The People of Gibraltar

1827 - Cyril Thornton by Thomas Hamilton - An Uncleanly Population

Thomas Hamilton, although born in Pisa, was a Scottish philosopher and author. He joined the army in 1810 and fought during the Peninsular War. He retired as Captain around 1815 and began to contribute articles to Blackwood Magazine where his military novel The Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton first appeared in 1827 and proved extremely popular and was probably required reading for British officers.

Thornton must have either been stationed in Gibraltar at some time or knew somebody who had as his descriptions of the place are too precise for pure invention. His sketches of well known characters such as General Charles O'Hara and the Duke of Kent, both of them Governors of Gibraltar and neither of which he probably ever met - are historically accurate and well written.

The quotes below focus on those chapters which refer to the eponymous Thornton's time as a lieutenant stationed on the Rock.

The Duke of Kent ( see LINK )
At the period of my arrival in Halifax, the Duke of Kent was Governor and Commander-in-Chief over Nov Scotia and its dependencies. Those who have ever served under his Royal highness, or who remember the mutiny which the severity of his discipline afterwards caused in Gibraltar, will easily understand how little the situation either of officer or soldier under his command, approached to the nature of a sinecure. 

The duties of the garrison were multiplied to such a degree as to become absolutely oppressive ; and when off duty, the men were harassed and exhausted by a course of drilling and field exercise, which no inclemency of the weather was suffered to interrupt. 

The Duke, too, like most officers who have seen little service, attached an overweening importance to matters of costume, and with an acuteness of observation altogether peculiar, could detect at a glance the smallest deviation from the established cut in a coat, or the unwarranted excess of a button in the gaiters ; outrages on military propriety which he never failed to visit with his severest displeasure. 

Duke of Kent ( George Dawe ) 

This short paragraph on Queen Victoria's father, the Duke of Kent, is a neat snap-shot description of the man who was universally reviled by his troops, first as a strict disciplinarian and finally as an insensitive martinet. However, although he was eventually made Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in North America, as far as I know he was never Governor of Nov Scotia.

What is true is that in 1802 the Duke was appointed Governor of Gibraltar replacing General O'Hara. He was recalled a year later and himself replaced by Sir Thomas Trigge. Although never directly stated in the novel, Cyril Thorton's stay in Gibraltar is probably supposed to have coincided with General O'Hara's last years of office up to and including his death and burial on the Rock.

Towards the end of spring we were ordered to Gibraltar. The regiment arrived to relieve us, and we embarked in the transports which had brought them to America. In a few days we sailed. Twilight was on the waters, when, having emerged with a fair breeze from the bay, we found ourselves on tin' open bosom of the Atlantic. With a feeling somewhat allied to regret, I watched the land till it disappeared in the darkness. In the morning it was no longer visible. . . . . 

It was about noon, that,  having entered the beautiful but insecure bay which forms the only harbour of that fortress, the sound of the dropping anchor gave notice, that all the perils of our voyage were at length past. 

Nothing, I think, can be more magnificently beautiful than Gibraltar, when seen from the sea. The rock itself, dark, grand and imposing, marking its fine outline on the upper sky - the huge craggy precipices, to which even the mountain-goat would fear to climb - the spots of sunny greenery, brighter by contrast with the barren rocks by which they are encircled - the houses embowered amid almond-trees and acacias, scattered over the mountain-side, and peeping forth in tranquil beauty from the summits of frowning cliffs, on the scene of wild grandeur out-spread above, beneath, and around them - these surely were features of surpassing beauty. 

Xebecs off Gibraltar ( 1830s - John Wilson Carmichael  )

But there were yet others. The high and massive walls, that rise from the sea, bristling with cannon, and beating back the roaring waves that break in harmless thunder on their base - the town, that stretches out along the narrow level and the lower slopes of the hill - not beautiful certainly, but with something about it of picturesque when viewed from a distance - the chambers hewn in the stupendous perpendicular rock, that commands the landward approach, as if the very mountain would launch forth its thunders, and pour down destruction on its assailants — add to all this the associations of siege and battle with which its history - nay, its very name, is indissolubly linked - remember that it is the prize for which kings have striven, and thousands - tens of thousands, bled on land and ocean, and you will gaze on Gibraltar, as I did, with admiration, blended, perhaps, with thoughts of higher cast and deeper birth. 

