrison' gives the show away. According to the 1827 census there were over 15 000 people living in the Rock at the time - many of them of Spanish descent. The ordinary residents probably didn't stray too far away from the safety of the Rock but there was plenty of movement across the recently destroyed Spanish lines in both directions.


Gibraltar and the Spanish Lines   ( 1831 - W.H. Smyth )

Arrival and Quarantine
. . In a part of the harbour a King's vessel is anchored, having the royal colours flying. At a certain hour each day, the health Physician, as examiner, goes on board, and a signal flag is displayed. Boats from the ships in quarantine then put off to it for the purpose of communication, but are not suffered to approach within a certain distance. . .

On coming up with the floating tribunal, a dapper looking doctor was seen reclining in a comfortable armchair placed on the quarter-deck. A white kid glove was tightly drawn over the left hand. Its counterpart dangled from the right, which seemed purposely left bare to display the sparkling of a gemmed ring. We drew up to the leeward that we might not come 'between the wind and his nobility.' . . .

. . . There was something more offensive conveyed by his mannerism than even this description exhibits. It was the superciliousness, combined with the rudeness, so common in a deputy of John Bull. The former characteristic is more usually met with in the underlings of government, than among those in elevated stations of trust, and it consequently is felt as more intolerable.

It distinguishes, too, these minor satellites of power more generally, when found in distant dependencies of the crown, than those invested with commissions at home, as I have elsewhere had opportunity to witness. Wherever displayed, the feeling is no less unwise and contemptible, than indecorous and unaccommodating. . .

. . . Being impatient of captivity on such frivolous grounds, a representation was made of my situation to another and higher quarter, through the assistance of friends whose kind offices my letters introductory had bespoken, and . . a permit was sent me to land. I was not long in availing myself of it, and with a light heart entered a boat which was to convey me to shore.

The above is a nice reminder of the kind of bureaucratic nastiness that must have been a daily feature of life on the Rock for the civilian population. Not very many of them would have had the opportunity to seek help from 'another and higher quarter'.

The Old Mole
The noise of mingled voices and other discordant sounds . . . increased and deepened as we approached the place of debarkation. This was the Mole, and a curious and bustling scene it presented on a nearer view. No swarm from a bee-hive was ever busier  . . a motley crowd of every variety of garb, and look, and occupation was beheld.


Late 18th century photograph of the old Mole  ( Unknown )

With difficulty our little boat was pushed among the multitude of skiffs, launches and water-gigs which, with heavier craft, lined deeply the margin of the Mole. As it was, on leaving the yawl, I had to make my way literally over a bridge of boats ere stepping foot on the solid main; but at length, the latter was reached.

The novel scene of a people of new, or varied pursuits and manners, costumes and tongues, among whom he finds himself suddenly introduced, adds to his exhilaration: and for a while he feels all the happiness he can ask or desire. . . 

The Mole was piled with merchandise of all descriptions, and buyers and vendors, masters and clerks, sailors, porters, and draymen, were promiscuously mixed. The solemn looks, quaint dress, and sonorous language of the Spanish portion of these groups chiefly arrested my attention. They formed generally the humbler and by far the most numerous class.

The strong, well formed horses which drew their ponderous wagons, were samples of the once famed and still valuable Andalusian breed, and the trappings and housings of uncouth and fantastic materials which literally loaded them, indicated the pride with which their masters still regarded them. Having refreshed the boat's crew at a neighboring stall which displayed a tempting variety of oranges and other fruits, the products of this delicious clime, 1 was glad to escape from the scene of noise and jostling and hubbub, and to elbow my way to the water-port.

There I met the United States consul who had politely rode down to greet me, and insure a pass, the right of which is always rigidly questioned. Under the escort of a guide, which this gentleman provided in addition to his other civilities . . .


