The People of Gibraltar
1842 - Charles Rockwell - The Crime of Infanticide

According to the American Sailor's Magazine, the Rev Charles Rockwell was appointed the Seaman's Chaplain at the port of Marseilles in 1835. A year later he left for the post on board the  U.S. frigate Potomac but - for some unkown reason - suddenly had a change of heart and decided not to stay in Marseilles. Instead he became the Chaplain to the Potomac.

U.S. frigate Potomac

His two volume opus - Sketches of Foreign Travel and Life at Sea - includes his thoughts on Spain, Portugal, The South of France, Italy, Sicily, Malta, The Ionian Islands, Continental Greece, Liberia, and - rather surprisingly - Brazil. He also managed to slip in his experiences on board a man-of-war and a treatise on the United States Navy.

He was a man of strong moral opinions and 'lamented the shameful drunken conduct of our sailors in foreign ports and reported that the balance of punishments on shipboard for drunkenness and other crimes were seven to one against whisky drinkers.' Luckily, his impressions of Spain include a chapter on Gibraltar from which the following quotes have been taken;

Before any of us left the, ship, a health officer came along side in a boat, and having satisfied himself that we had no contagious disease on board, we were admitted to prattique; that is, we were permitted freely to visit the shore. I eagerly seized the opportunity offered, of leaving the ship in the first boat which left, in company with some officers, who were sent to wait on our Consul, Mr. Sprague, ( see LINK ) and invite him on board.

There are two places for landing. The Water Port, where the shipping business is done, is at the north end of the town. The Ragged Staff, where naval and other military officers land, is just south of the town. There we went on shore and I need not say, that my feelings were highly excited when I first placed my feet on European ground, and not the less so, from doing it at a place of so much natural and historic interest, as the Rock of Gibraltar. . . 

The Rock from Spain ( 1850s - Unknown )

First Impressions
The town of Gibraltar lies near the northern extremity of the rock. Next south of this, are the parade ground and public garden; and still further south is point Europa, where many of the officers of the garrison reside, and having more the appearance of an English than of a Spanish town.

The western declivity of the rock is mostly covered with loose, broken fragments of limestone, among which herds of goats clamber about, feeding on the numerous wild shrubs and plants which grow there. The eastern side, which descends to the Mediterranean, and the southern end, are mostly precipitous cliffs. 

Goatherd - Looking Across the Straits of Gibraltar   ( 1856 - Richard Ansdell )

As we passed on through the town, we met officers and soldiers at every turn, with all that neatness of dress, and precision of movement, for which the English military are so much noted. The walls along the water side, and the whole surface of the mountain around, are bristling with cannon while others, in long, dark rows, are looking out from galleries, which have been blasted from the solid rock, one thousand feet above the level of the sea.

We passed through  a gate in the massive wall, erected by the Emperor Charles the Fifth, parallel to which is another, of more modern construction, both extending from the water to the summit of the rock. ( see LINK ) There is much in the general appearance of Gibraltar to remind one of Quebec, though the fortifications and natural scenery are on a much more grand and imposing scale, than in the Canadian city.

Among the crowded and indolent population of southern Europe, it is always easy to obtain guides to go with you wherever you please, and you are lucky indeed, if, when you wish for one, you do not get half a dozen, all of whom expect a reward for their services.

To secure employment, they will pretend to know people and places, though entirely ignorant of them, and hence will only mislead you. Thus was it, at first, with us, but at length we reached the Consul's house. It is spacious, and in fine style, and Mr. Sprague and his intelligent and interesting family make all Americans who visit them, entirely at home  . . .

. . . At sunset on the day of our arrival at Gibraltar, I was standing in the Alameda, in front the beautiful pavilion there and near the monument to Lord Wellington. Behind me was the lofty rock, and around were a thousand various plants and shrubs  . . . . By my side was standings Scottish soldier, to whom the waving plumes, and the tartan kilt of his native land, gave wild and singular appearance. 

Scottish soldiers in Gibraltar   ( Detail - Jose Maria Escacena y Daza )

The People
On sallying forth to inspect the town, everything seemed new and strange to me indeed. How singular was it to hear even the little children in the street prattling in an unknown tongue. And, oh ! what a jargon of confused sounds greeted my ears. A motley tribe of the builders of Babel, each anxious to display, to the utmost, his new-caught dialect, could hardly have equalled the lingo around me. But this was nothing to the varieties of dress, costume, and manners, which everywhere met the eye.