We were soon visited by the Pratique Master, who judged quarantine to be unnecessary, and Colonel Grimshawe went immediately ashore to report our arrival to the governor. On the following morning we landed, and were put in possession of very small and inconvenient barracks in the town. Our quarters were bad ; the apartments dark, dingy, and detestable, and surrounded on all sides by the unhealthy atmosphere of a crowded and uncleanly population. 

I know of no town in which so great a multitude of living beings are congregated within such narrow limits, as in Gibraltar. In the discordant elements of which it was composed, I found new matter of interest and observation. There, Turks, Jews, and Christians, men of all climates and all religions, were mingled in one heterogeneous mass -  led by one motive - bound but by one link, and animated by the pursuit of one object. 

In a society thus collected, there was not, and there could scarcely be expected, any general amalgamation of manners. There was not, and could not be, any common point of social union, beyond that arising from casual and temporary proximity, among people differing so widely in everything of thought and action, principle and observance. 

Each nation, in fact, formed a separate society within itself.  Englishmen consorted with Englishmen, and talked politics over Port and Madeira : the Greek, with his richly embroidered jacket and purple cap, and loosely flowing capote, daily met neck, without encountering " the tug of war:" the Moor, from the neighbouring coast of Barbary, delighted to waste his leisure hours in smoking and drinking Sherbet in a coterie of kindred barbarians : and the Jews, who constituted not the least numerous, and certainly the wealthiest part of the population, permitted neither Christian nor Mahomedan to become partners of their social communion. 

To all of these, there was but one rallying point- the Exchange. There men, of every shade of faith and colour, united in one common worship, and bent the knee to Mammon.

Exchange and commercial Library  ( 1840s  - Thomas Colman Dibdin )

In such a population as I have described, there was of course much to interest one whose curiosity like mine was unsated, and to whom that foreign world on which he had so recently entered was yet new. Gibraltar seemed a sort of Parliament in which every nation had its representative ; and precluded as I then was, both by my profession and the political state of Europe, from enjoying the advantages of foreign travel, I rejoiced in the means thus afforded of becoming acquainted with the manners and observances of many countries, which I knew it to be more than improbable that I should ever visit. 

Gibraltar is a good school for a young soldier. There I was initiated into all the disagreeable arcana of the garrison duty of an extensive and important fortress. Nothing could exceed the strictness with which even the minutest statutory regulation was enforced, nor the severity with which any breach of duty, however slight, was sure to be visited. 

At the period of our arrival the garrison was below its usual complement, and consisted only of three regiments. From this cause, the duty was more than usually severe. Every day, at least half the officers of the regiment were either on garrison or regimental duty, and the daily absence of so many of its members impaired, if it did not destroy, the usual spirit and hilarity of the mess. 

Before our arrival at Gibraltar, I had never mounted guard ; but as my health was good, and I never missed a tour of duty, before we left that garrison, few officers of my standing had mounted so many. And weary work they were. To be cut off for a day - a livelong day, from all society, with no engrossing subject to interest or occupy the thoughts - to become a sort of involuntary Robinson Crusoe for one-half of every week, was, to any one of my age and naturally high spirits, a penance of no ordinary magnitude. remember now the dull and heavy spirit of disgust with which I used to read my name when it appeared in orders for guard. The very names of these guards are to this hour imprinted on my memory, linked as of yore with all their weary associations of monotonous dullness. 

There was the Mole and the Ragged Staff, and the Land-Port, and the Water- Port, and the Queen's Lines, and Bayside, and Europa Point, and Europa Advance, and others which I hold at this moment at my pen's point, though I restrain my fingers. I declare, there is not a chair, or a table, or wooden trestle, in any one of the number, no scrap of writing on the wall or the window-panes, no break in the plaster, or fissure in the earthen floor - in these guard-rooms, that I could not recall at this moment, in its own individual form, lineament, and pressure. 

