The People of Gibraltar

1846 – E.F. Kelaart – Idle Propensities and Loitering Habits

Horato Sprague and Francis Francia

Edward Frederic Kelaart was born in Ceylon in 1819. He served as a surgeon in the British Army in England, Ceylon and Gibraltar. He was also an amateur physicist and naturalist. His book - Flora Calpense - was published in 1846 was the product of a two year stay in Gibraltar as Army Surgeon. 

Not surprisingly the book deals mostly with the flora of the Rock. However, it also includes several passages on the civilian population of Gibraltar. The quotes below are taken from the book.


Edward Frederick Kelaart ( Unknown )
The Neutral GroundA portion of this tract is cultivated with vegetables, and the rest kept in order for parades, racing, and cricketing. The burial-ground, slaughter-house, dog-kennel, and a few small houses for sappers and miners are also situated here, but very few private dwellings are allowed. At one period a small village stood here, but as it harboured many 'mauvais sujets' under the walls of the garrison, it was deemed necessary to demolish the whole of the houses . . .
 . . riding on this fine turf, except during the race weeks, is considered tantamount to trespassing within a convent's wall, and it is almost a  pity, that even the cows which furnish the best milk for the garrison, should be allowed to graze on this prolific soil, which evidently has been only recently formed (I believe by order of the late General Don) from the debris of the garrison and elsewhere. 


The Neutral Ground showing gardens and Racing track and sports grounds and cemetery ( Unknown )
The SewersGibraltar has, unfortunately, still the reputation of being an unhealthy station, for memory calls back the number of dreadful epidemics which have prevailed within its walls . . . ( see LINK ). . Although there are not very marked sources of epidemics in Gibraltar, still there is sufficient room for great improvements in the comfort and accommodation of especially the poorer classes of its inhabitants, the filthy state of whose houses is almost proverbial, though an intimation of this kind from the governor was received by the Jewish population with extremely bad grace. 
From some cause or other, the sewers emit, in the summer months, a most foetid smell ; this mephitic odour, no doubt, proceeds from causes which may be removed. In the summer of 1844, the stench along the line wall was intolerable, and silver articles belonging to persons living in houses in this locality were almost entirely blackened, evidently from the quantity of sulphuretted hydrogen gas composing the effluvia from the sewers which open into the sea near this locality. 
Whatever may be said to the contrary I have not the least doubt that improvements in cleaning the sewers, &c., will be followed by a better state of health of the garrison. Long will the boon conferred upon the inhabitants by the late General Don be remembered. The improvements effected under his orders were made after the last epidemic of yellow fever in 1828. To these succeeded those of Sir Alexander Woodford, to whom Gibraltar is much indebted for various benefits conferred upon it. 
Kelaart was by no means the only one to complain about the horrendous stink of sewage in Gibraltar. ( see LINKOne can easily find quite a few graphic accounts in the literature of the day. The sad fact is that despite all those benefits that General Don was supposed to have conferred on the good citizens of the Rock, real improvements as regards drainage was not one of them - not that he didn't try. It is simply that what he did, didn't work. 

The fact that Gibraltar became a crown colony during his tenure did not mean that the Rock suddenly became less smelly. Nor is it probable that his immediate successors, Sir William Houston and General Alexander Woodward managed any better. 
The Protestant CathedralThe cathedral is a poor modern imitation of Moorish architecture, badly adapted for the purpose intended, and certainly not built with any regard to the principles of acoustics.

 Early 20th century postcard
The Catholic CathedralThe Catholic chapel, one of the few remaining monuments of the Spaniards, is a neat building.

Early 20th century postcard
The Moorish CastleThe only Moorish remain of any importance is the castle (bearing date a.d. 746) . . . A great part of the giralda, or tower, has resisted the work of time, and forms part of the prison for civil and military offenders. The old Moorish walls have lately been restored, destroying, however, much of their picturesque effect. 