A 'multitude of skiffs, launches and water-gigs which, with heavier craft, lined deeply the margin of the Mole.' ( 1860s - Samuel Coleman )

First View of the Town - The King's Arms Hotel
Proceeding from the Mole by the only outlet, a long vaulted passage through walls of solid masonry, crowded with pedestrians vociferating in divers tongues, and carts whose rumbling wheels completed the almost stunning noise, I entered a military square which exhibited a moving scene scarcely less animated than that I had just left.

Soldiers were hurrying to and fro, many of them busy in preparations . . . Among these brave fellows I was glad to notice a few in the truly martial dress of the Scotch Highlanders, with their plaid kilts, tartan hose and proud bonnets and plumes.


Highlanders in Gibraltar  ( Jose Maria Escacena y Diaz )

From this quarter my guide conducted me into the heart of the town through streets which elsewhere would be termed lanes and alleys; and these were all filled with passing multitudes, men, women and children, sailors and military, horses and carts, dogs, goats and asses.

At length we entered Church-street, the main thoroughfare through the town, and which in width and other comforts may rival, but not surpass old Ann-street in Boston. Fronting on this and forming a corner of a small open space, called the Commercial Square, stands the King's Arms Hotel, a house of respectable pretensions, inasmuch as it professes to be the best in the garrison. Thither I was conducted, and the portly landlord having promised me all the comforts his inn affords, I was soon settled and have reason to be satisfied with my accommodations.

The square was the Casemates and the proliferation of soldiers explained by the fact that it was surrounded by barracks. Church Street was the name given to the northern section of today's Main Street.  The town, he said, was full of shops with plenty of merchandise - but everything was extraordinarily expensive.


Casemates in the 1860s, barracks to the left and to the right. A soldier peers at the cameraman from over a wall  ( George Washington Wilson )

Churches and Synagogues
The following morning being Sunday, I repaired, at the usual hour, to the service of mass in the Cathedral. It is a large building, and its ample floor was covered with votaries. It seemed as if the entire population of Gibraltar of every rank and either sex was concentrated within its walls. There were no seats for their accommodation; and the absence of these, and of everything that bore the semblance of a pew indicated at once that it was no Protestant place of worship. . .

The Protestants are but slenderly provided with places of public worship. I can only find a Methodist conventicle and an Episcopalian church. Even the Jews are better supplied with synagogues, as they count no less than three. The church especially, is quite an ordinary accommodation.

It is called the Convent Chapel; and in it the Governor and suite, and such of the fashionable gentry within the garrison, and officers not on duty who may feel disposed to attend, statedly worship . . . . There is no bell to the chapel; and for want of such a summons, a flourish of drums and fifes from a band stationed in Commercial Square, announces when the hour of service arrives.

The custom of not ringing bells for summoning people to church went back to 1761 - or ever since the Governor, Edward Cornwallis decided that the bell of the King's Chapel disturbed his sleep in the Convent.

The People
Leaving the church, I found the streets filled with gay and moving crowds. . .;Spanish females of the lower orders, were distinguished by scarlet cloaks which were not ungracefully worn. A hood at the top might serve the purpose of a bonnet, but it was seldom drawn up.

Ladies of Spanish birth were clad for the most part in the English costume, save the attire and ornaments of the head. There was this peculiarity in common with them and the lower orders, namely, the absence of bonnets. In place of these, veils were invariably worn, chiefly of black and figured lace. They were square, and being doubled, were drawn over the crown of the head a little in advance of their combs. Their hair was much braided, and it clustered in profusion round their olive brows,— leaving enough of the beautiful swell of their high foreheads exposed to an admirer's gaze. Their eyes are uniformly of a piercing black, rather small, and peculiarly arch and significant in expression.

They possess a mobility, if I may so speak, such as no dark-eyed damsels of New England know how to practise. The head is seldom turned to gaze on a stranger, but the eye moves as the object passes till the latter is completely gone by, — moves too, as though it were capable of making an entire revolution upon its pivot . .