Europa Advance ( 1860s George Washington Wilson )

Gibraltar, however, possessed one advantage, of which few other garrisons can boast. There was an excellent library for the use of the officers, to the full benefit of which they were entitled by a trifling subscription. It contained, even at that period, many thousand volumes, and, in truth, constituted a very complete collection of British literature. 

Of the advantages it afforded I did not fail to profit ; and in the state of isolation from society in which I was placed by each rapid revolution of the adjutant's roster, my enforced solitude came like the toad, ugly and venomous ; yet not, perhaps, without a jewel in its head. 

Reading room - Garrison Library    1846 - J.M. Carter )

General O'Hara
It is impossible for me to recur to the period of my sojourn in Gibraltar, and yet to say nothing of the governor, General O'Hara. His appearance, indeed, was of that striking cast, which, when once seen, is not easily forgotten. General O'Hara was the most perfect specimen I ever saw of the soldier and courtier of the last age, and in his youth had fought with Granby and Ligonier. 

One could have sworn to it by his air and look - nay, by the very cut of his coat - the double row of sausage - curls that projected on either flank of his toupee- or the fashion of the huge military boots, which rivalled in size, but far outshone in lustre, those of a Dutch fisherman or French postilion. 

General Charles O'Hara    ( Christopher Bryant )

Never had he changed for a more modern covering the Kevenhuller hat which had been the fashion of his youth. There it was, in shape precisely that of an equilateral triangle, placed with mathematical precision on the head, somewhat elevated behind, and sloping in an unvarying angle downwards to the eyes, surmounted by a long stiff feather rising from a large rosette of black riband on the dexter side. This was the last of the Kevenhullers ; it died, and was buried with the Governor . . 

Notwithstanding the strictness of the discipline which he scrupulously enforced in the garrison which he commanded, no officer could he more universally popular than General O'Hara. In person he had been - and, though somewhat bent by years, even then was remarkably handsome. 

His life had been divided between the camp and the court, and be had been distinguished in both. he was a bachelor, and had always been noted as a man : too gay a man, perhaps, to have ever thought of narrowing his liberty by the imposition of the trammels of wedlock. General O'Hara had always moved in the very highest circles of society at home; and, notwithstanding an office of considerable emolument which, I believe, he held in the Royal Household, had dissipated his private fortune, and become deeply involved in his circumstances. 

It was this cause alone which had induced him, late in life, to submit to the banishment - peculiarly disagreeable to a man of his habits - attached to the acceptance of the chief command at Gibraltar. 

The General was a bon vivant, an unrivalled boon companion, one to whom society was as necessary as the air he breathed.  He never dined alone, and his hospitality was extended to every rank of the officers in the garrison. In his own house, and, 
above all, at his own table, he delighted to cast off all distinction of rank, and to associate, on terms of perfect equality, with even the humblest of his guests. The honours of the table were done by his staff, and the General was in nothing distinguished from those around him, except by being undoubtedly the gayest and most agreeable person in the company. 

It was impossible that one, who had spent a long life in the highest and most distinguished circles of society in England, should be unfurnished with an abundant store of interesting and amusing anecdote ; and, in truth, anecdote telling was at once his forte and his foible. His forte, because he did it well - his foible, for, sooth to say, he was sometimes given to carry it into something of excess. 

He would entertain his guests by the hour, with the scandalous tittle-tattle which had been circulated at court or the club-houses some thirty years before, and did more than hint at his own bonnes fortunes among the celebrated beauties of the British court, and the Bona-Robas of France, Italy, and Spain. He sang too - and beautifully. I have seldom heard a finer voice, or one more skilfully managed. 

Such was General O'Hara, or, as he was more commonly designated, the " Old Cock of the Rock ; " and no man certainly could be more respected for his rigid yet lenient (for these epithets are far from incompatible) discharge of his military duties, or more beloved for his engaging qualities as a social companion. 