In a strange city, the public market-place, and the street where most business is done, are commonly the first that I visit. In these places, one meets with the greatest concourse of people, and the striking varieties of character are seen in boldest relief, in connexion with the sharp collision which takes place, where money is at stake. 

Entrance to the Market Place   ( 1880s Unknown )

Gibraltar, from the various wants of its inhabitants, - dependent as they are, even for their garden vegetable, on the neighbouring ports of Spain and Africa, - from its being a free port, and the extensive smuggling trade carried on from thence into Spain, and from being a point where so much commerce, from all parts of the world, passes, and where, owing to the narrowness of the straits, and the strong inward current, ships, in large numbers, are often wind bound,- from these, and other causes, Gibraltar collects a greater variety of foreigners than almost any other port, aside from its own motley mass of inhabitants . . .

A curious theory as to why visitors to Gibraltar were always struck by the innumerable different nationalities and cultures on display in Main Street and elsewhere. Up to a point it explains why most visitors concentrated their attention on these rather than the less exotic - not to say rather more dingy looking - long term residents of the place.

Owing to the narrow limits of the place, too, those who meet there, are thrown so compactly together, as to present, at a single glance, a kind of living panorama of the world, not unlike (in the varieties of men to be met with) the grand and varied exhibition of the brute creation, in that floating menagerie,  Noah's Ark.

There is the haughty English officer, living, with all his pomp and power, a floating, vagabondish kind of life. Then come those, man-machines, the soldiers, stuffed, and padded in legal form and size, starched, and stiff as a maypole, slaves to martial rule, with no power of thought or action, which accords not with their commander's will. 

'Haughty' English Officers  ( 1840s - Unknown )

The sober Dutchman, with his pipe, - the reckless and jolly Irishman, rolling off his brogue, - the Frenchman, with limber neck and tongue more limber still,- the shrewd and active Genoese, the Yankees of Italy, - the dark and wily Sicilian, cringing and deceitful, - the well-formed and athletic Greek, intent on gain, and yet, with his eastern costume, and his free and independent bearing, conspicuous among the rest . . .

The Spaniards
Spaniards, with their dark faces, and still darker eyes; some, with their steeple-crowned sombreros decked with beads and tassels; others, with savage, haggard faces, with loose, leather leggings and long, red caps hanging, down their backs, giving them a kind of cutthroat look. . .

The Moors
. . .the haughty indolent Moor, tall and gaunt, and with his bag-breeches and full topped turban, stalking along, as if monarch of all he surveys, and laughing to scorn, the poor deluded infidels around him . . .

Main Street Gibraltar

The Jews
 . . .and last and lowest in the scale of degradation and oppression, the poor Jews, who seem to have exhausted, to the very dregs, the cup of cursing and bitterness given them in answer to that awful invocation, - 'His blood be on us and on our children.'

Some of them, indeed are rich and dress in the English style but most of them are  . .  'hewers and drawers of water, or rather are beasts of burden to the Gentiles around them . . . they are employed as porters, and for the most menial services. They are descendents of those who were driven from Spain and Portugal in the time of Ferdinand and Isabel. . .

The lower classes of them move about the streets, abject and with a filthy dress, bearing every kind of burden, or selling fruit, and other articles of small value. They wear large bag-breeches, open at the bottom, and reaching but little below the knee. The calf of the leg and ankle are bare, while for an upper garment, they have a loose shirt . . . with a hood . . These garments are made of dark coarse cloth, which is often striped, like bed-ticking. They have the common Jewish look, save that their faces are very lean and thin, and their eyes peculiarly large and ghastly. . . .

With one of the . . . Rabbis I went to the principal synagogue ( beside which they have three others ) . . . . It was the morning of their Sabbath . . . the Rabbi that was with me called in three or four of his brethren with whom I spent some time . . . 