They walk with a vibrating movement not becoming, for it looks too much like the studied air of voluptuousness. All the females, whether high or low, young or old, were provided with fans, which they occasionally employed to screen their faces from the sun, but more commonly used as a mere plaything. . . The complexion of the ladies is generally a pale olive, with a slight suffusion of dusky red; while that of the poorer classes, is deeply embrowned to an almost tawny hue by their more common exposure to the suns of this fervid clime.

As for the men, the more genteel ranks dress much after the English mode. A few Spanish cloaks are seen, but most of their nationality must be sought in their features and mein. In these there is no mistake. The Spaniard is toujours le meme. Men in humbler life, however, retain pertinacious their national or rather sectional costumes.


Sketches of the people of Gibraltar  ( 1876 - The Graphic )

The natives of the neighboring provinces of Andalusia, Murcia, and Grenada, appear in characteristic dresses. Broad brimmed hats, with edges slightly and uniformly rolled, ornamented with velvet tufts and other decorations, — vests and jerkins, with a profusion of cord and bell-buttons, — tight small clothes of black velvet, with rows of gilt buttons the entire length of the outer seams, — and long gaiters of divers hues and textures, are among the more obvious peculiarities.

There are some thousands of Spaniards in the town, forming full two thirds of the resident population, which altogether, may be estimated at fifteen thousand. The Jews are a pretty numerous portion of the residue. They enjoy many privileges, and are an industrious and thriving class.

The poorer sort serve as porters, and are strong and athletic men. Their working days are but five in the week, as Saturday they religiously observe as their Sabbath, and on Sunday they could find, if they would, no employment; inasmuch as those Christians who care little for the season as a time of religious rest and devotion make a point of consuming it in idleness or amusement. Several of these outcasts of Israel have been named to me as very rich. One, probably, is the wealthiest resident on the Rock.


Sketches of the people of Gibraltar  ( 1876 - The Graphic )

Moors and Jews
Morocco has always a number of representatives on the Rock, attracted hither by its commercial advantages and other inducements of residence. I have noticed a few turbaned Moslems of quite imposing appearance. Their tall and manly forms were well set off by their showy robes, and they walked the street with a step and look which betokened a consciousness of superiority of some sort, and an air singularly degage.

Jews . . . are numerous: from what I can learn, they cannot fall much short of a thousand. They are an orderly, sober and industrious class. In an earlier page, I mentioned that many of them get their livelihood by the hardest of toils, that of porters. Some of them, nevertheless, are -well known as merchants and brokers; and the prosperity of one, the reputed possessor of great wealth, is indicated by a mansion which he has built in Commercial-square . . .


'Arabs' in Gibraltar  ( 1881 - The Graphic )

The rich Jew - mentioned twice was the well known merchant Aaron Cardozo.

Water Problems
Water itself is brought to the Rock by the Andalusian peasantry; the quantity collected in the public and private cisterns, being altogether too scanty for the wants of the inhabitants. It is carried about in small casks on donkeys, and sold from door to door

This seems to be a misunderstanding. Water was indeed moved about Gibraltar in small wooden casks by Spanish aquadores. However it seems doubtful that the water came from Spain. Rather it was collected from cisterns feeding various strategic points in town - the fountain in Governor's Parade was one of them - all of them fed by local rainwater.


Spanish aquadores filling up their small - and not so small- wooden barrels from the water fountain at Governor's Parade  ( From a 19th century postcard )

Goats
These goats are owned separately by private families, but each morning they are collected into a herd . . . and driven forth to browse on the mountain. Their leaps and gambols among its rugged acclivities, are frequently entertaining; but the proofs which they give of docility and intelligence, are chiefly remarkable. They seem to have instinctively come under the military discipline that reigns throughout the garrison.

About sunrise, . . .goatherds set forth to collect them . . . The animals are found self-stationed at the doors of the little courts of their masters' dwellings,
where the docile creatures place themselves due season at the corners of the passages, and patiently wait for the coming up of the main body.