Eliott in a Kevenhuller hat. The caricature pokes fun the hero at the Great Siege as losing both his touch and his ability to see the problems surrounding him during his last stint as Governor. The Cock of the Rock reference compares him to O'Hara.

For myself, during my sojourn in Gibraltar, I was much indebted to his kindness. The General had been intimately acquainted with my grandfather, who had passed his life in the unprofitable pursuit of court favour. My father he had likewise known in the blossom of his early prosperity, which, alas ! was never destined to ripen into fruit. 

He spoke of both kindly, gave me a general invitation to his table, and was lavish of those petty attentions which cost little to the giver, but which, coming from a person of his station and dignity, are always felt to be flattering by one so far his inferior in age and rank. 

Having said thus much of General O'Hara, I would yet say something more, and tell the reader that, before we quitted Gibraltar, he died. There was no hypocrisy in the heavy looks of the soldiers, as they followed his remains to their last earthly tenement. He was, of course, buried with all the military honours due to his high rank. I had never before seen the funeral of a general officer. 

There was his horse — the well- known charger on which we had all so often seen him mounted — bearing the boots and spurs of his departed master; on the coffin, likewise, lay other mournful insignia - the sword, the sash, and - not the least prominent memorial in the group — the Kevenhuller bat and its tall unbending feather. There I gazed on it for the last time. 

The ceremony was altogether very impressive. The troops marched slowly with arms reversed; the report of minute guns was heard from the bastion, and the colours were displayed half-mast high by all the ships in the bay. When the body had been consigned to the vault, and the service was concluded, loud and successive peals of artillery were heard to reverberate from rock to ocean - the anthem best fitted to grace the obsequies of a gallant soldier. 

The Locals
It is not - or at least was not - the fashion in Gibraltar, for the military to maintain much intercourse with the mercantile part of the population. From the character of the place as an important military fortress, it was necessary that the latter should be in a degree subject to military regulation, and submit to certain restrictions on their freedom, both of action and motion, which could not fail to prove occasionally galling and unpleasant. 

It therefore frequently happened, that an officer, in the discharge of his duty, was brought into very disagreeable collision with the inhabitants of the town. No civilian, for instance, alter dark, was allowed to approach any sentinel, or military post, without a lantern, and any person infringing this order was liable to be seized and conveyed a prisoner to the nearest guard-house. 

The alternative in question frequently happened : and the roughness of treatment which the inhabitants sometimes experienced from the soldiers, created a degree of enmity, which even the subsequent civility of the officer, in case - which was not always - he was in the humour to be civil, did not uniformly prove successful in appeasing. 

Gossiping Locals  - Gibraltar ( The Graphic Magazine )

I remember being on guard, when a whole party of ladies and gentlemen were apprehended on their return from a ball, and brought prisoners before me. Loud and indignant were they in their invectives against the rude and tyrannical regulations, by which they had been subjected to so unpleasant a procedure, and most happy was I to regain the solitude of my guard-room, tiding home the vociferous and irate party under charge of a corporal, to prevent their encountering any further obstruction on their route. 

Such causes will naturally account for the little intercourse, and the no little dislike, which existed between the military and the English Oppidans of the place. With foreigners the case was different. They came without the same proud feelings of liberty which animated our countrymen, and they knew from experience, that the strictness of observance required in Gibraltar was little, if at all, more severe than that enforced in every garrison town. 

Our intercourse with them, therefore, was impeded by fewer obstacles, and I still enjoyed the advantage of gleaning, from intelligent foreigners, such information as they could afford. 

Hamet Sherkin
As I write, a name long forgotten has started to my lips, and fain would flow from my pen. Hamet Sherkin ! Honest Hamet ! The clouds of oblivion in which thy name and memory have so long been shrouded, fade again from around thee, and I once more behold thee in thy pristine and well-known lineaments. 

There, right opposite, is thy pleasant, bearded, and mahogany-coloured visage, gazing on me from beneath thy turban of white muslin, and surmounting thy tall brawny figure, clad in a tastefully embroidered jacket of purple, waistcoat of bright scarlet velvet, and thy lower man buried in white calico trowsers of superhuman dimensions, which suddenly collapse, and terminate at the knee. 