They unlocked the cases where were their parchment scrolls with silver mountings, and enclosed with tapestry. They also showed me their various books. Most of these were from Germany and printed with the vowel points. They also had a copy of Levy's Hebrew prayers, with an English translation, in six large, octavo volumes, apparently the same edition which is met with in the public libraries in the United States. In reading Hebrew with them, the only difference of manner between us, arose from their giving the Spanish, instead of the English, sound to some of the vowels.

Perhaps one of the fullest accounts of the Jewish residents of the Rock in the mid 19th century. Despite the generally unflattering tone Rockwell does seem to have a certain sympathy for them - something so often lacking in descriptions by other authors.

The Head Clerk
In the evening the moon shone with uncommon splendor, and the streets were full of life and motion. While passing by a barber's shop, I heard someone say camphor, — camphor, said another, spelling it promptly. The same was done with other words.

It was truly delightful, amid the jargon of foreign languages, to hear one's mother tongue, and that, too, used in a way which revived so freshly the recollections of my School-boy days. There, thought I, is someone who is doing good, and I could not resist the impulse which I felt to see him.

He was about thirty years of age, genteelly dressed, and was, as he told me, the head clerk in a large commercial house. Before him was standing a bright, black-eyed Spanish boy, about twelve years old, who was a poor orphan, and to whose instruction this gentleman devoted an hour every  evening. This fact was a sufficient passport to my confidence, and I found him a very useful and intelligent friend.

Signal Station and O'Hara's Folly
When first ascending the rock of Gibraltar, I fell in with one of the officers . . . with a party of English gentlemen and ladies of rank, mounted on the rough but sure-footed nags used for these mountain excursions.

Led on by our Jewish guides, — all of us enjoying, with peculiar zest, the exciting scenes around, and rivalling each other in deeds of daring, to secure the fairest wild flowers which projected from the beetling cliffs, our excursion was one of most delightful interest. It was one of those bright and sunny hours of life, on which, gilded as they are with the mingled light of romance and of poetry, we ever delight to look back . . .

The Signal House is at one of the lowest points of the ridge which forms the summit of the rock. It is occupied by a sergeant and his family, who have refreshments for visitors, and raise signals when vessels approach. A cannon is also fired there at sundown, when the gates of the town are closed, the drawbridges raised, and there is no entering or leaving Gibraltar until the sunrise gun is heard the next morning.

Farther south is a solitary guard-house, where a number of soldiers were killed by lightning, and which was therefore abandoned. At the extreme southern point of the rock is a round tower of stone, called O'Hara's Folly.

Upper footpath between Signal Station - in the distance - and O'Hara's Folly - not shown. The 'solitary guard-house' in which the soldiers were killed by lightening is in the centre of the picture  ( 1828 - H. A. West )

The population of Gibraltar is not permitted to exceed given limits, because in case of a siege it is desirable, that there should be no unnecessary draught on the provisions of the place, and also because destructive diseases have sometimes originated there from the too great density of the population.

There is, however, a law, that any officer above a given grade may introduce there a single individual, by becoming responsible for the good behaviour of the person thus introduced. A gentleman there informed me, that wishing to secure admission for a pious and worthy old seaman, who had long been a petty officer in the British navy, he applied to a friend of his, an officer in the army, to aid him in the case.

The officer, on applying to the commanding officer of the town, was told, that the only object of the law in question was to enable officers in the army to introduce each one a mistress from Spain, and that, therefore, his request could not be granted.

Such are some of the evils of military life, as they exist in time of peace. The result of this general licentiousness, in places like Gibraltar, where no provision is made for foundlings, is the not infrequent occurrence of the crime of infanticide.

In the 19th century, the top brass of the British military establishment quietly either approved of prostitution or thought of it as something that that had to be put up with. The assumption was that the lower ranks were of low intellectual ability yet highly sexed - they needed to release their frustrations at regular intervals if moral were not to suffer. Because of this all British garrisons would inevitable have an appropriate number of brothels with sufficient women to service the men. Gibraltar was no exception.

Victorian double standards as regards the sexual mores of the officer class were obviously already well in place on the Rock. The perfect and far more decorous alternative to visiting a brothel was to import a mistress from Spain.

Serruya's Ramp and Serruya's Lane - Red light district of Gibraltar in the 19th century   ( V.B. Cumbo )