When it arrives, they drop in of their own accord, and move onward with the increasing mass . . Towards evening . . they form themselves again in battalion, and commence the line of march back to the garrison. The order and gravity they display in pacing their slow, homeward steps, and the quaint look of the motley herd as they are seen entering through the massive gates. . . are whimsical enough, especially in contrast with the objects around.


Goatherd on the Rock of Gibraltar  ( 1856 - Richard Ansdell )

Visit to Spain
Leaving the landport, I crossed the neutral ground on a causeway almost buried in sands, and stopped to admire the ingenious sluices, and other contrivances, by which the neck of the isthmus can be inundated in case of a future siege of Gibraltar.

A population of some hundreds is crowded in wooden houses erected on the neutral territory. They remain there only by sufferance. If there be danger to the garrison, or on any other pretext which may be thought good by the British commandant, the buildings must all be struck and removed, like so many tents, within the space of eight and forty hours.

A walk of a mile brought me to the Spanish frontier. It is composed of a line of low breastworks, dirty block houses, and decaying forts of no strength, and truly contemptible in appearance. The names of St Barbe and St Filippo, which designate the miserable works erected on either flank, are characteristic of the superstition of the people to whom they belong.

Here I found myself among groups of ill-clad, noisy soldiers, whose fierce air and scowling looks bespoke no encouraging welcome. However, they offered no molestation, though the lips of several muttered as I passed, an execration on the nation to which they naturally supposed that I belonged, and about which I took no pains to undeceive them; I mean Old England.

In truth, just at present, the grudge they bear the English is very strong; and it is blended, somewhat strangely, with a spirit of disaffection to their own government, on account of arrearages withheld from their small pay, and some other grievances of which they complain. . .

There was something so picturesque in the scenery around, that I frequently paused to admire it. The shore was beautifully curved. The waters of the bay were blue and tranquil. Algeziras with its white walls looked prettily enough in the foreground. On my right the face of the country was sufficiently broken and varied for the effect of landscape.

Gibraltar rose towering in the background. A few wayfarers occasionally passed in the peculiar garbs of Andalusia. The scene was enlivened in one quarter of the beach by a company of fishermen engaged in dragging their net ashore. It produced an unusual freight, if I might judge from their merry shouts, and other demonstrations of pleasure on hauling it to land.

As mentioned elsewhere the forts of 'Sta Barbe and San Folippo' - Sta Barbara and San Felipe - had recently been destroyed to avoid them being used during the Peninsular war.

San Roque
. . .The appearance of the town itself is pleasing on the exterior, but once entered the charm vanishes. It is found badly paved, the streets are narrow and dirty, and the houses with their heavy walls, and grated lower windows, look like so many small prisons.

The square was the only quarter of the town that betokened animation. It was occupied chiefly with military, none of them however on duty. Some of the soldiers were drinking on benches in the open air; some were playing at cards, or dice; some were asleep on the bare pavement, and others sauntering idly to and fro in the open square. The only object which claimed attention was the church. I hastily inspected it.


A fete in San Roque ( The Graphic )

St Roque, as well as Algeziras, was settled in the early part of the last century by Spaniards from Gibraltar, who were unwilling to remain under the dominion of the English. To attract refugees thither, certain municipal privileges were granted to both towns, but they are now, as they have long been, in a very languishing condition.

The Garrison
. . . .With whatever feelings of pride Englishmen at a distance may contemplate the possession of Gibraltar, those who serve on the station heartily detest it as a residence. Both officers and men, a large portion of whom have been here for several years, look upon it as a place of intolerable confinement. They drag out a monotonous existence, biting the chains they are compelled to wear, in other words, execrating the lot which dooms them to so dismal a scene of exile.