Lower still are thy legs — and such legs ! Most sinewy and herculean supporters were they of thy robust frame, modelled in fine proportion, and shining forth, undegraded by a stocking, in their native complexion, something between copper colour and nankeen. Such do I see thee even now. Whether thou still livest, or the grave has closed over thee, I know not ; but as the last act of kind and friendly remembrance, I would embody thy name and lineaments in these memoirs. 

Moorish coffee house clients

Thou indeed wilt never read them, and their memory may be as shortlived as thine own. It matters not; even in this fragile record shalt thou stand enrolled among my friends. 
Hamet Sherkin was a Moor, born somewhere in the neighbourhood of Algiers. He was a merchant, had traded to Bagdad and Aleppo, and, with his fleet of " desert ships," had voyaged to " Ormus and Tydore." By his speculations he had early in life amassed a large fortune, with which he returned to his native land. 

His wealth excited the cupidity of the emperor, who, on pretence of some political offence, had issued summary orders for his decapitation. Hamet had fortunately obtained some previous intelligence of these beneficent intentions of his gracious master ; and though by flight he lost one-half of his worldly substance, yet wisely judging that no economy could be judicious which involved the loss of his head, he at once adopted the alternative, however unpleasant, and succeeded in escaping on board of an English man-of-war then cruising in the offing. 

Thus banished from his native land, Hamet had become a sort of citizen of the world, travelling and trafficking from shore to shore, sojourning in all lands, affiliating in none. The Moors are the only dealers in Gibraltar from whom you can depend on getting genuine Havannah cigars. It was in our respective capacities of vender and purchaser of cigars that the acquaintance of Hamet and myself had its commencement. It struck mc there was something fair, open, and even generous in his mode of dealing, very different from the fraudulent extortion which his countrymen generally display in their transactions with foreigners. 

There was, too, an expression of good-nature and intelligence on his countenance, which strongly prejudiced me in his favour. In all my small dealings thenceforth I resorted to Hamet Sherkin, and whatever I happened to want which he did not himself possess, he procured for me on more favourable terms than I could otherwise have obtained it . . . . 

The Moorish Market in Gibraltar

There was one scene in which Hamet played a conspicuous part, and from which a coolness of some duration between Colonel Grimshawe and myself took its origin. The day had been fixed for an entertainment of more than common splendour at the mess. The governor - the general next in command - the admiral - the naval commissioner - a young nobleman on his travels, and several other personages of more than ordinary calibre and consequence, were to grace our festivities with their presence. 

Of course, it was tacitly expected and understood, that the guests invited by the individual officers, to meet, so distinguished a party, should be of some rank and prominence in society. Whether, under such circumstances, it proceeded from want of tact, or from mere wanton negligence of rule on my part, at this distance of time it would boot little to decide; hut it is at least true in fact, that an invitation to dinner on that day was sent to my friend Hamet Sherkin. 

To this an answer from Hamet was duly received, in which he swore by the beard of Mahomet that he would not fail to gratify me by his presence at the appointed time. The day came, and with it the expected congregation of official dignity, for whose suitable reception splendid preparation had been made. 

With it, too, came Hamet Sherkin, in clean turban and splendidly embroidered jacket, according to the fashion of the best circles in Barbary, but with bare legs and yellow morocco slippers, which, being slipshod, displayed rather more of a broad horny heel than a nice and critical eye might have found pleasure in surveying. On the entrance of my barbaric friend, I observed the eye of Colonel Grimshawe to lower in offended dignity ; and when I proceeded to present Hamet as my guest on the occasion, he declined the proffered introduction by turning rapidly on his heel. 

However I might be affected by the awkwardness of such a reception, Hamet neither displayed nor felt the smallest portion of 'mauvaise honte', and joined in the good-humoured laugh that went round the assembly on his appearance, with the most enviable unconsciousness of its being excited by himself. What reason, indeed, was there, why honest Hamet, rich in true nobility of spirit, should have felt humbled or abashed in such a party? 