Moorish Castle ( Mid 19th century postcard )
Catalan BayCatalan bay is on the east side of the rock, facing the Mediterranean. The small village attached to it is picturesquely situated near the shore, bounded on three sides by the rock ; on the southern aspect is also the immense mound of blown sand, which attracts the attention of even the casual visitor. 
The approach to Catalan bay is, after leaving the garrison, a road on the left of the bay-side guard ; this road round the base of the northern side of the rock, having the neutral ground before it, and it terminates in a bridle-path, about a quarter of a mile from Catalan bay ; this pathway is rather dangerous, from the nature of the sandy soil, and a deep precipice overhanging the sea on the left side of the road ; danger is always to be apprehended from the rolling down of loose fragments of the rock, a casualty to which the little village is also liable. 
There have been instances of large blocks of the rock rolling over into the interior of the houses through the roof. The late commanding officer's quarter was thus visited on one occasion by a heavy boulder, but the family fortunately escaped being hurt. 
During tempestuous weather, the sea approaches some of the houses, and the water finds its way sometimes into the lower apartments. In summer this village might be made a delightful residence, were it not for the easterly  wind which has here its worst effects. The sun sinking a few hours after noon behind this part of the rock, leaves the rest of the day cool and agreeable ; there are, however, but few commodious houses available to families requiring summer quarters. 
The population of the village scarcely exceeds three hundred souls ; they are chiefly engaged in fishing. There is here a Roman Catholic chapel, with a small school attached to it. About thirty soldiers are always stationed here, in charge of a captain, who is also the civil superintendent of the place. 


Catalan Bay and its dangerous approaches. Behind is the  'immense mound of blown sand, while several of the thirty odd soldier station there relax in the morning sun  ( 1860s George Washington Wilson )
The Locals and their HabitsGibraltar being a free port, and affording so many facilities for smuggling into Spain, attracts within its walls men of nearly all nations, so that a stranger arriving at Gibraltar, meets in the principal street people of various colours and tongues. 
The most attractive of these are the stately Moors from Barbary, with flowing drapery around their manly forms. Some of this fine race of people are nearly as fair as Europeans, with light grey eyes. Most of the Jews retain their ancient costume ; but the wealthier, or rather the better educated classes, wear the European dress. 
The census for 1844 gives an increase of nearly three hundred over that of 1840, and it is with considerable difficulty that the increase is kept within certain limits, for as it is, Gibraltar is over-populated.  
From the foregoing table, it will appear that the major part of the population is composed of the descendants of Spaniards, Portuguese, Jews, and Genoese. The number of English descendants is comparatively few. The occupations of this mixed class of population are necessarily various. The following list is from Martin's 'Account of Gibraltar'.

The civil population is considered particularly orderly and well-behaved ; crimes are not frequent or numerous ; seldom are there more than five or six cases in the quarterly criminal calendar. The civil suits rarely possess any public interest. Drunkenness is not common among the poorer classes; however, the wine-houses are usually full — this is perhaps owing to the idle propensities of the people, and their penchant to loitering habits.
 Two other statistics that can be deduced form the above is that nearly 20% of  under 12 year old children were in employment yet over 30% of the adults were technically unemployed. The exclamation marks after 'Tobacconists and cigar makers' must be a reference to smuggling. A place as small a Gibraltar could hardly be expected to have such a large number of people employed in the trade unless the product was for export.
The Soldiers and their Habits. . . most of the soldiers resort in the evenings, when off duty, to wine-houses and taverns; and since the Temperance Coffee-room was opened, under the superintendence of Captain Carter, of the 'Royals', a few spend their leisure hours there.
A curious distinction - or should one say, blind-spot? The locals go to the wine-houses because of their 'idle propensities and loitering habits'. The British soldiers on the other hand, visit these places simply because they happen to be off duty. 

In his introduction Kelaart acknowledges his inbetedness to an anonymous friend for the books three illustrations and directs the reader to the 'forthcoming Select Views of Gibraltar by a Captain Carter late of the 'Royals'  ( see LINK ) - whom he suggested exceeded every other amateur in the fidelity and beauty' of his sketches. One can only assume that this is the same captain Carter who looked after the Temperance Coffee Room.