Bigelow was obviously not entirely content that he had managed to get his point across. Several paragraphs later he comes up with a similar dose;

. . . I speak understandingly of the disaffectedness of the military to Gibraltar particularly, as a place of residence. I have conversed with officers and privates, and all unite in execrations of the Rock. They look upon it as a vast prison. And truly their disgust seems not wholly unreasonable. For the few days which I have spent here are quite enough for my own contentment, and if they were to be multiplied into so many months or years, I know not how I could support the tediousness of such incarceration. . . .

The round of duties of today must be acted over tomorrow. They are for the most part mere military forms, which indeed arc of necessary observance, but yielding no variety, they are exceedingly wearisome. Parades are attended, drills practised, guards mounted with much the same dull uniformity that a mill-horse treads his plodding circuit.

All, in the intervals of duty, have abundance of leisure, and the very amusements devised for the employment of this, become by repetition, as insipid as the petty details of duty itself. There is a good garrison library open to the officers, but like the Alameda, it is little used, I mean by the generality, even for the purpose of an occasional lounge.

The arrival of a ship, particularly a mail packet, produces by the circulation of news a little stir upon the surface of things, like the ruffle of a transient breeze, but it soon subsides, and a dead sea calm once more prevails. A longing, wishful look may be cast on the receding sail; but the exile cannot move along with it, and he finds himself, like the victim fabled of old, still chained to a rock, with the vulture of ennui continuing to gnaw at his heart.


The Garrison Library on the left with various typically dressed locals  going about their business in Governor's Parade  ( 1834 - Frederick Leeds Edridge )

His rather dismissive comment about the 'good garrison library' curiously contradicts those of many other commentators who generally considered it to be one of the highlights of social and intellectual life on the Rock - at least for officers stationed on the Rock. His criticism about the sense of confinement for felt by everybody stationed in the Rock is quite valid although he forgets to mention that many a military men found a solution to the problem by being drunk most of the time.

Bigelow also offers an interesting aside - it is not just Gibraltar that peeves the British Tommy - he is also thoroughly disenchanted with the service itself. Some soldiers, he tells us, co0nfided that they were more than inclined to try for a better life in the United States of America.

In another lengthy passage Biglow mentions another source of discontent. Soldiers' wives in Gibraltar had serious problems when their husbands were posted elsewhere. Whether they and their children accompanied their husbands or not was determined by the drawing of lots. If they drew a blank lot they would be lucky if they ever saw their husbands again.

Literature
I have said nothing of the state of literature in the town generally. This topic, however, may be despatched in a few words. Literary tastes and pursuits seem quite foreign to the Rock. Of booksellers' shops, there is not one within the walls.

Here and there a shelf may be found in the corner of some miscellaneous warehouse, where a few dictionaries, hornbooks, classical readers, and copies of common prayer are kept, but nothing else. Occasionally, a novel, or the last poem, or a number of a review or magazine, straggles into the garrison, but even these are scarcely noticed.

There is a Commercial Library, it is true, but it was established, or certainly is retained, as a mere matter of form, — the books being 'wisely kept for show;' and the few residents who resort to it, are attracted thither by the newspapers which are spread daily upon the table. As for literature as a topic of conversation, it appears to be seldom introduced. In fine, however valuable Gibraltar may be as an emporium of other merchandise, the bibliopolists of Pater Noster Row, must find it a wretchedly poor mart for the disposal of their commodities.


The Commercial Library in Commercial Square   ( 1840s - Thomas Coleman Dibdin )

The Gibraltar Chronicle
There is a newspaper published here, but it does no great honour to Gibraltar. It is quite a Lilliputian curiosity, being printed on a small octavo demi-sheet, and serving up only some meagre British news taken from the ministerial mouth-piece, along with weekly lists of arrivals and departures of shipping.


The Gibraltar Chronicle in 1826 - 'a Lilliputian curiosity '

Politics
Gibraltar is only one vast citadel. All the interior arrangements affecting the civil classes of the population are regulated by, or are dependent on the will of the acting Governor, —always a veteran soldier,— or such subalterns as he shall employ. The police is military.