He knew — or at least might have known — that in power and grasp of intellect he was inferior to none of those around him ; while he felt, and could not but feel, the consciousness, that by a single blow of his sinewy and powerful arm, he could have levelled any one of the assembly, from the general to the lowest ensign, prostrate in the dust. 

At length dinner was announced, and the guests paced forth into the hall in due order and solemnity, and with the most precise regard to claims of precedence. The seat allotted to Hamet was, of course, next to that of his entertainer, and none but Theodore Hook can fully understand my discomfiture, when I beheld him, instead of conforming to the sedentary habits of the Europeans, seat himself on his chair cross-legged, like a tailor. 

This unlooked-for circumstance occasioned considerable derangement of the gravity and decorum of the entertainment. The younger part of the company laughed outright, while it was impossible even for their seniors to repress a smile. 

Unluckily, the eccentricities of Hamet did not rest here. The European fashion of knives and forks had not yet spread into Barbary; and, notwithstanding my anxious recommendation of these utensils to the notice of my guest, I could by no means prevail on him to avail himself of the facilities which these unwonted implements might have afforded. 

Nothing, indeed, could be more primitive than his mode of eating. His fingers made rapid and frequent voyages from his plate to his gullet, and whole platefuls of hash or harico disappeared with a velocity which it might have puzzled the most expert "Furcifer" to excel. 

Moorish merchants in Gibraltar

The leg of a chicken, drawn through a double row of grinders, which evidently stood in no need of the skill of the Chevalier Ruspini*, became instantaneously denuded of all esculent matter, and was returned a mere skeleton to his plate. Sooth to say, however, the appetite of Harriet being more than usually miscellaneous, his hands, after half an hour's continued dabbling among sweets and solids, became objects neither very gracious to the eye or the fancy ; and it was not till the appearance of finger-glasses with the dessert, that he enjoyed an opportunity of even an imperfect ablution. 

The total disregard of established routine which Hamet had displayed throughout the entertainment, set gravity and form at defiance. Never was there, to all external appearance, a merrier party assembled round a table, and Hamet was the cynosure of every eye. His name, too, was heard simultaneously reverberated by many voices.

' Mr Sherkin, a glass of wine?'
' Thornton, the pleasure of wine with you and your friend Sherkin ?'
' Hamet Sherkin, do me the honour?'
 ' Thornton, wine with your Oriental friend ?"
' Happy to take a glass of champagne with the worthy African on your right,'

- rung loudly and confusedly through the apartment, and all other sounds were drowned in the hilarious uproar. The prevailing epidemic spread even to the servants, who, though they were too prudent to incur the certainty of a broken head, by indulging in a laugh, yet might be seen discharging their ministerial duties, with countenances relaxed into a grin, which neither the awful presence of the governor, nor even the more awful terrors of Colonel Grimshawe's eye. were adequate to repress. 

With the removal of the dinner the encroachments on the programme of the entertainment did not cease, and the regular succession of loyal toasts was interrupted by one of the younger officers, who. after an appropriate prefatory speech, proposed the health of Hamet in a bumper, with all the honours. 

Never was any toast more loudly applauded ; in short, Hamet Sherkin was the lion of the night, and governors, and admirals, dockyard commissioners, and other puissant official dignitaries, were, in the eye and thoughts of all, but secondary personages. 

The governor was far from feeling offended at this infringement of decorum, of which I had been the unthinking, if not the innocent cause. He enjoyed the party not the less that everyone around him appeared happy and at their ease. But it was 
not so with Colonel Grimshawe. 

On the following day he assembled the officers, and in a speech which dealt not leniently with my offence, in having caused the unwelcome intrusion of an improper person on so great an occasion, he proposed, that hence-forward, on all great regimental entertainments, no individual should be invited, whose name and pretensions had not previously been approved of by a committee. 

This proposal, however, the younger part of the corps considered as narrowing in an unreasonable degree their liberty and privileges, and when put to the vote, it was negatived by a considerable majority. For myself, I regretted to think that I had been the cause of spreading even temporary dissension in a regiment always distinguished for the harmony and good fellowship of its members. The evil, however, did not last ; but there remained a coolness between Colonel Grimshawe and myself, which long prevented any friendly intercourse between us. 