The Rock from San Roque ( 1846 J.M. Carter )
FoodThe poorer classes of the civil population subsist chiefly upon fish and vegetables, which are to be had, in great abundance, both cheap and good. The beef is of cattle imported from Barbary ; but, though stall-fed just before killed, it rarely equals the common kinds of English beef. Nor is the mutton much better.  
English mutton, brought by the steam packets, is highly prized ; it is seldom seen but in the regimental messes, where the demand for a 'slice of English mutton' is more frequently made than for any other dish. Veal and lamb, of inferior qualities, are also sold in the market ; pork is by far the best meat in Gibraltar. Poultry is abundant, and tolerably cheap. Seldom is there any other game than hares, red-legged partridges, and quails, found in the market. 
AmusementThe society of Gibraltar resembles the society of most garrison towns, the nature of which can be best understood by those who have at any time resided in one. There are few sources of amusement in Gibraltar. In vain will the lover of the fine arts seek to gratify his tastes.  
Opera and theatrical companies have very little support, and consequently their visits to the rock are few and far between. The officers of the garrison keep a tolerably good pack of hounds, which is to them a great source of healthful enjoyment, and to the Spaniards one of astonishment. ( see LINK ) The races, too, come off with great credit. Public balls are held in the winter, which serve to keep the young people amused. 
In his introduction Keller suggests 'Botany as a harmless and profitable means of relieving the dull monotony of Garrison life' and names several fellow officers who seem to have joined him in this pursuit. Elsewhere, the U.S. Consul Horatio Sprague  ( see LINK ) is given a mention .
A little further on is the farm of Mr. Sprague, who is endeavouring to cultivate grapes and mulberries, the later with not much success as there is a scarcity of water in the neighbourhood, and for this reason Mr. Sprague has been forming an Artesian well, which was not completed when I left Gibraltar. . .
Another local identified in the book is the rich and well-connected Gibraltarian, Francis Francia whose daughter was married to Mr. Sprague.
Midway between the village of Campo and St. Roque is the farm, or rather garden, of Mr. Francis Francia, British vice-consul at St. Roque, a native of Gibraltar, who has, with an industry and taste rarely found in this part of Spain, laid out a very large piece of ground in a flower and fruit garden where many exotics have been introduced; among these the Loquat ( Eriobotrya japonica ), and several rare varieties of the orange are found to grow in great perfection . . . Beyond the large stream, about a mile and a quarter from the Spanish line, is an extensive plain, called the Spanish race-course, the property of Messrs. Francia, merchants in Gibraltar. . .

. . . most of the stones obtained here have been used in the buildings of St. Roque and Algesiras, and lately the stones found in the ruin described in an early part of this book have been used for the same purpose, chiefly by Mr. Francia, in erecting his villa on the Spanish race-course.
. . . most of the stones obtained here have been used in the buildings of St. Roque and Algesiras, and lately the stones found in the ruin described in an early part of this book have been used for the same purpose, chiefly by Mr. Francia, in erecting his villa on the Spanish race-course.

For the botanically inclined reader the following is a list of five species of plants which if not necessarily unique to Gibraltar are pretty rare elsewhere:
Cerastium gibraltaricum, Ononis gibraltarica, Bupleurum gibrallaricum, Silene gibraltarica.Saxifraga globulifera


As a bonus, Keller adds a translation of an entire chapter on Gibraltar from the book - Voyage Botanique dans le Midi de l’Espagne - by Edmund Boissier and which is dealt with more fully in a separate article. ( see LINK )

Also and as a curious aside it seems that Kelaarts book once appeared on an important literary list as Reminiscences of Gibraltar by Flora Calpensis. This blunder has been perpetuated over the years to such an extent that today Kelaart's book appears as an entry on Google well over 1000 times - with Mrs Flora Calpensis as the authoress. Although the person responsible for the original mistake was not a Gibraltarian it probably qualifies as some sort of llanitada. ( See Link )


The Rock from the Neutral Ground ( 1846 - Flora Calpense )