A town Major discharges the duties of Mayor, or intendant. A military surveillance, and, virtually, martial law reigns throughout. The inhabitants, politically, are only ciphers; yet, knowing the yoke to be inevitable, they quietly accommodate their necks to it, and make amends to themselves by the money which government liberally disburses among them, and the large sums which flow into the place through the channels of an extensive foreign commerce. . .

Does the British government derive advantages from the possession of the Rock at all comparable to the sums lavished upon it? It may be reasonably doubted. Gibraltar is by no means the key to the Mediterranean, I mean in the sense in which the expression is generally used. For it has never been necessary for an enemy to ask permission of entrance to that sea from the British authorities at Gibraltar.

The fleets of Spain and France in the late war passed and repasscd the Straits at their own pleasure. They were pursued, it is true, by British squadrons, but the Rock itself did not move an inch from its foundations, nor could it fling a single shot to arrest their passage. Had they entered the harbor indeed, they would have then come within the power of the fortress, but there was no need of that; and it must have required great pains for them to have put themselves in the reach of its fire at all.

In fact, Gibraltar alone no more commands the entrance of the sea, than the opposite rock of Ceuta. It is doubtless serviceable to the English as a place of depot for naval supplies; but they already have other stations for those objects in the Mediterranean. Besides, Portugal just outside the Straits, has its harbors ever open for British ships; and stores to any amount can there be obtained when wanted, quite as cheaply too as by the present policy of garnering them up for years in Gibraltar.


Congested shipping lanes in the Straits - not much Gibraltar could do to stop these ships  entering or leaving the Mediterranean  ( 1852 Vilhelm Melbye)

Leaving the Rock
On the whole, Gibraltar, aside from its military constructions, and the grand natural features . . . has not much to offer to interest a stranger. A day or two's observation of things is enough to satisfy him; and if his stay be much longer it becomes wearing.

How the inhabitants contrive, to live here from year to year, I scarcely know. The grace of contentment is what few of them, I believe, can lay any claim to. But with the military, the stern will of their superiors, and with the mercantile population the love of gain, are the master motives which bind them to a spot virtually as insulated and confining as a sejour on Pitcairn's island.

. . . Under the hospitable roof of Mr H—, I have passed a few flying hours, the remembrance of which will be ever cherished. Mr H. is a gentleman of great personal worth; and in addition to the pleasure of his society, the refined mind, engaging conversation and accomplished manners of Mrs H. — a lady who has moved in the choice circles of the metropolis of New England, — offered attractions to their house which could not but draw and rivet.

Mr. H was the American consul, Bernard Henry. Bigelow was quite lucky to have found him in town. Not long after this visit, Henry was thrown out of his job and cashiered for having spent too much time abroad - in fact he had more or less resided in England for most of his time as consul and had never bothered to notify his bosses.

Bigelow, of course, also did the usual obligatory tourist trail - the Galleries, Signal Station and the view, the 'grotto' of St. Michael's Cave, the massive fortifications, the Alameda - recently constructed as a place of recreation for the military but actually used more by the locals than by them. In many ways it was too beautiful for a place as 'grim' as Gibraltar.


The Alameda   ( 1846 - J.M.Carter  )

Later on in another context relating to the death of Thomas Hill senior partner of the merchant house of Messrs Hill and Blodget of both Gibraltar and Cadiz, Bigelow alludes to the effects on trade in Gibraltar of the opening of Cadiz as a free port.

Although pretty evidently no lover of Spain or the Spaniards his lengthy and well observed descriptions of the local populace are free of the usual anti-papist or anti-Semitic sentiments. His criticisms are muted and his strongest reservations are directed at the garrison - although he tends to agree with their main grievance and he was probably right - it must have been quite tedious to live in Gibraltar in the early 19th century.