The most curious thing about this tale is that the author - the epitome of the British upper class snob of his era with an aristocrat's disdain for democracy - should have imagined such an event. Hamilton would not have been seen dead hobnobbing with a Moor - however rich. In fact is probably true to say that in the entire 19th century history of the Governor's residence at the Convent - the place where the meal took place - not a single Moorish resident of the Rock was ever invited in - far less to dine with the officers and ladies of the garrison.

That the Governor, various admirals, dockyard commissioners, officers and other dignitaries - upper class Britons to a man - would have been amused is hard to believe. They would have thrown him out before he got to the stage of sitting down 'cross-legged like a tailor.' He would have been thrown him out long.
Nevertheless , the story of Hamet is probably one of the reason why such a relatively inane book should have proved so popular at the time. Those young officers reading about it may have felt a comforting sense of schadenfreude knowing full well it would never happen in real life.

Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini - A well-known 18th century dentist and surgeon extracting teeth.

Life of an officer on the Rock
A summer and a winter passed away, and we were still tenants of the Rock. During this interval, nothing had occurred to break the ordinary and monotonous routine of a garrison town. But Gibraltar, dull as we thought it, was not without its amusements. 

We boated, cricketed, and rode horse-races ; during the carnival there were masquerades, and once a-week a ball was given at the Government House, to which all the officers had the privilege of entrĂ©. To excursions on the water I was particularly partial, and though an unskilful, I was an ardent sailor. 

Often by daybreak were we abroad in our little yacht, cutting through the green waters of the bay, or stemming the current of the Straits, or stretching onward into the Mediterranean, till the grey twilight was gone, and the curtain of darkness was again spread upon the deep. Sometimes we crossed to Ceuta or Tangiers, at others lay along the Spanish coast to Tarifa, and once on a more extended excursion we visited Malaga, and amid the gayeties of that city, spent several pleasant days. In this manner did we endeavour, not always unsuccessfully, to tip with feathers the leaden wings of time . . .

Yellow Fever ( see LINK )
Such were the months of August and September in that memorable year: October came, and apparently with better auspices . . . It was at this period, and under these apparently favourable circumstances, that the most fatal scourge of humanity, the yellow fever, made its appearance in the town,  came unknown and in silence, nor was it till many of the inhabitants had fallen its victims, that the medical officers of the garrison became aware of its approach. 

Every measure of safety or precaution was instantly resorted to, but in vain. Its progress would not be arrested, and the unshackled pestilence spread through the narrow streets and crowded houses, like a destroying angel, conquering and to conquer. 

It is impossible to conceive a spot better fitted for the dissemination of infectious disease than Gibraltar. Had the town been doubled in extent, it could scarcely have afforded sufficient accommodation to the numbers which were even then crowded within its narrow limits. The rent demanded for the smallest house in Gibraltar equalled that of a splendid mansion in London. 

The consequence of course was, that a domicile which could afford comfortable accommodation for one family, became the residence of many; nor was it an uncommon circumstance that fifty, or even an hundred individuals, were congregated beneath a single roof. 

The great proportion of these were foreigners ; and when we consider how little attention was necessarily paid to cleanliness in such dwellings, the unhealthy atmosphere in which their inmates were condemned to live and breathe, we shall not feel surprised that all human endeavours to arrest the progress of the pestilence were in vain. 

I had been in such houses. In an apartment scarcely the size of an ordinary English bedroom, I had beheld the accommodation of twenty human beings, where, stretched upon a mat or carpet, they every night, even in the hottest season, retired to rest. In such hives of men, when fever once appeared, it of course spread like wild-fire ;there the arm of death was raised to strike - Who could prevent its falling ? 

Weeks passed, and the fever-demon continued to stalk onward in his course, nor would stay his step even for a moment. The disease spread on all hands; the Lazarettos were filled, and the number of deaths increased till it exceeded an hundred a-day. 

Lazarettos overlooking the Innundation ( Joseph Ballester )

Our regiment were stationed in the town, but no time was lost in removing us from the focus of infection, and we went into camp on a very elevated part of the hill, which gave promise of exemption from the disease raging below, in the healthy freshness of its atmosphere. 

Had it been possible, indeed, to cut off all communication with the town, it is probable this promise might have been fulfilled. But the military duty of the place required the presence of soldiers, and it was necessary that every day a certain proportion should descend into what might almost, without poetical figure, be called 'the Valley of the Shadow of Death.' 

Under such circumstances, it was scarcely to be expected that we should pass through the arrowy shower safe and unstricken ; several of the soldiers caught the infection, and there was fever in the camp. The disease, whose ravages till then we had regarded with a sort of disinterested compassion, now came home to the business and bosoms of us all, and brought with it a sense of helplessness and depression, even now painful to remember. 

Men, who have since proved themselves incapable of shrinking from death in the field, shook with the terrors of this new and terrible assailant, and would gladly have fled from a contest which cost the vanquished life, but brought no honour to the victor. 

I have always had an almost morbid dread of fever. In its slow and silent approach — in the sudden and dreadful gripe with which it seizes on the very life-springs — in the entire prostration of strength with which it is accompanied - in the fearful tempest of delirium with which the spirit is at once cast down and overwhelmed - in the horrid nightmare of the soul, the visionary yet dreadful phantoms that hover round the pillow of the sufferer - in all these things, I have ever found matter of deep and unconquerable fear. . . 

Deep gloom hung on us all. Melancholy was the daily meeting at the mess : for we had only to recount the still advancing progress of the pestilence, or the name of some companion who since yesterday had fallen its victim. But worse than all was it when called by duty to descend into the town ; - to see the streets desolate and deserted - to hear, as we passed the closed dwellings, the loud and terrible shrieks of some delirious sufferer within ; and then the horn that gave signal of the approach of the dead-cart, as it slowly rolled onwards in its dismal circuit ! Never has its wild dissonance passed from my ear - never, I believe, shall it utterly pass away and be forgotten. 

Many of the Europeans, on the first appearance of the fever, had quitted the town, and taken up their residence at Algeciras or St Roque, or gone on board of the ships in the bay. This, however, could not continue. The Spaniards formed a cordon a few miles distant from the fortress, in order to prevent communication with the interior, and all avenue of escape from the danger was at once closed. 

The disease soon spread its havoc among the shipping, and the deep daily yawned over a new accession of its victims. There was death alike upon the land and the waters. In the camp, too, he was busy : and in the course of about three weeks, we had lost five officers and above an hundred men . . . . 

The pestilence, which had hitherto despised the feeble efforts of man to obstruct its progress, was at length arrested by the hand of God. With no external or visible cause to produce a change in its character or consequences, when it was already raging in its fury, and even hope was wavering in the stoutest heart, a sudden relaxation of its power became apparent. 

From that hour its gripe was loosened ; day after day its victims were diminished in number, and in a few weeks all traces of its former ravages were to be found only in the grave. Then, as if a vast and overwhelming pressure had been removed, there was a sudden revulsion of our spirits, a rebounding of the heart so powerful and extraordinary, as to seem almost allied to madness. 

The lips on which no smile had been seen for months, now gave utterance to sounds of wild merriment, and downcast and heavy eyes were lighted up with more than their original gladness. Each individual felt as if he himself had been preserved from death by a miraculous interposition of Providence. Never at mess had I seen the wine-cup filled so high, nor heard the wild revelry of light and jovial hearts echoed so loudly and so long. . . .

After this, we did not long remain in Gibraltar. An order came for our return to England, and our hearts beat high in the near prospect of once more revisiting our native land.

This account must refer to the first epidemic of 1804 making it slightly anachronistic as neither O'Hara not the Duke of Kent were governors at the time. It was the Duke's replacement, General Trigge who was left to try and cope with the impossible situation. Nevertheless Hamilton's descriptions tally with those of other firsthand witnesses.